The Nazis Didn’t Invade Austria and Czechoslovakia? (Updated)

by Kevin Jon Heller

Not according to Yaacov Lozowick, an Israeli historian:

Here’s my input, on a point no-one else seems to be noticing: There was no Nazi invasion of the Sudetenland, no invasion of Slovakia, hardly one of Austria and even less of Bohemia. Nazi Germany brutally invaded many countries, but those weren’t among them. Go check the history books and see if I know what I’m talking about. Glenn Greenwald surely doesn’t.

Lozowick is responding to a recent post by Glenn Greenwald in which Glenn used the Nazi invasion of the Sudetenland, which was overwhelmingly supported by its ethnic German residents, to make the point that, no matter how reprehensible and illegal a particular invasion, it always possible to find some group of people in the invaded country who supported it.  Glenn was calling out Jeffrey Goldberg, whose most recent rationale for the invasion of Iraq (he’s had many, most notably that Saddam was in cahoots with Al Qaeda) was that the Kurds were in favor of it.  That post led Joe Klein to claim that Glenn was arguing that “the liberation of the Kurds… can be compared to the Nazi seizure of the Sudetenland” and Goldberg to claim — even more hyperbolically — that Glenn was comparing “the Iraq war to the Nazi conquest of Europe.”  Both claims were patently ridiculous and can only be explained as deliberate misrepresentations of Glenn’s post, given that Glenn specifically said that “it should go without saying, but doesn’t: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions.”

Lozowick equally distorts Glenn’s post, claiming that he “compared the Nazi invasion of Austria, the Sudetenland, and Czechoslovakia, with the American invasion of Iraq.”  What I find particularly interesting, however, is Lozowick’s contention that — as quoted above — “[t]here was no Nazi invasion of the Sudetenland, no invasion of Slovakia, hardly one of Austria and even less of Bohemia.”  I don’t know how the history books describe the Nazis’ actions toward Austria and Czechoslovakia; perhaps they avoid the term “invasion” because the invaded countries didn’t resist.  I do know, however, that the Nuremberg Military Tribunals (1) held that those actions qualified as invasions; (2) held that the invasions of Austria and Czechoslovakia constituted crimes against peace; and (3) convicted two defendants of crimes against peace for participating in those invasions.  Here is the relevant section of Chapter 8 of my book on the tribunals, citations omitted:

As noted in Chapter 5, unlike the London Charter, which criminalized only wars of aggression, Law No. 10 criminalized both wars of aggression and “invasions.” That difference proved critical in Ministries, because Tribunal IV convicted Keppler and Lammers for participating in attacks that it considered invasions, not aggressive wars: the attack on Austria (Keppler), and the attack on Czechoslovakia (Keppler and Lammers).  Neither Keppler nor Lammers, therefore, could have been convicted of crimes against peace by the IMT.

Tribunal IV’s convictions of Keppler and Lammers were only possible, of course, because it concluded that Germany’s attacks on Austria and Czechoslovakia qualified as “invasions.” Law No. 10 did not specify what separated aggressive wars from invasions; it simply made clear that it considered them different kinds of attacks. And the IMT neither defined the term nor used it consistently, referring to the attacks on Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg as “invasions” although it considered them aggressive wars and referring to the attack on Czechoslovakia as a “seizure.”

The Ministries tribunal was not, however, writing on a completely blank slate. Tribunal V had provided a definition of “invasion” in High Command, albeit in dicta because it had dismissed the crimes against peace charges – as discussed below – on the ground that the defendants did not satisfy the leadership requirement. According to Tribunal V, the difference between an aggressive war and an invasion was that the latter did not involve armed resistance:

[A]n invasion of one state by another is the implementation of the national policy of the invading state by force even though the invaded state, due to fear or a sense of the futility of resistance in the face of superior force, adopts a policy of nonresistance and thus prevents the occurrence of any actual combat.

The majority in Ministries adopted High Command’s definition of invasion, noting – rightly – that there was no legal or political rationale for assuming “that an act of war, in the nature of an invasion, whereby conquest and plunder are achieved without resistance, is to be given more favorable consideration than a similar invasion which may have met with some military resistance.” The two judges thus had little problem determining that the attacks on Austria and Czechoslovakia qualified as invasions and were thus crimes against peace under Law No. 10. With regard to Austria, they emphasized that “armed bands of National Socialist SA and SS units” had taken control of the Austrian government even before German troops crossed the border. With regard to Czechoslovakia, they emphasized that Hitler had coerced Hacha into consenting to German occupation by threatening to destroy Prague by air and had “started his armed forces on the march into Bohemia and Moravia” even before Hacha had given that consent. With regard to both, they noted that “[t]he fact that the aggressor was here able to so overawe the invaded countries, does not detract in the slightest from the enormity of the aggression in reality perpetrated.”

Lozowick believes that Glenn is the one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?  Two of the most important trials held after World War II beg to disagree.

UPDATE: I decided to accept Lozowick’s invitation and “check the history books.”  A small sampling of books that refer to the “invasion” of Czechoslovakia: here, here, here, here, here.  And a small sampling that refer to the “invasion” of Austria: here, here, here, here, here.

27 Responses

  1. Shorter Lozowick: Nuremberg was so 20th century. Besides,if God had wanted Nuremberg to set some sort of precedent he wouldn’t have made John Yoo or Richard Perle.
    Seriously,this particular back and forth between the beltway courtesans and us poor rubes ,has convinced me once and for all, that the pursuit of empire has doomed the republic to destruction. A decade of war later ,void of anything but platitudes, vague refrences to strategic necessity and as many rationales as there are talking heads who spout them.
    Goldberg and Klein are the personification of everything wrong with journalism. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out ,that service to power, particularly the MIC, is a path to a lucrative career. What I find amusing, is how thin skinned they are about their chosen occupation, of ass kissing the gate keepers of the status quo and in Kleins case, serving as an icon of centrism for the DNC and the dangerous liberal propagandist for the rump mouth breathers, that control what remains of the Republican party. The more they whine about their non existent credibility, the more they appear to be  craven,needy, arrested adolescents ,to anyone who isn’t willingly obtuse . They are like people in their automobiles ,who for some reason, believe no one can see them picking their nose when they are stopped at an intersection.


  2. Lozowick and Klein are just rushing out to defend a fellow Iraq war cheerleader, IDF corporal Jeffrey Goldberg, whose personal experience as voluntary Israeli prison guard to Palestinians qualifies him to write impartially about the Middle East.

  3. I have no idea who Lozowick is, but he is wrong on the “invasion” issue.  

    Your defense of Greenwald’s analogy, however, is quite laughable.  Notwithstanding Greenwald’s disclaimer, what is the point of raising the Nazi example if not to directly or indirectly impugn the Iraq War by association? 

    If Greenwald is trying to make an honest point, all he has to do is say it.  Nazi references are hardly needed, and his very own disclaimer shows he doesn’t need to make the Nazi reference.

    KJH, you argue in favor of bad policies, which have bad outcomes.  Hitler also argued in favor of bad policies, which had bad outcomes.  But wait KJH!  I’m not saying you are like Hitler.  I’m only trying to say that bad policies have bad outcomes . . .

  4. Mr. Heller,

    I spent about 25 years of my life studying Nazism, which included of course reading tens of thousands of their documents in their language. Nothing could be further from me than to defend the Nazis.

    This does not prevent me from objecting to Glenn Greenwald’s re-writing of history, and his hijacking of it for his present purposes.
     (Btw, please note I’ve taken no position on the American invasion of Iraq, one way or the other).

    No matter what it says in your book, and no matter what was decided at Nurenburg after the war, the facts are as follows:
    1. There was no German invasion of the Sudeten. The region was handed over to Germany according to the shameful Munich agreements. (October 1938)

    2. There was no invasion of Slovakia, either: the Slovakians split off from rump Czechosovakia in March 1939 and its new regime requested German protection. Poland and Hungary snatched parts of the country at the same time. (They were not tried for this after the war).

    3. There was a large-scale movement of German troops into Bohenia and Moravia on March 14th 1940, at the same time the Czech president, Hacha, was forced to accept German domination. It was all bloodless and completed within the day. This is not commonly called an invasion in German, but in my original post I left it vague.
     Depending on how one uses the term invasion, it may or may not have been: a fighting invasion it wasn’t, the use of military units to take over a country, that it was.

    4. The German invasion of Austria in March 1938 was not an invasion, though German troops did enter the country, at the request of the (Nazi) Austrian prime minister, Arthur Seyss-Inquart. While the machinations which brought about this result were anything but democratic, the German takeover was greeted with great enthusiasm by most Austrians of the day, as it fulfilled a political goal they’d been striving for since the end of the First World War.

    Greenwald starts his odd post with the claim that all invasions, from the Nazi ones to the American invasion of Iraq, will always find a minority of supporters among the invaded. Using his claim for these four cases, I’d say the takoever of the Sudentenland was greeted with celebartion by most of the Germans who lived there, and called it “Heim in’s Reich”: We’re going home into the Reich.

    If there were Czechs who greeted the German takover the following March, I admit I’ve never heard of them.

    The Slovakians weren’t taken over, they got an autonomous statelet where before they hadn’t had one. This was popular at the time, of course.

    Austria: well, after the war the victorious powers had their (Cold War related) reasons to pretend that Austria had been the Nazi’s first victim, but no-one who knows the facts takes that seriously, as it contradicts the historical reality. By and large, the AUstrians were ecstatic at the time, and the proportion of Austrians in the various Nazi formations was considerably higher than their proportion of the Reich population. Their participation in the Shoah was off course off the charts in its intensity. 

  5. Compare Lozowick’s comment above with his blog post: 

    There was no Nazi invasion of the Sudetenland, no invasion of Slovakia, hardly one of Austria and even less of Bohemia

    How does “even less of Bohemia” accord with his comment above?

    It does not appear that Lozowick is thinking much about what he’s typing.

  6. “The [Kurds] weren’t taken over, they got an autonomous statelet where before they hadn’t had one. This was popular at the time, of course.”

  7. Whether or not the Nazis technically “invaded” the Sudeten is an issue of semantics and does not change the greater point that Glenn was trying to make. If a requirement for an invasion is actual violence and resistance, then you can probably say that the Nazis did not invade the Sudeten. But to me, it is a distinction without a difference since the Czech government was basically forced to accept the German terms under the active threat of imminent war. It is akin to arguing that it is not theft if a person agrees to give you money under duress.

  8. Humblelawstudent,

    I have to say, it looks awfully like you are intentionally being thick.

    Let me take a stab at why he might do so. Greenwald wants to show that even in invasions which the entire world agrees were morally reprehensible, there were still groups that were pleased. It has nothing to do with comparing this invasion to the Nazis. It has everything to do with arguing there being Kurds who are pleased with the US invasion of Iraq does not automatically make that invasion justified. Even unjustifiable invasions had groups in the invaded space who were pleased that the invasion occurred. The Nazi’s only crop up specifically because they are the epitome of an unjustifiable invasion, and yet still had people support it. I think using the Nazi argument gives far more credence to his argument than any other analogy could. In that sense, the Nazi reference is, in fact, necessary, unlike your petulant last paragraph mistating Greenwald’s argument completely and impugning noone but yourself.

  9. Dear humblelawstudent:

    It is my opinion that you have completely missed the point of Greenwald’s comparison. He was not in essence comparing the US to Hitler’s Germany; he was comparing Goldberg’s defense of the Iraq invasion to a similarly ridiculous example which might be proffered as a defense for Hitler’s various European invasions. The fact that you (and others) are attacking Greenwald on this point is a form of meta-criticism that wraps my brain in knots. It’s beyond irony. I don’t think I can handle it. I must lie down now.

  10. Yaacov Lozowick – that word does not mean what you think it means.
    So I’d like to know, what do you think it means?

  11. Response…I’m afraid I have to disagree with Mr. Lozowick, who I think is trying to be a little too precise in his definition, some would call it “cheese paring”, of the word “Invasion” in an apparent effort to blunt Greenwalds insightful truism that there are always groups who can be shown to benefited from an occupation by a foreign power.

    Mr. Lozowick suggests that because the occupations of the Sudetenland, Austria and parts of Czeckoslovakia were carried out with little or no violence, they do not qualify as “Invasions”. This conveniently overlooks the fact that plenty of Nazi violence was both threatened and conveniently displayed as being readily available should the subjects of Hitlers attentions not acquiesce to his unwelcome demands. The fact that shots were not fired is immaterial. The troops marched. Overwhelming force was threatened. That is invasion.

    I find it both sad, depressing and increasingly disturbing that Israelis, and their apologists like Jeff Goldberg, are not only using the tactics of their former oppressors but also their language and arguments. Goldberg should be ashamed of himself. So should a lot of other Jewish scholars.

  12. I found it odd that Lozowick did not provide any citations to his assertions in the post on Goldberg’s blog.  Heller responds here with numerous citations.

    And Lozowick replies in the comments… still with only his own personal set of facts.  No citations to other sources.  He even casually dismisses the findings of the Nuremberg Trials!

    The weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of Heller.  It’s astounding to me that Lozowick thought that anyone would be convinced by his reference-free reply comment.  Lozowick alleges to have read tens of thousands of documents, but never bothered to reference even one of them.  Odd.

  13. Greenwald said it best with this new post:
    …In light of those crystal clear Nuremberg prohibitions on “aggressive war,” it’s easy to understand why neocons want to make any mention of all this off-limits, or why they screech like wounded hyenas every time one cites these precedents to condemn the wars they advocate and the justifications they proffer.  It’s not hyperbole to say that “Godwin’s Law” — at least as neocon ideologues have come to distort it — negates the central purpose of what was done at Nuremberg.  We were supposed to learn from and apply those principles to ourselves, not adopt a Code of Silence with regard to them.

  14. Mr. Lozowick,

    I was certainly not suggesting you were downplaying Nazi crimes — I doubt any Jew would do so, particularly one who was in charge of Yad Vashem.  I was simply pointing out that your snide comment about Glenn being ignorant when he refers to the “invasions” of A & C is contradicted by the legal conclusions of the NMTs and by numerous other historians.  We can certainly have an intelligent discussion concerning whether armed resistance is a necessary element of an invasion.  (I happen to agree with the Ministries tribunal that it’s an unprincipled requirement.)  But it is not ignorant in any shape or form to take the side with which you disagree.

  15. If I may be so bold, I think Mr. Lozowick’s not quite explicitly stated point here is that it is false to set up some sort of opposition on the part of the populace of the Sudentenland and Austria, etc., to the Nazi regime and program.  He vehemently objects to the idea that Austria, for example, should be characterized even by implication as a victim of Nazi Germany.

    With the greatest possible respect, I would suggest to Mr. Lozowick that Austrian anti-Semitism and authoritarianism are not germane to the question of whether it was or felt itself to have been invaded.  The point is that a foreign power swooped in and took over their country and essentially obliterated it as an independent state and they had no choice in the matter.  That those Austrians who objected to this didn’t speak up a whole lot is hardly surprising.

  16. “No matter what it says in your book, and no matter what was decided at Nuremburg after the war, the facts are as follows:”

    Good God, this should be carved in stone at A.E.I. as their motto: the sole arbiters of “facts”. Got arrogance?
     I’m so thoroughly sick of listening to war mongers and neocon apologists, who after having lied their way to achieving every one of their stated objectives, twist themselves into knots, to explain why our war of aggression is different than other wars of aggression.
    It truly appears that the Nazi apologists, who claimed that Nuremberg was nothing but a show trial of retribution, have been proven correct. since it has been repeatedly ignored or worse ,nuanced by scumbags like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz etc., into a slightly inconvenient triviality for academics.
    I thought I left this kind of needy grasping for approval 40 years ago ,when I graduated high school. Isn’t it enough for the neocons ,that they killed off, what was left of our republic: do we have to like them or pretend we don’t know how this happened, too?
    “(Btw, please note I’ve taken no position on the American invasion of Iraq, one way or the other).”
    Duly noted Mr.Lozowick. I look forward to your explanation as to how the Polish troops “massing at the border” was different from Saddam’s WMD.

  17. I agree with the take on Sudetenland, which was handed over via the Munich agreement. I wouldn’t call that one an invasion. Otherwise, wouldn’t any armistice agreement involving the usurpation of any territory qualify as an “invasion” under that definition? Few armistices are ever signed without some threat of further force to back them. 

  18. Change the word usurpation above to relinquishment please.

  19. Liz:

    I agree with the take on Sudetenland, which was handed over via the Munich agreement. I wouldn’t call that one an invasion. Otherwise, wouldn’t any armistice agreement involving the usurpation of any territory qualify as an “invasion” under that definition? Few armistices are ever signed without some threat of further force to back them.

    at 9:53 am EST Liz

    Change the word usurpation above to relinquishment please”

    The Sudetenland was not “relinquished” as a result of an “agreement”. A simple study of the primary sources demonstrates that the Munich agreement was an abject capitulation to Hitler who threatened to go to war over the issue.

    Hitler 12 September Speech at the close of the Nuremberg Nazi annual conference:

    “I have stated that the Reich will not tolerate any further repression of these Three and a Half million Germans and I would ask the statesmen of foreign countries to be convinced that this is no mere form of words”  (Baynes pp1489 -91 quoted in Munich – The Appeasement Crisis by David Faber, Simon and Schuster 2008 p.256)

    I am extremely irritated by people who try and rewrite settled history to suit their current circumstances.

  20. It is apparently very important for the ex-custodian of Yad Vashem to distinguish between an outright military conquest like the American invasion of Iraq’s oil extracting facilities and the consensual giveaway by the World Community to a thug like Hitler. The creation of a Jewish state on Palestinian territory was not so much different from the Munich Accord. Same club, same players, but this time quite a lot of Arabs had to be massacred and otherwise ethnically cleansed from their homelands in order to create the “only” Democracy in the Middle East. It sure wasn’t an invasion in the classical meaning of this term, and neither was Sudeten, as Mr. Lozowick aptly argues. And nor do I try to imply any other similarities, which may or may not hold true.

  21. Walrus: “I am extremely irritated by people who try and rewrite settled history to suit their current circumstances”.

    Well, history is written backward but lived forward. I don’t believe in looking at things only from the perspective of knowing how events will unfold. The difference between ‘appeasement’ and ‘negotiation’ (regarding Sudetenland specifically) was the series of events that followed. If Germany had stopped then, I can’t imainge that anyone would call it an invasion. Was Germany under invasion after it was forced to give up territory at the end of WWI?

  22. Dear Dr. Lozowick,

    somehow your argument reminds me of the discussion of what “is” is. You hold a pistol to somebody’s head and tell him ” You either agree or I’ll shoot” and so the other agrees. Now, what before would have been an invasion, now is “showing the flag”.
    It is true that the vast majority of the Austrian population was in favor of the “Anschluss” of Austria. However, as some eye witnesses described it afterwards, the majority literally overnight had swollen tremendously, previous adherence to Austria vanished.
    What you seem to disregard is that Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg had preparted a referendum on joining Germany to be held on March 13, 1938. He tried to rigg the referndum against the Anschluss, no doubt, and on March 10 Hitler mobilzed the 8th Army, threatening to invade as he had done so in previous meetings with Schuschnigg. The next day Göring called for the renunciation of Schuschnigg with none too veiled therats and for Seyß-Inquart, the Nazi confidant, to become chancellor. You might insist that most of these threats were based on using Austrian Nazis but ultimatively there was the German Reichswehr looming. Schuschnigg capitulated, and called on the Asutrian military not to offer any resistance in case of a German military intervention.
    Just to make sure that nothing went wrong, Göring set up the telegram by which the new Austrian chancellor asked for German troops.
    It really depends on what you mean what “is” is ….

  23. I think a good comparison here is the 1688 “Glorious Revolution” in England. There was very little fighting (just like in many countries the Nazis went into before Poland). William of Orange (and his wife Mary) were welcomed with open arms by the anti-Catholic majority (just like Austrians welcomed the Nazis with open arms). And the invitation to William to become King came from English politicians (just like the invitation for Austria to be annexed by Germany).

    But many historians do call that an invasion.


    It should also be pointed out that the march of the German army into Austria was preceded by a coup by the Austrian Nazi party, and after Hitler had taken control of the country, Jews and others were sent to concentration camps, and many others lost their voting rights. The subsequent referendum on the Anschluss was not done by secret ballot, and the ballot paper itself was biased as can be seen here:

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