Hitler, a native of Austria, had been putting pressure on the Austrian government to agree to annexation or unification with Germany. This was resisted by the Austrian chancellor Schuschnigg who had attempted to suppress Austrian Nazis after they had taken part in a failed coup attempt in 1934.
Things came to a head in early 1938. Schuschnigg attempt to respond to this pressure by organising a plebiscite (a referendum of the Austrian people) which might deliver a vote against unification. Hitler pre-empted the result of this on 12 March 1938 by marching his troops into the country and organising his own referendum, excluding opponents from voting and supported by a propaganda drive.
Austrians were enthusiastic about unification with Germany, which promised economic recovery and a restoration of pride after the humiliations imposed on them by the Treaty of Versailles.
Jews, communists, socialists and other hostile politicians were sent to camps, murdered or forced into exile. Germany began to pour money into Austria to promote economic recovery and to gear up Austrian industry in preparation for the war effort. Austria was renamed 'Ostmark' - the Eastern March.
Nazi leaders in Vienna
On 15th March Hitler addressed ecstatic crowds at Vienna's Heldenplatz (Square of Heroes). His speech was recorded. Other Nazi leaders also made their way to the city.
Suppression of dissent
Communists, socialists and other hostile politicians were sent to camps, murdered or forced into exile. About 20,000 people were arrested in the early days of the Anschluss. Many were quickly released but Schuschnigg himself, together with others associated with his government, were sent to Dachau for the duration of the Nazi regime. About 100.000 Austrians were arrested on political charges between 1938-45. About 34,000 of these died in prisons or camps and about 2,700 were executed.
Cardinal Innitzer, leader of the Austrian Catholics, at first welcomed the Anschluss, but later became a critic when Nazi hostility to the Church led to the enactment of anti-Catholic measures. Clergy were arrested and Catholic schools and other institutions were closed.