There are several schools of thought on the reasons and factors leading to the dramatic rise of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich that he founded. The most widely accepted factors are the post World War 1 Treaty of Versailles and the social, political, and economic upheaval in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s - most notably the Great Depression of 1929. These unique circumstances coincide with the emergence of Adolf Hitler during this period of upheaval. The man himself Adold Hitler by his own actions and his unusually gifted oratorical skills was also responsible for his rise to power.
The chart below gives an overview of these unique circumstances in Germany following its defeat in World War 1 that contributed to the rise of the Third Reich.
Note: This chart will be very useful for our younger readers. To find out more, you can continue reading the details. The details will be useful for our more interested and matured younger readers and older readers as well
Treaty Of Versailles
Following the defeat of Germany in World War 1, on 28 June 1919 , Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles with the victorious major allies of America , France and Britain . This treaty laid down harsh terms for Germany and it was greatly resented by Germans. Despite strong protests by the new democratic Weimar government, the treaty prevailed. Among the terms and effects of the treaty:
- Germany lost 10% of her land - both to the east and west. Belgium , Denmark and Poland gained territory at Germany 's expense. France regained Alsace-Lorraine, the provinces Germany won in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. France was also given control over the rich Saar coal fields for 15 years. The Allies would also occupy the west side of the Rhine for 15 years. Germany also lost her colonies in Africa and the Far East .
- To prevent Germany from becoming a major military power again, severe limits were imposed on her army and navy. Her army was limited to only 100,000 men and she was allowed to keep only a small number of warships. Aeroplanes, submarines, tanks and heavy guns were banned.
- Germany had to pay war reparations to the tune of £6,600 million. But what the Germans resented most was that under Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, they had to accept the blame for starting the war and hence made to pay this hefty amount
When Germany failed to pay a reparation installment in 1922, French and Belgian troops entered German soil and seized goods. The German government ordered passive resistance but workers needed to be paid. The government printed more money resulting in hyperinflation in which the price of goods skyrocketed. This had the effect of weakening the Weimar government. Adolf Hitler took advantage of this to blame the government for Germany 's ills. Although Adolf Hitler failed to seize power through the Munich Putsch of November 1923, that event had subsequently aided in his rise to power
The Great Depression
Between 1924 to 1929, Germany 's economy gradually improved with the help of the United States . The United States introduced the Dawes Plan and Young Plan to assist Germany 's recovery. These plans introduced millions of pounds of investments and loans to Germany . As a result, Germany prospered economically by 1929. Moreover, under the capable leadership of Gustav Stresemann, Chancellor (1923) and Foreign Minister of Germany from 1923 to 1929, German relations with the Allies improved and this had helped Germany 's economy
However, in October 1929 the Wall Street stock market crashed under heavy selling. The Wall Street crash sank the American economy into depression. Many companies shut down and by 1932, millions of workers were jobless. Many banks and companies also closed down. The Depression spread quickly to the other countries. American bankers now demanded the Germans to repay the loans they had borrowed. American businessmen also withdrew their investments in Germany . This caused many factories and businesses in Germany to go bankrupt. Unemployment skyrocketed from 2 million in 1929 to 6 million in 1932. Inflation also set in.
Gustav Stresemann, the capable minister died of a heart attack in October 1929. The new German Chancellor Heinrich Bruning tried to salvage Germany 's economy with cost cutting measures but it did not work and his failure to revive the economy led to his resignation.
During these troubled times, extreme left and right political parties like the communists and the Nazis grew in popularity. These groups won an increasing number of seats in the German Reichstag (Parliament)
Underlying Weakness Of Weimar Germany
The Weimar Republic was a coalition government consisting of many representatives from different political parties. The different political parties had different ideas on how Germany should be ruled.
The main political parties, the SPD, the Centre Party and the Democratic Party supported the Republic. The extreme right wing political parties like the German National People's Party and later the Nazi party wanted Germany to be united under a strong leader. Extreme left wing political parties like the Communist Party wanted to set up a communist government similar to the Soviet Union .
Both left and right wing groups violently opposed the Weimar Republic . There was internal disunity. Many key political figures were assassinated. Democracy had not been fully accepted in Germany . The Republic's survival depended very much on the German economy. During the prosperous years between 1924 to 1929, the people were happy but when massive unemployment set in following the Great Depression in October 1929, the people were discontented and were swayed by the extreme left and right wing political parties. People who so far showed little interest in politics were lending their ears to new radical parties in the hope of an economic revival. There was an intense yearning for a leader of the status of 'Kaiser'
Amidst such turbulence, Adolf Hitler incited the people to reject the Weimar government. Like the people, Hitler resented the Treaty of Versailles and he often referred to the people in the Weimar Government who signed the treaty as "November criminals" because the much resented treaty was signed in November
The Nazi Party
German Worker's Party
A greater threat to the existence of the Weimar Republic came from the Nazi Party. The evolution of the Nazi Party and National Socialism had its origins in the formation of the German Workers' Party in Munich on January 5, 1919 , out of a small right-wing group headed by Anton Drexler that was noted for its anti-Semitism (hatred of Jews) stand
During the formation of the German Worker's Party, in the summer of 1919, a young corporal Adolf Hitler was still in the army and was stationed in Munich where he had become an informer. Corporal Hitler had named soldiers in his barracks that supported the Marxist uprisings in Munich , resulting in their arrest and executions. Hitler then became one of many undercover agents in the German Army weeding out Marxist influence within the ranks and investigating subversive political organizations.
Corporal Adolf Hitler was next ordered in September of 1919 to investigate a small group in Munich - the German Workers' Party. The use of the term 'workers' attracted the attention of the German Army which was now involved in crushing Marxist uprisings. On September 12, dressed in civilian clothes, Hitler went to a meeting of the German Workers' Party in the back room of a Munich beer hall, spoke forcefully against a man who spoke in favor of the German state of Bavaria breaking away from Germany and forming a new South German nation with Austria . One of the founders of the German Workers' Party, Anton Drexler was visibly impressed with Hitler and invited him to join the German Worker's Party
Hitler accepted the invitation to join German Workers' Party as the ideology of the party reflected political thinking much like his own - building a strong nationalist, pro-military, anti-Semitic party made up of working class people.
Hitler Rising Influence
The German Workers' Party consisted mainly of an executive committee which had seven members, including Hitler. The party advertised for more members to join the party. Hitler was able to impress the audience with a highly emotional, at times near hysterical manner of speech making. This attracted more members and donations poured in for the party. The money was used to buy more advertising and print leaflets. The German Workers' Party now featured Hitler as the main attraction at its meetings. In his speeches Hitler railed against the Treaty of Versailles and delivered anti-Semitic speeches, blaming the Jews for Germany 's problems. Attendance slowly increased, numbering in the hundreds.
Hitler took charge of party propaganda in early 1920, and also recruited young men he had known in the Army. He was aided in his recruiting efforts by Army Captain Ernst Röhm, a new party member, who would play a vital role in Hitler's eventual rise to power.
On February 24, 1920, outlined in detail the Twenty Five Points of the German Workers' Party, its political platform, which included; the union of all Germans in a greater German Reich, rejection of the Treaty of Versailles, the demand for additional territories (living space) for the German people (Lebensraum), citizenship determined by race with no Jew to be considered a German, all income not earned by work to be confiscated, a thorough reconstruction of the national education system, religious freedom except for religions which endanger the German race, and a strong central government for the execution of effective legislation
Hitler realized one thing the movement lacked was a recognizable symbol or flag. In the summer of 1920, Hitler chose the symbol which to this day remains perhaps the most infamous in history, the swastika provided a powerful, instantly recognizable symbol that immediately helped Hitler's party gain popularity.
On February 24, 1920 , in accordance with Hitler's wish, the German Workers' Party name was changed by Hitler to include the term National Socialist. Thus the full name was the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP) called for short, Nazi. The Party adopted an emblem, the swastika, a salute and greeting as its distinctive characteristics
Leader Of Nazi Party
By early 1921, Adolf Hitler was becoming highly effective at speaking in front of huge crowds. His rising popularity initially caused an internal revolt in which the executive committee members now considered Hitler to be highly overbearing, even dictatorial.
Hitler struck back by announcing his resignation from the Party on July 11, 1921 and he would only return if he was made chairman of the party. By now, Hitler was such a central figure that the executive committee realized that losing him could mean the end of the Nazi party.
The executive committee of the Nazi Party eventually backed down and Hitler's demands were put to a vote of the party members. Hitler received 543 votes for, and only one against. At the next gathering, July 29, 1921 , Adolf Hitler was made the leader of the Nazi Party and the title of Führer was first used to address him
The Munich Beer Hall Putsch
Between 1921 to 1923, the German economy was in chaos when the Allies demanded payment for war reparations under the Treaty of Versailles. The government printed more and more money until it became worthless. By November 1923, it took 4,000,000,000 marks to but a US dollar. Germans lost their life savings and many citizens were deeply unhappy.
Taking advantage of the chaos, Hitler and the Nazis hatched a plot in which they would kidnap the leaders of the Bavarian government and force them at gunpoint to accept Hitler as their leader. With the aid of famous World War One General, Erich Ludendorff, they would win over the German Army, proclaim a nationwide revolt and bring down the German Weimar government in Berlin
On November 8, 1923 , SA (Sturmabteilung) troops under the direction of Hermann Göring and Rohm stormed the Munich Beer Hall. However, troops were rushed in and by dawn the War Ministry building containing Röhm and his SA troops was surrounded. The putsch (or rebellion) had failed.
The trial of Adolf Hitler for high treason after the Beer Hall Putsch was not the end of Hitler's political career. In fact it was a contributory factor to his eventual rise. The trial allowed Hitler to use the courtroom as a propaganda platform. Hitler admitted wanting to overthrow the government and outlined his reasons, portraying himself as a German patriot and the democratic government itself, its founders and leaders, as the real criminals. The sympathetic judges sentenced him to only 5 years in prison. But Hitler was released just after 9 months at Landsberg prison.
It was in prison that Hitler crystalised his dangerous thoughts on the superiority of the Aryan race which is the supreme form of human, or master race in his book "Mein Kampf" or "My Struggles". Germans belong to the master race category. The Jews, communists, Gypsies and handicapped people were the direct opposite and Hitler states that the Jews are engaged in a conspiracy to keep the master race from assuming its rightful position as rulers of the world. This conspiracy idea and the notion of 'competition' for world domination between Jews and Aryans would become widespread beliefs in Nazi Germany and would even be taught to school children.
In his book, Hitler also wrote about the right of Master Race to living space (Lebensraum). Some of this land can be obtained from Russia and world conquest. "We must secure for the German people the land and soil to which they are entitled". This led to Hitler's subsequent quest for world domination.
The failed putsch also had an important lesson for Hitler - that he must gain power by legal means and that was exactly what he did subsequently.
Gaining Power Legally
Hitler had gambled in 1923, attempting to overthrow the Weimar democracy by force, and lost. Now he was determined to overthrow it legally by getting elected. The Nazi party started to contest in general elections for seats un the Reichstag (parliament). The table shows the success of the Nazi party between March 1924 and July 1932. Starting from one of the smallest parties, the Nazi party had in 8 short years become the largest party by July 1932. This was a remarkable achievement. It is noted that in the good years before the Wall Street crash, the Nazi party did not so as well. However, after the stock market crash, the Nazi party's popularity skyrocketed.
Seats Nazis Won In Reichstag
How did Hitler and the Nazi party achieve this feat? First of all, Hitler's promises were very appealing. He promised to unite Germany , end unemployment and regain Germany 's pride. He vowed to discard the Treaty of Versailles and make Germany a great nation. Hitler offered simple explanations for complex problems, blaming the Allies, the communists, the Jews and the Weimar government
Soldiers and military personnel were also attracted to the Nazi as Hitler promised he would re-arm Germany and rebuild the armed forces. This would provide soldiers jobs in the army. Powerful German industrialists, fearful of a communist takeover also supported the Nazi party due to its strong anti communists stand. German youths were also attracted to the party as it gave them a sense of identity and purpose.
Hitler's great gift for public speaking was also a major contributory factor. Many Germans were impressed with him. They saw in him a leader with modern ideas that would bring Germany to greater heights.
The Nazi party also made very effective use of propaganda. The highly effective propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels manipulated propaganda very well, he modified many effective posters with clever slogans such as, "Work, freedom and bread". He also organised mass parades and rallies so everyone in Germany would know the Nazis. Many Germans were impressed by the Nazis dedication and so they earned respect.
Having obtained amss support, Hitler decided to challenge the popular but ageing President Von Hindenburg for presidency in March 1932. Hitler lost the elections but increased his popularity. After becoming the largest party in the July 1932 elections, Hitler demanded the post of Chancellor from President Hindenburg but the president was suspicious of Hitler and instead appointed Franz von Papen as Chancellor.
Later Von Papen persuaded President Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor in a coalition government with Von Papen himself as Vice Chancellor. Von Papen had hoped to control Hitler and make use of him to give support to cabinet decisions. As a result, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on 30 th January 1933 .
Former General Erich Ludendorff who had once supported Hitler and had even participated in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 in a telegram to President Hindenburg wrote "By appointing Hitler Chancellor of the Reich you have handed over our sacred German Fatherland to one of the greatest demagogues of all time. I prophesy to you this evil man will plunge our Reich into the abyss and will inflict immeasurable woe on our nation. Future generations will curse you in your grave for this action."
The Reichstag Fire & The Enabling Act
Adolf Hitler, the new Chancellor of Germany, had no intention of abiding by the rules of democracy. Hindenburg and Von Papen were to discover very soon that they could not control Hitler who took steps to complete a Nazi takeover of Germany and constitutionally ending democracy
When a fire broke out in the Reichstag building in February 1933, Hitler seized this opportunity to accuse the communists of staging an uprising. He used his powers to issue an emergency decree to protect Germans from the so called uprising. He subsequently suspended all civil and political rights. Hitler used the Communist scare to consolidate power. He got the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Act in March, 1933. This gave Hitler dictatorial powers for four years. It allowed Hitler to introduce laws without the approval of the Reichstag, control the budget and approve treaties with foreign governments
The Night Of Long Knives
Adolf Hitler, realized that he needed the German army for total control of Germany . Leading officers in the German army were however suspicious of the SA (Sturmabteilung). They saw the SA as ill behaved and protected only the interests of the Nazis. The SA leader, Ernst Rohm also harboured intentions of making the SA a second German army. While Rohm's SA had been useful to Hitler's election campaigns, Hitler feared that there may be friction between the SA and the German army whom he needed for absolute control.
Moreover, Rohm had grown too powerful for Hitler's liking and was beginning to challenge him. On 29 th June 1934 , Hitler ordered his men to arrest Rohm at gunpoint by circulating putsch rumours. He then had Rohm and other SA leaders as well as his political opponents executed with the help of the Schutzstaffel or the SS. The black shirted SS, led by Heinrich Himmler were the personal guards of Hitler and were fiercely loyal to him.
On July 13 1934 , Hitler appeared before the Reichstag and gave a two-hour emotional speech which turned out to be one of the most important of his career. He justified the murders by citing the various putsch rumors as fact and then took full responsibility for his actions. A few weeks after the purge, Hitler rewarded Himmler by raising the SS to independent status. No longer part of the SA, Himmler would now answer only to Hitler. Reinhard Heydrich, co-mastermind of the purge, was promoted to SS-Gruppenführer (Lieutenant-General). The Brownshirted SA now ceased to be a threat to Hitler and over time all but disappeared into the regular Army after Hitler re-introduced military conscription. With this drastic move, Hitler won the support of the German army. This incident became known as The Night of The Long Knives
Hitler becomes the Fuhrer
After The Night of The Long Knives, only one man stood between Hitler and absolute power in Germany . That man was President Von Hindenburg. But the 87 year old President was a dying man.
About 9 a.m. on August 2, 1934 , the much anticipated death of President Hindenburg finally occurred. Within hours, Hitler announced that the powers of the President and Chancellor would be combined and made himself the Supreme Leader or Fuhrer of the Third Reich.
After becoming Fuhrer, Hitler had a free hand to pursue his policies, with tragic consequences. He implemented a Nazi totalitarian state in which his government controlled every aspect of German people's lives. Those who opposed him were either sent to concentration camps or executed
Hitler banned all rival political parties. The Communist Party was declared illegal and its leaders sent to concentration camps. It was effectively a one party rule. On April 26, 1933 , a decree was issued creating the Secret Police Office (Geheime Staats Polizei) or Gestapo for short. The much feared Gestapo spied on German citizens and could arrest anyone they suspected of disloyalty to the Nazis. Many innocent citizens were sent to concentration camps or executed, with many disappearing without a trace
All the top jobs in the civil service, police and law courts were controlled by high ranking Nazis. Hitler also took control of the trade unions. Trade union leaders were arrested and all workers were forced to join the new German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront). All striles and demonstrations were outlawed.
The education system was also skewed to teach German children that they had to be loyal to the Fuhrer. They were also taught how weak politicians betrayed the German army and that Jews were responsible for Germany 's problems. In biology, they were also taught the superiority of the Germans as they belonged to the Aryan race.
To win the support of the youths, the Nazi Party also organized Hitler Youth movements. Boys took part in outdoor activities and were taught how to maintain and use a rifle. Girls were taught how to be be good wives and mothers by supporting the boys and men. The Nazi youth movement and the education system had created a generation of young and loyal Germans who were willing to die for the Fuhrer
The Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Dr Joseph Goebbels controlled all communications networks. Magazines, books, music, film and art were censored or banned if they did not promote Nazism. All German radio stations were controlled by the Nazis. This made it easy for the Nazis to propagate messages about Nazi ideologies
All religion was also controlled by the state. Hitler put all Protestant churches under a single Reich Church . Nazi values and ideology were taught in this church. Christians who objected to joining the Reich Church were imprisoned. Catholic churches suffered a similar fate although Hitler initially promised them not to interfere in the catholic churches.
Racism and anti-Semitism
The most tragic policy of the Third Reich is undoubtedly the persecution and the eventual extermination of an entire race based on Hitler's racist notions of Aryan superiority. Hitler believed that the Germans belonged to the Aryan master race while Jews belonged to an inferior race and were parasites living off the countries in which they lived. Their existence would weaken Germany . Hitler was therefore determined to eliminate the Jews as a race
Why did Hitler hate the Jews so much? Besides his racist notions, the Jewish community in Germany was very successful and too prominent in the fields of business, scientific achievement, academic scholarship and artistic vision. Hitler also hated the Jews because they were able to preserve their distinct cultural and religious identity.
Just a week after the Enabling Act made Hitler dictator of Germany in 1933, a national boycott of Jewish shops and department stores was organized by Nazis under the direction of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. This was only the beginning of a horrifying series of extremely inhumane measures by the Nazis to persecute and eliminate the Jews.
From the moment the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Jews of Germany were subjected to a never-ending series of discriminatory laws. There would be, during the twelve years of Hitler's Reich, over 400 separate regulations issued against Jews prohibiting them from almost everything you can think of
On the night of May 10, 1933 , an event unseen in Europe since the Middle Ages occurred as German students from universities once regarded as among the finest in the world, gathered in Berlin to burn books with non Nazi ideas. Jewish intellectuals were the primary target. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels joined the students at the bonfire and declared: "The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end
In 1935, the Nuremberg laws were passed discriminating Jews. Jews were prohibited from holding jobs in the civil service, from marrying Germans and Jews lost their rights as German citizens. Jews were later forced to live in ghettos and wear special armbands to easily distinguish them
Faced with such persecution, 130,000 Jews left Germany . When a Polish Jew in Paris assassinated a German official, the Nazis retaliated strongly by smashing 7,500 Jewish shops and other property all over Germany on 9 th November 1938 . 91 Jews were murdered and hundreds of synagogues (Jewish places of worship) were razed. 20,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps. This became known as the "Night Of Broken Glass"
The Holocaust & Final Solution
The Jews were subjected to further horrors later on. This was especially after Hitler embarked on his road to war in which he conquered more territories and more Jews were captured.
To eliminate all Jews in Germany and in the other conquered territories, the "Final Solution" was proposed in 1941. This was the name of the Nazi's horrifying plan to systematically kill all Jews and other undesirable groups of people in the eyes of the Nazis. Jews, gypsies and political prisoners were transported to death camps such as the notorious Auschwitz camp to be gassed to death, worked to death or shot to death. The Jews were also subjected to cruel scientific experiments by German scientists. This terrible period became known as the Holocaust. The Final Solution only ended when Allied armies liberated these camps in late 1944 and 1945. Unfortunately by then, already 6 million Jews had been exterminated in the Holocaust..
The Holocaust is probably the darkest period not only in the 20th century, but in the entire history of humanity.
Other Forms Of Oppression
Besides the Jews, the Nazis also persecuted other races and minority groups like prostitutes, criminals, homosexuals, beggars, alcoholics and gypsies. Many of these people also died in concentration camps.
Even their own Germans were spared. Hitler believed that the purity of the Aryan master race would be corrupted by people with "defects" - such as handicapped people. Handicapped babies and children were injected with poison or starved to death. The mentally handicapped were also gassed to death. 300,000 men and women with hereditary illnesses were also forced to be sterilized.
Weakness Of The League Of Nations
The League of Nations was setup after World War 1 to preserve peace in the world. However, it was not effective. Why was this so? The League did not possess its own military forces. It was also not supported by the United States , one of the major powers after World War 1.
France and Britain , the key members of the League had to maintain world peace on their own but both countries were already reeling from the disastrous consequences of World War 1. Furthermore, Britain was more interested in rebuilding British trade and looking after the British Empire .
In 1931, the League failed its first big test when the Japanese invaded Manchuria . The League could do little except to protest. Japan subsequently left the League in 1933 but occupied the whole of Manchuria .
In 1935, the ineffectiveness of the League was again revealed when Italy led by Benito Mussolini invaded Abyssinia . Except for a condemnation and some economic sanctions which did not affect Italy much, the League watched passively as Italy completed the conquest of Abyssinia by May 1936. The ineffectiveness of the League was not lost on Hitler
Realising that the League was rather weak, Hitler decided in 1935 to defy the Treaty of Versailles by rearming Germany and re-introducing military conscription. Hitler felt that Germany had the right to build up her armed forces as France did. Hitler increased the German army to 600,000, a violation of the Treaty of Versailles. But Britain and France did not stop Hitler. Hitler subsequently managed to negotiate a naval pact with Britain allowing Germany to have a Navy totaling 35 percent of Britain 's fleet, along with a submarine fleet equal in size
Re-Occupation Of The Rhineland
In March 1936, Hitler ordered German troops to occupy the Rhineland , which is supposed to be a demilitarized zone, under the Treaty of Versailles. No troops or military bases are supposed to be allowed in the demilitarized zone. This was the first major test for Hitler. Hitler knew France was suffering from serious political in-fighting and England was in the grips of an economic depression. He wagered that the two countries, given their internal problems, are unlikely to respond militarily. Hitler was right
The French Army, with its one hundred divisions, never budged against the 30,000 lightly armed German soldiers occupying the Rhineland , even though France and Britain were both obligated to preserve the demilitarized zone by the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Pact of mutual assistance
A few weeks later, on March 29, a nationwide referendum was held in which 99 percent of the registered voters in Germany went to the polls and gave a 98.8 percent "Ja" ("yes") vote approving Hitler's reoccupation of the Rhineland. The Führer had reached new heights of popularity. After this victory, Hitler once again went back to his mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden to relax and ponder his next move. The first few steps toward Lebensraum (living space) as outlined in his Mein Kampf book occurred in 1935 is proceeding well.
Anschluss ( Union ) With Austria
Born an Austrian, Hitler had always wanted to unite Germany with Austria as one great German country. To achieve this, in March 1938, he encouraged the Austrian Nazis to stage huge demonstrations and create trouble in Austria .
With Austria being torn apart from within by Nazi agitators and also feeling threatened from the outside by Germany 's newfound military strength, the Chancellor of Austria, Dr. Kurt von Schuschnigg met Hitler to discuss
Hitler demanded that all Nazis presently jailed in Austria were to be freed. The ban against the Austrian Nazi Party was to be lifted. Austrian lawyer, Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart, a staunch Nazi supporter, was to become the new Minister of the Interior with full control of the police. In addition, Nazis were to be appointed as Minister of War and Minister of Finance with preparations made for the assimilation of Austria 's entire economy into the German Reich.
The Chancellor wanted to hold a plebiscite (national vote) to decide whether Austria should remain independent. However, due to Hitler's threats of invasion, the plebiscite was cancelled. The Austrian President Miklas, realizing his own position was hopeless, eventually appointed Seyss-Inquart as the new Chancellor of Austria
At dawn on Saturday, March 12, 1938 , German soldiers in tanks and armored vehicles roared across the German-Austrian border. They met no resistance and in most places were welcomed like heroes. When news of the invasion reached Britain and France , they reacted just as they had when Hitler occupied the Rhineland two years earlier. They did nothing
Hitler ordered a law drafted providing for immediate Anschluss (union) of Austria with Germany . The next day, Sunday, March 13, 1938 the law was approved by the Austrian government led by Seyss. The formal announcement was then made to the world. Austria had ceased to exist. It was now a province of the German Reich
The Sudetenland Annexation
Encouraged by his successes and emboldened by the League's inaction, Hitler moved on to claim that the Sudetenland was Germany 's and should be returned to her. Although it was true that there were about 3 million Germans living in the mountainous Sudetenland , Hitler was also eyeing the heavy industries and the rich mineral resources there. The Sudetenland also had strategic and military importance as it formed a defensive frontier between Germany and Czechoslovakia .
Following lengthy negotiations, and blatant war threats from Hitler, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain went out of his way with French leaders to appease Hitler believing in "Peace in our time", even though Britain had earlier guaranteed the security of Czechoslovakia . Britain and France were unwilling to go to war especially after the devastating World War 1.
The Munich Agreement was signed on September 29, 1938 . At this conference in Munich , Britain and France agreed to the German annexation of the Sudetenland (a part of Czechoslovakia ) in exchange for Hitler's assurance that he would not attack the remainder of Czechoslovakia . No representative of Czechoslovakia was present at the meeting. However, Chamberlain was to learn six months later that Hitler had no intention to honour his promises whatsoever. As a result of the annexation, over 120,000 additional Jews came under Nazi control.
In March 1939, Hitler broke his promises and invaded the remainder of Czechoslovakia . The Sudetenland offered natural defenses against German invasion and now that it was in German control, the rest of Czechoslovakia fell easily especially when there was internal disunity at home. The invasion of the remainder of Czechoslovakia made Britain and France realize that Hitler was on a path of aggression and his claims of peace and reunification with Germans in foreign territory were just blatant excuses.
Britain and France severely criticized Hitler and warned him against invading Poland . This time, Britain and France went beyond mere diplomatic protests. On March 31 1939 Prime Minister Chamberlain issued a solid declaration, with the backing of France , guaranteeing Hitler's next likely victim, Poland , from Nazi aggression
The Invasion Of Poland
After Czechoslovakia , Hitler's next target was Poland . In order to avoid a two front war with Britain and France in the west and Soviet Union in the east, Hitler signed a non aggression pact with the Soviet Union in August 1939. The agreement provided for Poland to be secretly divided among Germany and Soviet Union . The Soviet Union was also given control of three Baltic states of Lithuania , Latvia and Estonia .
After deliberately stirring trouble on the morning of September 1, 1939 , Nazi
troops crossed the Polish frontier without a declaration of war. At the same time the Luftwaffe began to bomb Polish cities
Hitler did not really expect Britain and France to stop him from his path of aggression. He had referred to Britain and France as "little worms". Hitler also felt that Poland was very far from Britain and France for them to provide effective military help. But Hitler was wrong this time. When the ultimatum given to Hitler to withdraw his troops from Poland expired, Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 rd September 1939 . In the same month, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. World War II had begun - the most costly armed conflict in the history of mankind.
Poland quickly fell to the German blitzkrieg or lightning offensive. The world now had the chance to see the awesome speed and power of Nazi arms. The Polish forces collapsed, crushed between the German advance from the west and, two weeks later, the Russian invasion from the east. By the end of the month, after a brave but hopeless resistance, the Poles once again saw their country partitioned between the Germans and the Russians. For some time after Hitler invaded Poland , it was quiet as there was not much fighting as Western Europe had expected. This lull in action came to be referred to as the phony war, or Sitzkrieg. Russia took advantage of the lull to attack Finland in November 1939. After an unexpectedly difficult four-month-long campaign, the immense Soviet Union managed to get Finland to cede 10% of her territory in the Moscow Peace Treaty, on March 12, 1940
The Fall of Mighty France
In the spring of 1940 the Nazi High Command launched its attack on Western Europe . In its scope, complexity, and accomplishments it would be one of the most successful military campaigns ever carried out. In April 1940, Nazi forces invaded Norway and Denmark . The Norwegians fought back fiercely for three weeks before being vanquished, while Denmark was taken in even less time. In the second week of May the German armies overran neutral Holland , Belgium , and Luxemburg.
After overrunning these countries Germany turned its attention to France . The French was on the defensive - relying on its much vaunted defensive fortifications known as the Maginot Line. However, in a brilliant and unexpected move by the Germans, they penetrated through to France via the Ardennes Forest between the Maginot Line and Belgium . The French and British had not thought the forest was accessible to armoured tanks and trucks. As a result of this, and also the superior German communications, the Battle of France was shorter than the Allied thought could have happened. It lasted six weeks, after which France surrendered.
In order to humiliate the proud French people, Hitler arranged for the surrender document to be signed in the same railway coach where the German surrender had been signed in 1918. The fall of France left Britain and its Empire to stand alone. Fortunately for Britain , much of its army escaped capture from the northern French port of Dunkirk . In total, 330,000 troops were pulled off the beaches, of which 230,000 were British
Hitler now stared across the English Channel ready to invade Britain . He declared "Where Napoleon failed, I will succeed". The odds against the British were overwhelming