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Film of Woman and Child with Propaganda Displays

A woman and child walk in Berlin and interact with Nazi propaganda.
Courtesy of Karl Höffkes

From 1933 to 1938, Austria was ruled by an authoritarian Catholic government that shared characteristics with the fascist movements of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.1 But the Austrian regime promoted a distinctly Catholic Austrian identity and rejected the idea of annexation with Germany.2 Nazi leaders pressured the Austrian government for years before German forces marched into Austria early on the morning of March 12, 1938. Austrian forces did not resist, and the Germans were welcomed by enthusiastic Austrian supporters.3 On March 13, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler signed a law officially announcing the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany). Hitler also ordered a vote to be held on April 10, 1938 to make it seem as if the annexation reflected the will of the people throughout both Austria and Germany.

The featured film footage was likely recorded in Berlin sometime during the weeks before the vote on April 10. Nazi authorities ran an intense propaganda campaign throughout Austria and Germany in the weeks between the annexation and the referendum. Banners with swastikas can be seen hanging from buildings, and the Nazi slogan “One people, one realm, one leader!” (“Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!”) appears repeatedly. A young child and a woman pose for the camera as if this is a typical home movie of a family outing.4 They window-shop, enter a pharmacy, and get ice cream. It is not known who recorded this footage or why they chose to film the child with the Nazi propaganda displays.5

Although the vote on April 10 was supposed to be free and secret, it took place in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Almost immediately after the annexation, the Nazi regime and its supporters began a campaign of violence throughout Austria. They attacked Jewish citizens and forced them to perform rituals of public humiliation.6 Political opponents of Nazi rule were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps. Only so-called “Aryan” members of the Nazis' "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft") were allowed to vote on whether or not they supported the Anschluss. Voters often had to fill out their ballots in the intimidating presence of Nazi Party officials.

The results of the referendum held on April 10, 1938 showed that more than 99 percent of the voters supported the German annexation of Austria. This massive show of support was not necessarily due to outright electoral fraud, but rather to a combination of seemingly positive propaganda, voter purges, and intimidation.7 Some voters genuinely welcomed the Anschluss, even if they did not support the Nazi Party. Many Austrians and Germans were overjoyed that it had finally happened—one way or another. Other people were intimidated into voting “yes” in support, or they simply stayed away from the polls entirely. Those deemed political opponents of the regime were not permitted to vote.

How do the people in the film react to the Nazi propaganda displays on the streets of Berlin? What might this footage suggest about their priorities and their attitudes toward the regime? 

To learn more about Austria and its system of government during the 1930s, see Julie Thorpe, Pan-Germanism and the Austrofascist State, 1933–38 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011).

The political unification of Germany and Austria had been a central goal of the Nazi Party and other pan-German political factions for years, but the Treaty of Versailles did not permit this without the consent of the Council of the League of Nations. Pan-Germanism was a widespread and popular movement in the early 20th century that greatly influenced the development of Nazi ideology. To learn more, see Erin R. Hochman, Imagining a Greater Germany: Republican Nationalism and the Idea of Anschluss (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016); and Julie Thorpe, "Pan-Germanism after Empire: Austrian 'Germandom' at Home and Abroad," in From Empire to Republic: Post-World War I Austria, edited by Günter Bischof, Fritz Plasser and Peter Berger (New Orleans: University of New Orleans Press, 2010).

For more on this event, see the related Experiencing History item, Film of Austrian Police during the German Annexation of Austria. To learn about Austrian reactions to the annexation and 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).

Personal film cameras had started to come into wide use in Europe by the mid-1930s, making home movies possible for the first time. To learn more, see the related Experiencing History item, Marcus Tennenbaum, Family Home Movies.

For more examples of people interacting with public displays of Nazi propaganda, see the related Experiencing History items, Film of Nazi Memorials in Munich and Film of Hitler Postcards on Display. See also the Experiencing History collections Nazi Propaganda and National Unity and Everyday Encounters with Fascism.

For more primary sources on public humiliation under Nazi rule, see the related Experiencing History items, Photograph of Jews Cleaning Streets in Vienna, Public Humiliation of a Young Couple, Photograph of German Order Police Publicly Humiliating a Jewish Man, and Diary of Aharon Pick.

To learn more about how the Nazi regime ruled through a combination of propaganda and terror, see Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of Karl Höffkes
Date Created
March 1938 to April 1938
Duration 00:01:59
Sound No
Berlin, Germany
Moving Image Type Home Movie
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