Hitler's Austria: Popular Sentiment in the Nazi Era, 1938-1945, by Evan Burr Bukey

Article excerpt

Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. 320 pp. $39.95.

While Nazism has always exerted a magnetic attraction over both professional historians and lay people, scholars over the past twenty years have refined older interpretations and deepened our understanding of the period. This process has included a reevaluation of the exact nature of Nazi rule, power, and acceptance in Germany itself. It has also meant moving beyond the borders of Germany to examine the impact of Nazism, anti-Semitism and the failure of liberalism throughout Europe. This research has been particularly important, and particularly relevant to present-day politics, in Austria. Recent research on the creation of memory in Austria's Second Republic has underlined the efforts of its founders to establish Austria as a normal, western state.

Evan Burr Bukey's recent book, Hitler's Austria: Popular Sentiment in the Nazi Era, 1938-1945, contributes to this discourse. Bukey, who teaches Central European history at the University of Arkansas, has written an earlier book on Hitler's hometown of Linz. Here, Bukey effectively summarizes existing research about popular opinion and attitudes in prewar Austria, and adds substantially to our understanding of wartime sentiment. In so doing, he deals another blow to the shaky support for Austria as Germany's first victim.

Bukey's book splits neatly into two parts. After a brief discussion of Austria before and during the Nazi takeover (a takeover whose enthusiastic welcome, he suggests, demonstrated a deep-seated feeling of national unity rather than simply economic or political concerns), he launches into an analysis of public sentiment in specific segments of Austrian society. Primarily but not exclusively based on secondary sources, these chapters are wide-ranging and insightful. They represent not just a reasoned evaluation of popular sentiment, but a broader summary of the impact the new regime had on various groups within Austria. Bukey outlines the resentment among Austrian Nazis at the presence of so many Germans in governmental positions, explains the ineffectiveness of the Catholic Church in failed negotiations aimed at securing its place in the new regime, points to the widespread support of the Austrians for the economic recovery instituted by the Nazis, and underscores the relative suspicion of the rural population toward the new leaders. His examination of the impact of antisemitism on Austrian popular sentiment is especially effective. He concludes that, compared with Germany, a higher percentage of the Austrian population took part in actions against Jews, that these actions were initiated more often by lower-level cadres and "ordinary men," that there was more violence against property and person, and that Austrians demonstrated a greater impatience with governmental caution. Indeed, persecution of the Jews was limited more by a desire to exploit their wealth than by public opposition. …