World War II

   Effectively incorporated into Adolf Hitler’s Germany following the Anschluss of 1938, Austria in fact did not exist as a state when the German dictator set off a pan-European conflict with the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. For the second time in the 20th century, Austrians found themselves involved in a world war, though the narrow question of responsibility for the conflict did not dog them as it did in World War I.
   The general public reaction to the new hostilities was as guarded as in Germany itself. Any real enthusiasm for the war broke out only with the collapse of France in 1940. However, this mood rapidly disappeared in Austria, to be replaced by increasingly open local resentment of the German officials who were largely responsible for the government of the region. The feeling was especially evident in Vienna, though the Catholic Tyrol did not take kindly to National Socialism either. The Nazi campaign in Russia in 1941–1942 cost Austria dearly. Large numbers of men from major population centers such as Vienna and Lower Austria were killed or made prisoners at the Battle of Stalingrad, which began in August 1942. Heavy Allied bombing, which began in earnest in 1943 and continued to the end of the war, weakened the will of the population as well, especially when it did extensive damage to such population centers as Vienna, Graz, Villach (a rail transit center near the Italian border), and Wiener Neustadt (an industrial center to the south of Vienna). Though areas such as Styria profited from Nazi investment in heavy metal industries, by September 1944 police reports from Vienna and Lower Austria indicated that many Austrians had lost whatever enthusiasm they had for National Socialist rule. News of the brutalities of German armies in southeastern Europe, often brought back by furloughed troops, and a growing knowledge of what was happening to Europe’s Jewish population in Nazi concentration camps, also repelled many. Mauthausen, in Upper Austria, was among the largest of these establishments, and was used for nonJewish dissidents as well. Pockets of resistance to the virtually complete Nazi takeover of Austria had existed almost from the day of the Anschluss. Young people, especially in Vienna, had sometimes given voice to a romantic Austrian patriotism. By 1940, more realistic people, often men who had returned from service or concentration camps, were beginning to come together and discuss ways of throwing off the regime. By the winter of 1944–1945, their agenda had acquired more profile and supporters, though it was not enough to spare Austria Allied conquest and serious destruction. Early in 1945, Soviet armies crossed the eastern boundary of the country. British troops moved into Carinthia from Italy; the Americans pushed into the Tyrol, Salzburg, and Upper Austria; and the French invaded the Vorarlberg. Anti-Nazi resistance, which had strengthened markedly in the Tyrol and the region around Salzburg, helped to save these areas from further damage. Efforts to spare Vienna from this fate were only partially successful. The Gestapo, along with Austrian supporters, decided to make a stand there; the last days of the war, which ended for Austria during the last week of April 1945, brought bitter and destructive fighting to the capital.
   See also Occupation.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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