[ 13 March 1938 ]
Late in the evening of Sunday 13 March 1938, Hitler gave an interview in a hotel room in the Austrian town of Linz to a journalist in whom he had complete confidence to dutifully report the Nazi propaganda line as to why a day earlier his troops had marched into Austria. Long lines of German soldiers, backed by tanks and lorry loads of black-jacketed SS security police had crossed the border just prior to the dawn, only hours after Hitler had forced Austria’s chancellor, Kurt Schuschnigg, to call off a plebiscite due on the Sunday to determine whether the population was in favour of a political union with Germany. Schuschnigg ordered the Austrian army not to resist and by Saturday evening the entire country had been occupied. Those who had opposed the Nazi takeover now faced imprisonment, torture or assassination, while Jews, regardless of their political opinion, found themselves subject to violent assaults, public humiliation, strict restrictions limiting the jobs open to them and the confiscation of their property.
Hitler, accompanied by General Keitel, the Chief of Staff of the German armed forces, and other leading military and Nazi officials crossed into Austria around 4 pm on Saturday in a convoy of open topped Mercedes, and headed for the town of LInz, where Hitler had spent much of his childhood. Arriving at around 8 pm, the party booked into rooms at the Hotel Weinzinger, overlooking the Danube, only to discover that there was no phone line to Berlin from the hotel’s only telephone located behind the porter’s desk and it was not until the early hours of the following day that military engineers managed to establish a connection. There was not even sufficient food in the restaurant for the Fuhrer’s vast entourage, nor enough rooms.1
Amid the jostling mass of party officials and army officers, Hitler noticed the British pro-Nazi correspondent of the Daily Mail, exclaiming ‘Well, well, it’s Ward Price. Always at the right place at the right time.’ He may have already known that George Ward Price had given a speech in German to the waiting crowds as a warm-act for his arrival, in which he congratulated them ‘very heartily’ on the Anschluss (union),’ though he later tried to excuse his collusion by claiming that he had not realised the radio microphone was turned on. Two hours later, as Hitler addressed the same crowd from the balcony of the town hall, Ward Price was sufficiently trusted to stand directly behind the Fuhrer, and that evening he was allocated a room in the same hotel. Nor was it any ordinary room. Edi Weinzinger, who jointly owned the hotel with his two brothers, surrendered his personal apartment, presumably following pressure from Nazi officials.2
The next day Hitler had a busy schedule, initially revisiting some of the places he had known in his childhood before conferring with Himmler, head of the SS and the Gestapo political police, as to how to bring a nation of seven million people under Nazi control. Nor were these his only concerns. At the same time as crushing internal opposition within Austria, Hitler understood that he had to neutralise external opposition with effective propaganda, so that evening he gave his first post-invasion interview to Ward Price which was not completed until midnight. Hitler knew he could trust the Daily Mail journalist, a keen supporter of the British Union of Fascists, and the newspaper’s pro-fascist owner, Lord Rothermere, to give him favourable coverage. He also understood that Ward Price would have to transmit the transcript and his own commentary in time for the newspaper to consider it for its front page lead for Monday morning. So while all the Nazi officials in Linz, including HImmler, had been informed that they could only use telephones elsewhere in the city, as the hotel telephone was reserved exclusively for the Fuhrer, an exception was made for the correspondent. As Reinhard Spitzy, the German foreign minister’s deputy, later explained: ‘His need, we felt, was greater than ours, as it was of the utmost importance that at least one of the world’s newspapers should report an accurate and unbiased version of events.’3
- Tim Bouverie, Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War, The Bodley Head, London, 2019, p. 183 and Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1936-1945: Nemesis, Penguin Books, London, 2001 and ‘Hitler’s drive through northern Austria: Procession of cars and troop-filled lorries,’ The Western Mail and South Wales Press, 14 March 1938, p. 8.
- George Ward Price, Year of Reckoning, Cassell, London, August 1939, pp. 112-120.
- Spitzy cited in Tim Bouverie, op. cit., p. 183.
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