The Complex Relationship Between Austria-Hungary and Germany: A Historical Perspective

Emma Wilson

Updated Monday, June 17, 2024 at 8:59 AM CDT

The Complex Relationship Between Austria-Hungary and Germany: A Historical Perspective

The Multi-Ethnic Empire of Austria-Hungary

Austria-Hungary was a vast, multi-ethnic empire dominated by German speakers in what is now Austria. This diverse empire included various ethnic groups such as Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Ukrainians, and more. The German-speaking Austrians held significant influence over the political and cultural landscape of the empire. This dominance created a complex relationship between the German-speaking population and the other ethnic groups within the empire. The question of national identity and the definition of "Germanness" was a recurring theme, especially in the context of the broader German-speaking world.

The Unification of Germany and Its Impact

Germany as a united country only came into existence less than two decades before Adolf Hitler was born. Before the unification in 1871, the region was a patchwork of different states and kingdoms where people spoke German and identified themselves as Germans. The unification of Germany under the Prussian leadership left out many German-speaking regions, including those in Austria-Hungary. This exclusion led to different ideas about what a united Germany should encompass, with some advocating for the inclusion of German-speaking parts of Austria-Hungary.

Hitler's Obsession with the German People

Adolf Hitler's obsession was more with the German people than with a specific German state. For many, Germany was not just the states that were part of the German Empire but all places where Germans lived. Hitler and others envisioned a Greater Germany that would be home to all ethnic Germans, excluding non-German speakers and those who didn't fit their idea of a real German. This vision was rooted in the belief that the German people, regardless of their state of residence, formed a single, cohesive national identity.

Hitler's Military and Political Journey

Hitler fought for the Bavarian military in World War I, not the Austro-Hungarian one. His military service was a significant factor in his later political career. After his failed coup attempt, known as the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler gave up his Austrian citizenship while imprisoned. He later gained German citizenship through a no-show job in Brunswick shortly before running for office. This move was crucial for his political ambitions, as it allowed him to participate in German politics and ultimately rise to power.

The Post-World War I Landscape

After World War I, the German Empire remained intact but was heavily punished, while the Austrian Empire was divided into new nations. Many Austrians wanted to join Germany after the dissolution of the Austrian Empire, but the Allies disallowed this to weaken Germany. In the interwar period, it wasn't uncommon for an Austrian to think of themselves as German. The majority of Germans in the 1930s had parents who weren't born in Germany and had experienced both the German Empire and the German Republic with different borders. This fluidity of national identity contributed to the ongoing questions about what Germany should look like and who is considered German.

The Legacy of Austria-Hungary and Germany

The legacy of Austria-Hungary and Germany's relationship is complex and multifaceted. Many Germans lived in various parts of the Austrian Empire, especially the Bohemian lands, which are now part of the Czech Republic. The dissolution of the Austrian Empire and the subsequent creation of new nations reshaped the political landscape of Central Europe. The questions about national identity, the definition of Germanness, and the vision of a Greater Germany continued to influence political discourse throughout the 20th century.

The relationship between Austria-Hungary and Germany is a testament to the complexities of national identity and the impact of historical events on shaping modern Europe. The multi-ethnic nature of Austria-Hungary, the unification of Germany, and the political ambitions of figures like Hitler all played a role in defining the German identity and the geopolitical landscape of the region. Understanding this historical context is crucial for comprehending the intricate dynamics that have shaped Central Europe.

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