World War II Day by Day World War II was the single most devastating and horrific event in the history of the world, causing the death of some 70 million people, reshaping the political map of the twentieth century and ushering in a new era of world history. Every day The Daily Chronicles brings you a new story from the annals of World War II with a vision to preserve the memory of those who suffered in the greatest military conflict the world has ever seen.


Munich, Germany September 25, 1937

On this date in 1937 Italian strongman Benito Mus­so­lini paid his first visit to Germany, meeting Adolf Hitler in the Fuehrer’s pri­vate, luxurious nine-room apart­ment in Munich, 10 minutes away from the Brown House, Nazi Party national head­quarters, and the Fuehrer­bau, where Hitler had formal offices. During the visit Musso­lini made Hitler an honorary cor­poral of the Ital­ian Fascist mili­tia, while Hitler con­ferred the Iron Cross of Greater Germany on Musso­lini. The meeting of the two former World War I cor­porals in­cluded a secret under­standing regarding Austria, the tiny coun­try (6.75 mil­lion people in 1937) that lay between them. Hitler made his guest aware that Italy’s accep­tance of his scheme to gobble up Aus­tria (the so-called Anschluss, or union) was a pre­con­di­tion of their two nations’ con­tinued friend­ship and the for­mali­za­tion of their 1936 Rome-Berlin Axis coali­tion. For his part, Il Duce (Italian, “the leader”) was ready to accept Anschluss as long as Hitler notified him in advance. Hitler kept his word, apprising Mus­so­lini of Germany’s upcoming annex­a­tion of Austria in a letter dated March 10, 1938, just two days before Nazi troops surged over the international border.

Mussolini had recently grown tired of being Europe’s guar­dian of Aus­trian inde­pen­dence. Four years earlier Musso­lini had taken the mur­der of his friend and Aus­trian chan­cel­lor Engel­bert Doll­fuss by Aus­trian Nazis as a per­sonal affront. Musso­lini told the Aus­trian vice-chan­cel­lor, who had come to arrange a meeting between the Duce and Doll­fuss’s suc­ces­sor, Kurt Schu­schnigg, that he knew “the Reich chan­cellor [Hitler] had ordered the mur­der of Doll­fuss.” He despised Hitler: “A dan­gerous mad­man, a revolt­ing indi­vid­ual, a sex­ual degen­erate.” Musso­lini pre­dicted that Hitler “will create an army, will rearm the Ger­man people, and go to war, per­haps in two to three years. I can’t hold him off by myself.” (Mussolini got most of it right.)

Mussolini floated the idea of a multi­na­tional treaty that would guaran­tee Aus­trian inde­pen­dence, but it was rejected by Schu­schnigg when the two men met in August 1934. One alter­na­tive—Italian troops on Austrian soil—made Schu­schnigg ner­vous: “Polit­i­cally un­accept­able,” he told an irked Musso­lini, who went on to sus­pend clan­des­tine arms ship­ments to the Austrian armed forces that were designed to pre­vent a second Nazi coup from succeeding. Musso­lini now redirected Italy’s geo­poli­ti­cal atten­tion from north of his border to the south and east, to North­east Africa (Second Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935–1936) and the Medi­ter­ranean area (Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939). Poor Schu­schnigg. He and the majority of his country­men failed to fully appre­ciate the steps the Austrian-born German chan­cellor could and would take to bring Austria into the Nazi firma­ment. For Schu­schnigg personally, these included his arrest and intern­ment in Sach­sen­hausen, then Dachau con­cen­tration camps after Musso­lini had aban­doned Aus­tria to the Nazi pre­da­tor in their September 1937 meeting. Mussolini now regarded Schu­schnigg’s Austria “as a German Austria that could conduct no policy other than a German one.” When columns of goose-stepping jack­boots, can­non, and armored vehicles entered Vienna, Austria’s capital, in March 1938, an aggressive pan-Germany was born.

Austria, March 1938: The Return of Provincial Son Adolf Hitler

Hitler’s motorcade into Vienna, March 1938

Above: Tens of thousands of Austrians lined Vienna’s streets hours before Hitler’s motor­cade entered the capi­tal on Monday, March 14, 1938. Hitler had followed his army’s en­trance from Bava­ria into Austria on Satur­day, March 12, visiting his birth­place, Braunau am Inn just over the German border, before arriving that evening to an enthu­si­astic wel­come in Linz, Austria’s third-largest city. Hitler’s travels east­ward were turned into a trium­phal tour that cli­maxed with his speech in Austria’s capi­tal on Tuesday, March 15, 1938. “Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators,” he told his audience.

Hitler addresses citizens in Vienna's Heldenplatz, March 1938

Above: A crowd estimated at 200,000 gathered in Vienna’s Helden­platz (Heroes Square) to hear Hitler say: “The oldest east­ern pro­vince of the German people shall be, from this point on, the newest bas­tion of the Ger­man Reich.” The Anschluss was given imme­di­ate effect by a legis­la­tive act, sub­ject to voters’ rati­fi­ca­tion. A plebis­cite was held on April 10 and approved by 99.7 per­cent of the voters, but not before 70,000 peo­ple had been arrested, and not before a huge propa­ganda cam­paign had had its effect, and not before some 400,000 peo­ple (nearly 10 per­cent of the eli­gible voting popu­la­tion) had been disen­fran­chised. Those un­able to vote were chiefly for­mer mem­bers of left-wing par­ties and Jews (200,000 in Vienna alone). Austria became the German province of Ostmark, its once-vibrant capital eventually turned into a drab provincial town.

Big Fish Swallows Little Fish: Austria Becomes Part of Hitler’s Greater German Reich