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World War II and the Defeat of Nazi Germany

In a strict sense, Austria was not a participant in World War II because it did not formally exist when the war began with the invasion of Poland in September 1939. On an individual level, however, some 800,000 Austrians were drafted into the army (the German Wehrmacht), and another 150,000 served in the Waffen SS, an elite Nazi military unit. Austrians were integrated into German units, and no specifically Austrian military brigades were formed.

Austrians loyally supported Germany through the early years of World War II. The early German military victories and Austria's geographic location beyond the reach of Allied bombers shielded the Austrian population from the full impact of the war. Only after the German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad in early 1943, when the course of the war increasingly turned against Germany, did popular support for the war and for the Anschluss begin to erode.

More important for Austria's future, however, was the evolution in the Allies' position on Austria. In November 1943, the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States met and issued the Moscow Declaration. In contrast to the earlier Allied acceptance of the Anschluss, the declaration described Austria as "the first victim of Hitlerite aggression" and called for the reestablishment of an independent Austria. At the same time, however, the declaration also held Austria liable for its participation in the war, effectively giving it the status of an enemy state.

Allied advances in Italy in 1943 enabled bombers regularly to attack Austrian industrial and transportation centers. The winter of 1944-45 saw an intensification of the air campaign and steady advances toward Austria by the Soviet Union's Red Army. On March 30, 1945, the Red Army entered Austrian territory and captured Vienna on April 13. Although the Germans resisted the Soviet advances into eastern Austria, the Western Allies--the United States, Britain, and France--met minimal resistance as they advanced into the country. United States forces began entering Austria on April 30, and French and British troops soon followed. On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered unconditionally.

Last Update: 2009-06-21