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Dr Arthur Seyss-Inquart

Chancellor of Austria
Reichskommissar of the Netherlands
Chancellor of Austria Reichskommissar of the Netherlands.

Dr Arthur Seyss-Inquart (German Arthur Seyß-Inquart, born Arthur Zajtich) (July 22, 1892 - October 16, 1946) was a prominent lawyer and later Nazi official in pre-Anschluß Austria, the Third Reich and for wartime Germany in Poland and the Netherlands. Seyß-Inquart was executed at the Nuremberg Trials for crimes against humanity.

Life before the Anschluss

Seyss-Inquart was born in 1892 in Stonarov (Stannern), Moravia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to school principal Emil Zajtich and his wife Auguste Hyrenbach. The family moved to Vienna in 1907 where it changed the Czech Slavic name of "Zajtich" to the German "Seyss-Inquart". Seyss-Inquart later went to study law at the University of Vienna. At the beginning of World War I in August 1914 Seyss-Inquart enlisted with the Austrian Army and was given a commission with the Tyrolean Kaiserjäger, subsequently serving in Russia, Romania and also Italy. He was decorated for bravery on a number of occasions and while recovering from wounds in 1917 he completed his final examinations for his degree. Seyss-Inquart had five older siblings: Hedwig (born 1881), Richard (born 1883), Irene (born 1885), Henriette (born 1887) and Robert (born 1891).

In 1911 Seyss-Inquart met Gertrud Maschka. The couple married in 1916 and had three children: Ingeborg Caroline Auguste Seyss-Inquart (born September 18, 1917), Richard Seyss-Inquart (born 1921) and Dorothea Seyss-Inquart (born 1928).

He went into law after the war and in 1921 set up his own practice. During the early years of the first Republic he was close to the Vaterländische Front. A successful lawyer, he was invited to join the cabinet of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in 1933. Following the murder of Dollfuss in 1934 he became a State Councillor from 1937 under Kurt Schuschnigg. He was not initially a member of the Austrian National Socialist party, although he was sympathetic to many of their views and actions. By 1938, however, Seyss-Inquart knew which way the wind was blowing and became a respectable frontman for the Austrian National Socialists.

In February 1938, Seyss-Inquart was appointed Minister of the Interior by Schuschnigg, after Hitler had threatened Schuschnigg with military actions against Austria in the event of non-compliance. On March 11, 1938, faced with a German invasion aimed at preventing a plebiscite of independence, Schuschnigg resigned as Austrian Chancellor and Seyss-Inquart was reluctantly appointed to the position by Austrian President Wilhelm Miklas. On the next day German troops crossed the border of Austria, at the telegraphed invitation of Seyss-Inquart, the latter communique having been arranged after the troops had begun to march), so as to justify the action in the eyes of the international community. Before his triumphal entry into Vienna, Hitler had planned to leave Austria as a suppliant state, with an independent but loyal government. He was carried away, however, by the wild reception given to the German army by the majority of the Austrian population, and shortly decreed that Austria would be incorporated into the Third Reich as the province of Ostmark (see Anschluss). Only now, on March 13, 1938, did Seyss-Inquart join the National Socialist party.

Head of Ostmark and Southern Poland

Seyss-Inquart drafted the legislative act reducing Austria to a province of Germany and signed it into law on March 13. With Hitler's approval he remained head (Reichsstatthalter) of the newly named Ostmark, with Ernst Kaltenbrunner his chief minister and Burckel as Commissioner for the Reunion of Austria (concerned with the "Jewish Question"). Seyss-Inquart also received an honorary SS rank of Gruppenführer and in May 1939 he was made a Minister without portfolio in Hitler's government.

Following the invasion of Poland, Seyss-Inquart became administrative chief for Southern Poland, but did not take up that post before the General Government was created, in which he became a deputy to the Governor General Hans Frank. It is claimed that he was involved in the movement of Polish Jews into ghettos, in the seizure of strategic supplies and in the "extraordinary pacification" of the resistance movement.

Reichskommissar in the Netherlands

Following the capitulation of the Low Countries Seyss-Inquart was appointed Reichskommissar for the Occupied Netherlands in May 1940, charged with directing the civil administration, with creating close economic collaboration with Germany and with defending the interests of the Reich. He supported the Dutch NSB and allowed them to create a paramilitary Landwacht, which acted as an auxiliary police force. Other political parties were banned in late 1941 and many former government officials were imprisoned at Sint-Michielsgestel. The administration of the country was largely controlled by Seyss-Inquart himself. He oversaw the politicization of cultural groups "right down to the chessplayers' club" through the Kulturkammer and set up a number of other politicised associations.

He introduced measures to combat 'terror' and when a widespread strike took place in Amsterdam, Arnhem and Hilversum in May 1943 special summary court-martial procedures were brought in and a collective fine of 18 million guilders was imposed. Up until the liberation Seyss-Inquart condoned the execution of around 800 people, although some reports put this total at over 1,500, including the execution of people under the so-called "Hostage Law", the death of political prisoners who were close to being liberated, the Putten incident, and the reprisal execution of 117 Dutchmen for the attack on SS and Police Leader Hanns Albin Rauter. From July 1944 the majority of Seyss-Inquart's powers were transferred to the military commander in the Netherlands and the Gestapo, though he remained a figure to be reckoned with.

There were 2 small concentration camps in the Netherlands - Vught, Amersfoort and a "Jewish assembly camp" at Westerbork; there were a number of other camps variously controlled by the military, the police, the SS or Seyss-lnquart's administration. These included a "voluntary labour recruitment" camp at Ommen. In total around 530,000 Dutch civilians worked for the Germans, of whom 250,000 were sent to factories in Germany. There was an unsuccessful attempt by Seyss-Inquart to send only workers aged 21 to 23 to Germany, and he refused demands in 1944 for a further 250,000 Dutch workers and in that year sent only 12,000 people.

Seyss-Inquart was an unwavering anti-Semite: within a few months of his arrival in the Netherlands, he took measures to remove Jews from government, the press and leading positions in industry. Anti-Jewish measures intensified from 1941: approximately 140,000 Jews were registered, a 'getto' was created in Amsterdam and a transitcamp was set up at Westerbork. Subsequently, in February of 1941, 600 Jews were sent to Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps. Later, the Dutch Jews were sent to Auschwitz. As Allied forces approached in September 1944 the remaining Jews at Westerbork were removed to Theresienstadt. Of 140,000 registered, only 44,500 Dutch Jews survived the war.

When Hitler committed suicide in April 1945, Seyss-Inquart declared the setting-up of a new German government under Admiral Karl Dönitz, in which he was to act as the new Foreign Minister, replacing Joachim von Ribbentrop, who had long since lost Hitler's favour. It was a tribute to the high regard Hitler felt for his Austrian comrade, at a time when he was rapidly disowning or being abandoned by so many of the other key lieutenants of his Third Reich. Unsurprisingly, at such a late stage in the war, Seyss-Inquart failed to achieve anything in his new office, and was captured shortly before the end of hostilities. As for the Dönitz 'government', its life expectancy was no more than 20 days.

Upon the Allies advance into the Netherlands in late 1944 the Nazi regime had attempted to enact a 'scorched earth' policy, and some docks and harbours were destroyed. Seyss-Inquart, however, was in agreement with Armaments Minister Albert Speer over the futility of such actions, and with the open connivance of many military commanders, they greatly limited the implementation of the scorched earth orders. Seyss-Inquart also took action in the so called 'hunger winter' of 1945 to distribute food and allowing Allied airplanes to drop Swedish white bread for the hungry people of the occupied north of the country. He remained Reichskommissar until May 8, 1945, when, after a meeting with Karl Dönitz to confirm his blocking of the scorched earth orders, he was captured in Hamburg.

Nuremberg Trials

Seyss-Inquart at Nuremberg Trials
Seyss-Inquart at Nuremberg Trials.

At the Nuremberg Trials, Seyss-Inquart faced charges of conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes; and crimes against humanity. Defended by Gustav Steinbauer, he was nonetheless found guilty of all charges except conspiracy (Controversy remains over the extent of his role as a planner, initiator and wager of wars of aggression). Upon hearing of his death sentence, Seyss-Inquart made it clear he accepted his portion of responsibility for excesses during the war, "Death by hanging...well, in view of the whole situation, I never expected anything different. It's all right". He was hanged on October 16, 1946, at the age of 54, together with nine other Nuremberg defendants. His last words were "I hope that this execution is the last act of the tragedy of the Second World War and that the lesson taken from this world war will be that peace and understanding should exist between peoples. I believe in Germany".

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