The dream of Germanic Unification is denied


In the immediate post-war period when the "Kaiserreich" (emperor state) had been overthrown by the German revolution of November 1918, it was the expectation of most pro-republic politicians that as part of the ultimate political settlement with the victorious Allies, Germany and Austria would be united into a single state. This desire for "Anschluß", which means "unification", was a long-time aspiration of democratic and anti-Prussian forces in German society. In both nations a popular uprising, lead by socialist politicians, had toppled the long-ruling royal Houses - Hohenzollern and Habsburg respectively - thus clearing the imperial impediment to an union of the populaces.  In both nations republics had been declared amidst wide spread popular support, although the social and political chaos in Germany as of January 1919 still left in doubt the ultimate form of that nation's republic. Still, the majority Socialist governments of both nations were articulate in their desire, and indeed demand, for an unification of Germany and German ethnic Austria. In this, the politicians reflected a widespread yearning of masses of the populace, regardless of economic station, party affiliation or geographic domicile. The southern states of Germany, home to the majority of Germany's Roman Catholics, were particularly desirous of union with Catholic Austria which had for centuries exerted a more direct cultural influence than northern Prussia. The particularism of the southern Germans also saw in union with Austria the strengthening of their power versus the ever 
domineering Prussians. On this one, highly emotionally charged issue therefore, the Majority Social Democrats and their trade union supporters shared common belief and policy with powerful political elements who were pro-monarchist and had long been hostile to the Socialists.

Gustav Stresemann, one of the most distinguished leaders of the National Liberal Party in the pre-war Reichstag, and soon to be leader of the newly formed German Peoples Party was one such. Stresemann made a committment to Socialist head of the provisional government Friedrich Ebert that his faction would drop its opposition to the Republic if union with Austria was achieved. 

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(This was the Stresemann who would serve as Germany's Foreign Minister throughout a succession of governments, from November 1923 to his death in 1929; in the process of which he was awarded the 1926 Nobel Peace Prize for concluding the international non-aggression and arbitration Locarno Treaties in October 1925.)

The Germans and Austrians staked their claim to unification upon American President Wilson's stated principle of national self determination. The position of the Ebert government and the majority parties in the National Assembly was that Germany had accepted Armistice and surrender on the basis of Wilson's Fourteen Points. The Prussian royalty had been forced to relinquish its right to rule, and a democratically elected assembly had been chosen to represent the popular will of the people. In short, the Allies' demands that the Kaiserreich, penultimate symbol of Prussian militarism, be eliminated and that democratic rule be established in Germany, had both been fulfilled. Germany's position was therefore that the nation had complied with the primary requirements of the victorious Allies and was therefore entitled to benefit from the principle of self determination. The key element of that determination was to achieve a union of Germany and Austria into an unified German Empire.

The Austrian republican government, itself just constituted in late-October 1918 expressed its desire for union with Germany as early as November 12, 1918 and again formally on January 19, 1919. On February 16, 1919 elections for the Austrian Constituent Assembly returned a Socialist majority, which again called for an "union" with Germany. 


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Vienna, 12 Nov. 1918
Ausrufung der 
Republik Deutschösterreich

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Deutschösterreich ist ein Bestandteil der deutschen Republik.
Artikel 2 der deutschösterreichischen Verfassung, einstimmig beslossen von der deutschösterreichischen Nationalversammlung am 12. November 1918.

(German-Austria is a part of the German Republic. Article 2 of the German-Austrian constitution, decided unanimously by the German-Austrian national assembly, November 12, 1918.)

The German government and representatives of the people responded formally and with equal vigor to the Austrian proposal early in February 1919. The aspirations for a pan-Germanic union were succinctly and eloquently expressed in a key portion of a speech by Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert on the occasion of his opening of the newly elected German National Assembly on February 7, 1919 in Weimar. Ebert was chairman of the Council of Peoples Representatives (the Republican Provisional Government), and the National Assembly had been elected and convened to determine the form of the new Republican Germany. The following excerpt from Ebert's speech of February 7, 1919 addresses clearly this important issue of the day, the frustration of which was to have such far reaching and tragic consequences. Almost a century later, the conviction and tone of righteous entitlement still rings true: 

"Germany laid down her arms in condifence, trusting in the principles of President Wilson. Now let them give us a Wilson peace, to which we have a claim....The German people has won its right to self-determination at home. It cannot sacrifice that right abroad. We cannot renounce uniting the whole German nation in the frame-work of a single Empire. Our German-Austrian brothers as far back as November 12th last [1918] in their National Assembly declared themselves to be part of the great German Republic. Now theGerman-Austrian National Assembly has again [January 19, 1919], amid storms of enthusiasm, sent us its greeting and given expression to the hope that our National Assembly and theirs will succeed in again uniting the bonds which violence tore asunder in 1866. [Austro-Prussian War] German-Austria must be united with the Motherland for all time. I am sure that I am speaking for the whole National Assembly when I welcome this historic manifestation sincerely and joyfully, and reply to it with heartfelt fraternity. The brothers of our blood and destiny can be assured that we will welcome them with open arms and hearts in the new Empire of the German nation. They belong to us and we belong to them. (Applause.) I may also express the hope that the National Assembly will empower the future Imperial Government to negotiate as soon as possible with the German-Austrian free State concerning final union. Then there will be no more frontier posts between us. then we 
shall really be a single people of brothers."


- It is noted in the record of the speech, that this relatively short passage was interrupted by applause ten times! -

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Hände weg von
deutsche
Heimaterde  

Aside from nationalist pan Germanic feelings, both the Germans and the Austrians were motivated by pressing economic and political factors to seek unification. Both nations knew that they were to suffer territorial downsizing, although in January 1919 no one in Germany could yet anticipate the degree to which she was to be economically and territorially punished by the Allies. Austria however had no illusions from the onset. In the fourth week of October 1918 as the centuries-old Austrian Empire dissolved in a matter of days, provisional governments demanding national independence appeared almost simultaneously in Prague, Belgrade, Warsaw and Budapest. 

The Austrian Socialist Government realized they were soon to lead a new nation state with too large a head. Austria, which was to be reconstituted as a nation territorially defined by its ethnic German population, had nearly one-third of that population concentrated in its capital of Vienna!

For its part, Germany was well aware that Alsace and Lorraine would revert to France, Posen was certain to be ceded to Poland, and that the Allies (at French insistence) would burden Germany with runious indemnities. Austria's six million people, natural resources and sophisticated banking system would help to compensate for such loses to the Allies and newly created states.

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Die präsidenten des
deutsch-österreichischen
Staatsrates

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Der Anschluß
Österreich zum
deutschen Reich

At first the members of the American delegation attending the peace conference seemed prepared to agree to the request for unification. The majority of British Prime Minister Lloyd George's collaborators were of the same opinion. Needless to say, the French government was violently opposed. 

On March 27, 1919, in a speech at a meeting of the Big Four, French Premier George Clemenceau made it clear that he considered the realignment of Austria with Germany to pose a thread to the future peace of Europe, and that Germany, the accused instigator of the greatest and most costly war ever fought until then in human history, could not be allowed to come out of that war larger and potentially stronger than before.  In this, Clemenceau was supported by Italy's Orlando, who dreaded the thought of German territory extending as far south as the Brenner Pass.  President Wilson and British Prime Minister Lloyd George were disinclined to argue strenuously for the principles inscribed in  the Fourteen Points in the face of a situation that their allies were adamant would endanger the balance of power in Continental Europe. Therefore France and Italy had little difficulty in securing adoption of their motion forbidding the union of Germany and Austria.

The principle of non-unification was enshrined in Part III Article 80 of the Treaty of Versailles which stipulated that  "Germany acknowledges and will respect strictly the independence of Austria .... she agrees that this independence shall be inalienable ......".  France and Italy agreed to include a sop to Wilsonian principles in that the article concluded with a proviso that the permanent enforced independence of Austria could be reversed "with the consent of the Council of the League of Nations"  - a Council in which both France and Italy would subsequently exercise veto power! The independence of Austria was again confirmed in Article 88 of the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye between Austria and the Allies. This was signed 3 months later in September 1919. Thus was eliminated, by coercive force of the Allied dictated treaty terms, the opportunity to achieve the union of the two great heartlands of the German folk. That union, that "Anschluß", was to be achieved with great fanfare and immeasurable benefit to its architect, Adolf Hitler, some nineteen years later.

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This very rare and beautiful card  superbly portrays the hope that Germany and Austria would be united in the post-war political settlement - as given expression by the National Assembly in both nations, Nov. 1918 to Feb. 1919. On the left side of the bridge we see a large crowd of people. They hold up the red and white flag of Austria. On the right side of the bridge we see the German mythical figure "Michel"  beckoning to the German Austrians with the new black-red-gold flag of the German Republic.

(This flag was also long a symbol of pan-Germanism as the Austrian Empire was known as the "black and gold empire", and red and black were part of the pre-war German Empire national flag.) 

"Michel" was a figure common to German folklore. Always pictured wearing a sleeping cap, and often smoking a pipe, he represented the sentimental and relaxed aspects of the presumed Germanic character. (The "Michel" figure appeared frequently in wartime German patriotic propaganda graphics.) At the center of the unfinished bridge a workman raises the central stone to complete the bridge that will allow the German Austrians to reach Michel. On that stone is written "Anchluß" (unification). It is significant that it is a workman with his tools, a common man in working clothes, that completes the bridge of unification. 
This, along with the fact that Michel does not wave the Wilhelmine era black-red-white flag, used by anti-republican nationalists as their symbol, are indicative that this is a piece of propaganda issued in sympathy with the Socialist and pro-republican forces in Germany and Austria. This assumed pro-republican slant is one of the reasons the card is a rarity. Published by Göch - Verlag, Wien, Munchen, no. 610.



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