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The Republic of Austria is usually called simply Austria. Its government is a federal parliamentary republic, and the capital city is Vienna. The official language is German, though it is spoken in different dialects by the majority of Austrians. Other recognized languages include Creation, Burgenland, Slovene, and Hungarian. It is located in the Alps and surrounded by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west.

Modern Austria dates back to a time when almost all of the country belonged to the Holy Roman Empire during the time of the Hasburg dynasty in the 11th century. The House of Hapsburg was also called the House of Austria.

In 1918, at the end of World War I and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, Austria changed its name to the Republic of German-Austria in an effort to be united with Germany. The Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye both prohibited such things, so the country temporarily renamed itself Austria, and finally took the First Austrian Republic in 1919.

In early 1938, a conspiracy involving Austrian Nazis who wanted to take over the Austrian government and unite Austria and Germany. When he heard about the conspiracy, Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg met with Adolf Hitler to try to convince him to respect the small nation's independence. Somehow, he was instead bullied into granting a general amnesty to the Austrian Nazis and appointing top Austrian Nazis to his cabinet. On March 9, the chancellor called for a national election to resolve the question of annexation, or "Anschluss," to take place on March 13, but before the voting could take place, the chancellor resigned his post under pressure from Hitler; it was March 11. His resignation speech included his pleas to his country's military not to resist the advance of German Nazis into their country.

On March 12, 1938, Hitler personally accompanied Nazi German troops as they marched into Austria. The streets were filled with Austrians, cheering their entry. Hitler appointed a new government and imprisoned former Chancellor Schuschnigg. On March 13, the Anschluss was declared.

Austria remained as part of Germany until the end of World War II. Austria was once again an independent nation.

Schuschnigg had started his imprisonment in solitary confinement at Gestapo headquarters until he was removed to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He was then transferred to Dachau, and at the end of April of 1945, as the war was winding down, he and 140 other "high profile" prisoners including Pastor Martin Niemöller and the former Prime Minister of France Léon Blum, were transferred by order of Nazi higher-ups to South Tyrol, to what was called the Alpine Fortress. His wife Vera and his daughter Maria Dolores Elizabeth were also on the transport, though not as prisoners but voluntarily.

The SS guards who transferred them had orders to kill everyone if liberation by the Allies became inevitable. But the hotel which was supposed to house them, the Pragser Wildsee was not ready to accept the prisoners. And in an unexpected turn of events, the SS officers handed the prisoners over to Wehrmacht (regular German soldiers) who took them into protective custody.

But on April 30, with United States military personnel advancing on the village and eventually surrounding it, the Germans fled, leaving the prisoners free. The freed prisoners were housed at the Pragser Wildsee Hotel until advance units from the 42nd and 45th Infantry Divisions arrived on May 5, 1945. The prisoners were taken to the Italian isle of Capri from which they were finally liberated.

After the liberation, Schuschnigg immigrated to the United States in 1948 and worked as a professor of political science for St. Louis University, a private Roman Catholic research university in Missouri, until 1967. Upon his retirement, he moved back to Austria where he wrote a book, Im Kampf Gegen Hitler (The Brutal Takeover). He died on November 18, 1977 at Mutters, Austria, a few miles from his hometown of Innsbruck.

In another leftover from World War II, Kurt Josef Waldheim was the fourth SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations from 1972 to 1981. He was elected President of Austria from 1986 to 1992, but during the campaign, it was discovered that he had been an intelligence officer in the Wehrmacht during World War II. Although he was informally accused of war crimes, an international committee of historians went over his life from 1938 through 1945, and they found their was no evidence of personal involvement in those crimes. He served his full term.

 

 

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