A research paper is the most common, complex and - if well executed - accomplished piece of writing an undergraduate student of history is likely to produce. Such an assignment, usually 10 double-spaced pages in length or more, asks you to identify a topic that interests you, to articulate a clear set of questions on the topic that your paper seeks to answer (we call this developing a thesis), and to use different types of sources (both primary and secondary; possibly also fiction/art/poetry) as you develop and prove your argument. Skills you have acquired by engaging in the various types of assignments listed in this website are sure to come in handy for a research project of this kind.

On this page, we walk you through the various stages of a research paper. They are:

Following these basic guidelines, we provide you with a sample topic, "The Austrian Catholic Church and the Anschluss," and walk you through the process of researching and writing on this subject step by step. To go to the sample paper now, click here.

Selecting a topic

When choosing a topic for a research paper, apply the following criteria:

  1. the topic should genuinely interest you;
  2. the topic must be neither so broad that its completion during the course of a semester will become an impossible task, nor so narrow that your research will fail to yield sufficient information;
  3. related to the above, your topic must be one on which you can locate and access a suitable number of different types of sources;
  4. if in doubt, you should discuss your topic with your professor: he or she will help you narrow it down and offer useful direction.
To see the considerations that went into the selection of our sample topic, "The Austrian Catholic Church and the Anschluss," click here.

Conducting your research

Basic Rule: Do not delay - begin your research as soon as possible: you won't regret it! See Time Management.

Once you have chosen your topic, the research begins. Please note that a research paper should not offer an exclusively narrative account, although you will surely include some narrative elements. You are not simply describing an event or sequence of events, however, as in a narrative history. Rather, you are asking questions and seeking answers about the event - most fundamentally, why it unfolded in the manner in which it did; what issues it raised; and what larger lessons you draw from it. Your text will combine narrative elements (what happened, when) with analytical inquiry, for which you will periodically stop the flow of your narrative and answer why.

In order to assemble the information required to do this, you will seek out the broadest possible variety of sources. Begin with general research by seeking out substantive secondary sources that explain the broader context of your topic. This will help you develop a firm grasp of the basic chronology and the causes and effects related to your topic.

To see the broader context we examined for our sample topic, "The Austrian Catholic Church and the Anschluss," click here.

Once you have established the broader context of your topic, it is time to get specific in your search for information that is relevant to your special area of interest: pursue footnotes, consult bibliographies, check the books located immediately adjacent to those you have found helpful in the library stacks. You will be amazed how, once you've picked up the trail, one source leads to another. Don't be shy to consult academic journal articles if your footnotes and bibliographies lead you in that direction. Although you may find them to be written in a dense style difficult to comprehend, they too (and their footnotes and bibliographies) will lead you to evermore refined and specific leads.

If this description does not correspond to the experience you're having while researching your topic, do not give up just yet. Often, the initial research will lead only to dead ends until, suddenly, you come across that one reference that unlocks all doors. This is the "breakthrough moment" all scholars yearn for in their research - you'll know it when you get there. If, however, you have been researching for a significant amount of time without coming up with any useful information, consult with your professor and consider refocusing your topic.

To see the specific information yielded by our research on "The Austrian Catholic Church and the Anschluss," click here.

Parallel to your research among secondary sources, you will most likely be using the internet. (Please note: some professors specifically prohibit the use of the internet as a source; if so, use it only to access basic information - names, dates, etc.) Aside from the "one-stop-shopping" sites with which we are all familiar (and the use of which will not impress your professor: Wikipedia and the like) try to locate more substantive sites. Note that, while not the most impressive sites out there, Wikipedia and other such databases do generally provide annotation along with their entries, often with direct links. Pursuing links is the web equivalent of searching footnotes, bibliographies, and the stacks: do so by all means, but be judicious. Everyone knows how easily one can get distracted on the web. Time is of the essence here, and you need to move through links and sites rapidly and effectively, finding and bookmarking the useful ones and weeding out and discarding those that yield no useful information. Also - very important! - always bear in mind the potential pitfalls of the internet.

To see the internet research we conducted on "The Austrian Catholic Church and the Anschluss," and where that web-search led us, click here.

While conducting your extensive research among the available secondary literature and on the web, be sure not to neglect primary sources on your topic: find contemporary newspaper accounts, magazine articles, editorials, and political cartoons (many such primary sources are reproduced on the web). Their inclusion, where appropriate, will liven up your paper, showing ways in which your topic was deemed sufficiently significant in its own time to provoke contemporary media responses (perhaps even contrasting responses, in which case, pursue them in all directions).

If available, locate personal diaries, correspondences, memoirs, interviews, and the like. If your research topic is on a local, or even a familial subject ("My family's immigration in the context of history"; "My town [or college] during the Civil Rights Era," etc.) make use of all local resources: your town library, the archives of the local newspaper, even your parents' and grandparents' personal memories. Also, consider including any fiction/art/poetry that addresses your topic.

To see primary and related sources pertaining to our topic of "The Austrian Catholic Church and the Anschluss," including Fiction/Art/Poetry, click here.

In sum: research your topic from every angle - via both primary and secondary sources, on the web and, time allowing, through fiction, art and poetry - beginning with the general background and moving on to the evermore specific as you proceed.

To see all sources yielded by our research on the sample topic, "The Austrian Catholic Church and the Anschluss," click here.

Organizing your research

You will by this point hopefully have compiled a large amount of research from a variety of sources. Basic rule: be aware that - if you have done a thorough job - you will have more material than you can possibly hope to include in your paper. Much of what you have unearthed will now be set aside. But don't worry: it will all have contributed to your understanding of the larger topic. Plus, whatever research you now set aside may come in handy for a future, related research project (on which, see don'ts).

Try organizing your research in three ways, as described below. Your task will be considerably eased if you have taken the time to index your research, so that you can easily locate and access each of your various sources as well as each noteworthy fact or insight within each one of your sources (on this, follow the important guidelines offered under Note-Taking Tips).

  1. Begin by organizing and reviewing your research by types of sources: all secondary sources go together; all primary sources, etc. As you review your sources, be sure you fully understand both the broader context of your topic and its underlying cause and effect.
  2. Next, on a separate piece of paper, organize your research chronologically: create a timeline (as modeled in our section on Chronology) that displays an overview of your topic and, more importantly, records the various pieces of research you have on each stage of the larger sequence of events. In order to achieve this, consider annotating each distinct moment in your timeline by listing which particular piece of research illustrates it. (You may have multiple pieces of research illustrating any one specific moment in your timeline: say, a contemporary newspaper account, a political cartoon, and a section in a secondary source. If so, list all three in the appropriate place of your timeline).
  3. Finally, having organized your research according to type of source (1, above) and in chronological order (2), you will now, again on a separate piece of paper, organize it by theme. As you have thought about your topic, you have undoubtedly noticed that there are common themes running through it. While researching a paper on the civil rights movement's impact on your home community, for example, you may have noticed sources that are preoccupied with the question of racism in the community, others that are preoccupied with issues of local responses to federal laws, others still that are preoccupied with the particular problem of school integration, and so on. Re-shuffle your research to reflect such larger recurring thematic concerns. Obviously, the result will no longer be chronologically ordered - not to worry!

You now have three different ways in which you can look at your research: by type of source, in chronological order, and by theme. It's almost as if you have created a three-dimensional model of your topic that you can rotate as you contemplate it from various angles. Now comes the big decision: how to organize the actual paper. As stated earlier, you will probably combine straightforward narration ("this is what happened, when") with intermittent analysis ("this is why it happened, these are the larger issues raised, and here are some of the insights yielded by the sequence of events at this stage"). To some extent, you will therefore probably proceed chronologically, at least in certain sections. However, having taken note of the common themes running through your research, your moments of analysis offer an opportunity to break away from the chronology and look forward (or back) to related issues that are thematically relevant to a particular aspect of your topic. Most likely, your paper will thus be organized according to principles of both chronology and theme, just as it is equally invested in both narrative and analysis.

The more you think about it, the more you will realize that each individual piece of your research resembles a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Unlike an actual jigsaw puzzle, this one can be put together in multiple ways. As you organize and re-organize your research, thinking about the various dimensions of your topic as you go along, a specific set of questions you wish to answer will develop in your mind (these questions will help you develop your thesis). You may even notice how, mentally, you are beginning to link individual pieces of your research to others, creating transitions that take you from one point to the next - and not necessarily in a chronological order. Harness the energy of such moments: your version of the jigsaw puzzle is gradually taking shape. Jot down your transitions and the order in which you wish to present your information: this will become your outline. Return to the various models you created of your research (organized by source, chronologically, and thematically) to ensure that you have not omitted any vital angle or source. Once you are satisfied that all pieces of information you wish to include, all issues you wish to engage, and all themes you wish to explore have found their proper place in your outline, you are ready to begin writing.

To see how we organized the material yielded by our research on the sample topic of "The Austrian Catholic Church and the Anschluss," click here.

Writing your paper

If you have selected an interesting topic and done a good job researching it and organizing your material, the actual writing comes easily. You're an expert now, and one who has spent a good deal of time thinking about your research, organizing it according to different principles, and mentally mapping out the way in which it all fits together.

You will begin by developing a thesis which establishes, most importantly, the precise set of questions you will be answering in your essay; it might also provide a roadmap of sorts, which presents to your reader the major events and issues you plan to engage. Do not belabor this process; once you're done with your paper, and are editing and subjecting it to subsequent drafts and revisions (yes!) you will most likely find yourself modifying your thesis anyway. Therefore it is not the best use of your time to spend valuable hours on something that may end up being edited into something entirely different. Move on instead.

Your main task is the body of the paper. Follow your outline, moving from one point to the next, quoting from your sources as you go along (you will have to display quotation/annotation skills for this, as well as advanced quoting skills). Remember that you are not simply offering a narrative (what happened, when), but an analysis (why). Stop the narrative in its tracks where appropriate in order to engage the issues yielded by your paper so far. Following your outline (and, if necessary, departing from it, if new and better transitions present themselves) consider breaking up the strictly chronological approach by drawing thematic connections to earlier events in your timeline and to events still to come. After having explored such moments of thematic convergence, return to the narrative, see it through, then formulate a conclusion.

To see the thesis and conclusion we developed for our topic on "The Austrian Catholic Church and the Anschluss," click here.

As ever, keep the following basic rules in mind: be sure to take issues of time management into account; refer to our note-taking tips; allow sufficient time for preparation and writing, to develop a thesis, for the proper organization of your paper, and to formulate a conclusion. Recognize your assignment as an opportunity to further your mastery of basic quoting skills (including annotation, bibliographies, and advanced quoting skills). In order to achieve better results, allow for time for drafts and revisions, avail yourself of all available resources, and avoid common stylistic errors along with other don'ts, including the perpetuation of common fallacies and - worst of all - plagiarism.

Sample Assignment

Selecting our topic: "The Austrian Catholic Church and the Anschluss"

"The Ballpark"

The selection of this topic was partially determined by the larger theme within which we find ourselves operating: "Events leading up to World War II." In your case, the subject of the class will no doubt help determine the topic of your choice. Within our ballpark, the Anschluß, Hitler's March 1938 annexation of Austria (spelled "Anschluss" in English) struck us as an interesting subject. It seemed too broad, however, to serve as a manageable research project, so we narrowed it down.

Focusing the Topic

Here's where personal interest entered the equation (remember, your topic should be one that genuinely interests you): Like most people, we have become aware of the interplay of religion and politics in recent times, and we wondered how the two interacted during the 1930s.

Some Background

We knew the Catholic Church had accommodated itself to Europe's fascist governments through various agreements struck during the 1920s and '30s: the Lateran Agreement, 1929, in which the Vatican recognized the political authority of the Italian fascist state in exchange for Catholicism remaining Italy's official state religion; and the Reichskonkordat, 1933, a similar deal with Hitler that ensured the liberty of the church in Germany, the independence of German Catholic organizations and youth groups, and the continuation of Catholic religious instruction in German schools. In exchange, German Catholics agreed to acquiesce to the Nazi state's authoritarian rule, with the Vatican's blessing.

Why this topic?

What better place to examine the interplay of Catholicism and fascism, we thought, than in the mainly-Catholic country wedged in between Germany and Italy, a territory Hitler had long coveted but that Mussolini jealously guarded as a buffer zone separating the two nations: Austria. This country, we knew, was annexed by Hitler in 1938 (following the signing of the Rome-Berlin Axis Pact in 1936, Austria's autonomy was no longer safeguarded by Mussolini). Examining the response of the Catholic Church in Austria - the only one of the three countries in which the church had not yet struck a deal with fascism - looked like an interesting subject indeed.

CYA ("Cover Your A...")

We checked to make sure there were enough sources on this topic and consulted with an expert (in your case, your professor). She assured us that the project was "do-able" within the timeframe available (one semester) and so, having settled on a topic, our research began.

Conducting Research for "The Austrian Catholic Church and the Anschluss"

(Please note: all works cited are listed in full at the end of this page.)
We immediately realized there were two separate factors involved in our larger topic, both of which would require research: a.) Catholicism and fascism, and b.) the Anschluss itself. Beginning with secondary sources we set about establishing a broader context for both of these topics:

The broader context, part 1: Catholicism and fascism

Library and internet research quickly revealed a great deal of information on this subject, but also a recent turn in the historiography on the issue. The conventional wisdom had long been that the Catholic Church was guilty of enabling fascism in Italy and Germany, and was therefore complicit in the Holocaust and other fascist atrocities. This school of thought is summarized in Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (2002). This book expanded upon Goldhagen's January 2002 New Republic article "What Would Jesus Have Done," and was a follow-up to his controversial 1997 bestseller Hitler's Willing Executioners (on which, see Evaluating Contradictory Data and Claims).
Goldhagen's book, whose scholarship and methodology have been criticized by many (including, but not limited to, Catholics), yielded an outpouring of scholarship that took a new, different approach. To challenge Goldhagen's thesis, this new approach uses recently-released papers from the papacies of Pius XI and XII (popes from 1929 - 1939 and 1939 - 1958, respectively).
Historians of this second, more recent school of thought claim that, although Pius XI signed the Lateran Agreement and accepted the Reichskonkordat negotiated by his soon-to-be-successor Pius XII, still a cardinal at that time, both popes accommodated themselves to the reality of fascism only reluctantly, in order to ensure the survival of their institution. Well aware of the moral dilemma in which they had enmeshed the church by so doing, these sources argue, both popes, in particular Pius XII - often disparaged as "Hitler's Pope," or "the Nazi Pope" - worked tirelessly behind the scenes to save Jews from the Holocaust, openly criticizing both Italian fascism and Nazism on multiple occasions. Their protestations came too late, of course, to alter the fact that the Catholic Church had indeed made a deal with both Hitler and Mussolini. Nevertheless, their actions and writings, upon realizing the mistake they had made, shed these popes in a less damning, although by no means exculpatory light.
This second school of thought finds expression in the work of University of Missouri law professor Ronald J. Rychlak and Concordia University professor Mark Edward Ruff. Both are Catholic, and both criticize Goldhagen's methodology and evidence. Lest it be thought that the issue has devolved into a debate in which Jewish historians (like Goldhagen) have assumed an anti-Catholic stance while Catholic historians (like Rychlak and Ruff) have taken a defensive counter-position, it is worth noting that Goldhagen's thesis and the entire school of thought it embodies has been criticized, if more guardedly, by Jewish scholars also, as pointed out in an article published by the noted Jewish journal Forward, by Mark Perelman, in 2002.

The broader context, part 2: The Anschluss

On our second main concern, the Anschluss itself, we found a significant body of work, of which the following secondary sources were most useful:
Elfride Schmidt, 1938...and the Consequences: Questions and Answers (1992), Tim Kirk, Nazism and the Working Class in Austria (1996)
William E. Wright, ed., Austria, 1938-1988: Anschluss and Fifty Years (1995).
We also consulted a number of German-language sources that were extremely helpful [please note: if you have foreign-language skills and are able to access and comprehend non-English language sources relevant to your topic, consult with your professor; if he or she permits, use them by all means]. Our German-language sources were
Herbert Steiner, Gestorben für Österreich (1995)
Hermann Hagspiel, Die Ostmark: Österreich im Großdeutschen Reich, 1938 - 1945 (1995)
Walter Sauer, "Österreichs Kirchen 1938 - 1945" ("Austria's Churches 1938 - 1945") in Emmerich Tálos, et al, Nationalsozialistische Herrschaft in Österreich, 1938-45 (1988)
This latter volume was particularly helpful because it also featured an introductory article entitled "Der Anschluss" (by Hanns Haas), which laid out clearly the complex events and frequent changes in Austria's leadership leading up to Hitler's annexation in 1938 (a similarly useful introduction is also provided in the first-listed source above, Elfride Schmidt's 1938...and the Consequences).

Internet Research

Regarding the frequent changes in Austria's leadership prior to the Anschluss, we quickly realized our need for more information on three Austrian leaders: Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt von Schuschnigg (chancellors from 1932 - 1934 and 1934 - 1938, respectively; both were Catholics and extremely conservative Christian Socialists opposed to the Nazis but repressive in their own right; Schuschnigg took over from Dollfuss following the latter's assassination in a failed Austro-Nazi coup, in 1934) and Arthur Seyss-Inquart, a leading Austrian Nazi who became "governor" of annexed Austria (and deputy governor of Poland) as well as Nazi High Commissioner of the Netherlands following the Anschluss in 1938.
The Internet was an invaluable resource when it came to these historical figures. The Columbia Encyclopedia online and - we are forced to admit - even more so, Wikipedia provided useful biographical background. Loath to rely exclusively on these sources, however (sorry: we're old school and many of your professors will be, too) we followed these internet sites' links and with their help located recommended biographies of two of our subjects: Dollfuss, by Gordon Brook Shepherd (1978) and Kurt von Schuschnigg: A Tribute, by R. K. Sheridon (1942). We decided to use these two books to beef up and complement our internet research. Both also contained much useful information on Seyss-Inquart in his role as Nazi Germany's proxy leader of annexed Austria after the Anschluss. For a more detailed consideration of web-based research, go to The Internet.

Moving from the broader context to the specific

Confident in our grasp of the broader context of both the Anschluss and the Catholic Church's relationship to fascism (some of our findings are included below), we now began to pore over our sources to find specific information on the subject of our research: Austria's Catholic Church and its response to the Anschluss.
Below, we have listed in bullet form the information we found in our sources that made it into our paper. We actually found much more, of course, but only the information listed below actually made it "in." Please note that each piece of information is individually numbered, to ease later access and cross-referencing. (We recommend you too develop such a system: see Note-Taking Tips.)
  • (1) Protestant clerics generally welcomed the Nazi takeover, hoping they might now receive preferential treatment, having endured the years of Dollfuss and Schuschnigg's pro-Catholic rule. Immediately following the Anschluss, two thirds of Austria's Protestant clergymen revealed that they had secretly been members of the Nazi Party (outlawed since an abortive Nazi-led putsch in 1934, which ended with chancellor Dollfuss' assassination and ushered in the chancellorship of Schuschnigg). Many of them subsequently left the church altogether and became fulltime Austrian Nazi Party functionaries (Sauer 518 - 519).
  • (2) Catholics, on the other hand, responded more guardedly, well aware that Hitler had already repeatedly violated the German Reichskonkordat, his arrangement with their German co-religionists, described above. Assured, however, that it would be guaranteed the right to continued existence in exchange for its collaboration, with all privileges remaining intact, the Austrian Catholic Church warmed to the Nazi cause (Sauer 520 - 521).
  • (3) The head of the Austrian Protestant Church took the demonstratively pro-Nazi step of sending Hitler a personal telegram of welcome the day following the Anschluss (March 13, 1938; the Anschluss occurred on March 12) (Sauer 520).
  • (4) With a slight delay, the Austrian Catholic Church issued a statement of its own on March 27, signed by most all of Austria's bishops, foremost among them Cardinal Innitzer, head of the Austrian Catholic Church, who signed "Heil Hitler!" The statement, read aloud in all of Austria's Catholic churches that Sunday, declared the church's support for the Nazi takeover and urged its followers to vote "yes" in the upcoming plebiscite to decide whether Germany should officially be absorbed into Germany (Sauer 521 - 522; see also Hagspiel 176; New York Times "Austrian Bishops Back Nazis" 2).
  • (5) This plebiscite, we knew from our research into the broader context, passed by an astounding majority of 99.6% on April 10, although it is worth noting that 8% of the electorate (known enemies of the Nazis) had been arrested prior to the vote; also, the New York Times reported that 75,342 ballots were "spoiled." Still, of close to 50 million voters, almost 49 million voted "yes" (Haas 18, 13-14; Schmidt 17; New York Times, "Hitler is Backed by 99.08% of Vote"). Having urged Catholic support (remember, the vast majority of Austrians were Catholic) the church bears a large degree of responsibility for this lopsided result.
  • (6) Historians remain perplexed by the enormous outpouring of support for the Nazis at this early stage: a reported 250,000 Austrians (!) came to greet the Hitler on Vienna's Heldenplatz on March 15, two days after the Anschluss and less than a month prior to the plebiscite. Haas suggests that most were committed Nazis, opportunists, or curious bystanders. Their hysterical display, he proposes, was more the result of political disorientation following years of daily Nazi propaganda (including the failed putsch of 1934), than an expression of genuine support (Haas 16; see also Stourzh, in Wright, ed. 31; Völkischer Beobachter, March 12, 1938 and March 15, 1938). Another factor contributing to the initial enthusiasm for the Anschluss may have been an older, romantic yearning for a return to "empire" that was as much a remnant of nineteenth-century romantic nationalism as a belated response to the Treaty of Versailles, which had dismembered the once-might Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1919 (see Stourzh 36).
  • (7) It should be noted that one day prior to the Nazi Anchluss, on March 11, 1938, Schuschnigg, still chancellor, had threatened to call for a plebiscite of his own. Historians generally believe that a plebiscite prior to the Anschluss and the Catholic bishops' declaration of support might have resulted in a far closer decision, quite probably against unification (Haas 13 -14; Schmidt 16). Schmidt notes, "Hitler saw [Schuschnigg's] plebiscite as a serious threat to his plans and demanded that it be called off" (Schmidt 16). Schuschnigg, under threat of an immediate German invasion, resigned March 12 after ordering Austrian border troops not to resist the arrival of the German Wehrmacht. The Anschluss proceeded without a shot being fired, with the Nazi puppet Seyss-Inquart now in control. (Schuschnigg was imprisoned by the Nazis for the duration of the war, then went to the United States). As stated above, the Nazi-sponsored plebiscite, held on April 10, passed by 99.6%, thanks in part to the endorsement of the Catholic Church.
  • (8) Having enabled the Anschluss, Austria's Catholics were rapidly denied the rights they had been guaranteed, as the Nazis systematically undid all Catholic control over Austrian society and culture, exploiting with particular effectiveness long-standing working-class resentment over the Catholic influence on politics during the anti-labor Dollfuss/Schuschnigg years (Sauer 524).
  • (9) April and May 1938 saw the closing of over 200 cloisters and convents throughout Austria, their facilities signed over to the Nazi Party for state, military, and social purposes. During the same period, Catholic youth organizations of all kinds were disbanded and/or absorbed into the Hitler Youth or the Bund Deutscher Mädel - the League of German Girls, or "Maidens." Religious schools came under scrutiny, many were closed (Sauer 526; see also Hagspiel 169).
  • (10) [Public schools, too, were transformed, incidentally: school libraries were purged, teachers were "re-educated" (all schools closed for a week immediately following the Anschluss), and French, philosophy, and other "dangerous" or "subversive" subjects were replaced with "race studies," "borderland geography," "defense studies," etc. The Nazi salute became required and crucifixes were removed from classroom walls (Hagspiel 167 - 169)].
  • (11) In 1939, school-age Tyrolian youths staged a massive walkout in protest of the removal of crucifixes from schoolrooms (Sauer 533).
  • (12) Such youthful rebellion is an interesting aspect of post-Anschluss Austria: perhaps fuelled more by adolescence than politics, Austrian youths secretly listened to the BBC and Radio Moscow (Kirk 112); danced to prohibited American swing music (Kirk 120-121); and wore "colors" to signal their discontent - red, for example, to imply quasi-political insubordination. Less supervised rural areas saw a return of the traditional salutation "Grüß Gott" ("God's greetings") in place of the required Nazi salute "Heil Hitler" (Hagspiel 173, 181).
  • (13) Despite local and individual acts of resistance, the Nazification of Austria and the attendant challenge to Catholic tradition continued: as of July 6, 1938, last rites were only to be administered to dying hospital patients upon explicit request (Hagspiel 177); on July 18, divorce became legal along with re-marriage (Sauer 524).
  • (14) On February 1, 1939, the Nazis issued an order stating that religious instruction in public schools was no longer mandatory. Those wishing to receive such instruction would have to officially register their request with the local Nazi Party (Hagspiel 178).
  • (15) In September, 1939, the Nazis dissolved the divinity schools of most major Austrian universities (Sauer 527).
  • (16) By 1940 individual Catholic priests began resisting by holding underground masses, likening Austrian Catholics to the early Christians forced to worship in Rome's catacombs. Hundreds of such rebel priests were arrested and incarcerated for "abuse of the chancel" - Kanzleimisbrauch (Sauer 528).
  • (17) Faced with this assault on all things Catholic, and seeing no alternative, Austria's bishops in November 1941 again issued a statement declaring their support of the regime (Sauer 529). This second endorsement the bishops justified with their claim that only Nazi rule could defeat the church's great ideological nemesis, Soviet Bolshevism (the Nazis had invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941).
  • (18) "Beneath the surface," however ("unter der Oberfläche," according to Sauer) local resistance continued (Sauer 530).
  • (19) Catholic priests, no longer able to preach freely in church (where masses were now infiltrated by Nazi informers) continued the practice of secret masses, often held in private homes (Sauer 530; see also Hagspiel 178). Some priests acquired motorcycles or automobiles in order to be more mobile (Hagspiel 181).
  • (20) In an unusual display of insubordination, 130 Catholics from Tyrolia - Austria's most Catholic state, in which resistance was strongest - signed a petition demanding the reinstitution of Catholic holidays in 1939 (Sauer 532). Tyrolia, incidentally, was considered by the Nazis to be crawling with "black [i.e. clerical] agitators" (Kirk 125).
  • (21) The Catholic holiday issue was a big one (see Hagspiel 179) as Catholics chafed at their religious festivities being replaced by Nazi holidays such as "Führer's Birthday" (April 20), "Air Force Day" (March 1), "Anschluss Day," (March 13), etc. (Hagspiel 167 - 168).
  • (22) Renegade priests, meanwhile, especially in rural areas, disguised their public activities as cinema and choral presentations, even as home economics classes, risking incarceration by finding evermore creative ways to circumvent Nazi surveillance. These included instances in which devout Catholic youths masqueraded as Hitler Youth in order to go on public outings (Sauer 531).

    At no point in all this, however, did Austria's Catholic leadership speak out openly against the Nazis, with one notable exception: Cardinal Innitzer's Vienna sermon on October 8 1938. That same Innitzer, however (he was head of Austria's Catholic Church at that time) had signed the March 27 bishops' declaration "Heil Hitler!" in the first of two pivotal moments that sealed the church's subservience to the Nazi regime (Schmidt 148 - 149). The second of these moments came in March 1941, when the church issued its anti-communist declaration in support of the Nazis (Sauer 529). On both occasions, instead of protesting, the church openly collaborated. Although there was significant local resistance through the period 1938 - 1945, it remained clandestine, disorganized, and never enjoyed the official sanction of the Church leadership that might have made it effective. Those renegade priests who were apprehended received harsh sentences.
  • In a separate source, Herbert Steiner's Gestorben für Österreich, we found stirring accounts of individual acts of bravery and martyrdom. The individuals listed below were all members of the Austrian Catholic clergy:

  • (23a) Mother Superior Helene Kafka, noted for her charitable hospital work, was executed on March 30, 1943 (Steiner 87 - 88).
  • (23b) Father August Wörndl was executed on October 22, 1943 for displaying irreconcilable hostility to Nazi ideology (Steiner 106).
  • (23c) Karl Roman Scholz, choirmaster of a convent school and leader of a youth resistance group, was executed on May 10, 1944 (Steiner 50).
  • (23d) Father Otto Neururer, hung by his feet for 36 hours in Buchenwald concentration camp, died of hemorrhaging of the brain on May 30, 1940 (Steiner 21 - 27).
  • (23e) Monsignore Carl Lampert was denounced by a Nazi informer and executed on November 13, 1944 (Steiner 113 - 115).
  • (23f) Chaplain Heinrich Maier was arrested during a morning mass and, after a year's incarceration, was beheaded just days before the Soviets liberated Vienna, on March 22, 1945 (Steiner 209).

Primary and other sources

In addition to the information above, our research yielded the following primary sources, all reproduced in the Archive.

Newspaper articles

  • (24) March 13, 1938 front page New York Times article: "Hitler enters Austria in triumphal Parade."
  • (25) March 12 and March 15, 1938 front page coverage in the official German Nazi Party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter.
  • (26) March 28, 1938 New York Times article: "Austrian Bishops Back Nazis," p. 2.
  • (27) April 11, 1938 front page New York Times article: "Hitler is Backed by 99.08% of Vote."
  • (28) April 21, 1938 "Hitler Votes in the Plebiscite." Photograph. Illustrierter Beobachter, page 1. (As an Austrian-born German, Hitler got to vote.)
  • (29) Sermon of Cardinal Innitzer, October 7, 1938 (reproduced in Schmidt 369 - 370; to read this sermon, go to the Archives).


  • (30) Stefan George's "Das Neue Reich" ("The New Empire") anticipates the Anschluss as early as 1921; it shows that early on, some Austrians (including this noted poet) hoped for a unification with Germany not so much out of sympathy for the Nazis (the Nazi Party was barely known at this time) but as a lingering expression of late nineteenth-century romantic nationalism, and in response to the Treaty of Versailles, which had dismembered the formerly powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire (the poem is reproduced in, and translated by Gerald Stourzh, in Wright ed. 36).
The above-cited poem, and all primary sources, are reproduced in full (with translations) in the Archive.


The following interviews, briefly summarized, are in Elfride Schmidt, 1938...and the Consequences.
  • Cardinal König - a chaplain in Lower Austria in 1938, Franz König became the post-war Archbishop of Vienna, then a Cardinal as of 1958, and the Vatican's head of the "Secretariat for Non-Believers" in 1965. In that capacity, he issued a formal apology on behalf of Austria's Catholic leadership - a "nostra culpa" ("our fault") - in 1987.
  • (31) Recalls religious instruction being forbidden under the Nazis, and therefore organizing religious discussions disguised as hikes: "We even took excursions and talked about everything, but the basic theme was the religious instruction that had been banned" (Schmidt 145).
  • (32) Recalls resistance in the small town of St. Pölten, where rebel Catholic youths urged him to hold a youth vesper and preach a sermon critical of the Nazis at St. Pölten cathedral. He did, and recalls being taken to Gestapo headquarters in Vienna to explain himself (Schmidt 146 - 147).
  • (33) Justifies Cardinal Innitzer, then leader of Austria's Catholic Church, for having signed the first bishops' declaration of March 27, 1938: "Innitzer only signed his name with 'Heil Hitler!' because pressure was put on him....Yes, he was certainly naïve, but I don't feel able to judge him. It all changed very fast, as you know. In October of that same year [1938] he realized his mistake...and he gave a sermon that provoked tremendous enthusiasm in the Cathedral [of Vienna] and encouraged the young people to such an extent that it led to one of the greatest manifestations of resistance that ever took place between 1938 and 1945" (Schmidt 148 - 149; on Innitizer, see also Hagspiel 176 - 177; Innitzer's sermon is re-printed in Schmidt, 369 - 370).
  • (34) Sums up as follows: "People say to me, you kept quiet, you didn't protest, you didn't defend yourself. I can understand these questions very well from the perspective of today. Because today one would protest and appeal. Then it was different. There was the complete terror of the police and the fear of the unknown, which crippled people. Moreover, people were scared that their whole family would be liable if they did anything wrong....It was no simple matter!" (Schmidt 143 - 144).
  • Karl Schiffer, a retired chief editor of an Austrian newspaper, was 28 years of age in 1938. A Jew, he lived in the Austrian city of Graz at the time.
  • (35) Recalls routine anti-Semitism long before the Anschluss: "I can remember that people called after me, 'Jud, Jud, spuck in Hut, sag der Mutter, das ist gut.'" - "Jew, Jew, spit into your hat [skull cap, or yarmulke], tell your mother that it's fun" (Schmidt 239).
  • (36) Recalls Catholics in particular being anti-Semitic: "I remember the reproach: you crucified our Lord Jesus! So then I asked the question, 'INRI [the initials said to have been on Christ's crucifix] what does that mean? It means Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Jesus was a Jew, how does that work out?' I often asked myself that question when I was young; it occupied my thoughts" (Schmidt 239).
  • (37) Compares the Catholic Socialists (Dollfuss and Schuschnigg's repressive Catholic Party that had been in power prior to the Anschluss) and its rivalry with the Social Democrats: "One has to differentiate. There was also a strong Social Democratic workers' movement, which was the only open movement that I found not to be anti-Semitic. Only the Social Democratic party took Jews as members. But despite this fact, tragically many Jews supported the Christian Socialists—and later even the [Nazi-controlled] Fatherland Front" (Schmidt 239).
  • Grete Windbrechtinger lived in Ramingstein in the state of Salzburg in 1938. She was born in 1900.
  • (38) "It's interesting that suddenly everyone in this community revealed his illegal (Nazi) party badge. You could say that the ground was well prepared before the Anschluss. It was no surprise to anyone" (Schmidt 313).
  • (39) On her son's religious instruction under the Nazis: "Ask him! It was catastrophic! They spoke of nothing else but 'the Jews murdered our Christ.' Ask my son, he'll tell you all about it" (Schmidt 317).
  • Wolfgang Windbrechtinger (Grete's son) is a well-known architect in Austria, born in 1922.
  • (40) On history classes: "In my class there were no Jews. But there were already anti-Semitic slogans at school. The history class was the worst. I had a professor with whom I couldn't avoid getting into loud arguments. He was openly anti-Semitic" (Schmidt 319).
  • (41) On religion classes: "Then there was the religion class—that was unbelievable. 'The Jews killed Christ and they'll never be rid of this stigma...' I had discussions with the religion professor too, but they always ended unsatisfactorily...it all contributed to my confusion as a thinking human being" (Schmidt 319).
  • (42) "I was brought up as a Catholic. But I was rarely in agreement with what was taught in the religion class. 'Jesus was killed by Jews, murdered, that's a fact...etc. etc.'" (Schmidt 321).

Organizing our research

The following is the outline that represents the order into which we organized our research. Note that the numerical references in the outline link back to the individual pieces of research above.


(Click here to see how we developed this thesis).
Wedged between Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, Austria had maintained a fragile independence during the early 1930s under successive right-wing pro-Catholic Christian Socialist governments led by Engelbert Dollfuss (1932 - 1934) and Kurt von Schuschnigg (1934 - 1938). Following Nazi Germany's March 1938 annexation of Austria, however, the once socially dominant Catholic Church of Austria chose to collaborate with the Nazi regime - a decision it would soon regret. Early Catholic support following the Anschluss greatly contributed to the Nazis' acceptance among the general Austrian population. Yet once having consolidated their rule, the Nazis turned on the church and stripped it of all power. While there was significant resistance among Catholics at the grassroots level, Austria's Catholic leadership repeatedly failed to take a stand against the regime. Thus the story of Austrian Catholics under Nazi rule from 1938 - 1945, though marked by considerable heroism among the lower-ranking clergy and laypeople, is ultimately one of failed leadership. By reviewing the Anschluss and the years that followed, and by contrasting local acts of Catholic resistance with repeated acts of official collaboration at the highest level, this paper will show how Austria's Catholic Church, as an institution, lost not only its dominant social position during the years 1938 - 1945, but also much of its claim to moral authority.
  1. the Anschluss - March 12 1938   |   (24) (25)
    Brief flashback to the chancellorships of
    Dollfuss (1932-34)   |   Wikipedia/Shepherd
    Schuschnigg ('34 - '38)   |   Wikipedia/Sheridon
    Seyss-Inquart   |   Sheridon/Shepherd
    • Summarize: Hitler's March into Vienna, March 15, 1938   |   (6)
      The Nazi plebiscite, April 10   |   (27) (28) (5)
      Schuschnigg's aborted plebiscite, March 11   |   (7)
    • Analyze: Reasons other than pro-Nazi sentiment that may have contributed to the success of the Nazi plebiscite:
      (a) Austrian anti-Semitism   |   (35) (36) (37) (39) (40) (41) (42)
      (b) Romantic nationalism and resentment re. Versailles   |   (6); cite Stefan George poem (30)
    • Emphasize: (c) ...and the bishops' declaration of March 27   |   (4) (5)
  2. Austria, Catholics, and the Anschluss
    • establish background: Lateran Agreement (1929); Reichskonkordat (1933)
    • establish historiographical debate over Catholic culpability
      use Goldhagen, Rychak, Perelman
    • apply the question of Catholic culpability to the Austrian situation, emphasizing main argument: not an indictment of Catholicism per se, but of its failure leadership: establish role of Cardinal Innitzer
  3. Responses to the Anschluss
    1. Protestants   |   (1) (3)
    2. Catholics
      • are assured they will keep their privilege   |   (2)
      • respond with bishops' declaration   |   (26) (pick up the story from (1c) above)
        emphasize role of Innitzer   |   (33)
  4. Having profited from Catholic support, the Nazis turn against the Church   |   (8) (9) (11) (14) (31) (15) (13)
  5. Local forms of Catholic resistance   |   (16) (19) (20) (21) (32)
    transition to the role of youthful rebellion   |   (10) (12) (13)
  6. Lack of support from Catholic leadership
    • exception: Cardinal Innitzer's Sermon   |   (29)
    • in contradistinction, cite 2nd bishops' declaration   |   (17) - emphasize importance: it's the 2nd pivotal moment
    • continued local resistance...   |   (18) (22)
    • ... leads to martyrdom of lower clergy   |   (23a-f)
    • conclude section with Cardinal König's later assessment of Innitzer's failure of leadership   |   (34)


(Click here to see how we developed this conclusion).
Ultimately, Franz König's appraisal of his historical predecessor Cardinal Innitzer, while fundamentally Christian in its willingness to forgive, is perhaps too generous. Notwithstanding Innitzer's one public act of courage - his 1938 sermon in Vienna - the fact remains that the head of the Austrian Catholic Church during the years of Nazi occupation twice took a leading role in articulating an argument that helped justify collaboration in the minds of ordinary Austrians. Given the enormous influence the Catholic Church had in Austria, a more courageous stance - like the one assumed by many lower-ranking Catholics among both the clergy and laity - might have helped lessen the Nazis' grip on Austria. Instead, on two pivotal occasions - the bishops' declarations of March 1938 and November 1941 - the church signaled its willingness to surrender to Nazi rule. While rural Catholic priests suffered punishment, incarceration, and even death for local acts of resistance, the collaborating leadership remained largely silent. Yet it is evident that Innitzer too was capable of an individual act of courage; it is as the guardian of an institution, whose preservation was more important to him than its moral integrity, that he ultimately failed. The Austrian experience during the years of the Anschluss reminds us once again that ordinary men and women can display enormous courage even when confronted by heinous authoritarian regimes, but that without dedicated leadership, such local acts of resistance remain doomed.

Some thoughts on our organization

Having spent many hours researching our topic and looking at it from various angles, we thought about the kinds of questions it raised: why did the Austrian Catholic leadership agree to the Anschluss in the first place; why, once recognizing their mistake, did they not resist; why was there local resistance, but not at the leadership level, aside from isolated acts of individual courage? Ultimately, our topic seemed to be teaching us something about the ability of individuals to stand up to injustice vs. a larger institution's willingness to compromise its morals to ensure its own survival. This insight, and the various questions that led us to it, helped structure our introductory paragraph and informed our thinking on the topic throughout.

Please note that in the thesis paragraph, we begin with general background information, specifying what our topic is ("The Austrian Church and the Anschluss") and providing relevant names and dates. We then give a brief narrative account of things to come (local Catholic resistance vs. collaboration among the leadership) then articulate clearly our thesis: that which we aim to prove (underlined). For more on this process, see Developing a Thesis.

Following our outline, in the main body of the paper, we again begin with the general: a narrative of the events leading up to the Anschluss and the Anschluss itself. We then analyze various factors contributing to the ease with which the Anschluss was concluded. These factors culminate with (1c) the bishops' declaration (underlined), which returns us to our basic argument. Likewise, as we continue to provide more background information in Section 2, "Austria, Catholics, and the Anschluss," we conclude with a reminder of the Catholic leadership's role in the sequence of events (underlined) with particular emphasis on Cardinal Innitzer. Our third section follows the same principle, picking up the chronological narrative and again emphasizing the role of Innitzer ((3b) - underlined).

By returning to this aspect of our main argument repeatedly, and interrupting the flow of our chronological narrative to allow time for analysis, we keep the essay's underlying questions and claims front and central. This drives the essay forward and helps it maintain focus, even as it departs from a strictly chronological timeline.

In the fourth and fifth sections, we illuminate a second central aspect of our argument: we show the Nazis turning against the church but, more importantly, contrast the inaction of the church leadership to courageous examples of local Catholic resistance (in (5) - underlined). In the sixth section, we bring our two main narrative interests together (inactive leadership vs. resistance among the rank and file) and show that, even though willing to act courageously as an individual, Cardinal Innitzer - in his role as guardian of the church - failed to move his institution in that same direction. This insight, in turn, helped structure our final conclusion.

Note how, in the concluding paragraph, we briefly re-visited several key moments of the narrative - the bishops' declaration of 1938, Innitzer's sermon that same year, the bishops' declaration of 1941 - and reminded the reader of our basic story (local resistance vs. inactive leadership). Aside from merely summarizing the contents of our paper, however, we ended by articulating a larger insight we had gained through the process of researching and thinking about the issues raised by our topic. This, really, is our conclusion (underlined). For more on this process of formulating a conclusion, click here.

We are confident, at this point, that the actual paper will almost "write itself" - all the pieces of the puzzle are in place, we have mastered the material, organized our research into a workable structure, and drawn a larger lesson from the process. No doubt, we're ready, even eager to write. Follow the general principles recommended on this page, and you will be too!

Works Cited

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  • "Austrian Bishops Back Nazis." New York Times, March 28, 1938, 2.
  • "Engelbert Dollfuss." http://en.Wikipedia.org/Wiki/Engelbert_Dollfuss. June 28, 2007.
  • Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah. A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
  • Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah. "What Would Jesus Have Done?" New Republic, January 21, 2002.
  • Haas, Hanns. "Der Anschluss." In Tálos, Emmerich, Ernst Hanisch and Wolfgang Neugebauer, eds. Nationalsozialistische Herrschaft in Österreich, 1938 - 1945. Wien: Verlag für Gesellschaftskritik, 1988. 1 - 18.
  • Hagspiel, Hermann. Die Ostmark: Österreich im Großdeutschen Reich, 1938 - 1945. Wien: Universitätsverlagsbuchhandlung, 1995.
  • "Hitler enters Austria in triumphal Parade." New York Times, March 13, 1938, 1.
  • "Hitler Votes in the Plebiscite." Photograph. Illustrierter Beobachter, April 21, 1938, 1.
  • "Hitler is Backed by 99.08% of Vote." New York Times, April 11, 1938, 1.
  • Kirk, Tim. Nazism and the Working Class in Austria. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • "Kurt Schuschnigg." http://en.Wikipedia.org/Wiki/Kurt_Schuschnigg. June 28, 2007.
  • Perelman, Mark. "Catholics, Jews Unite to Attack Scholars Latest: Goldhagen Stirring Ire with Article on Pius XII." Forward, January 18, 2002.
  • Ruff, Mark Edward. "Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. A Moral Reckoning," (review). H-net Catholic (February 2004). http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=13571077250157. June 28, 2007.
  • Rychlak, Ronald J. "A Moral Reckoning" (review). The Catholic Historical Review. Volume 89, Number 2, April 2003, 327-333.
  • Rychlak, Ronald J. "Goldhagen v. Pius XII." First Things. 124 (June/July 2002): 37-54. http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/facts/fm0015.html.
  • Sauer, Walter. "Österreich's Kirchen 1938 - 1945." In Tálos, Emmerich, Ernst Hanisch and Wolfgang Neugebauer, eds. Nationalsozialistische Herrschaft in Österreich, 1938 - 1945. Wien: Verlag für Gesellschaftskritik, 1988. 517 - 536.
  • Schmidt, Elfride. 1938...and the Consequences: Questions and Responses. Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 1992.
  • Stourzh, Gerald. "From Reich to Republic." In William E. Wright, ed. Austria, 1938 - 1988: Anschluss and Fifty Years. Reverside, CA: Ariadne press, 1995. 15 - 45.
  • Steiner, Herbert. Gestorben für Österreich. Wien: Löcker Verlag, 1995.
  • Shepherd, Gordon Brooks. Dollfuss. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978.
  • Sheridon, R.K. Kurt von Schuschnigg: A Tribute. London: English Universities Press, 1942.
  • Völkischer Beobachter. March 12 and March 15, 1938.