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Film of Austrian Police during the German Annexation of Austria

Austrian Police Anschluss
Österreichisches Filmmuseum

In 1938, Austrian police officers faced difficult choices as they decided how to react to waves of Nazi violence and the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany.1 They had originally sworn oaths to serve an independent Austrian state, but in March 1938 they became part of Nazi Germany’s police forces. Although most Austrian police did not actively support the Nazi Party before the annexation, the vast majority of them quickly adjusted to the new political realities that they faced.

In the featured clip from the police propaganda film, “March 11, 1938: The Great National Turmoil in Austria,”  Vienna police officers can be seen wearing swastika armbands and giving the Nazi salute during the German annexation (Anschluss) of Austria.2 Many members of Austrian police forces began displaying support for the new regime almost immediately. One witness account describes how Vienna police officers pulled swastika armbands out of the pockets of their uniforms and slipped them on. In one district of the city, members of the Vienna police received armbands from local Nazis. Although the early adoption of Nazi emblems was improvised, swastika armbands would soon become mandatory for all Austrian uniformed police.3

The film—likely created to show to police officers and new recruits—also shows members of the Vienna police turning in their police batons, which many Austrian Nazis viewed as symbols of the police enforcement of the Austrian ban on Nazi Party activity between 1933 and 1938.4 Austrian police forces used batons on crowds of rioting Nazis just before the annexation. Once the Nazi Party was in control of Austria, however, members of Nazi paramilitary groups used batons as they raided Jewish businesses and arrested prominent Jews.5

In the weeks after the Nazi takeover, Austrian police hesitated to intervene in a flood of violent crimes committed against Jews and political opponents of the Nazi Party by Nazi supporters and members of the SA (Sturmabteilung) and SS (Schutzstaffel).6 Some police officers even participated in the violence themselves.

The featured film clip demonstrates how the lines of authority quickly shifted and blurred as Nazi Germany took control of Austria. Vienna police officers are shown adopting the emblems of the Nazi regime and turning in their police batons before the film’s focus shifts to heavily armed members of the SA and SS marching proudly through the streets. As Nazi authorities reorganized Austrian police forces and incorporated them into the Nazi state, Jews and others targeted by the Nazis could no longer count on the protection of the police.7

For more on Austrian reactions to Nazi rule, see Evan Burr Bukey, Hitler's Austria: Popular Sentiment in the Nazi Era, 1938–1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

For more on the Anschluss, see related items in Experiencing History, Photograph of Jews Cleaning Streets in Vienna and Film of Jewish Boycott in Austria.

Not all of the police officers in the film appear to be wearing swastika armbands or giving the Nazi salute, which might indicate that they were still undecided as to how to react to the Nazi takeover. To learn more about the reactions of the Vienna police during the Anschluss, see Lindsay K. MacNeill, "Yesterday’s Protector, Tomorrow’s Tormentor: The Viennese Police and the Anschluss," in "Professionalism and Brutality: The Viennese Police and the Public in Extraordinary Times, 1918-1955," 208–44.

From 1933 to 1938, Austria was ruled by a fascist regime that sought to preserve Austrian independence from Nazi Germany despite Nazi attempts to disrupt and annex the country. In 1934, Nazis in Austria attempted to overthrow the government and assassinated Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. Austrian police enforced a ban on Nazi Party activities for several years as the Nazi Party conspired against the Austrian state. To learn more, see Mark Lewis, "Continuity and Change in the Vienna Police Force, 1914-1945: Part II," Shoah: Intervention. Methods. Documentation 7, no. 1 (2020): 45–54. 

Austrian Jews not only faced widespread antisemitic violence following the Anschluss; they also confronted state-sponsored persecution. Antisemitic policies that Nazi officials had introduced in Germany over the previous five years were rapidly adopted by Nazis in Austria, upending many lives. To learn more about Austrian Nazis' role in implementing these policies, see the related Experiencing History items, Eviction Notice for Dr. Erwin Schattner and Film of Jewish Boycott in Austria. See also Hans Safrian, Eichmann's Men (Cambridge University Press, 2009). 

In the wake of the Anschluss, Austrian Jews found that the police could not be relied upon to protect them from the antisemitic assaults, robberies, and acts of public humiliation directed against them. To learn more, see the related Experiencing History item, Photograph of Jews Cleaning Streets in Vienna.

To learn more, see Lindsay K. MacNeill, "Professionalism and Brutality: The Viennese Police and the Public in Extraordinary Times, 1918–1955," 238-44; Bruce F. Pauley, From Prejudice to Persecution: A History of Austrian Anti-Semitism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992); and Ilana Fritz Offenberger, The Jews of Nazi Vienna, 1938–1945: Rescue and Destruction (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

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"The altered cityscape on the morning of March 12. The police, wearing swastika armbands, carry out their duties. The vehicles display German pennants.

At the municipal boundary, strict control of the vehicles leaving Vienna.

The rubber truncheon is being done away with.

The SA and SS units are being supplied with equipment."

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Das veränderte Stadtbild am Morgen des 12- März. Die Polizei versieht mit Hakenkreuz-Armbinden den Dienst. An den Fahrzeugen wehen die deutschen Wimpeln.

Strenge Kontrolle der Wien verlassenden Fahrzeuge an der Gemeindegrenze.

Der Gummiknüppel wird abgeschafft.

Die Verbände der S.Fs. und S.S. werden ausgerüstet.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Österreichisches Filmmuseum
Accession Number 2011.461
RG Number 60.7071
Source Number 2971
Date Created
March 11, 1938
Duration 1:39
Time Selection 3:15-4:54
Sound No
Language(s)
German
Location
Vienna, Austria
Moving Image Type Newsreel
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