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Hitler's Austria; Popular Sentiment in the Nazi Era 1938-1945.

Hitler's Austria; Popular Sentiment in the Nazi Era 1938-1945. By Evan Burr Bukey (Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000. xvi plus 320 pp. $39.95).

When the German army entered Austria in March 1938, the German dictator Adolf Hitler was welcomed by cheering crowds which filled even the largest places in the major Austrian cities. In the days before the German invasion the authoritarian government of the Austrian Corporate state had planned a referendum to secure its own position and Austrian independence. The impending success of the Austrian government's efforts had induced Hitler to enter Austria in order to prevent the referendum. In April 1938 the German government itself initiated a plebiscite intended to document the Austrians' support for the new regime and for the annexation of their country to Germany. The April plebiscite became a great success for the Nazis, with more than 99 percent of the population voting in favor of annexation. Why did the Austrians change their minds in the course of a few weeks? How did the population in general react to the new regime? How did the Austrian Nazis, who had fought against the Austrian Corporate state, feel in a Greater Germany ruled by the Nazi party? In which way did economic recovery, political persecution and the war efforts influence the attitudes of the population? How did the Austrians respond to Nazi antisemitism and the persecution of Jews?

Evan Burr Bukey from the University of Arkansas, who has published a number of works on Austria and Nazism (among others: Hitler's hometown: Linz, Austria, 1908-1945, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), addresses these issues in his new book in three parts. The first one focuses on the preconditions of Nazi rule in Austria, reaching back to German nationalism in the Habsburg monarchy and the traditions of the Nazi party in Austria and, in a rather far-fetched reference, to the Counter Reformation and to Josephinism. Bukey describes the political and economic situation of the Corporate state established in 1934, and wide-spread anti-Semitism which had reached new peaks after the Great War and had only in part been contained during the years of the Corporate system. Bukey's interpretation of Austria's annexation to Germany largely follows the prevailing view. As already the last chancellor of independent Austria before World War II, Kurt Schuschnigg, has pointed out, in 1938 neither the Austrian gover nment nor the Nazis had a majority of the population behind them. Estimates of either camp range between a quarter and a third of the population, with the remaining 35 to 50 percent being undecided and mostly ready to back the ruling government whether it be an independent Austrian or a Nazi government. Although it is clear that the outcome of the April plebiscite was heavily biased due to Nazi terror, is seems likely that after the German invasion a majority would have voted for the annexation even in the case of a free plebiscite.

The main part of the book covers the one and a half years between Austria's annexation to Germany and the beginning of the war. Bukey describes popular attitudes within two ideological camps, the Nazi populace and the Catholic Church, and attitudes within the working class and the farming populace. In these chapters, the author offers a differentiated view on the distribution of power within the Nazi party, the delusions of certain Nazi factions, the tactical moves of the episcopate, the mood among Austrian Catholic activists (who, among others, managed to stage the largest anti-Nazi demonstration in the history of the Third Reich), the popular reactions to Nazi labor policy, the limited accessibility of the rural population, and many other issues. An issue that was not confined to single classes or ideological camps, was anti-Semitism and the treatment of the Jewish population. The persecution of Jews began immediately after the annexation and included terror and the preparation of large-scale expropriations organized by state officials as well as assaults and humiliating rituals initiated by ordinary people.

The third part of the book focuses on popular reaction to developments in the war years such as political and military affairs, the war economy, foreign labor, euthanasia, and the resistance movement.

The book is remarkable for Bukey's ability to distinguish between subtle variations in popular attitudes and his successful attempt to identify ambiguous feelings, uncertainty, and inconsistent, wavering or irresolute behavior among ordinary people. Although in some chapters, the reader will find little more than a careful account of what historians have produced thus far, others provide new insights into popular behavior under a dictatorship. For instance, in depicting the mood among the farming populace, Bukey contrasts government measures and positive and negative reactions to them on the individual and local level, and makes evident the importance of practical and accidental circumstances determining loyalties and objections to the regime. Of course, ideological issues did exert some influence, for instance, the Nazi assault of the Catholic Church alienated large parts of the rural population. On the other hand, Nazi agricultural policy had variable effects on popular attitudes, alienating those who were hit by the establishment of compulsory peasant entails for certain farms, but offering chances of social mobility to those members of the rural lower classes who were able to seek new opportunities in industry. Bukey shows these consequences and popular reactions in the light of single rural communities.

In this and other chapters, Bukey uses reports of the security service of the SS and other administrative accounts of popular sentiment. It is clear that these sources, which were produced for the needs of a dictatorship, cannot explicitly reveal the whole extent of existing dissatisfaction with or even hostility toward the regime because most people were careful not to openly express discontent; however, this problem was clearly evident to the authors of the reports as well, which most likely has influenced the results of their work. Bukey's book is an convincing example of a productive use of these sources.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Pammer, Michael
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2001
Words:994
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