Statesman’s Apologia
Austrian Requiem.
by Kurt von Schuschnigg.
New York, G. P. .Putnam’s Sons, 1946. 322 pp. $3.50.

 

Few apologists are more suspect than retired statesmen explaining their ill-starred political decisions. The consequences being larger, their flights of self-extenuation cover more mileage. At the same time, they so obscure the issues in the mellowing ivy of off-the-record anecdotes that one can hardly depend on what they say.

Against the background of a world war, the forced Anschluss of Austria becomes a small incident. But if only for historical purposes, the facts should be gathered and published. To expect these facts from Dr. Schuschnigg, however, would be unfair, since they add up to an ironclad indictment of his own life’s work. Yet these facts are not complicated and are well known in Europe. The Austrian Republic, the historically illogical creation of the Peace Treaty of St. Germain, was the football of Central European power politics. Split between the Social-Democrats (who worked for a democratic solution) and the Catholic Christian Social party (Vatican-dominated, quietly anti-Semitic, and reactionary to the core), it staggered from one crisis to another. Relying on its southern neighbor, Fascist Italy, and drawing popular support mainly from the backward rural provinces, the clerical party had as its one aim to break the power of the Socialists, who, in the absence of a liberal movement, were the sole executors of the democratic idea.

In 1927, long before the Nazi danger, the Christian Social government’s police actually fired on workers demonstrating against the acquittal of a group of Austrian fascist hoodlums who had attacked a Socialist parade with firearms. The threat of German annexation after Hitler’s rise to power was used by this same regime as a bogey against the Socialists. In 1935, the Dollfuss government, in which Dr. Schuschnigg held at different times the ministries of education and justice, was finally able, by means of a bloody Putsch in which several thousand Austrian Socialists were killed, to dissolve the Austrian parliament, and establish the authoritarian regime for which the clericalists had worked since 1918. Dr. Schuschnigg was at the very least an accomplice in all this. He became chancellor of the new authoritarian state when the Nazis had murdered Dollfuss, and although he undoubtedly wanted to preserve Austria’s independence, he fought the Socialists with the same ruthlessness as his predecessor.

After the Anschluss in 1938, Dr. Schuschnigg was arrested and kept imprisoned until the end of the war in various Nazi jails and concentration camps. But the treatment he received was more pleasant by far than that of less prominent anti-Nazis.

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Austrian Requiem demonstrates with frightening clarity that experience may sometimes teach a man nothing. Dr. Schuschnigg beclouds the situation rather cleverly by saying that Austria was neither a geographical nor historical concept, but an idea. He does not, however, present this “idea” as the incubator of some of the most advanced achievements of the 20th century: Freud’s psychoanalysis, Schlick’s neo-positivism, Schoenberg’s radical music, the functional concept of interior decoration of the Wiener Werkstaette, the advanced analysis of nationalism in the writings of Otto Bauer. It was under the clerical regime that Schlick was murdered by a Nazi student, Freud prevented from teaching at the University, Schoenberg driven to Berlin for the sake of his livelihood, and Otto Bauer severely wounded in the fighting of February 1935—after which he had to flee into Czechoslovakia. Austria may have been an “idea” for Dr. Schuschnigg and his colleagues, but it was an idea hostile to all other ideas in Austria.

Dr. Schuschnigg bases his refusal to found his policy upon collaboration with the democratic West on Hitler’s unfriendliness: “Hitler’s unchangingly hostile attitude, which kept the German borders closed for any Austrian export, and the beginning of the rapprochement between Berlin and Rome, left us no choice for action. For reasons of immediate security, we had to incur the inevitable disapproval of Britain. For the moment our calculations seemed to be correct.” Today, we know how short that moment was.

On democracy and a possible plebiscite in Austria, Schuschnigg has this to say: “We must avoid the appearance that Vienna had to yield to Berlin, where such a plebiscite had been demanded again and again, and secondly, we could not risk that the proclamation of a plebiscite would be regarded as a failure of the Austrian government to live up to its obligation of keeping Austria in an independent state. Italy and France would certainly regard such a step as an infraction of the peace treaties.” Dr. Schuschnigg was less touchy, however, about keeping the peace treaties when he introduced compulsory military service in direct violation of all peace-treaty terms.

Even more revealing is the following passage: “The Austrian government could not afford to hold elections, as the result would have been the very contrary of the policy to which we were bound by the peace treaties, and our independence would have been lost.” Yet, while on the one hand he believes that all Austria was full of Nazis, he asserts that “the psychological prerequisite of popular support [for the monarchy] was evident.”

Intellectual dishonesty of this sort permeates Schuschnigg’s book to the point where he actually falsifies the results of the last democratic elections and allots the Socialists fewer votes than they received. All this, coupled with his still surviving respect for Mussolini, his one-time great protector, and his admission of the possibility that the intentions of the Austrian Nazi leaders might have been honorable, make it quite obvious that Dr. Schuschnigg rejected, and still rejects, any democratic solution, that he opposed the Nazis mainly for geographical reasons—and is stupid enough to be honest about it.

The whole matter is rather unimportant today except for two points. One: the clerical regime works hard to regain absolute power in Austria and there is no evidence that its present representatives are unlike Dr. Schuschnigg. Two: how inadequate must our modern forms of government be if the fate of six million people could rest in the hands of a man who betrayed such fundamental naiveté at the most crucial junctures of his country’s history.

If Dr. Schuschnigg is as objectively innocent as he tries to make us believe—with a disingenuousness that says “possibly I am not innocent”—he could have at least done one thing. In the crucial days between his Berchtesgaden meeting with Hitler on February 12, 1938, and his resignation from the government on March 11, he could have told the Austrian public of the real state of affairs; and having told them that, he could have given them as individuals the right to emigrate and allowed them to export their possessions. By failing to do this, he became an indirect accomplice in the murder of 200,000 Austrian Jews and of countless non-Jewish enemies of Nazism.

It is sad that an American public should be presented with a book that extolls thinly disguised fascist ideas. But it is actually terrifying to note that the jacket of this book was designed by an artist signing himself Cohen.

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