Viennese Culture and Politics, 1861 to 1938
: Everyday Expressions of ‘German’ Identity

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This is a work about identity and belonging in Vienna between 1861 and 1938. It engages with one of the great debates in Austrian history, concerning the nature, aims, depth and extent of radical German nationalist feeling that existed in the city in the period down to 1938. In particular, it addresses the level of support that existed among radical groups on the Right in favour of the joining of Austria and Germany into one country. This aim was known in German as Anschluss, which translates as union, and many, often small, political parties put it at the top of their priorities.1 This aim of joining all Germans together was also known as the Pan-German policy, as it was theoretically based on bringing together all Germans in one country, regardless of the state in which they then lived. The main focal points for early Pan-German efforts, however, were the lands which were to be brought together as the German Empire in 1871 and the German-speaking parts of the Habsburg Empire. After the First World War, Germany and Austria were the main, if not only, points of attention. Switzerland and its German-speaking population received little Pan-German attention, perhaps because of the long independence of Switzerland outside of the Holy Roman Empire.2 In examining radical German nationalism in Vienna over this period, much of the historiography has rested on an assumption that German nationalist sentiment was expressed in support for such an Anschluss? In this view, the outburst of pro-Anschluss enthusiasm in 1938 in Vienna - and elsewhere in Austria - was therefore a genuine and long-held expression of support for a German nationalist position. Yet throughout the period there was much disagreement about how, or even whether, Anschluss should be achieved, what kind of German state it would be desirable to join and what role Austrians - and Austria - should play within this state.
There was also much disagreement over many decades about what it meant to be German, and who should belong as a German. In terms of this debate, the essence of the Germany that was on offer in 1938 presented a radical solution that can be expressed in three brief sentences. All Germans should be brought together in one state. A German was ethnically defined. A Jew was not a German.If they are taken at face value, the crowds that gathered in Vienna to greet the arrival of Hitler shortly after the Anschluss suggest that the Viennese did support these three elements of the radical vision being put forward in 1938. The size of the crowds suggests the extent of German nationalist feeling. The passion on display suggests that these people were willing supporters of the Anschluss, gladly surrendering the independence of Austria. More than this, however, these people must have understood the essence of the German state to which Austria was being joined. The anti-Jewish violence that swept the country as these crowds gathered suggests that, for these participants at least, this was an enthusiastic endorsement of a racial, antisemitic, exclusionary vision of what it meant to be German.4 Again, taken at face value, the members of these crowds seem confident that they belonged, that they were not excluded, and that they were part of the new order.5 Yet, as there had been so much debate in Vienna over these very ideas over many years, whether the support that these crowds appeared to show for Anschluss was widespread among the population in general, even on the Right, must be questioned. The purpose of this work is therefore to address two key questions. First, by 1938, had support for a radical, exclusionary German nationalism become deeply embedded in the political and social life of Vienna?
Second, was Anschluss the fulfilment of the visions that those with radical, exclusionary, definitions of being German had been supporting in the lead-up to 1938? In order to understand whether these scenes were a momentary outburst, or the expression of a whole-hearted endorsement of this particular realisation of Anschluss, the work therefore focuses on competing, and yet at times overlapping, visions that evolved in Vienna of what it should mean to be German. In particular, this work focuses on those defined here as the radical Right, who promoted visions of being German which were predominantly based on the idea that an attributed ethnic origin could exclude someone from being German. The work aims to show how deeply these visions had penetrated Viennese thinking, who was promoting them and what they meant.
Date of Award1 Nov 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMichael Rowe (Supervisor) & Jim Bjork (Supervisor)

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