On March 12, 1938 the Austrian Chancellor announced to the people of Austria that an Operation Otto would begin wherein Germany and Austria would be unified as One Country, One People and One Leader.
The following morning at 5:00 AM, Heinrich Himmler marched marched through the streets of Vienna with his SS troops were met in wild welcome, flowers thrown and cheering. The operation became known as the Flower War.
Austria was in a debilitating depression and as a result of Hapsburg/Austrian war went from a powerful nation to one of little consequence. Most of the population felt that with being a part of Germany, they would again gain some of their lost power and that they would again become solvent.
This is the story of three Jewish families with powerful connections and influences and how the Anschluss affected their lives.
It was an unusually pleasant afternoon in Austria. The date was March 12, 1938. “Motke” his mother’s diminutive in Yiddish for his given name “Mordeca” Fleisch, had that feeling once again that something was in the air. He got these premonitions very few times in his life but they always seemed to be followed by some calamitous event. He remembered when his uncle Ben Steiner, his mother’s brother went off to work that morning so many years ago and Motke, still in bed was suddenly awakened with a flash that went through his mind that something was wrong. That day, just before his mother served him his lunch, he remembered that loud pounding of the front door only to hear his mother scream. His Uncle was fatally hit by a trolley car as he tried to cross Kartnerstrasse, the wide boulevard in Wein, (Vienna, Austria) that went by the Jewish center. The Jewish center was where his uncle Ben, worked as a tailor making men’s trousers and suits. He remembered his mother’s face was grief stricken and white as she told him to finish his lunch and to then remain in the house until she returned. Grabbing only a heavy sweater, Lenore his mother was always warning him to dress warmly or he would catch a cold. He wondered what had happened to have his mother go out without her coat. Motke was only seven and sometimes he wondered at adults behavior and orders but he nevertheless obeyed when he was told to do something. Mostly it was to escape the harangue that usually took place when his mother reported his bad behavior to his father and which sometimes (according to the severity of his miss behaving, he could be punished by not allowing him to go out doors or to miss the weekly visit to the sweet shop where he was usually allowed to have one of the desserts while his father and mother drank their coffee. It seems that Motke was born with not only a stubborn streak but also a short fused temper when things did not go his way. They both hoped he would not be like their wealthy friend Irving Midman. After his outcry, his mother Lenore tried to appease him and said, “Motke, be calm”. Motke turned around and said, “that’s the other thing, why can’t you call me by my real name, Mordeca. It’s always like I was a 2 year-old baby. Even my friends make fun of me and call me Motke, Motke.”
On that occasion Motke recalled that his father had been acting strangely that whole week. Then there was the constant shouting out of his father against something which his mother always whispered for him to not shout so that Motke might hear. All that week, there were late visits from two of his father’s best friends. The men would talk in whispers and their faces were very serious and stern. They talked late into the night. This very night, Bruno, Motke’s father was more loquacious than ever. On this particular evening, Bruno seemed to have an appetite that was unusual for him.
He talked a great deal and seemed too nervous to sit still. After their supper, Bruno, who had eaten two servings of Schweinsbraten with Semmelk Nodel, (Bruno was a Reformed Jew and did not adhere to the dietary rules), along with 2 glasses of Marzen, his favorite pale lager, was not helped by the double serving of Dobos cake. He explained to Lenore that he was feeling very uncomfortable and was going to walk to try to get himself relieved of his over indulgence of the evening meal. He chose to walk on the Karnerstrassen in hopes of meeting someone with whom he could unburden his troubled mind. There was no one he knew but the boulevard was more crowded than usual given the splendid night air. Still feeling the effects of his over-stuffing himself, he decided to sit on one of the benches and smoke a cigar. About half way through his cigar, he suddenly threw the cigar butt into the street and went home to try to seek relief from some antacid powders they kept. It was almost 7:45 PM when he decide to turn on the radio to see if there was any news. At 7:50 PM, the radio started to static and presently Carl Schusnigg, the Austrian Chancellor addressed the Austrian people. He announced that “Operation “Otto” was going into effect and that henceforth, Austria would be annexed to Germany: an Anschluss whereby there was to be:
Ein Volk, Ein Reich, und Ein Fuhrer
One People, One Empire and one Leader
Bruno was speechless.