The Chargé in Austria ( Wiley ) to the Secretary of State

No. 112

Sir: In confirmation of my telegram No. 7 of February 3rd, 5 p.m.,11 I have the honor to report that Dr. Hornbostel, Director of Political Affairs in the Foreign Office, informed me yesterday that he was very much concerned over developments in Germany, where, he felt, the situation contained all the elements of a serious Party crisis.12 While the eventual solution of the crisis might be favorable in that more moderate elements might triumph, he could not for the moment find grounds for reassurance. There was, he felt, real danger that the situation in Germany might have grave repercussions on Austria.

He referred to the Tavs affair, reported in my despatch No. 106 of January 31, 1938,11 and stated that, though Dr. Tavs insisted that he was solely responsible for the “1938 Plan of Action” and though the Austrian Government had no evidence to controvert this thesis, it nevertheless knew perfectly well that the plan either had been drafted in Germany or only after consultation with authoritative National Socialist quarters. Dr. Tavs was an old Patent Office functionary and was not competent to formulate plans involving coordinated political, diplomatic, and military activities. Dr. Hornbostel believed that only a resolute statement by both France and England to the effect that they would not tolerate a breach of Central European peace could safeguard the situation.

Dr. Hornbostel seemed particularly apprehensive that General von Reichenau might succeed Field Marshal von Blomberg as Minister of War. He described General von Reichenau as a wild Nazi who would be very dangerous in respect of German policy towards Austria.

Dr. Hornbostel further stated that the National Socialists have recently been very active. The Austrian police have seized large quantities of propaganda material at the border. As a matter of fact, only twenty minutes before he had been notified that an “enormous” truckload of such material had just been discovered at the border.

Until a short time ago German pressure was applied chiefly on Czechoslovakia. Its full force was now being directed against Austria. The Germans have been complaining that Austria was guilty of violating the terms of the agreement of July 11, 1936. According to Dr. Hornbostel, [Page 388] before Herr von Papen’s recent departure for Germany, Dr. Guido Schmidt, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, formulated point by point German violations of this agreement. Papen was told to bring this to the attention of his government, with the explanation that Germany was responsible for the present situation. If she would observe her commitments not to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria and not to support the Austrian National Socialists, Austria would be only too willing to shape and pursue a German policy. Particular resentment was felt by the Austrian Government that the third section of the German organization for Austrian National Socialist students had been called the Planetta Section. (Planetta was executed as the assassin of Dollfuss.14) The German Government had denied that this was the case, but the Austrian Government had now been able to submit photographic evidence to Papen that at the University of Munich this section was described in this objectionable way on the official bulletin board.

Dr. Hornbostel also remarked that the attitude of the German National Socialist leaders had been very cynical. General Goering15 frankly told Dr. Schmidt in Berlin that Captain Leopold, the National Socialist leader in Austria, was always “pumping” money out of him. Dr. Himmler16 at a recent police conference in Rome had openly boasted to the Austrian police delegate that he had organized S. S. troops in Austria and the fact that they were not making trouble for Austria was merely because they had not had orders from him to do so.

I asked Dr. Hornbostel regarding the truth of rumors that substantial sums of money had been found when the police closed the premises of the Committee of Seven in the Teinfaltstrasse. Dr. Hornbostel replied that these stories were much exaggerated; that whatever money was found was unimportant and not of interest to the authorities. It could be said that the National Socialists in Austria really needed very little money. Everything was put at their disposal. Propaganda material was provided for them and there was nothing much for which they needed to disburse funds. Through National Socialist control of German imports from Austria they were able to take care generously of the National Socialist leaders and subordinates throughout all of Austria. This had to do particularly with manipulations of timber, dairy and agricultural exports.

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Count de Montbas, the Counselor of the French Legation, who is on the eve of his departure for Berlin whither he has been transferred as Counselor, informed me today that the question of a joint statement on the part of both France and England on behalf of the independence of Austria had been uppermost in the mind of Chancellor Schuschnigg for the last ten months. Following his return from his somewhat unhappy interview with Mussolini in Venice, Schuschnigg approached the French Legation and made urgent representations in the hope of eliciting a definite pronouncement at that time. The French Government discussed the matter with the British Government, but it was not found feasible to work out a suitable formula. The British Government felt then that public opinion in England was too strongly inclined to believe that the German minority in Czechoslovakia was being oppressed for it to be able to intervene in respect of Central European affairs in a manner hostile to Germany. (If I remember correctly, there was at that time considerable sentiment in England for an understanding with Germany.)

Moreover, the French Government found it somewhat embarrassing to take too strong an attitude in respect of a country like Austria which the French Left parties regarded as Fascist. There were, however, according to Count de Montbas, a series of independent statements on the part of both France and England showing sympathetic interest. The question, Count de Montbas added, was again being studied and it was not impossible that a formula for a joint pronouncement might now be found. He considered it urgently desirable. The Government of Czechoslovakia has recently gone fairly far in meeting the legitimate demands of the Sudeten Germans. The ex-Social Democrats in Austria have made repeated and rather effective efforts to appease the misgivings of the Popular Front.

Count de Montbas confirmed my impression that there was an unusual degree of anxiety in high Government circles in Austria, and he believed the present situation in Germany to be serious. Should it develop unfavorably, he thought it would have immediate repercussions on Austria. In preparing himself for his work in Berlin he has recently studied with great care all despatches and telegrams submitted by M. François-Poncet, the French Ambassador in Berlin, to his Government. Count de Montbas told me that M. François-Poncet is convinced that 1938 will be the decisive year in respect of Austria.

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Respectfully yours,

John C. Wiley
  1. Not printed.
  2. During the first week of February, Hitler had forced some changes in his Army Staff and in the Reich Ministry.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Engelbert Dollfuss, Chancellor of Austria assassinated in 1934; see Foreign Relations, 1934, vol. ii, pp. 1 ff.
  5. Hermann Goering, Reich Minister of Aviation and Commissioner for the Four Year Plan.
  6. Heinrich Himmler, Chief of Schutzstaffel (S. S.) and the Gestapo in Germany.