Schuschnigg, Kurt Alois Josef Johann

Back to all people



Schuschnigg, Kurt Alois Josef Johann, born 14-12-1897, came into a Tyrolean family of Carinthian Slovenian descent. The spelling of the family name in Slovenian is Šušnik. Schuschnigg was born in Riva del Garda, now in Trentino, Italy, but then part of Austria-Hungary. He was the son of the Austrian General Artur von Schuschnigg. The young Schuschnigg received his education at the Stella Matutina Jesuit College in Feldkirch. During the First World War he was taken prisoner by the Italians who held him captive until September 1919. Schuschnigg joined the right-wing Christian Social Party  and was elected to the Nationalrat in 1927. In 1932 Engelbert Dollfuss

   appointed him his Minister of Justice and later Minister of Education. After Dollfuss was assassinated, Schuschnigg was appointed Chancellor and he continued to govern by dictate. His policies were not much different from the policies of his predecessor. He had to manage the economy of a near-bankrupt state, had to maintain law and order in a country which was forbidden by the terms of the 1919 Peace Agreement to maintain an army in excess of 30,000 men and at the same time had to cope with armed paramilitary forces in Austria, which owed their allegiance not to the state but to various rival political parties, and he also had to be mindful of the growing strength of the national-socialists within the country, who supported Hitler’s ambitions to absorb Austria into the Third Reich.  His overriding political concern was how to preserve Austria’s independence within the borders imposed on it by the terms of the 1919 Peace Treaty. His policy of counterbalancing the German threat by aligning himself with Austria’s southern and eastern neighbours, Italy and Hungary, was doomed to failure after Hitler’s ascendance and the increasing military might of the Third Reich. He adopted a policy of appeasement toward Hitler. In July 1936 he signed the Austro-German Agreement, which, among other concessions, allowed the release of Nazis imprisoned in Austria and the inclusion of National Socialists in his Cabinet. However, the National Socialists gained ground in Austria and relations between the two countries deteriorated further. On 12-02-1938, Schuschnigg met Hitler at Berchtesgaden  in an attempt to smooth the worsening relations between their two countries. To Schuschnigg‘s surprise, Hitler presented him with a set of demands which, in manner and in terms, amounted to an ultimatum, effectively demanding the handing over of power to the Austrian National Socialists . The terms of the agreement, presented to Schuschnigg for immediate endorsement, stipulated the appointment of Nazi sympathiser Arthur Seyss-Inquard  as minister of security, which controlled the police. Another pro-Nazi, Dr Hans Fischböck,  he died age 72 on 03-07-1967, was to be named as minister of finance to prepare for economic union between Germany and Austria. A hundred officers were to be exchanged between the Austrian and the German armies. All imprisoned Nazis were to be amnestied and reinstated. In return Hitler would publicly reaffirm the treaty of 11-07-1936 and Austria’s national sovereignty. “The Fuhrer was abusive and threatening, and Schuschnigg was presented with far-reaching demands…” According to Schuschnigg’s memoirs, he was coerced into signing the ‘Agreement’ before leaving Berchtesgaden. The President, Dr. Wilhelm Miklas

, was reluctant to endorse the Agreement but eventually he did so. Then he, Schuschnigg and a few key Cabinet members considered a number of options. On the following day, February 14, Schuschnigg reorganized his Cabinet on a broader basis and included representatives of all former and present political parties. Hitler immediately appointed a new Gauleiter for Austria, a Nazi Austrian army officer who had just been released from prison in accordance with the terms of the general amnesty stipulated by the Berchtesgaden agreement. On 20 February, Hitler made a speech before the Reichstag  which was broadcast live and which for the first time was relayed also by the Austrian broadcasting network. A key phrase in the speech was: “… The German Reich is no longer willing to tolerate the suppression of ten million Germans across its borders.” To resolve the political uncertainty in the country and to convince Hitler and the rest of the world that the people of Austria wished to remain Austrian and independent of the Third Reich, Schuschnigg, with the full agreement of the President and other political leaders, decided to proclaim a plebiscite to be held on 13 March. But the wording of the referendum which had to be responded to with a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ turned out to be controversial. But there was another issue which drew the ire of the National Socialists. Although members of Dr Schuschnigg’s party, the Fatherland Front , could vote at any age, all other Austrians below the age of 24 were to be excluded under a clause to that effect in the Austrian Constitution. This would shut out from the polls most of the Nazi sympathisers in Austria, since the movement was strongest among the young.

Knowing he was in a bind, Schuschnigg held talks with the leaders of the Social Democrats, and agreed to legalize their party and their trade unions in return for their support of the referendum. The German reaction to the announcement was swift. First Hitler insisted that the plebiscite be cancelled. When Schuschnigg reluctantly agreed to scrap it, Hitler demanded his resignation and insisted that Seyss-Inquart be appointed his successor. This demand President Miklas  was reluctant to endorse but eventually, under the threat of immediate armed intervention, this too was endorsed, Schuschnigg resigned on 11 March and Reichscommissar, Seyss-Inquart  was appointed Chancellor, but it made no difference – German troops flooded into Austria and were received everywhere by enthusiastic and jubilant crowds. When, on the morning after the invasion, the London Daily Mail’s correspondent asked the new Chancellor, Seyss-Inquart, how these stirring events came about he received the following reply: The Plebiscite that had been fixed for tomorrow was a breach of the agreement which Dr. Schuschnigg made with Herr Hitler at Berchtesgaden, by which he promised political liberty for National Socialists in Austria. On 12-03-1938 Schuschnigg was placed under house arrest. For a transcript of telephone conversations on 11 March 1938 between Hermann Goering   and Seyss-Inquart and other Nazis in Vienna concerning various procedural aspects of the Anschluss, found by the Allies in the ruins of the Reichkanzlei in Berlin,  see the Appendix in Schuschnigg’s Austrian Requiem. After initial house arrest followed by solitary confinement at Gestapo Headquarters he spent the remainder of the war in two different concentration camps, first Sachsenhausen, then Dachau. In late April 1945 Schuschnigg was, together with other prominent concentration camp inmates, transferred from Dachau to the South Tyrol where the SS guards abandoned the prisoners into the hands of officers of the Wehrmacht, who then freed the prisoners. They were then all turned over to American troops on May 4, 1945. From there Schuschnigg and his family were transported, along with many of the ex-prisoners, to the isle of Capri in Italy before being set free altogether. After World War II, Schuschnigg emigrated to the United States, where he worked as a professor of political science at Saint Louis University from 1948 to 1967. In 1959 he lost his second wife, Vera Fugger von Babenhausen born Countess Czernin,      whom he married by proxy in Vienna on the 01-06-1938. His first wife had perished in a car accident on 13 June 1935.

Death and burial ground of Schuschnigg, Kurt Alois Josef Johann.

   Schuschnigg died at Mutters, near Innsbruck, on 18-11-1977, age 79 and is buried with his wife Vera, born von Czernin-Chudenitz, who died age 55, on 18-09-1959, on the cemetery of Mutters, Tyrol, Austria.



Share on :