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?