On the 9 March 1938, in a desperate act, Schuschnigg announced a referendum whereby the Austrian people would decide for themselves if they wanted to be a part of Hitler's Germany. Hitler was furious. If the Austrians voted against joining Germany his excuse for invasion would be ruined.
Hitler told his generals to prepare for the invasion of Austria. He ordered Schuschnigg to call off the referendum. Knowing he would receive no help from Italy, and that France and Britain would not interfere in Hitler's plans, Schuschnigg conceded. He called off the referendum and resigned.
The Nazi Austrian Interior Minister, Seyss-Inquart, was ordered by Hitler to ask for German help in restoring order in Austria.
Hitler reassured Czechoslovakia that they had nothing to fear.
German troops marched into Austria unopposed. Hitler now had control of Austria. A month later, Hitler held a rigged referendum. The results showed that the Austrian people approved of German control of their country.
French politics were in turmoil in March 1938. In fact, two days before Germany invaded Austria the entire French government had resigned. France was not in a position to oppose the invasion.
In March 1938, Britain was having its own political problems. Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, had resigned over Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's decision to open negotiations with the Fascist dictator of Italy, Mussolini. As such, with Chamberlain determined to appease Hitler, there was no political will to oppose Germany.
Furthermore, the British population were against the idea of another European war. The Anschluss was not seen as a threat to Britain and, as both nations were German-speaking, there was a sense that there was no good reason why Austria and Germany shouldn't unify.
Anti-appeasers, such as Winston Churchill, were alarmed by Germany's annexation of Austria. They believed that if Hitler had a true claim to Austria, he should have used negotiation and diplomacy rather than force.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.