Seyss-Inquart, Arthur (1892–1946)

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Austrian politician.

Arthur Seyss-Inquart was born 22 July 1892 in the village of Stannern, Austria. He studied law and fought in the Austrian Tiroler Kaiserjäger during World War I on the eastern front and in Italy, finally reaching the rank of Oberleutnant. After the war he established himself as an attorney in Vienna. Devotedly Catholic and anti-Semitic, he believed the only hope for Austria was Anschluss (annexation) with Germany. He joined a secret pan-German organization, the German Brotherhood, and also became associated with the Austrian Nazi Party after 1932, although he was not included in the membership. As a result of German pressure, he became a Staatsrat (state councillor) on 17 June 1937. Hitler also coerced the Austrian chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg (1897–1977) into aligning his government more closely with the Third Reich and insisted on the appointment of Seyss-Inquart as minister of security and interior, which happened on 16 February 1938. After a further German ultimatum, Schuschnigg resigned, and Seyss-Inquart succeeded him as chancellor on 11 March 1938. Under continued pressure from Berlin, he invited German troops into Austria and brought about the legalization of Anschluss on 13 March. The ambitious attorney was rewarded with the rank of SS Gruppenführer and was also nominated as Reichsstatthalter (governor) of the Ostmark until 30 April 1939. He then served in Hitler's cabinet as minister without portfolio until the Germans conquered Poland. In October 1939 he was appointed as deputy to Hans Frank, to assist with the creation of the so-called General Government in occupied Poland.

After the German invasion of the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, Seyss-Inquart was appointed by Hitler as Reich Commissioner for the Occupied Dutch Territories on 18 May 1940, and he took up his position on 29 May 1940. He was assisted by four Generalkommissare (commissioners general) who took charge of the Dutch administration, which, after the Dutch government had left for London, was in the hands of senior permanent civil servants. The Dutch civil administration was left intact, and Seyss-Inquart and his German-Austrian Generalkommissare limited themselves to outlining policy and overall supervision.

Seyss-Inquart saw his main task as preparing the Dutch, as a Germanic people, for future annexation to the Reich. Initially he hoped to win the Dutch over to the benefits of Nazism in a friendly manner, but within a year he was confronted with a degree of opposition that led to the realization that National Socialism was seen as profoundly alien to the Dutch mentality. Further ideological and economic demands on the country created an even greater sense of outrage against curbs on personal freedom and precipitated three major strikes in 1941, 1943, and 1944. Realizing that the German attempts at Nazification had failed, Seyss-Inquart took an increasingly hard line, such that the dynamics of repression and resistance led to the collapse of civil society in the last year of the occupation. Although not always directly involved, Seyss-Inquart was responsible for hundreds of executions (often as reprisals). On 5 September 1944 he proclaimed a state of siege and some weeks later imposed a collective punishment on the Dutch people by cutting off the supplies of food and fuel to the west, thus precipitating a famine and many civilian deaths in the severe last winter of occupation, 1944–1945. Seyss-Inquart failed in his attempts to win over the Dutch people ideologically and also failed to extract labor and resources from the country without encountering widespread opposition. His one major success was in relation to racial policy—75 percent of the Jews in the Netherlands were deported and nearly all of these perished in Polish concentration camps.

Proposed as foreign minister by Hitler during his last days as chancellor, Seyss-Inquart escaped from the Netherlands to North Germany, where he was subsequently arrested near Hamburg by advancing British troops on 4 May 1945. Put on trial at Nuremberg, he claimed to have served Dutch interests but was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was hanged on 16 October 1946 in Nuremberg prison.

See alsoAustria; Germany; Nazism; Netherlands; World War II.


Primary Sources

Seyss-Inquart, Arthur. Vier Jahre in den Niederlanden: Gesammelte Reden. Berlin, 1944.

Secondary Sources

Davidson, Eugene. The Trial of the Germans: An Account of the Twenty-two Defendants before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Columbia, Mo., 1997.

Hirschfeld, Gerhard. Nazi Rule and Dutch Collaboration: The Netherlands under German Occupation, 1940–1945. Translated from the German by Louise Willmot. Oxford, U.K., 1988.

Neuman, Henk J. Arthur Seyss-Inquart: Het leven van een Duits onderkoning in Nederland: met authentieke brieven tijdens zijn gevangenschap geschreven. 2nd ed. Utrecht, Netherlands, 1989.

Dick VAN Galen Last