Hitler's Hometown: Linz, Austria, 1908-1945

Hitler's Hometown: Linz, Austria, 1908-1945

Hitler's Hometown: Linz, Austria, 1908-1945

Hitler's Hometown: Linz, Austria, 1908-1945

Excerpt

Few societies have experienced greater turbulence in the first half of the twentieth century than German-speaking Austria. The core of the once- powerful Habsburg Empire, Austria west of the Leitha river was the focal point of the ethnic cleavages, social dislocation, and political disintegration that afflicted the monarchy in the last years of its existence. With the defeat and dissolution of Austria-Hungary at the end of World War I, the German remnant became a democratic republic, a small state of about six and a half million bewildered inhabitants. The new Austria was not without assets, but it was burdened with a shattered economy, an authoritarian political legacy, and, above all, a lack of national identity or cohesion. While the prospect of Anschluss, or union with Germany, seemed at first a way out of these difficulties, the refusal of the victorious allies to countenance unification without the unanimous consent of the Council of the League of Nations intensified Austria's identity crisis. In the absence of countervailing integrative forces the country fell prey to ever greater polarization and fragmentation, characterized by ideological acrimony, class division, and the rise of fascist movements.

In 1934 a brief but violent civil war put an end to what little consensus remained in Austria and laid the groundwork for the establishment of a right-authoritarian dictatorship. Since this throwback to an earlier era offered no meaningful solutions to the desperate problems of the day, the new regime unwittingly conditioned the Austrian people to welcome Hitler's incorporation of their (and his) country in 1938. Thereafter collaborative support for the Nazi dictatorship was so widespread that only persecution, suffering, and looming defeat in World War II induced public sentiment to turn against what was gradually perceived as foreign rule. Once the notion of an independent Austrian state became a viable alternative to Greater Germany, however, a patriotic consciousness developed in Austria that since 1945 has enabled the Second Republic to strike root and to flourish.

It has long been recognized that Austria's difficulties in the twentieth century, however painful and dramatic, have much in common with those of other European societies: social, economic, and ethnic division; the collapse of a vast empire and the quest for a new identity; the evolution of a participatory political culture; the transformation of a traditional social order into a modern industrial society. At the same time it is also clear that Austrian developments have manifested distinctive qualities of their own: lack of national identity, sociopolitical segmentation, intense political participation and mass party membership; consociational bargaining among leadership groups. In recent years a number of important studies have skillfully woven both the common and separate threads of Austria's recent . . .

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