The Chargé in Germany (Gilbert) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 26—11 a.m.]
83. 1. Nothing definite yet emerges here respecting German official reaction to the Schuschnigg speech. That the tone of the speech is still regarded with surprise by the rank and file of party members is evident. In diplomatic and German circles comment centers on the apparent divergencies between the temper of the speech, and in particular Schuschnigg’s insistence on Austrian sovereignty and freedom from external interference, and what had been understood to be the spirit and terms of the Berchtesgaden arrangements. Speculation [Page 408] turns on causes as deriving from the internal situation in, Austria or possibly in response to some developments in great power politics.
2. From military and other contacts here the Military Attaché derives the belief that Hitler is aiming ultimately at a complete amalgamation of Germany and Austria. His sources are not agreed, however, as to the tempo with which he will proceed to complete this amalgamation.
His information is that in recent weeks Hitler has effected a rather thoroughgoing reorganization of the National Socialist Party in Austria, ousting certain local leaders such as Leopold and concentrating all party authority in the hands of Seyss-Inquart. It would seem that Hitler’s purpose in these changes is to create a clear-cut channel of authority in Austrian matters from himself direct to Seyss-Inquart and to rule out all possibilities of lesser German party leaders, especially those of Prussian origin, meddling in Austrian affairs, thereby injuring Hitler’s chances of bringing about the Anschluss.
While the exact arrangements between Mussolini and Hitler with regard to Austria are unknown, it is felt by Austrian Nazis in Berlin that Hitler intends to lose no time in securing such a strong position in Austria that even if a sudden diplomatic shifting of fronts should occur Italy could not retrace her steps. His sources feel that further important steps towards Anschluss will be taken not later than May, among these steps being the ousting of Dr. Kienbold [Kienboeck?] from the presidency of the Austrian National Bank as being too close to France.
The background opinion of these sources is that whereas up to now time has been working for Hitler in Austria the opposite became true as soon as Hitler showed his hand in the Berchtesgaden meeting. Unless Hitler’s assurances from Mussolini are very strong he must now definitely fear that a British-Italian accord might either slow down or completely check his attempt to amalgamate Germany and Austria. It appears logical, therefore, from Hitler’s standpoint that he should press on without delay to his goal and complete his ascendancy in Austria before the Spanish Civil War has ended and before Great Britain and Italy can have had time to reach an understanding. The National Socialist Party in Berlin apparently feels that they have already a safe majority for Anschluss were a plebiscite to be taken in Austria in the next few months but that this present majority is not impressive nor indeed as large as the party could make it could they obtain several months’ delay for organization and propaganda.
There are some indications here that religious matters were discussed in Berchtesgaden. There is a belief in Berlin that the recall of Papen, the most prominent Catholic layman in Germany, from Vienna is connected with a desire by Hitler to use him in negotiations [Page 409] with the Vatican. The question as to whether Hitler actually has made a complaint to Schuschnigg in Catholic religious matters can still not be answered but if this is assumed it could partly explain Schuschnigg’s change of front at Berchtesgaden. Many indications suggest that Hitler is now seeking possibly at Mussolini’s request a general all round settlement of the German religious disputes. Such a settlement in Germany would fall in with Hitler’s Austrian plans and if effected would almost overnight greatly strengthen the German position in Austria.
2. By reason of his familiarity with German affairs and his numerous contacts here the foregoing information from the Military Attaché and the opinions regarding German plans in the Austrian and church questions are believed to merit consideration.
It may be added that in respect of the main thesis outlined above it is the general consensus of opinion in all Berlin circles that Hitler’s ultimate aim is the absorption of Austria.
It might be emphasized, however, that the actual plans of the Chancellor in these matters are known only to himself and an extremely small circle of his intimates in governmental affairs to whom no outsider known to the Embassy has as yet established a relation of confidential access.