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After an active role in the Heimwehr-Fascist clash with the Clericals, Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss appointed him Mayor of Vienna in 1934. He succeeded elected Mayor Karl Seitz. Ardently anti-Nazi, Schmitz was Mayor four years later when Austria was absorbed into the Third Reich in the Anschluss. Up until that point, Schmitz spoke out publicly against Nazism and its tactics.
Along with thousands of other prominent Austrians, Richard Schmitz was arrested and taken to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria where he remained for the length of the war. In late April 1945 Schmitz was, together with other prominent concentration camp inmates, transferred to Tyrol where the SS left the prisoners behind. He was liberated by American troops on May 5, 1945.