In 1932, Schuschnigg was appointed minister of justice. The following year, he also became minister of education in Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss's cabinet. When Dollfuss was assassinated in July 1934, Schuschnigg became his successor. He attempted to eliminate the threat from the Heimwehr, a paramilitary rightist defense force, by disbanding it. But it was the illegal Austrian Nazi Party that represented the real danger for his government and Austria's independence. Continuing the authoritarian course of his predecessor, Schuschnigg rejected any reconciliation with the Social Democrats to establish a common defense against German aspirations for Anschluss (union with Austria). Furthermore, Schuschnigg's sympathies with the Habsburg dynasty isolated his country among the European democracies. The situation turned hopeless when Benito Mussolini, Austria's former protector, aligned himself with Germany in the Axis alliance.
Schuschnigg capitulated to Adolf Hitler during a meeting at Berchtesgaden in February 1938. He had to promise to allow the Austrian Nazi Party a legal existence. In addition, he was forced to incorporate Nazis into his government, among them Arthur Seyss-Inquart as minister of the interior. A few days later, the Nazis began a seizure of power in the provinces. On 9 March 1938, Schuschnigg attempted to regain control by arranging for a plebiscite on Austrian independence to be held on 13 March. The German Wehrmacht invaded two days before the scheduled plebiscite, and under heavy German pressure, Schuschnigg was forced to resign and to call publicly for no resistance to the invasion.
Schuschnigg was subsequently arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he and his family received unusually comfortable treatment until they were liberated in May 1945. Both the Allies and the new Austrian government prohibited his return to Austria. Schuschnigg was a professor of international law at Saint Louis University in the United States from 1948 to 1967. He died in Mutters, Austria, on 18 November 1977.
Gehl, Jürgen. Austria, Germany, and the Anschluss, 1931–1938. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979.; Hopfgartner, Anton. Kurt Schuschnigg: Ein Mann gegen Hitler. Graz, Germany: Styria, 1989.; Kluge, Ulrich. Der österreichische Ständestaat 1934–1938: Entstehung und Scheitern. Munich, Germany: Oldenbourg, 1984.; Low, Alfred D. The Anschluss Movement, 1931–1938, and the Great Powers. Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1985.