Tyrol should remain undivided and all in Austria – that was one of the most important concerns of the Austrian delegation at the peace conferences in the spring of 1919.
Although the Treaty of London signed on 26 April 1915 had promised a frontier on the Brenner Pass to the Kingdom of Italy and this had been confirmed again in the Villa Giusti armistice of 3 November 1918, the Austrian negotiators nevertheless expected certain concessions for South Tyrol. Trust was placed above all in the right of peoples to self-determination as proclaimed by Woodrow Wilson, and it was hoped that it would be possible to claim this for the German-speaking population of South Tyrol in the wake of a plebiscite.
The national assembly of South Tyrol, which had been in existence since 4 November 1918 and saw itself as a form of regional government, voted for South Tyrol to be united with the rest of Tyrol and German-Austria. However, other possible options were formulated, both union with Switzerland and an independent South Tyrol.
The territory which German-Austria laid claim to in a law passed on 22 November 1918 included the present-day federal province of Tyrol and the Italian province of Bozen/Bolzano as well as the districts of Hayden/Ampezzo, Buchenstein/Livinalolongo and Cavalese.
The argument of the Italian negotiators was based on the geographical and economic closeness of the territory as well as the strategic importance of the Brenner frontier. The fact that the newly founded republic of Austria had voted for union with the German Empire – and this had been forbidden by the Allies, supported the Italians’ argumentation. If the union with Germany were realised the frontier of the German Empire would be extended to the Dolomites, which would mean a considerable increase in its power.
As early as April 1919 Woodrow Wilson had officially declared himself in favour of South Tyrol remaining with Italy, which led to the provincial assembly of Tyrol proclaiming the independence of Tyrol on 4 May 1919. However, this proclamation and the formation of a neutral free state stretching from Kufstein to Salurn/Salorno remained without any practical consequences, because there was no approval from the Allies and thus not from Italy.
Ultimately, in the Treaty of Saint-Germain, signed on 10 September, the Allies awarded the southern parts of the former Habsburg crown land of Tyrol to the Kingdom of Italy. However, the South Tyrolean deputy Reut-Nicolussi had just one response to this:
To this treaty our one and only answer is ‘no’, with every fibre of our hearts, in anger and pain! An eternal, irrevocable ‘no’!
The final step – taken without a plebiscite and against the wishes of the German-speaking majority of the population – was the formal cession of South Tyrol to Italy on 10 October 1920.
Translation: Leigh Bailey
Goldinger, Walter/Binder, Dieter A.: Geschichte der Republik Österreich 1918-1938, München 1992
Hanisch, Ernst: Österreichische Geschichte 1890-1990. Der lange Schatten des Staates. Österreichische Gesellschaftsgeschichte im 20. Jahrhundert, Wien 1994
Riedmann, Josef: Geschichte Tirols, 3. Auflage, München 2001
Stuhlpfarrer, Karl: Südtirol 1919, in: Ackerl, Isabella/Neck, Rudolf (Hrsg.): Saint-Germain 1919. Protokoll des Symposiums am 29. und 30. Mai 1979 in Wien, Wien 1989, 54-77
Steininger, Rolf: 1918/1919: Die Teilung Tirols. Wie das Südtirolproblem entstand, in: Konrad, Helmut/Maderthaner, Wolfgang (Hrsg.): Das Werden der Ersten Republik … der Rest ist Österreich. Bd. I, Wien 2008, 103-118
Steininger, Rolf: Südtirol in der Ersten und Zweiten Republik, in: Karner, Stefan/Mikoletzky, Lorenz (Hrsg.): Österreich. 90 Jahre Republik. Beitragsband der Ausstellung im Parlament, Innsbruck/Wien/Bozen 2008, 171-180
"To this treaty ...“: Reut-Nicolussi, quoted from: Hanisch, Ernst: Österreichische Geschichte 1890-1990. Der lange Schatten des Staates. Österreichische Gesellschaftsgeschichte im 20. Jahrhundert, Wien 1994, 272 (Translation)
- The High Price of Peace
- Tyrol Is Divided
- Burgenland Is Gained
- The defensive campaign in Carinthia and the plebiscite on 10 October 1920
- Losing Southern Styria
- Fixing the Northern Frontier
- Austrian Federal Province or Swiss Canton?
- Austrian attempts to unite with Germany from the founding of the republic to the referendums in Tyrol and Salzburg in 1921