In February 1934, in a desperate bid to prevent a German takeover of Austria, Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss abandoned parliamentary government and established a dictatorship. Although no democrat, Dollfuss was convinced that his own brand of Austrofascism could stand as a bulwark against national socialism of Germany and communism of USSR.
Nicknamed “Millimetternich’ (a nod to his diminutive 5′ height and to Prince Metternich), Dollfuss used Austrian troops and Fascist militias to suppress the Social Democrats, which resulted in more than 1,000 deaths. On July 25th, 1934, less than a month after the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ when Hitler purged stormtroopers who had helped him to power, Nazi groups in Austria launched a coup d’état. In Vienna, Nazis stormed the chancellery and shot Dollfuss through the chest. The orders for the execution had come directly from the highest Nazi circles.
Alarmed by these events, Italy — which was then Austria’s fascist Ally — mobilized, delaying Hitler’s plans to annex Austria proper. However, the assassination crippled Austria, creating two rival dictators — cautious yet appeasing Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg and his vice-chancellor, Prince Ernst Rudiger von Starhemberg, “a boot-licking hero worshipper of Benito Mussolini”. Two years would pass before von Starhemberg was forced out by Schuschnig, who disagreed with Starhemberg’s anti-Nazi views.
By 1938, Mussolini was in an alliance with Hitler and Austria was encircled. Schuschnig frantically tried to reach agreements with Hitler but the inevitable was fast approaching. On 20th February 1938, Hitler gave a speech before the Reichstag where he declared, “The German Reich is no longer willing to tolerate the suppression of ten million Germans across its borders.” Soon, an ultimatum was sent to Vienna to cede power to the Austrian Nazi Party or face invasion.
Thus invited to form a government was Austrian Nazi leader Aruthr Seyß-Inquart who promptly requested military occupation by the German army. The Anschluss had began; a unification was later overwhelmingly approved by a referendum (99% in favour), the Jews having been disenfranchised a few days prior.