Anschlussdenkmal: The Forbidden Nazi Memorial

May 14, 2021 0 comments

The Anschlussdenkmal, or Anschluss Monument, in the Austrian town of Oberschützen, is a Nazi monument erected to commemorate the bloodless coup of 1938 by which Austria was annexed into Nazi Germany. The monument was designed by Styrian architect Rudolf Hofer and was made to appear like a temple with pillared arcades. A two-meter high gilded imperial eagle stood inside the rectangular structure on a high pedestal on which were engraved the Nazi inscription Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Führer! (One People, One Empire, One Leader) and a large swastika. The sculpture itself was surrounded by fire cauldrons. It is the largest remaining Nazi memorial in Austria.


The Anschlussdenkmal. Photo: Walter Reiss

The Anschluss

After the First World War, Austria was reduced to a rump state with most of its former empire stripped away leaving only the German-speaking part behind. When Hitler came to power, many German-Austrians began to look forward to their new leader. With the Nazi’s growing influence, a group of Austrian Nazis attempted to seized the Austrian chancellery and proclaim a government. The coup failed but not after they had assassinated the chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss.

Dollfuss's successor Kurt Schuschnigg followed a political course similar to his predecessor, but the political factions and unrest left him with little popular support. In early 1938, under increasing pressure from pro-unification activists, Kurt Schuschnigg agreed to hold a referendum on a possible union with Germany. Fearing rejection from the populace, Hitler threatened to invade and pressured Schuschnigg to cancel the referendum and resign.

The state of Europe after the end of WW1.

The state of Europe after the end of WW1.

On the morning of 12 March 1938, troops of the German Wehrmacht crossed the border into Austria with little resistance. On the contrary, they were greeted by cheering Austrians. That afternoon, Hitler rode across the border in a car and drove to his birthplace, Braunau am Inn. Hitler himself was surprised at the enthusiastic welcome he received because he, like most other people, had believed that the majority of Austrians opposed Anschluss. The overwhelming reception caused Hitler to change his plans and absorb Austria into the Reich instead of leaving it as a satellite state. The seizure of Austria demonstrated Hitler's aggressive territorial ambitions, and the failure of the British and the French to take action against him for violating the Versailles Treaty only emboldened him toward further aggression.

Austrian citizens gather in the Heldenplatz to hear Hitler's declaration of annexation

Austrian citizens gather in the Heldenplatz to hear Hitler's declaration of annexation. Photo: Heinrich Hoffmann/Wikimedia Commons

It would be wrong to assume that there was no opposition to Hitler in Austria. On the contrary, opposition was suppressed. Tens of thousands of people were arrested. Authorities rounded up Social Democrats, Communists, other potential political dissenters, and Austrian Jews, and sent them to concentration camps. When a plebiscite was organized to ratify the annexation, more than 360,000 people including political enemies, Jewish and Gypsies were denied the right to vote. The results were manipulated to indicate that more than 99 percent of the Austrian people wanted the union with Germany.



The Anschlussdenkmal as it appeared after its completion. Photo: Spotlight 51/Wikimedia Commons

The Anschlussdenkmal was erected shortly after Austria’s annexation. During the Nazi era, the monument was used for a number of ceremonies and political rallies. After the end of the Second World War and the fall of the Nazi rule, the imperial eagle that stood in the middle of the building was demolished. The base inscription and the fire pylons were dismantled. Only the stone pillars remained. There were repeated discussions about tearing down the monument, but this never happened because of the complicated ownership structure of the land the monument stood on, among other things. In the years that followed, the building was used in different ways, mostly as campfire sites and in photo shoots, but in general, it was considered taboo because of its origins. There wasn't much talk about the building in the community, until 1997 when the municipality attached a plaque to the memorial. The inscription on it read:

Erected in 1939 as a memorial for the annexation of Austria to National Socialist Germany. May this site be a memorial for us today and in the future: against dictatorship, against violence, against racism - for democracy, for peace and for the protection of human rights!

Municipality of Oberschützen, 1997


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