Top Ten ARTnews Stories: Making a Difference

It began with Andrew Decker’s article on Austria’s halfhearted attempts to return thousands of artworks stolen from Holocaust victims. Our coverage has influenced cultural policy and helped make war loot a major international issue.

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One of the biggest art stories of the 20th century began with a tip to ARTnews editor and publisher Milton Esterow from a friend, the late art historian Albert Elsen. There were rumors, Elsen said, that a monastery in Mauerbach, Austria, near Vienna, housed thousands of artworks looted from victims of the Holocaust.

A few weeks later Esterow was in Vienna, requesting permission to visit the monastery. “You cannot go,” the president of the Federal Monuments Office said to him. And that, the bureaucrat undoubtedly thought, was the end of the matter. In fact, it was only the beginning.

Eight months later, in December 1984, ARTnews published Andrew Decker’s “A Legacy of Shame,” the first of dozens of articles by ARTnews writers on the subject of artworks looted by the Nazis during World War II.

Decker revealed that the Austrian government had made only the most halfhearted efforts to return looted cultural property to its rightful owners. A list of the artworks hidden in the Mauerbach monastery hadn’t even been published until 1959, and then it appeared in a small newspaper not widely circulated outside of Austria. Very few legitimate claimants saw the list, and if they did happen to see it and make an attempt to regain their lost property, they were unlikely to succeed. Many claims were ignored or stonewalled.

Almost every year for a decade, ARTnews reported on the Austrian government’s handling of the situation, describing a history of callousness, neglect, ineptitude, and dubious legal maneuvers. But Austria was only a part of the story. In a series of prizewinning articles, ARTnews disclosed that governments in Germany, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union were hiding huge caches of looted art.

Finally, in 1995, the Austrian government turned over ownership of the artworks in Mauerbach to the Jewish Community of Vienna, and in 1996 the art was auctioned by Christie’s to benefit Jewish and non-Jewish Holocaust victims and their families. The auction brought $14.5 million, which was distributed to thousands of people in many countries.

By that time, Holocaust assets had become a major international issue. In 1998 there were more than 20 national commissions examining what had happened to displaced cultural property in their respective countries. That same year the U.S. Congress enacted a law establishing the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States, and the U.S. State Department sponsored the historic Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, where representatives of 44 countries pledged to further the cause of restitution. Conference organizer Stuart E. Eizenstat, at that time an undersecretary of state, later acknowledged the decisive role played by ARTnews, which, he said, “at so early a date discovered this injustice and doggedly followed it.”

Jewish leaders praised us for our pioneering work in revealing the existence of the looted art and bringing about all this activity. The late Rabbi Israel Miller, president of the Committee for Jewish Claims on Austria, presented an award to Esterow “in gratitude” for the magazine’s role. The award was a shofar, a ram’s horn blown in synagogues before and during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In presenting the shofar, Miller said, “Without ARTnews, nothing would have happened.”

We are still publishing articles about Holocaust loot. Despite the commissions, the conferences, and the legislation passed, restitution remains an international issue. Governments in Russia and Eastern Europe are still hiding cultural property taken from Holocaust victims. Fifty years after the end of World War II, artworks remain the last prisoners of war.

Sylvia Hochfield is editor-at-large of ARTnews.

December 1984: A Legacy of Shame

Austria’s handling of the return of works of art stolen by the Nazis has been marked by neglect, ineptness and questionable legal maneuvers, an ARTnews investigation reveals. Forty years after World War II, thousands of officially ‘heirless’ paintings and other objects are still hidden in a monastery outside Vienna that is off limits to everyone except Austrian officials

By Andrew Decker

Herbert Steiner lived in Vienna, Austria, until December 1938, when he was 16 years old. His parents arranged for him to be smuggled to Holland but were less fortunate themselves. They were killed in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942.

Steiner returned to Vienna in 1945 and went to the ten-unit apartment building where he and his parents had lived. While visiting a former neighbor there, he says, “The first thing, I saw a painting that had been owned by my parents.” Steiner, who founded and is head of the Dokumentations-archiv des Oesterreichischen Widerstandes in Vienna—an organization that collects and stores documents relating to the Nazi regime in Austria—does not remember the name of the artist who painted the picture. “I remember this picture because it was in my room and once it fell on me. In 1928 we had an earthquake in Vienna,” he recalls. The neighbor told Steiner she had accepted the picture from his mother in trust until Steiner returned. He thanked the neighbor, though, he says, “I had no way of checking this story, of course.” He asked her to hold the picture until he found an apartment. She agreed.

“A few months later I had found an apartment and I called on the lady to pick up the painting, and she said, ‘What sort of picture? I don’t remember.’ I said, ‘We talked about it.’ ‘Oh,’ the woman said, ‘I remember. We had to sell it to buy food on the black market.’” At that time, Steiner explains, “there really was a food shortage.” Though the woman no longer had Steiner’s family’s painting, she offered him some food and they sat down to eat. “On the fork was the monogram of my mother before she was married. I saw this and she realized I saw this, and she said, ‘I only saved these for you.’” After an awkward silence, Steiner remembers, “the woman said, ‘If you go down to the apartment under mine, you will find the furniture from your sitting room.’ I went, and there was the furniture. The people there said, ‘Go to this other apartment and you will find tapestries from your parents’ apartment.’” Steiner went through each of the ten apartments in the building. “In every apartment there was some of my parents’ furniture, almost everything they had. You know what I did? I never entered that house again. I never went to get those things.

“These people, they all in a small way profited by the Holocaust and the killing of the Jews.”

George Leitmann left Vienna with his family for the United States in 1940 and is now a professor of engineering science and the graduate dean of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Leitmann says that his father and grandfather (who was an officer in the Austrian army during World War I) owned a few paintings, including a Jan Steen and a Jacob van Ruysdael, although, he adds, “there was a question as to whether the van Ruysdael had in fact been painted by Jacob or by his uncle.” Both paintings were confiscated before the Leitmanns emigrated.

The Steen was stolen during the lootings and destruction of Jewish homes and businesses on November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht—when, as Leitmann describes it, “people were simply breaking into houses. There were storm troopers and other people who came into our house—my mother was there, but my father was out and I was away at school. They broke into a lot of homes, and ours was just one of them.” Leitmann’s family was living in Vienna’s Second District, then a predominantly Jewish area across the Danube from the historic center of the city. “Storm troopers took my father’s coin collection,” says Leitmann, who was 13 at the time. “They took many things, including the Steen.”

Leitmann says his family had acquired visas to leave Austria and had packed the van Ruysdael and other artworks for shipment to the United States. The cases arrived after the family, and when they were opened, he says, “the paintings weren’t there. Of course there was no recourse—the war had started by that time. Other things that did make it were an Emil Schindler painting and portraits of my maternal grandparents, but nothing of great value. They took everything of value.”

Richard Herzog was a Jewish lawyer who lived in Vienna and who died in a German concentration camp in Minsk in the Soviet Union in 1942. His daughter, Madelaine Duke (a pseudonym), who managed to escape from Austria in January 1939 and went to England, is a writer living in Spain, who has written a fictional account, entitled The Bormann Receipt, of her attempts to reclaim her family’s property confiscated by the Nazis.

Altogether, says Duke, her family owned 60 important paintings, including Botticelli’s A Florentine Lady, Lucas Cranach’s Adam and Eve, a Rembrandt self-portrait, a Peter von Cornelius portrait, a Canaletto depicting the Venetian church of Santa Maria della Salute and a van Ruysdael landscape. In addition, there were other decorative paintings, tapestries and antiques.

Under the Aryanization laws then in force, Jewish property had to be registered with Nazi offices, but, according to Duke, the Herzogs had been advised by a friend in the SS not to list their paintings because recording the property would most likely ensure its confiscation. Although the Herzogs took their friend’s advice and made no official record of their artworks, SS officers came to their home several times and on each occasion left with paintings from the collection. The SS officer who had led the troops to the Herzog home had worked as a restorer and had cleaned the Herzogs’ paintings before the Anschluss (the German annexation of Austria).

Duke says the lootings started about a month after the Anschluss in 1938 and continued until 1942, when her parents were sent to the concentration camp. “The SS officers usually came by night,” she recalls. “The first time they came with a furniture van and took half the stuff. The paintings had always been in my family, many of them since the 16th century.”

The last time Katherine Fent saw her family’s paintings was on the day of the Anschluss. “My late husband and I were living on Colloredogasse [in Vienna] and left on March 13, 1938,” says Fent, who now lives in Geneva, Switzerland. “We went to Yugoslavia first, where my late husband’s firm had a factory. We left Vienna within ten minutes and took nothing with us, and we had paintings and antiques.”

Fent’s father, Leo Fridezko, had collected mostly German and Austrian 19th-century paintings. Among them was a portrait of a woman by Friedrich von Amerling, a gift from her father that Fent was particularly fond of. “We thought it’s worth living without anything at all,” she recalls. “Very soon, within a few days, the SS people arrived and stole things from our house. A neighbor saw them taking things out and putting them on a truck.”

The paintings and other treasured objects taken from these families were among the more than three million works of art displaced during the convulsions brought on by the Nazi regime. Objects were removed from museums for storage away from strategic areas; others were stolen or looted by SS troops from enemies of the Third Reich, or went to Nazi collectors in forced sales. The lootings, thefts and forced sales constitute one of history’s most extensive and systematic plunders of art.

Today several thousand objects—paintings, decorative arts, books, manuscripts, coins, medals and household furnishings—are stored in a 14th-century Carthusian monastery located 30 minutes away from central Vienna in the town of Mauerbach. An additional 359 paintings, prints, and drawings are stored in Vienna’s museums; Austrian officials would not disclose the number of coins, tapestries and pieces of furniture in these museums. The works of art and furnishings are described by Austrian officials as “heirless,” and they now belong to Austria.

“We are not trying to get rich with these paintings,” says Bruno Aigner, press secretary for the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research, which oversees museums and the storing of the works. They became possessions of the country as the result of an Austrian law passed in 1969, the Final Settlement of Heirless Property law, that required Austria to publish a list describing the property and to return the items claimed provided the claimants could prove ownership at the time Austria was under Nazi rule. The law also stipulated that any property not returned to claimants or that remained unclaimed would belong to Austria.

Aigner says that the paintings have belonged to Austria for over a decade, but that his country has made no attempt to dispose of the works. “We could do what we like with the paintings but we don’t—if someone comes to us and if they can prove that something we have belonged to their parents or belonged to them, then we give it back to them.” Aigner neglects to mention that although there are laws on the Austrian books that allow for the restitution of such property to its pre-1945 owners, the laws are no longer valid and have not had force since 1972.

“The Republic of Austria does not want to profit from this,” Aigner insisted for the third time in a 45-minute interview. He was one of 126 government officials, historians, art historians, museum directors, curators, survivors of concentration camps and emigrés interviewed in Austria, West Germany, Switzerland, England, Israel and the United States during an eight-month investigation by ARTnews into the history of Austria’s handling of the return of works of art to victims of the Holocaust.

The investigation revealed neglect, ineptness and questionable legal maneuvers on the part of Austrian government officials since the end of World War II. Contradictions arose throughout the investigation. Officials frequently contradicted one another; some contradicted themselves. When the contradictions were brought to their attention, they were explained by such remarks as Aigner’s: “[Heinz] Fischer has only been minister [of Science and Research] for one year. We haven’t been involved in this whole thing.” An aide in the Finance Ministry says, “We were given this problem; we didn’t make it.”

The contradictions begin with the question of who had owned the artworks before they were discovered by Allied forces as they moved through Europe in the final days of World War II and after its conclusion. Since the property that remains has not been claimed by anyone able to prove pre-1945 title to the works, in the eyes of the Austrian courts no one knows who owned it. Gerhard Sailer, president of the Federal Monument Office, which acts as custodian for state-owned tangible property, says that some of the artworks had belonged to Nazis who fled their homes following the collapse of the Reich—a notion that Aigner shares. Virtually all other Austrian officials, including Dr. Edith Podlessnig, who worked in the Monument Office as curator of state-owned or -controlled property between 1947 and 1983, say that the property had not been abandoned by Nazis but was confiscated by them from Jews and Catholics.

After the war the works of art and furnishings were found in various locations, according to a document furnished by an Austrian official who asked not t
o be named: salt mines of Alt Aussee near Salzburg, Austria, where Hitler stored the collection he had earmarked for his planned museum in Linz; the Brownhouse in Munich, which was meant to be Hitler’s planned Bavarian headquarters; Posen Castle in Czechoslovakia, intended to be his Eastern European headquarters; an unspecified SS depot and storage rooms of the Finance Ministry near Vienna.

According to Podlessnig, virtually all the paintings were given to Austria by United States military forces in 1955 under the Austrian State Treaty, which charged Austria with making “every effort to return the works to the extent they had not already done so.” From 1955 to 1969, the Austrian government did not try to find the pre-Nazi regime owners, says Podlessnig, although an attorney for the Austrian government, Winfried Bauernfeind, says that the Austrian government publicized the artworks throughout the 1960s and requested that people make claims for them; he could not say when or where the announcements were made. In either case, the government did establish an agency, the Sammelstelle A & B, a collecting point, that could claim title to works whose owners or heirs could be proved dead. The organization received “between eight and ten paintings,” according to George Weis, who headed the Sammelstelle. The paintings were given to the Sammelstelle by the Monument Office, Weis says, and they brought 731,700 Austrian schillings ($28,300) at auction.

By 1969, when the government listed the remaining property in the Wiener Zeitung, a semi-official newspaper circulated in Austria and sent to Austrian missions in other countries, over 10,000 objects had been returned, though Podlessnig admits that nearly all of those had been returned before 1955, when the Allied forces still had a hand in Austria’s affairs. The listing published in 1969 included 8,423 objects and marked Austria’s first public announcement of their existence, says Podlessnig.

Several Austrian refugees from the Nazi regime had never known of the listing until asked about it by ARTnews in connection with this article. Martin Weyl, the director of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, says that he had heard about the paintings for years and had instructed Israeli diplomats in Vienna to get information about them. He says that the diplomats’ inquiries were stonewalled. “The rumor is that there are important works in vaults and that nobody ever saw them except a few Austrians.” Until interviewed in connection with this article, Weyl did not know that the paintings actually existed.

“If the quality of the paintings is good, then I would be delighted to exhibit them,” says Weyl. “ We are very poor in art, and every good work would be an important addition to our museum.”

As Weyl had heard, only Austrian officials are allowed into the monastery, which Sailer describes as “safeguarded like Fort Knox, and no one outside the government can enter it at all.” In a later interview, however, Sailer admitted that concerts are given in their monastery’s courtyard. “But to get from the courtyard to inside the monastery,” Sailer says, wagging a forefinger, “that is impossible.”

Whether the paintings are “important,” as Weyl has heard, is another question. Austrian curators universally say that the paintings in the monastery and the nation’s museums are of some art-historical interest but are not important. “Some people think there are Michelangelos here,” says Aigner. “There are not.” His claim is viewed skeptically by ex-Austrians whose paintings and other property were confiscated by the Nazis after 1938. Throughout the mid- and late 1960s, the Austrian government told Simon Wiesenthal that there was nothing interesting among the works. When the list appeared, it included two oil paintings attributed to Correggio, a Teniers oil and a Tiepolo drawing, among other notable works. Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter who tracked down Adolf Eichmann and who now heads the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, says, “They say they’ve given away everything of importance. Are they lying? I don’t know.”

Members of the Austrian government—those who admit knowing about the artworks’ existence—are reluctant to provide information concerning how the paintings have been stored and handled.

No government official would disclose how many paintings were returned to claimants, but Dr. Albert Schmidt, head of the Finanzlandesdirektion, or Austrian Internal Revenue Service, which is responsible for all government-owned assets, did say that only “a very few of them were given back.” Schmidt adds that the Finance Ministry has not compiled reports providing statistics on how many claims were filed or how many objects were returned, nor will Austrian officials disclose how many paintings remain of those listed in 1969. There is little public information available on any aspect of the proceedings, and ARTnews’ requests to see files and archives were denied, as were requests to enter the monastery to look at the paintings. Austria does not have a freedom-of-information act, and even such records as court proceedings are not available to the public without governmental permission, which was denied.

Contrary to Aigner’s statement that Austria would honor a valid claim to one of the “heirless” works that now belong to Austria should a claimant appear, Sailer says in interviews that the claim period has passed; he has also signed at least one letter to that effect in the past two years. Schmidt says that no claims received since 1973 have been considered.

Until September 1984, when a new Finance Minister took office, the ministry was studying the possibility of holding an auction of the property and giving the proceeds to some humanitarian organization. Aigner says that Fischer has recommended such an auction to the Finance Ministry, though who should receive the proceeds has not been decided. One official who asked not to be identified recently suggested that the proceeds be used for the aid of children in developing nations. Aigner says the proceeds could be used to benefit Jewish refugee organizations—an idea considered by ex-Chancellor Bruno Kreisky until 1981, according to Schmidt. Aigner adds that deciding which organization to give the proceeds to is “very hard because there are many organizations and maybe they are fighting each other.” Benjamin Ferencz, a retired attorney living in New Rochelle, New York, who is counsel general to the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO), terms Aigner’s statement “nonsense. Absolute nonsense.” Ferencz says that the JRSO, an umbrella organization, has recovered “hundreds, if not thousands, of paintings” looted by Nazis from Jews and distributed them to museums. “In principle, there were many attempts to get the Austrians to recognize a Jewish successor organization outside the Austrian Hilfsfonds [Austria’s internal relief organization], which they refused to do,” says Ferencz.

Aside from the options of keeping the paintings or auctioning all of them, the Austrian government may keep some works—those currently housed in Austria’s museums—and sell the rest. If the government follows the lead of its courts, the paintings will remain the property of Austria and could be termed—as one lawyer described a Vermeer won by Austria in a lawsuit—a “legacy from Hitler.”

Austria inherited the works of art stored in its monastery, museums and government offices largely because members of the Nazi party avidly collected art. “It was a funny hobby of the Nazis—everybody wanted to have his own private gallery,” notes Dr. Karl Moser, an Austrian historian associated with the Dokumentationsarchiv, Steiner’s organization.

Hitler’s interest in art spurred the wartime collecting procedures. As a young man he had aspired to be an artist or an architect, although he lacked talent. By 1908, when he was 19, he had been rejected twice by Vienna’s Academy of Fine Art. After assuming power in Germany, Hitler liked to say that he would have pursued a career in the arts if he hadn’t been drawn to politics; he enjoyed spending time with Albert Speer, first his architect and later Germany’s Minister of Armaments, going over Speer’s designs of buildings planned for the Third Reich.

One of Speer’s projects was a cultural center in Linz, not far from Hitler’s hometown of Braunau, which Hitler had visions of transforming into a cultural showplace that would overshadow Vienna in international importance; he also wanted to leave a legacy that would reflect his interest in art. The planned museum was to be built around the different collections of paintings that Hitler was amassing.

“There were to be two art collections in Hitler’s Linz center—a lot of old master paintings, many of them over-attributed, up to about the end of the 18th century,” says S. Lane Faison, Jr., a retired professor of art history at Williams College in Massachusetts. As a member of the U.S. Army Intelligence branch that gathered information after the war about the Nazi plunder of art, Faison wrote the U.S. Army report on Hitler’s collections. “Then there was to be another collection,” says Faison, “19th century, but no French 19th-century paintings were to be allowed in there because of Hitler’s German-supremacy ideas.” Faison describes the German and Austrian works in Hitler’s collection as “mostly 19th-century Neoclassical or Romantic—genre paintings, storytelling.”

Hitler’s taste in art, followed to some degree by his subordinates, was narrow. It included acknowledged masterpieces and what he considered unrecognized masterpieces: the works of 19th-century Austrian artists—Hans Makart (1840-1884), for example—and their German counterparts, whom he considered grossly underrated, according to Speer’s Inside the Third Reich. Hitler did not collect Impressionist or 20th-century art, which he felt was “degenerate.” In 1933 he described the latter as “Jewish-inspired Bolshevik art,” according to Charles de Jaeger’s The Linz File: Hitler’s Plunder of Europe’s Art. Hitler’s negative opinions allowed for the confiscation of 16,500 “degenerate” paintings, drawings and sculptures from German museums between 1933 and 1940, 4,829 of which were burned in March 1939 as an example of Hitler’s disdain for the works; another 125 were auctioned in Switzerland to raise money for the Reich, including German Expressionist works and several by van Gogh, Gauguin and Picasso.

The Nazi policies regarding artworks extended far beyond confiscating and ridding Germany of art considered degenerate. Aryanization laws were passed to transfer the assets and property of Jews to German ownership. Under these laws, Jews were required to register their property with various offices and then turn over the works to the offices—in Austria after the Anschluss to the Institut fí¼r Denkmalpflege, the predecessor of the postwar Bundesdenkmalamt, or Federal Monument Office—or they were taken from the owners at their homes by SS officers.

More systematic still was the Nazi policy of locating collections, before invading a country, under the guise of art-historical interest. Following the invasion, SS troops would be provided with lists of collections containing important works of art, which were then confiscated. Once Germany had invaded a country, even its greatest art treasures were often fair game. Germany regarded the Poles and Slavs as subhuman. By December 16, 1939, two decrees had been issued allowing for the confiscation of artworks in public and private collections, as well as ecclesiastical treasures, within Poland. In southeastern Europe an SS task force stripped both private and public collections of their holdings. The art historian who selected the works to be confiscated was Walter Frodl, who after the war was to become president of the Federal Monument Office.

Although Hitler did not confiscate works from the Louvre until late in the war, other French collections and those in the Netherlands were plundered through the Einsatzstab-Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), an organization named after its head, Alfred Rosenberg. Rosenberg guided the philosophical rationale for the Nazi party’s policies, and his organization was empowered to gather material and property that would illustrate German superiority in creative expression, including literature and art. The ERR took a broad view of its responsibilities, stealing as well as buying works of art that had nothing to do with Germany. The finest paintings gathered by the ERR were supposed to be offered to Hitler first, then to Reich Air Marshal Hermann Goering; Goering, however, made arrangements with ERR personnel that allowed him to skim some of the finer works before Hitler could choose them. Rosenberg would then select works to hand out to Nazi leaders. The remainder were distributed among German museums first, French museums or auction houses last. During the ERR’s first two months of operations, in the fall of 1940, 21,903 works of art had gone through the organization’s offices in the Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Dealers and agents were other sources. Hitler and Goering had representatives in various parts of Europe looking for paintings to augment Hitler’s planned museum and Goering’s collection at his estate, Karinhall. The agents bid against each other, and on occasion Hitler or Goering would have two agents competing for the same painting; since they worked on commission, the agents had little interest in getting good buys.

“Goering’s collection was enormous, but you’d have to say Hitler’s was better,” recalls Faison. “Theoretically Hitler had first choice. He had a number of outstanding pictures, including the Czernin Vermeer [The Artist in His Studio]—Goering never had anything like that. Hitler also had Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child [a sculpture from the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Bruges] and the Ghent altarpiece [by van Eyck].” However, Faison notes that Hitler hadn’t actually acquired the altarpiece, looted from the cathedral at Ghent, though it was stored with other works slated for his museum. By the end of the war, Hitler’s collection had a total of 6,755 paintings, of which 5,350 were old masters.

Hitler’s and Goering’s interest in art bred a mania for collecting that spread throughout Germany and Austria, as well as occupied countries, and there was an enormous supply for collectors. The exceptional demand for works of art generated greater market activity, with paintings that were willingly sold bringing exceptional prices. Although prices for the paintings were often high, payment was in reichsmarks or devalued currencies. The reichsmark had little value outside Germany and Austria, and the French franc, for example, was greatly devalued because of enormous occupation costs levied on France by Germany.

In Austria, says a judge who presided over restitution claims in that country in the 1970s, and who asked not to be identified, “After the lootings had stopped, the Reich Ministry of the Interior ordered the Gestapo to sell works at the Dorotheum [the state auction house]. This was Jewish property that had been gathered by confiscation.” He adds, “The situation became worse and worse for the Jews. In the beginning they could leave the country and take their property. Then they couldn’t leave, and then they were taken to concentration camps and killed. The property of the people taken to the camps remained behind.”

Immediately after the Anschluss, the looting began. Most of the looting, according to the judge, “took place in the three or four days after the annexation. After that, the Reich tried to clamp down on unofficial confiscations.”

Austria was in a peculiar situation after the war. Although the Anschluss had occurred in 1938, Austrian sentiment had been strongly in favor of German annexation since the 1920s, based on the perception that Austria could not survive within the post-1919 boundaries established by the Treaty of Versailles. At the time, Austrians referred to Vienna, once capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as an “encephalitic head,” disproportionately large, with a population of 1.9 million, for a country of 6.5 million people. A 1934 attempted Nazi coup in Vienna had failed, but in February 1938 Hitler met with Austrian chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg and demanded concessions for Austrian Nazis, including greater power in Austria’s government. Schuschnigg tied to hold him off until a plebiscite could address the question of whether Austrians wanted to be joined with Germany.

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