I'm not going to write this like i'm writing the chapter of a book, detailed chronology and entertainment from this I don't think is in my capacity. But I feel the need to quote various books here and make my own comments on the Anschluss.
For one thing, do not read Wikipedia, do not read opinion pieces, read books and read articles that source books. Wikipedia doesn't really count as it is written for mass consumption and is patently false. For example. I was rather stunned to read on the Wiki page for the Anschluss that
Hitler told Goebbels in the late summer of 1937 that eventually Austria would have to be taken "by force".
The source for this was page 45 of Ian Kershaw's second volume on Hitler, titled 'Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis'. And the sources Kershaw uses is the Goebbels diary of the 14th September 1937, if you download the full diary online the remark is made quite offhand on page 1126. He just says:
Ich danke ihm für diesen Parteitag. Er wird uns allen unvergessen bleiben . Ich teile ihm meine Ergriffenheit über seine Rede mit. Österreich, so sagt er, wird einmal mit Gewalt gelöst .
Which is aggressive, but at the same time isn't the full story. There was no need to solve the Austrian problem by force, and force wasn't the way Hitler went about it, it's well known that Hitler only marched on with Austria because the Italians supported him to do so. Otherwise Hitler even allowed Austria to be a write off similar to South Tyrol to secure good relations with Mussolini.
The Question here is whether this was immoral. After all, the allies were more than happy to solve the "Hitler problem" by force, and nobody can deny that the forceful separation of the Austrians from Germany not to mention the Sudetens/West Polish Germans was undesirable for peace in Europe as Hitler promptly showed the Allies. Hitler, to be a good German had to solve these problems and he was willing to use force to do it. That is noble.
And in any case, this one offhand remark by Goebbels isn't going to suffice. I should also say that I recommend anyone abiding by the orthodox morality that Hitler had only to obey the European status quo of the allies to be a good guy, thoroughly reexamine his objective moral compass. Hitler had the moral upperhand, the allies and Schuschnigg were more than happy to infringe the desires of Austrians to keep them separate from their German kinsmen. And the Nuremberg trials were no different.
And the comment by Goebbels is abrogated when Hitler:
In December, he informed von Papen, who had talked of ways of toppling Schuschnigg, that he wanted to avoid force in the Austrian matter as long as this were desirable to prevent international repercussions.15 Göring and Keppler both had the impression that Hitler would act on Austria in spring or summer 1938.16
Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis (Allen Lane, 2000), pp. 67
Kershaw, gives us some background on Hitler's motivation:
From remarks recorded by Goebbels, it is clear that Hitler was already by summer 1937 beginning to turn his eyes towards Austria and Czechoslovakia, though as yet there was no indication of when and how Germany might move against either state. Nor were ideological or military-strategic motives, however important for Hitler himself, the only ones influencing notions of expansion in central Europe.
ibid, pp. 45
Kershaw also makes clear some of Hitler's motivation.
By the end of 1937, as his remarks at the ‘Hoßbach meeting’ showed, Hitler acutely sensed that time was not on Germany’s side. The Reich, he had concluded, could not simply wait passively on international developments; by 1943–5 at the latest it had to be prepared to take military action, sooner if circumstances presented themselves. His keenness to accelerate the momentum of expansionism was partly sharpened by his growing feeling that he might not have long to live in order to accomplish his aims.5 But beyond that it reflected an awareness that the pressures accumulating could not be contained without the expansion which he in any case strove after, and a recognition that Germany’s current advantage in armaments build-up would be lost as other countries undertook their own armaments programmes.
ibid, pp. 64
The Hossbach meeting, as we all know is less than a convincing document. But in any case Hitler within that document if we accept it's validity only talks about Austria and Czechoslovakia, and not expansion anywhere beyond that. This is also illuminating for another reason, it explains the sense of urgency and riskiness of Hitler's actions in the years 1938-39 to him becoming older. This can hardly be a sinister motivation.
Kershaw, admits that Schuschnigg made that fatal blunder which cause the 'War of Flowers' upon Austria
a fatal miscalculation by the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg over a plebiscite to back Austrian independence gave Hitler a welcome opportunity to turn the spotlight away from his domestic troubles – as Jodl had hinted he would like to do – through the drama of the Anschluß.6 It amounted to a defining moment in the Third Reich. Even more than following the Rhineland triumph two years earlier, Hitler felt after the Anschluß that he could take on the world – and win.
Since his boyhood days in Linz, Hitler had seen the future of Austria’s German-speaking population lying in its incorporation in the German Reich. Like many in his part of Austria, he had favoured the ideas of Georg Schönerer, the Pan-Germanist leader, rejecting the Habsburg monarchy and looking to union with the Wilhelmine Reich in Germany. Defeat in the First World War had then brought the dismembering of the sprawling, multi-ethnic empire of the Habsburgs. The new Austria, the creation of the victorious powers at the Treaty of St Germain in September 1919, was no more than a mere remnant of the former empire. The small alpine republic now had only 7 million citizens (compared with 54 million in the empire), 2 million of them in Vienna itself. It was wracked by daunting social and economic problems, and deep political fissures, accompanied by smouldering resentment about its loss of territory and revised borders.
The new Austria was, however, almost entirely German-speaking. The idea of union (or Anschluß) with Germany now became far more appealing and was overwhelmingly supported in plebiscites in the early 1920s. Hitler’s rise to power in Germany changed this. It accentuated the already acute divisions between socialists, pan-Germans, and Catholic-conservatives (with their own Austrian-nationalist brand of fascism). Only for the pan-Germans, by now entirely sucked into the Austrian Nazi Movement, was an Anschluß with Hitler’s Germany an attractive proposition.7 But, despite the ban on the Nazi Party in Austria following the German-inspired assassination of the Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuß in July 1934, the increasing might of the Third Reich and the growing exposure of Austria to German dominance as Italy’s protection waned in the wake of the Abyssinian conflict kept the Anschluß hopes alive among one sizeable part of the Austrian population.
ibid, pp. 65
It's important to note, that while the wiki article might decry the suppression of Communists and Jews et al, the Austro-Fascist dictatorship of Dollfuss and Schuschnigg was no different, for they also suppressed the communists, Social Democrats and indeed the National Socialists.
The Austrian government had become a dictatorship. In 1931, the country elected Engelbert Dollfuss Bundeskanzler (National Chancellor). He dissolved parliament in 1933, founded the Fatherland Front, and proscribed other political parties. Dollfuss established detention camps in September, which corralled members of the Communist and National Socialist parties. Dollfuss reinstituted the death penalty. The following February, he ordered the police to disarm the Social Democrats' Defense League. This led to armed resistance in Vienna and in Linz. Dollfuss deployed the army, which bombarded workers' housing districts in the capital with artillery. Over 300 people died in the fighting. Having suppressed the revolt, he banned the Social Democratic Party, abolished the trade unions, and hanged eleven Defense League members.
Having attained power without a single vote, Schuschnigg relied on the Fatherland Front to maintain the dictatorship. Political dissidents, lumped together as “national opposition,” landed in concentration camps. Documented cases of inmate abuse include confinement without trial, house arrest for prisoners' relatives, two or more trials and sentences for the same crime, convictions and fines without evidence, the presumption of guilt until proven innocent, withholding medical care from inmates who were ill, sometimes resulting in death, and forced confessions.48 The regime denied persons of “deficient civic reliability” the right to practice their occupation. Schuschnigg judicially persecuted Austrians who favored unification with the Reich. The verdict often fell on members of choral societies and sports clubs nurturing cultural ties with Germany. “Suspicion of nationalistic convictions” cost civil servants their jobs. This included forfeiture of pension and loss of unemployment compensation.
Richard Tedor, Hitler's Revolution (Expanded Edition, 2013), pp. 108-109
Considering that Austria at this time was also a dictatorship of it's own Fascist sort, it begs the question why modern historians are so sympathetic towards it and even omit these kinds of details that perspective upon the European situation as a whole instead of just portraying Hitler alone as the mover and shaker of all events. There isn't one mention of the actions above in Kershaw.
Hitler was also felt safe that he could agitate in Czechoslovakia and Austria precisely because it wouldn't provoke a war.
On 19 November 1937 Halifax met Hitler at Berchtesgaden. It was a characteristically off-hand visit: officially Halifax was in Germany to see a hunting exhibition at Berlin. Halifax said all that Hitler expected to hear. He praised Nazi Germany ‘as the bulwark of Europe against Bolshevism’; he sympathised with past German grievances. In particular he pointed to certain questions where ‘possible alterations might be destined to come about with the passage of time’. They were: Danzig, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. ‘England was interested to see that any alterations should come through the course of peaceful evolution and that methods should be avoided which might cause far-reaching disturbances.’1 Hitler listened and occasionally rambled. He remained passive according to his usual method: accepting offers from others, not making demands himself. Here, in Halifax’s own words, was confirmation of what Hitler had told the generals a fortnight before: England would not seek to maintain the existing settlement in central Europe. There was a condition attached: the changes must come without a general war (‘far-reaching disturbances’). This was exactly what Hitler wanted himself. Halifax’s remarks, if they had any practical sense, were an invitation to Hitler to promote German nationalist agitation in Danzig, Czechoslovakia, and Austria; an assurance also that this agitation would not be opposed from without.
A.J.P. Taylor, Origins of the Second World War, Chapter 7: Anschluss: the End of Austria
(don't have the exact page because I'm using the epub, you can word search for it)
The visit to Germany in mid-November by Lord Halifax, Lord Privy Seal and President of the Council in the British Government, close to the recently appointed British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and soon to become his Foreign Secretary, had confirmed in Hitler’s mind that Britain would do nothing in the event of German action against Austria.12
The questions of Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Danzig, Lord Halifax had told Hitler, ‘fell into the category of possible alterations in the European order which might be destined to come about with the passage of time’. (In his diary entry on the discussion, Halifax had noted telling Hitler that ‘On all these matters we were not necessarily concerned to stand for the status quo as today, but we were concerned to avoid such treatment of them as would be likely to cause trouble’.) Hitler had responded by stating that ‘the Agreement of July 11th  had been made with Austria and it was to be hoped that it would lead to the removal of all difficulties’. Halifax’s subsequent confidential memorandum on the meeting noted Hitler as saying: ‘Germany did not want to annex Austria or to reduce her to political dependence – her desire was to bring about by peaceful means full economic, cultural, commercial, and possibly monetary and currency union with Austria and to see in Austria a Government really friendly to Germany and ready to work hand in hand for the common welfare of both branches of the Teutonic race.’13
Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis (Allen Lane, 2000), pp. 66-67
Basically Hitler and others were trying to broach the Italian support for the Anschluss
Hitler gave Göring instructions to tread delicately with his important guest on matters relating to Austria. He wanted Mussolini to understand that Germany had no intention in the foreseeable future of bringing the Austrian problem to a head, but that German intervention would be possible should a crisis be otherwise provoked in Austria. By whom or in what circumstances was left to the imagination. How much notice Göring took of Hitler’s instructions was plain when, on the Duce’s visit to Carinhall, he showed him a map of Europe which had Austria already incorporated within Germany. The lack of any negative reaction from Mussolini was taken by his host as a sign that Italy would not object to an Anschluß.22
ibid, pp. 68
Göring was pushing hard for currency union. But with Austria stalling for time, and Italy’s reactions uncertain, immediate results through diplomatic channels seemed unlikely. An Anschluß resulting from German intervention through force in the imminent future appeared improbable.
At this unpromising juncture, the idea emerged of a meeting between Hitler and the Austrian Chancellor, Schuschnigg. Such a meeting may well have formed part of Papen’s scheme for bringing down the Austrian Chancellor, noted by Goebbels in mid-December 1937.27 According to Papen’s own later account, he had suggested such a meeting to the Austrian Chancellor in December – in accordance with Schuschnigg’s own expressed wish that month for personal discussions with Hitler (which the Austrian Chancellor naively saw as the only hope of stabilizing his country’s deteriorating situation by reaffirming its independence and the terms of the agreement of July 1936). He had then put the same suggestion to Neurath and Hitler.28
ibid, pp. 69
During the meeting with Schuschnigg it does certainly appear that Hitler was trying to intimidate him into accepting concessions as a tactic, but without actually wanting a military conflict. It was a bluff.
Keitel returned to Berlin early next morning to organize fake military manoeuvres near the Austrian border to exert further pressure on the Reich’s eastern neighbours.47 There was no question of genuine military preparations for an invasion. Keitel had to report to the newly appointed supreme commander of the army, von Brauchitsch, that Hitler was not thinking of a military conflict.48
ibid, pp. 72
As a result of the agreements that were reached, actual military preparations did not even come into the question and, as I was to apprise the commander-in-chief of the army, at that time even the Führer had no thoughts of a military conflict.
In the Service of the Reich: The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Keitel Chief of the German High Command, 1938-1945, pp. 63
It might do one well to wonder what exactly drove Hitler to consider force as an option in the case of Austria. Going back to 1934 and the murder of Dollfuss by rowdy Austrian National Socialists (who had nothing to do with Hitler by the way) caused talks between Hitler and Schuschnigg who signed an agreement in 1936:
Hitler, unjustly blamed for the 1934 coup to topple Dollfuss, sought to break the diplomatic deadlock. He appointed Franz von Papen, a conservative aristocrat distant to National Socialism and a devout Catholic, special ambassador to Vienna. Papen presented Austrian Foreign Minister Egon Berger with the draft for an Austrian-German “Gentleman’s Agreement.” The compact corroborated Hitler’s strategy for incorporating Austria as an evolutionary process, promoting economic and cultural ties between both countries.49
The preamble stated, “The German Reich’s Government recognizes the complete sovereignty of the Austrian national state.” It bound Germany not to interfere in Austria’s internal political affairs. In return, the preamble obligated Schuschnigg “with respect to the German Reich, to maintain a basic position that conforms to the fact that Austria sees herself as a German state."50 The document required that “all decisive elements for shaping public opinion in both countries shall serve the purpose of developing mutual relations which are once again normal and friendly.” 51
The agreement offered general guidelines for promoting commerce, such as lifting restrictions on travel and trade across the frontier. Schuschnigg agreed to allow members of the “national opposition” to participate in government. He released 15,583 political prisoners. Many were National Socialists whom Hitler arranged to resettle in Germany. Upon the Führer’s insistence, Schuschnigg relaxed restrictions on the press. An important element of the agreement stipulated, “Both governments will exchange views in foreign policy matters that affect both countries."52
Papen and Schuschnigg signed the agreement in Vienna on July 11, 1936. Germany’s assurance to respect Austrian independence drew praise from the international press, even in France. Hitler summoned Josef Leopold, leader of the Austrian National Socialists, and instructed him to take the new treaty “very seriously.” The Führer warned Leopold that he wanted no encore of the 1934 coup: “The Austrian National Socialists must maintain exemplary discipline and regard unification as an internal German matter, a solution to which can only be found within the scope of negotiations between Berlin and Vienna."53 Hitler was hopeful, thanks in part to Schuschnigg encouraging remark that Austrian-German unification was “an attainable political objective for the future.”
The Bundeskanzler, however, had no interest in honoring the compact. He openly criticized Hitler for allegedly misinterpreting the mission of the Reich: “With his assertion that the unity of the Reich is based on the harmony of the race and the language of the people living within it, Hitler has falsified and betrayed the spirit of the Reich. The Reich is not determined by race and is not heathenish; it is Christian and universal."54 Schuschnigg publicly described Austria as “the last bulwark of civilization in central Europe,” a studied insult to his ethnic neighbor to the north. During 1937, Schuschnigg entreated the British government to guarantee Austrian sovereignty. This clandestine diplomatic maneuver, as well as the unfriendly public statements regarding Germany, directly violated the agreement signed in July.55
Richard Tedor, Hitler's Revolution (Expanded Edition, 2013), pp. 109-110
Hitler agreed to publicly condemn illegal acts, such as sabotage, of his followers there. The Führer approved Vienna’s request that aggressive National Socialists be relocated to Germany. The Germans withdrew those candidates suggested for Austrian cabinet posts that Schuschnigg objected to. Berlin abandoned its plan for a joint economic system and reduced the scope of military cooperation. At the conclusion of the conference, Hitler told Schuschnigg, “This is the best way. The Austrian question is regulated for the next five years."58
ibid, pp. 111
Kershaw, not surprisingly portrays the meeting as mentioned before as one of intimidation and coercion, which in reality means little to me, because the union of Germany and Austria was justified by whatever means as the will of both peoples. Whether it be by war or not. However I might feel about this, Tedor does take issue with the way this popular view is pushed.
Newspapers in England, France, and the USA claimed that Hitler presented his demands as an ultimatum, intimidated Schuschnigg by inviting three German generals to the conference, and threatened invasion if the Bundeskanzler failed to sign. The fact that the Austrians negotiated significant modifications demonstrates that Germany’s proposals were not an ultimatum. The generals attended to provide consultation on questions of integrating the two countries' armed forces. Schuschnigg brought along his own military advisor. Guido Schmidt testified later that he had no recollection of a German threat to invade Austria.59
Papen stated that it was his impression that Schuschnigg enjoyed full freedom of decision throughout the sessions. The Bundeskanzler confessed that he had been under considerable mental stress but nothing more. The British ambassador to Austria, Sir Charles Palairet, reported to London on a number of initial demands which Hitler withdrew. He confirmed that Schmidt told him nothing of German threats. Palairet cited “Herr Hitler’s desire to achieve his aims in regard to Austria by evolutionary means."60
Ibid, pp. 59-60
Even Kershaw had to admit that this was indeed Hitler's aims, and that he didn't decide to actually annex Austria until he was there and saw all the of jubilant excitement coming from the Austrian people, which I will get to in a little bit:
Two weeks after the notorious meeting at the Berghof, when laying down directives for the restless Austrian NSDAP, which had threatened to upset developments through its own wild schemes for disturbances, Hitler emphasized, according to Keppler’s notes of the meeting, that he wanted to proceed along ‘the evolutionary way whether or not the possibility of success could be envisaged at present. The protocol signed by Schuschnigg,’ he went on, ‘was so far-reaching that if implemented in full the Austrian Question would automatically be solved. A solution through force was something he did not now want if it could in any way be avoided, since for us the foreign-policy danger is diminishing from year to year and the military strength becoming year by year greater.’55 Hitler’s approach was at this time still in line with Göring’s evolutionary policy. He plainly reckoned that the tightening of the thumbscrews on Schuschnigg at the February meeting had done the trick. Austria was no more than a German satellite. Extinction of the last remnants of independence would follow as a matter of course. Force was not necessary.
In line with the ‘Trojan horse’ policy of eroding Austrian independence from the inside, following the Berchtesgaden meeting Hitler had complied with demands from Seyß-Inquart – matching earlier representations by Schuschnigg himself – to depose Captain Josef Leopold, the leader of the unruly Austrian National Socialists, and his associates.56
Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis (Allen Lane, 2000), pp. 72
Nevile Henderson, the British Ambassador in Berlin, when he met Hitler on 3 March. Hitler, in a vile mood, was unyielding. If Britain opposed a just settlement in Austria, where Schuschnigg had the support of only 15 per cent of the population, Germany would have to fight, he declared. And if he intervened, he would do so like lightning (blitzschnell). His aim was nevertheless ‘that the just interests of the German Austrians should be secured and an end made to oppression by a process of peaceful evolution’.62
Ibid, pp. 73
Now, we're getting to how Schuschnigg rigged his out of the blue plebiscite.
Schuschnigg’s wholly unexpected decision, announced on the morning of 9 March, to hold a referendum on Austrian autonomy four days later. The Nazis themselves had been pressing for years for a plebiscite on Anschluß, confident that they would gain massive support for an issue backed by large numbers of Austrians since 1919.63 But Schuschnigg’s referendum, asking voters to back ‘a free and German, independent and social, Christian and united Austria; for peace and work, and for the equal rights of all who declare themselves for people and fatherland’, was couched in a way that could scarcely fail to bring the desired result. It would be a direct rebuff to union with Germany.64 German plans were immediately thrown into disarray. Hitler’s own prestige was at stake. The moves that followed, culminating in the German march into Austria and the Anschluß, were all now improvised at breakneck speed.
Ibid, pp. 74
Even wikipedia does what Kershaw here doesn't do, and describes this plebiscite as rigged. As do many other historians I will quote forthwith to illustrate the point thoroughly.
, Schuschnigg, with the full agreement of the President and other political leaders, decided to proclaim a plebiscite to be held on 13 March. But the wording of the referendum which had to be responded to with a "Yes" or a "No" turned out to be controversial. It read: "Are you for a free, German, independent and social, Christian and united Austria, for peace and work, for the equality of all those who affirm themselves for the people and Fatherland?"
There was another issue which drew the ire of the National Socialists. Although members of Schuschnigg's party (the Fatherland Front) could vote at any age, all other Austrians below the age of 24 were to be excluded under a clause to that effect in the Austrian Constitution. This would shut out from the polls most of the Nazi sympathisers in Austria, since the movement was strongest among the young.
The German reaction to the announcement was swift. Hitler first insisted the plebiscite be cancelled. When Schuschnigg reluctantly agreed to scrap it, Hitler demanded his resignation, and insisted that Seyss-Inquart be appointed his successor. This demand President Miklas was reluctant to endorse but eventually, under the threat of immediate armed intervention, it was endorsed as well. Schuschnigg resigned on 11 March, and Seyss-Inquart was appointed Chancellor, but it made no difference; German troops flooded into Austria and were received everywhere by enthusiastic and jubilant crowds. On the morning after the invasion, the London Daily Mail's correspondent asked the new Chancellor, Seyss-Inquart, how these stirring events came about, he received the following reply: "The Plebiscite that had been fixed for tomorrow was a breach of the agreement which Dr. Schuschnigg made with Herr Hitler at Berchtesgaden, by which he promised political liberty for National Socialists in Austria." On 12 March 1938, Schuschnigg was placed under house arrest.
Norman Stone also illustrates the end to which Schuschnigg attempted to rig this false plebiscite to trick the Austrian people into accepting an autonomy they didn't want.
Schuschnigg decided to make a gesture of defiance, no doubt with the hope that Mussolini and the western powers would stir. He proclaimed a plebiscite for mid-March: voters were to answer the question, ‘Do you want a Free, Christian, German Austria?’ [b]The trouble was that a large number of Austrians, perhaps even a majority, did not want such a thing, if attachment to Germany were the alternative. Germany offered jobs and glory. What did Austria offer in comparison? Schuschnigg therefore put himself in poor moral shape by arranging to rig the plebiscite, doing so with characteristic clumsiness. Only male voters over twenty-five were allowed to vote; only yes answers were printed, the others having to be supplied by the voter; and officials of the government party would register the votes.
Norman Stone, Hitler (Little, Brown and Company, 1980), pp. 79
Displaying his customary lack of political finesse, Schuschnigg took a desperate step to rescue his career. In Innsbruck on March 9, he announced a national plebiscite to take place in four days' time. The purpose was to give voters the opportunity to affirm their confidence in the government and preference for Austrian independence. Such a poll could only accentuate the division between German and Austrian. It transgressed against the spirit of the evolutionary process of assimilating the two cultures, a process Schuschnigg had accepted by signing the agreement with Germany. Since no elections had taken place since 1932, there were no current lists of registered voters. There was insufficient time to prepare new rosters. Only citizens above 25 years of age were eligible. This prevented young adults, a disproportionately large percentage of whom backed National Socialism, from participating. The general secretary of the Fatherland Front, Guido Zernatto, prepared guidelines that allowed only members of the reigning political party to staff the balloting stations.
The ballot cards had the word “yes” printed on one side but were blank on the other. This required people voting “no” to write the word in the same size characters on the back of the card. Polling station personnel, all members of the Fatherland Front, would therefore be able to identify dissenters. During preparations for the election, the government press announced that anyone voting “no” would be guilty of treason.64
Hitler was aghast that Schuschnigg violated their agreement only weeks after signing. At first he simply refused to believe the news; however, once he did, his reaction was temperate. He flew his diplomatic trouble-shooter, Wilhelm Keppler, to Vienna. Keppler’s instructions were to either prevent the plebiscite “without military threats” or at least arrange for it to include the opportunity to vote for Anschluss, or unification, with Germany.67
Richard Tedor, Hitler's Revolution (Expanded Edition, 2013), pp. 112-114
Schuschnigg was accompanied by Dr. Guido Schmidt, the Foreign Minister, but the main portion of the negotiations was conducted by him alone with Hitler. As a result, an agreement was signed in which Schuschnigg consented to amnesty the imprisoned Nazis, to allow the Party liberty of action for the future, and to appoint one of its members, Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Minister of the Interior, while Hitler undertook to respect Austria's independence. It seemed that the question had been shelved for the time being; while there could be little doubt that the Nazis would eventually succeed in obtaining a majority in Austria, for the moment both governments were agreed not to force the situation.
It must, therefore, remain a psychological mystery why Schuschnigg, less than a month later, proclaimed at a meeting of his party at Innsbruck on the 9th of March his intention of holding a plebiscite in which the electors would be asked to vote on the question: "Are you in favour of a German, independent, Christian, social and free Austria?" It was a question which no Austrian could easily answer in the negative; whatever his views, at least one pf the five adjectives was bound to secure his support. The voting was to be on an old register, on which the names of the younger generation did not appear; in addition the age qualification was raised. The date of the plebiscite was fixed for the 12th of March, three days after its first announcement.
It was clear even to the least suspicious that a climsy effort was being made to snatch a vote from the people of Austria which could be represented to the world as a popular decision against the Anschluss; it was also clear that the question put to the electors and the general circumstances of that plebiscite were not designed to carry into effort the genuine opinions of the agreement which the Austrian Chancellor had signed a month earlier at Berchtesgaden.
Charles Bewley, Hermann Goring and the Third Reich : A Biography based on Family and Official Records, (The Devin-Adair Company, 1962), pp. 228-229
WITH ENGLAND’S BLESSING TO bring Austria into Germany’s sphere, if done peacefully, Hitler was left with but one problem: how to get the Austrians to agree. Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg would provide Hitler his opportunity.
“A devout Catholic and intellectual, a decent man with little vanity or driving ambition,” a veteran of the Great War, Schuschnigg had arrested the Nazis involved in the plot against Dollfuss, hanged the two who fired the fatal shots, and had himself become chancellor in 1934.26 On July 11, 1936, he had entered into a “Gentlemen’s Agreement” with Berlin. Vienna was to “maintain a policy based on the principle that Austria acknowledges herself to be a German state,” and Berlin recognizes “the full sovereignty of the Federal State of Austria” and agrees not to interfere in her internal affairs.27 Respectable pro-Nazis were to be permitted in politics and government, but Nazis were to end political agitation and street action. A Committee of Seven was set up to carry out the terms of the Gentlemen’s Agreement. Hitler wanted no repetition of the abortive 1934 coup.
Austria’s Nazis ignored the agreement and continued to plot the overthrow of Schuschnigg. In January 1938, Austrian police raided the Committee of Seven headquarters and discovered plans there for a Nazi coup. Hitler had assured Mussolini there would be no Anschluss and, according to historian Taylor, he “knew nothing of these plans, which had been prepared despite his orders…. [T]he Austrian Nazis were acting without authority.”29
HITLER HAD NOT ABANDONED his plan to convert Austria into a satellite, but believed this should and would come about through an “evolutionary solution.”40 Austria would drop like ripe fruit, for, with Italy now an Axis power, she was isolated, had nowhere else to go, and the Allies had neither the will nor the power to prevent her eventual merger with the Reich. As for Austria’s Nazis, Hitler was incensed that they had again disrupted and imperiled his “evolutionary solution.”
But while the crisis appeared over, it was not. For Schuschnigg, like Dollfuss a man of courage, seethed over the abuse at the Berghof and relit the fuse. After consulting Mussolini on March 7, who warned him he was making a mistake—“C’é un errore!”— Schuschnigg, on March 9 in Innsbruck, announced that on Sunday, March 13, a plebiscite would be held to decide, finally and forever, whether the country wished to remain a “free, independent, social, Christian and united Austria—Ja oder Nein?”41
After the army scandals and Cabinet debacle, Hitler could not abide humiliation at the hands of Schuschnigg. Yet neither he nor the army had prepared for a campaign against Austria. Hitler called in General Wilhelm Keitel and told him to make ready to invade. Keitel remembered that the army had drawn up an “Operation Otto” plan in the event Otto von Habsburg attempted to regain the Austrian throne. “Prepare it!” Hitler ordered.45 When Keitel got to army headquarters, he found that Operation Otto was a theoretical study. No German army plans existed for an invasion of Austria.
Patrick J. Buchanan, Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press, 2008), pp. 189-190, 193-194
toward midday on March 9, 1938, Hitler heard rumours that Schuschnigg was to spring a snap plebiscite on Austria’s future. This was the Dummheit that Hitler had been waiting for. The plebiscite’s one question had been so formulated that any Austrian voting ‘No’ to it could be charged with high treason (since voters had to state their names and addresses on the ballot papers). Some of his ministers felt the voting age should be eighteen, with only his Party members allowed to vote; others recalled that the constitution defined the voting age as twenty-one, but Schuschnigg arbitrarily raised it for the plebiscite to twenty-four – the Nazis being primarily a Party of youth – and stipulated that votes were to be handed to his own Party officials, not the usual polling stations. Even if one of the printed ‘Yes’ ballot papers were to be crossed out and marked with a
large ‘No’ it would still count as a ‘Yes.’ There were no ‘No’ ballot papers. Hitler flew his agent Keppler to Vienna with instructions to prevent the plebiscite, or failing that to insist on a supplementary question sounding the Austrian public on its attitude toward union with the Reich. That evening Schuschnigg formally announced the plebiscite. Hitler listened to the broadcast from Innsbruck, then pounded the table with his fist and exclaimed, ‘It’s got to be done – and done now!’ A month later he announced, ‘When Herr Schuschnigg breached the Agreement on March 9, at that moment I felt that the call of Providence had come.’
David Irving, Hitler's War and the War Path (Focal Point Publications, 2002), pp. 76-77
As R.H.S. Stolfi does so well, he skewers the orthodox wisdom without bias and without emotional anger directed towards Hitler and rationally explains that what Schuschnigg did was no valiant deed. Recall, that if Hitler were caught ever doing such a thing we'd never hear the end of it.
Schuschnigg faced internal violence, lack of external support, and suspicion that he did not have the support of a majority of Austrians for his strident policy of independence. In this situation he made the decision to panic—to act in the desperation of an ill-considered idea—and announce on March 9, 1938, the holding of a national plebiscite the following Sunday.
In announcing the plebiscite, Schuschnigg would annul the Berchtesgaden agreement with Hitler and stabilize the Austrian situation in favor of his Fatherland Front if the Austrian people voted favorably on the question. The conventional wisdom has taken Schuschnigg's action to have been a courageous one in the face of Hitler's earlier bullying tactics, and a decisive one that would have made a union of Austria and Germany improbable. But Schuschnigg's courage, if we grant him such, would have resulted in the permanent division of the German peoples and the entrenchment of a single-party dictatorship in Austria. Schuschnigg would frame the question, “Are you in favor of a free and German, independent and social, a Christian and united Austria?” It was a heavily propagandized jumble of words that invited a yes answer. And the result of a yes-vote for the plebiscite would have been the almost diabolical outcome that an artificial state created by an Allied force of arms would have been transformed by a self-serving Austrian political dictatorship into a stable artificial state.
And Schuschnigg scores high marks for manipulation of the plebiscite. Only three days were available for its organization within Austria, and the same, apparently impossibly short, time period for Hitler to prevent it by outside pressure. Because the Austrian dictatorship had not allowed elections for the preceding four years, the electoral register had not been kept up to date. There would not be enough time to organize the ballot, particularly in the remote rural areas where the Nazis were strongly represented, and it would be impossible to register in three days the younger voters who had come of age since 1934.13
In summary, a somewhat common political dictator in Austria would attempt to keep in power a Fatherland Front through a desperate, shady plebiscite in the face of a neighboring dictator. The descriptor shady is a strong one for serious historical interpretation of Schuschnigg's action, but it is borne out by the following outlandish detail: a voter who wished to vote yes on the plebiscite question would be provided a ballot at polling stations. A voter who wished to vote no would have to present his own ballot of specified form and validated only with a stamp purchased from the government. It is difficult to separate good from evil in all of this. The great biographers must present Hitler as an uneducated, banal man immersed in wicked purpose and Schuschnigg as a calmer, nicer intellectual struggling to shield Austria from Hitler. But the Austrian Empire had vanished, and to conjure up its German fragment as a bona fide independent state was to proceed from false premise. With the empire gone, its German fragment had become what it had always been as the Ostmark—the eastern march or frontier area of the Germans in a half-enveloping sea of Slavs and Magyars. For various reasons, some wicked and some not-so-wicked, Hitler had determined to save the Germans of the Ostmark from their political defenselessness and economic isolation. And for various reasons, some wicked and others not-so-wicked, Schuschnigg had determined to enforce the division of the Germans in the southeast.
It is one thing to seize an opportunity and another to be forced to take action. Schuschnigg would spend Thursday resolutely adhering to his decision to abrogate the Berchtesgaden agreement.
R.H.S. Stolfi, Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyranny (Prometheus Books, 2011), pp. 353-354
Walendy explains further how Schuschnigg is to blame:
When Dr. Schuschnigg had announced at a moment’s notice on 9 March 1938 his referendum for the 13 March 1938 – keeping it deliberately vague, with a nod to separatism, impossible to conduct properly because of insufficient preparations and even being unconstitutional 36) – at which he called
“For a free and German, independent and Socialist, for a Christian and united Austria! For peace and jobs and equal rights for all who declare themselves for the people and the Fatherland!”
he had destroyed, without a doubt, the spirit and the essence of the agreement with Hitler and thus had brought the situation in the land to a head. There were already 40,000 Austrian refugees in the Reich.37)
“The date for the ballot is fixed for the following Sunday, the 13 March. A country which for the past five years has been governed by an authoritarian regime, where there have been no democratic elections for the past six years, where neither electoral registers nor any democratic parties are in existence, is now expected to carry out within a few days’ time an election which is claimed to be accepted by the world at large as an irrefutable, lawful and unquestionable declaration. The government is going to the country after practically excluding the people from all political activity for four years. The idea is sheer madness.”38)
After the signing of the Berchtesgaden agreement, Dr. Schuschnigg could have resigned in favour of President Miklas and requested that he revoke it. That at least would have shown a clear sense of direction, even though it would have contradicted Dr. Schuschnigg’s own statement that he was not an opponent of unification. The procedure adopted by Schuschnigg and the refusal to hold a genuine referendum three or four weeks later, as was demanded subsequently by Hitler on the 10 March, would now have in its wake the well known chain-reactions that were to realize Austria’s Anschluss to the Reich.
After the conduct of Dr. Schuschnigg, “he [Hitler] must either act or be humiliated ...”
“The crisis of March 1938 was provoked by Schuschnigg, not by Hitler. There had been no German preparations, military or diplomatic. Everything was improvised in a couple of days.” 39)
“It was still believed in Berlin throughout the day of the 10 of March that by changing the date and the text of the referendum, a solution had been found that made it still possible to continue the Berchtesgaden policy with Schuschnigg. Alone the consideration for Mussolini made Hitler keep to his previous programme with the tenacity of which he was capable in such situations....
From the diary of the future General Jodl, we know that only on 11 March 1938, midday at 1.00 p.m., did Hitler sign the military document known by the codename ‘Operation Otto’, which ordered a deployment of troops in the event of an intervention in Austria.” 40)
General von Manstein had to unexpectedly draw up on the 10 March a plan of operation of the type not requiring a mobilization and not requiring any preparations.41) Schuschnigg’s refusal to acknowledge the clearly becoming evident revolt in Austria against a referendum which could not be carried out lawfully (not even his Cabinet did he inform of his solitary decision, let alone asking them for advice!),42) his rejection of a postponement, justifiably gave Hitler licence, at the latest from the 10 March onwards, to accuse Schuschnigg of having violated the Berchtesgaden treaty and thus having provoked Hitler.
On 11 March, Schuschnigg ordered the cancellation of the referendum, accompanying the decision with extraordinary security measures and a curfew after 8.00 p.m. The annulment of the referendum was to give the impression – and was obviously designed to produce this effect! – to demonstrate principally to France, Britain and the USA that Austria’s yielding was due to an “act of violence” on the part the Reich government. Being familiar with the diplomatic correspondence of the preceding days and weeks, Schuschnigg was fully aware, after all, that the Western Powers, France especially, would only come to Austria’s defence – but in that event with all military might –
“if it were a clear case of violation, that is, if the Austrian government considers that her rights have been violated.” 43)
The “bomb” – as Mussolini described the rushed plebiscite – really did explode “in the hands of Schuschnigg”.44) The civil war which had been contemplated by Dr. Schuschnigg shortly before his resignation did not take place.45) When on 11 March Hitler had given to his troops the order to march into Austria, he did not have, as yet, a clear picture with respect to the future constitutional development of his homeland.46) He could neither have predicted with any certainty (apart from the occupation of the Rhineland 1936) a “War of Flowers” which now happened for the first time in human history, nor could he have anticipated the reaction abroad. The opinion of the British Ambassador in Berlin, Henderson, was already known to him, since he – perhaps by order or with the approval of his government –
“made no secret of his desire to see Germany and Austria united in one state.” 47)
Udo Walendy, Who Started the Second World War? (Castle Hill Publishers, 2014), pp. 89-91
Some historians pretend that Schuschnigg effort was, as you can read, a last attempt to 'save Austria'. But this is a lie. The same orthodox historians that genuinely think the motives of Schuschnigg to be so 'valiant' clearly don't understand the contradiction in that logic:
Schuschnigg suggested later in his own defense that he had been coerced into signing the agreement by the threat of an invasion of Austria; but in that case it is difficult to understand why the threat should have appeared any less actual on the 12th of March then on the 12th of February. The only solution which appears to fit in with the facts is that Schuschnigg lost his nerve when confronted by a stronger personality than his own and agree to make concessions which he knew would not be approved by his Cabinet, and that after his return, under pressure from conservative circles, he let himself be persuaded to go back on his first decision, even though he must have known that his failure to act in the spirit of the agreement would be bound to bring about that very invasion which he had feared. It was the typical expedient of a weak man turned reckless in a reaction against his own impotence. Neither of his predecessors Speipel nor Dollfuss would ever conceivably have adopted the futile expedient of a faked plebiscite.
Charles Bewley, Hermann Goring and the Third Reich : A Biography based on Family and Official Records, (The Devin-Adair Company, 1962), pp. 229-230
Bewley makes a very cogent point. Holding a plebiscite when you're supposedly scared of being invaded is hardly going to stop whoever wants to do the invading. It's utter madness to take Schuschnigg at his word here. It's most likely he was simply trying to elicit support from abroad which he would not get, while portraying Hitler in as negative light as possible.
However. Even after this little stunt by the Austrian Chancellor Hitler wasn't going to invade, in fact it was being discussed what was to happen:
The German government was completely taken aback by Schuschnigg’s gamble. For hours, there was no response from Berlin. Hitler had not been informed in advance of Schuschnigg’s intentions, and was at first incredulous. But his astonishment rapidly gave way to mounting fury at what he saw as a betrayal of the Berchtesgaden agreement.65 Goebbels recorded the decision to hold an Austrian plebiscite in his diary, though initially without further commentary.66 In the evening, when he was addressing a gathering of newspaper editors at a reception in the Propaganda Ministry, he was suddenly summoned to Hitler’s presence. Göring was already there. He was told of Schuschnigg’s move – ‘an extremely dirty trick’ (ganz gemeinen Bubenstreich) to ‘dupe’ (übertölpeln) the Reich through ‘a stupid and idiotic plebiscite’. The trio were still unsure how to act. They considered replying either by Nazi abstention from the plebiscite (which would have undermined its legitimacy), or by sending 1,000 aeroplanes to drop leaflets over Austria ‘and then actively intervening’.67 For the time being, the German press was instructed to publish nothing at all about Austria.68
But Hitler, who went on to discuss the situation alone with Goebbels until 5a.m., was now ‘in full swing’ and showing ‘a wonderful fighting mood’. ‘He believes the hour has arrived,’ noted Goebbels. He wanted to sleep on it. But he was sure that Italy and England would do nothing. Action from France was possible, but not likely. ‘Risk not so great as at the time of the occupation of the Rhineland,’ was the conclusion.69
Just how unprepared the German leadership had been was shown by the fact that the Foreign Minister, Ribbentrop, was in London, Reichenau had to be recalled from Cairo, and General Erhard Milch (Göring’s right-hand man in the Luftwaffe) was summoned from holiday in Switzerland.70 Göring himself was scheduled to preside over the military court to hear the Fritsch case, meeting for the first time on 10 March. The hearing was abruptly adjourned when a courier brought a message demanding Göring’s presence in the Reich Chancellery.71 Goebbels had also been called there, arriving to find Hitler deep in thought, bent over maps. Plans were discussed for transporting 4,000 Austrian Nazis who had been exiled to Bavaria, together with a further 7,000 paramilitary reservists.72
The Wehrmacht leadership was taken completely by surprise through Hitler’s demand for plans for military intervention. Keitel, abruptly ordered to the Reich Chancellery on the morning of 10 March, spinelessly suggested calling in Brauchitsch and Beck, knowing full well that no plans existed, but wishing to avoid having to tell this to Hitler. Brauchitsch was not in Berlin. Beck despairingly told Keitel: ‘We have prepared nothing, nothing has happened, nothing.’ But his objections were dismissed out of hand by Hitler. He was sent away to report within hours on which army units would be ready to march on the morning of the 12th.73
By this time, Goebbels had again had intensive discussions alone with Hitler. It seems to have been Goebbels who came up with the idea of having the two Nazi supporters in the Austrian cabinet, Seyß-Inquart and Gleise-Horstenau, demand the referendum should follow the procedures laid down for the Saar plebiscite in 1935. Should Schuschnigg refuse, as was to be expected, the two ministers would resign and 600–800 German planes would shower Austria with leaflets on the Saturday, exhorting the people to resistance against their government.
Prominent in Hitler’s mind that morning was Mussolini’s likely reaction. Around midday, he sent a handwritten letter, via his emissary Prince Philipp of Hessen, telling the Duce that as a ‘son of this [Austrian] soil’ he could no longer stand back but felt compelled to intervene to restore order in his homeland, assuring Mussolini of his undiminished sympathy, and stressed that nothing would alter his agreement to uphold the Brenner border.78 But whatever the Duce’s reaction, Hitler had by then already put out his directive for ‘Case Otto’, expressing his intention, should other measures – the demands put by Seyß-Inquart to Schuschnigg – fail, of marching into Austria. The action, under his command, was to take place ‘without use of force in the form of a peaceful entry welcomed by the people’.79
Hitler had put the first ultimatum around 10a.m., demanding Schuschnigg call off the referendum for two weeks to allow a plebiscite similar to that in the Saarland in 1935 to be arranged
At this point, the military preparations in Germany were continuing, ‘but march in still uncertain’, recorded Goebbels. Plans were discussed for making Hitler Federal President, to be acclaimed by popular vote, ‘and then eventually (dann so nach und nach) to complete the Anschluß’.87 In the immediate future, the ‘coordination’ (Gleichschaltung) of Austria, not the complete Anschluß, was what was envisaged.88
Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis (Allen Lane, 2000), pp. 74-77
There was no plan. It was all ad hoc and peaceful actions was at the top of Hitler's priority if he could help it. Being greeted enthusiastically, and wanting a popular vote was all in Hitler's schemes for Austria and all came to fruition. Hitler and his men were met with flowers and excited crowds. Hitler was fulfilling the mission of the German people, and only then did he decide to annex Austria, not before, only after. Kershaw tells us:
General Fedor von Bock, Commander-in-Chief of the newly formed 8th Army, hastily put together in two days out of troop units in Bavaria, reported to Hitler. The motorized Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler had joined them from Berlin. Bock could tell Hitler that the German troops had been received with flowers and jubilation since crossing the border two hours earlier. Hitler listened to the report of reactions abroad by Reich Press Chief Otto Dietrich. He did not expect either military or political complications, and gave the order to drive on to Linz.107
Back in Berlin, Frick was drafting a set of laws to accommodate the German takeover in Austria. A full Anschluß – the complete incorporation of Austria, marking its disappearance as a country – was still not envisaged; at any rate, not in the immediate future. Elections were prescribed for 10 April, with Austria ‘under Germany’s protection’. Hitler was to be Federal President, determining the constitution. ‘We can then push along the development as we want,’ commented Goebbels.108 Hitler himself had not hinted at an Anschluß in his proclamation, read out at midday by Goebbels on German and Austrian radio, stating only that there would be a ‘true plebiscite’ on Austria’s future and fate within a short time.109
Shortly before 4p.m. that afternoon, Hitler crossed the Austrian border over the narrow bridge at his birthplace, Braunau am Inn. The church-bells were ringing. Tens of thousands of people (most of them from outside Braunau), in ecstasies of joy, lined the streets of the small town.
Progress was much slower than expected because of the jubilant crowds packing the roadsides. It was in darkness, four hours later, that Hitler eventually reached the Upper Austrian capital. Seyß-Inquart and Glaise-Horstenau, along with Himmler and other leading Nazis, had long been waiting for him.110 So had an enormous crowd, gathered on the marketplace. The cars could go no further. Hitler’s bodyguards pushed a way through the crowd so that he could go the last few yards to the town hall on foot.111 Peals of bells rang out; the ecstatic crowd was screaming ‘Heil’; Seyß-Inquart could hardly make himself heard in his introductory remarks. Hitler looked deeply moved.112 Tears ran down his cheeks.113 In his speech on the balcony of the Linz town hall, he told the masses, constantly interrupting him with their wild cheering, that Providence must have singled him out to return his homeland to the German Reich. They were witnesses that he had now fulfilled his mission. ‘I don’t know on which day you will be called,’ he added. ‘I hope it is not far off.’ This somewhat mystical remark seemed to indicate that even up to this point, he was not intending within hours to end Austria’s identity by incorporating the country into Germany.114
The extraordinary reception had made a huge impact on him. He was told that foreign newspapers were already speaking of the ‘Anschluß’ of Austria to Germany as a fait accompli. It was in this atmosphere that the idea rapidly took shape of annexing Austria immediately. In an excited mood, Hitler was heard to say that he wanted no half-measures.
Göring, who before the events triggered by the Berchtesgaden meeting had, as we have seen, been the one most strongly pressing for the union of the two countries, was taken by surprise – astonished at the manner in which the actual Anschluß had come about.129
In mid-morning on 14 March, Hitler left Linz for Vienna. Cheering crowds greeted the cavalcade of limousines – thirteen police cars accompanied Hitler’s Mercedes – all the way to the capital, where he arrived, again delayed, in the late afternoon.131 On the orders of Cardinal Innitzer, Archbishop of Vienna, all the Catholic churches in the city pealed their bells in Hitler’s honour and flew swastika banners from their steeples – an extraordinary gesture given the ‘Church struggle’ which had raged in the Reich itself over the previous years.132 The scenes of enthusiasm, according to a Swiss reporter who witnessed them, ‘defied all description’.133 An English observer of the scene commented: ‘To say that the crowds which greeted [Hitler] along the Ringstraße were delirious with joy is an understatement.’134 Hitler had to appear repeatedly on the balcony of the Hotel Imperial in response to the crowd’s continual shouts of ‘We want to see our Führer.’135 Keitel, whose room faced the front of the hotel, found it impossible to sleep for the clamour.136
The next day, 15 March, in beautiful spring weather, Hitler addressed a vast, delirious crowd, estimated at a quarter of a million people, in Vienna’s Heldenplatz. The Viennese Nazi Party had been impatiently expecting him to come to the capital for three days.137 They had had time to ensure the preparations were complete. Work-places were ordered to be closed (though employees were still to be paid – some compensation for the hours spent standing and waiting for Hitler’s speech); many factories and offices had marched their employees as a group to hear the historic speech; schools had not been open since the Saturday; Hitler Youth and girls from the Bund Deutscher Mädel were bussed in from all parts of Austria; party formations had turned out in force.138 But for all the organization, the wild enthusiasm of the immense crowd was undeniable – and infectious.
After attending a military parade in the afternoon, Hitler had a short but important audience, arranged by Papen, with the Austrian primate, Cardinal Innitzer.142 The Cardinal assured Hitler of the loyalty of Austria’s Catholics, the overwhelming body of the population.143 Three days later, along with six other Austrian bishops and archbishops, he put his signature to a declaration of their full support and blessing for the new regime in Austria and their conviction ‘that through the actions of the National Socialist Movement the danger of godless Bolshevism, which would destroy everything, would be fended off’.144 Cardinal Innitzer added in his own hand: ‘Heil Hitler.’145
In the early evening, Hitler left Vienna and flew to Munich, before returning next day to Berlin to another ‘hero’s welcome’.146 Two days later, on 18 March, a hastily summoned Reichstag heard his account of the events leading up to what he described as the ‘fulfilment of the supreme historical commission’.147 He then dissolved the Reichstag and set new elections for 10 April. On 25 March, in Königsberg, he began what was to prove his last ‘election’ campaign, holding six out of fourteen major speeches in the former Austria.148 In both parts of the extended Reich, the propaganda machine once more went into overdrive.
Newspapers were prohibited from using the word ‘ja’ in any context other than in connection with the plebiscite.149 When the results were announced on 10 April, 99.08 per cent in the ‘Old Reich’, and 99.75 per cent in ‘Austria’ voted ‘yes’ to the Anschluß and to the ‘list of the Führer’.150 Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry congratulated itself. ‘Such an almost 100 per cent election result is at the same time a badge of honour for all election propagandists,’ it concluded.151
From Hitler’s perspective, it was a near-perfect result. Whatever the undoubted manipulative methods, ballot-rigging, and pressure to conform which helped produce it, genuine support for Hitler’s action had unquestionably been massive.152 Once again, a foreign-policy triumph had strengthened his hand at home and abroad. For the mass of the German people, Hitler once more seemed a statesman of extraordinary virtuoso talents. For the leaders of the western democracies, anxieties about the mounting instability of central Europe were further magnified.
The Anschluß was a watershed for Hitler, and for the Third Reich. The backcloth to it had been one of domestic crisis. Yet almost overnight any lingering threat in the Blomberg–Fritsch affair had been defused by a triumph greater than any that Hitler had enjoyed before. The overwhelming reception he had encountered on his grandiose procession to Vienna, above all his return to Linz, had made a strong impression on the German Dictator. The intoxication of the crowds made him feel like a god. The rapid improvisation of the Anschluß there and then, fulfilling a dream he had entertained as a young Schönerer supporter all those years earlier, proved once more – so it seemed to him – that he could do anything he wanted. His instincts were, it seemed, always right. The western ‘powers’ were powerless. The doubters and sceptics at home were, as always, revealed as weak and wrong. There was no one to stand in his way. As Papen later put it: ‘Hitler had brought about the Anschluß by force; in spite of all warnings and prophecies, his own methods had proved the most direct and successful. Not only had there been no armed conflict between the two countries, but no foreign power had seen fit to intervene. They adopted the same passive attitude as they had shown towards the reintroduction of conscription in Germany and the reoccupation of the Rhineland. The result was that Hitler became impervious to the advice of all those who wished him to exercise moderation in his foreign policy.’154
Ibid, pp. 78-83
His (Hitler's) revisionist policy did not usually proceed by slow negotiation and its aims were extended as far as the demand for the return of Germany's colonies. While he was pursuing it, moreover, his eastern project receded. Even the Anschluss, Hitler's declared aim in the first paragraph of Mein Kampf, upon close analysis has been shown to be a response to a situation only partly of his own making and 'achieved almost against his own will'."11
11: See Jiirgen Gehl, Austria, Germany and the Anschluss 1931-1938 (Oxford, I964)
HW Koch, Hitler and the Origins of the Second World War: Second Thoughts on the Status of Some of the Documents, pp. 129-131
However, despite the evidence of widespread support for the Anschluss in Austria, the later defeat of the Third Reich gave Austrians an opportunity to reinvent their recent past. In April 1945 – while many Austrians were still fighting for the Third Reich – the ‘Proclamation of 27 April’ by the provisional Austrian government embraced the concept of Austria as victim. That summer the new Austrian Foreign Ministry put forward the new orthodoxy that Austria had not been a willing ally of Germany; instead, Austria had been ‘occupied and liberated’. This presented the Anschluss as the forcible occupation of a helpless people and Austria’s first post-war government encapsulated this view in a famous publication in 1946: Justice for Austria! Red-White-Red-Book.19 It was (as the historian Günter Bischof put it) a ‘“Rip van Winkle myth” of dormant Austrian statehood.’20 It is the same myth that is perpetuated in the charming musical The Sound of Music, where a concert audience sings Edelweiss as a sign of Austrian independence and defiance, to the annoyance of Nazi officials.
Martin Whittock, A Brief History of The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall of the Nazis
The truth is that the morality held over the west over the actions of Hitler and then National Socialists are false. Hitler isn't a criminal for wanting, by force if need be, to oppose unjust policies enforced by the allies. And certainly not for uniting his people.
To illustrate this I'm going to quote the best refutation i've heard of this false morality. A morality that had people killed at Nuremberg by the corrupt victors. By those same people like Kershaw, who rant and rave
The only question which arose on the fate of Austria after the Anschluss was whether it should be incorporated into Germany by stages or on the spot. Hitler's decision in favor of an immediate incorporation was determined by the enthusiasm of the crowds which greeted him on his arrival.
It is difficult to see wherein the gravamen of the charge lies -- more specially when it is remembered that although Hitler and Goring were convinced that they were acting in harmony with the wishes not only of the German, but also of the Austrian people. That their conviction was no error is proved by the testimony of all who were present in Austria at the time as well as by the result of the plebiscite. However much it may be deprecated that pressure was applied to Schuschnigg, it cannot be overlooked that he was acting in opposition to the wishes of the vast majority of his country-men and that Hitler rather than he was seeking that the will of the people, so long frustrated by the Treaty of St. Germain, should prevail. Nor does the suggestion to Seyss-Inquart that a telegram should be sent asking for German troops appear to be a crime calling for the death penalty; if the defenseless state of Austria had induced the Yugoslav Government to occupy Carinthia or the Hungarian Government the Burgenland, international complications might easily have resulted.
On the other hand, if it is remembered that Austria throughout its history as an "independent" republic had never ceased to demonstrate its desire for union with Germany, that such union had time after time been prevented by the superior force of the Allies, and that in spite of that force practically the whole of Austrian opinion, irrespective of party, still favoured the union with those of the same race in the Reich, then it is difficult to see where the criminality lay in bringing about the Anschluss.
The President of the International Military Tribunal was not of the same opinion. In his judgement he comments:
"It was contended before the Tribunal that the annexation of Austria was justified by the strong desire expressed in many quarters for the union of Austria and Germany; that there were many matters in common between the two peoples that made this union desirable; and that in the result the object was achieved without bloodshed. These matters, even if true, are really immaterial. . ."
Or, in other words, if Austria, instead of being German by speech and race, had had no matter in common with the Reich; if, instead of "strongly desiring the union of Austria and Germany," it had been bitterly opposed to such union; if, instead of welcoming the incoming German troops with flowers and banners, the Austrian population had shed its blood in a last hopeless resistance, then, the guilt of those responsible for the Anschluss would have been no greater, for "these matters, even if true, are really immaterial."
The ordinary man with a sense of fairness can only raise his eyebrows and ask himself with amazement how the President of the International Military Tribunal could utter sentiments so repugnant equally to justice and to common sense. The air of superiority with which Sir Geoffrey Lawrence brushes aside the desense without deigning to give it a minute's consideration will never convince him that union with a country which has repeatedly expressed its desire for that union is a crime equal to the invasion and forcible subjugation of a victim desperately struggling for its liberty. He will say to himself that, if "these matters, even if true, are really immaterial" to the Tribunal, then the Tribunal cannot have been concerned with the interests of Austria as the injured party, but only with the policy if the states composing the Tribunal, and that the crime of the accused was that of having opposed that policy.
I recommend reading all the books cited. Even Kershaw and Whittock if you can stomach it. Also read:
Peter Utgaard, Remembering & Forgetting Nazism: Education, National Identity, and the Victim Myth in Postwar Austria
"The Myth of Austrian victimization at the hands of both Nazi Germany and the Allies became the unifying theme of Austrian official memory and a key component of national identity as a new Austria emerged from the ruins. In the 1980s, Austria's myth of victimization came under intense scrutiny in the wake of the Waldheim scandal that marked the beginning of its erosion. The fiftieth anniversary of the Anschluß in 1988 accelerated this process and resulted in a collective shift away from the victim myth. Important themes examined include the rebirth of Austria, the Anschluß, the war and the Holocaust, the Austrian resistance, and the Allied occupation."
How 'The Sound of Music' Distorts History Hollywood Mythology About Austrians and Hitler https://www.ihr.org/other/weber2011soundofmusic.html
Evan Burr Bukey, Hitler's Austria 1938-1945: Popular Sentiment in the Nazi Era