Austrian history in the first half of the 20th century

Austrian history in the first half of the 20th century was marked by chaos. In 1914, Serbian conspirators assassinated the Austrian heir to the throne in Sarajevo. This was the immediate cause of World War I, which led to the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia were established as separate states with Romania, Poland and the kingdom of Serbia (later Yugoslavia) all granted large chunks of the defunct empire.
On 11 November 1918 – a day now observed as Armistice Day or Veterans Day in much of the western world – the last Austrian emperor, Karl, renounced all part in conducting state business, and the first Republic of Austria was declared the next day. The collapse of the dual monarchy also meant the breakdown of a major economic bloc, and the new republic found itself facing major problems. Closed borders and tariffs virtually stopped imports and exports, and the establishment of authoritarian regimes in Italy and Germany rocked the still shaky fledgling nation.
Within the country there were strikes, food shortages, and widespread disease. Paramilitary organizations emerged from the confusion of political infighting. The lower house of parliament stripped itself of power in 1933, and the swift takeover by Chancellor Dollfiiss marked the end of democracy in Austria. When civil war broke out less than a year later, his regime used harsh measures to end it and to establish Austria as an authoritarian state. Dollfuss was murdered in the abortive Nazi coup of July 1934. His successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, tried to maintain Austrian independence, but after meeting with Hitler realized that the situation was nearly hopeless. Schuschnigg called for a plebiscite on 13 March 1938, in which the people would decide for or against joining the German Reich, but on 11 March, German troops marched across the border. Two days later the Anschluss was complete and occupied Austria was a part of the Third Reich.
The era of Austrian history which followed is surely its most terrible and the one with which most of us are familiar. Austrian casualties ran high and virtually every city was bombed or burned. As the war came to an end, there was hunger and chaos throughout the country. The liberation of Austria began in March 1945, with Soviet troops entering the country from the east, while American and British forces approached from the west. By April, a provisional government had been formed, although fighting still continued in some parts of the country. Austria’s democratic constitution became effective on 1 May. In October 1945, the Allies recognized the provisional government under Karl Renner on the condition that general elections be held that same year.
Post-war Austria was divided into four zones of occupation governed by the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union and the United States. Vienna, situated within the Russian zone, was also divided into four sectors. Its first district, or inner city, remained international and served as the seat of the Allied High Commission for Austria. The political situation was rapidly stabilized, largely through the efforts of men who had formerly been bitter opponents. Their experiences in the prisons and concentration camps of the Third Reich, and especially in Austrian resistance movements, had taught them that Austria, once revived, would have to be governed in a spirit of democratic tolerance. The economic situation, however, continued to present problems, and Austrians suffered terrible deprivation. Improvement came only after thorough monetary reforms and the generous aid of the Marshall Plan which made capital investments possible in all branches of the economy. Thereafter, reconstruction proceeded more rapidly.
Austria remained occupied for ten years. The foreign ministers and representatives of the four powers met more than 300 times, but failed to agree on the form of a state treaty. Finally, in May 1955, the Allies’ ambassadors met an Austrian delegation in Vienna. There they drew up and signed the final text of an agreement, and the State Treaty went into effect that July. On 26 October, now a national holiday, parliament passed the Federal Constitutional Law on the Neutrality of Austria. The last foreign soldiers left Austrian soil and the country was free once again.

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