Nazi Germany
Hitler takes control of Germany’s destiny
author Liviu Sadovschi, November 2016
Once Hitler had taken over Germany’s destiny, foreign policy turned towards destroying the diplomatic edifice of the Treaty of Versailles, which many Germans saw as a humiliating ‘Diktat’. The occupation of the demilitarized area of the Rhineland was a definitive failure of the collective security. It opened up the way for the Second World War.

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As is typical in dictatorships, Hitler imposed relative social stability compared with the chaos of the Weimar Republic. Lower-class salaries dropped, while living costs rose. Strikes and protests died out. This social stability caused by terror increased profits for big businessmen. The reorganization of the entire socio-economic scene favored economic growth, which was sustained for several years. The massive rearmament around the Second World War threatened economic progress.

The first step in the economic reform meant meeting with the big businessmen. In spite of their liberal orientations, these businessmen were glad that the Nazis had come to power. Hitler was the only one who could suppress the strikes of the working classes and bring social order. The great industrialists hoped that their laborers would return to work in factories and accept even lower salaries. On their first meetings with Hitler, they received the promise that Marxist elements would be eliminated. This was one of the few promises the Fuhrer honored.

The terror installed by the Nazis was tolerated by the majority of the population due to the economic benefits it brought. Forced labor in concentration camps helped the economy. The country also received money from the unlawful confiscation of the wealth of many Jews. Tax evasion and small crimes were dealt with by the Gestapo. The secret police applied very harsh punishments. The automobile industry underwent exponential growth. Volkswagen, the people’s automobile, was a result of Hitler’s desire to make cars accessible to the masses.

Besides the repression of enemies of the Nazi party, all acts of violence or disorder were harshly punished. The Nazi leader strengthened Germany’s domestic power. He refused to respect the populist promises he made during the campaign. Germany could not afford to pay large sums of money for the social support of disadvantaged people. Mass unemployment, putting industry back on its feet, investment in infrastructure and rearmament were much more important. Introducing obligatory conscription helped the war industry.

The effects of the Great Depression had begun to wane even before Hitler came to power. Germany was still in a difficult financial situation. When considering Hitler’s miraculous economic reforms, we must take into account the fact that industry and infrastructure were not destroyed in the First World War. Germany was rich in natural resources. None of this overshadows Hitler’s merits. The investments made in rearmament, in infrastructure and in industry put Germany back on its feet.

In the first months of Hitler’s rule, he gave away many clues about the way things were really going to be. The Nuremberg Tribunal had several tons of Nazi state documents, just from Hitler’s first year in power.

The Nazi revolution was guided more by the principles of realpolitik than by the immediate needs of the population, including in the economic sphere. Imports and exports were intentionally sabotaged by Hitler. The German economy was preparing to support an aggressive foreign policy, based on intimidation through armed force.

The Weimar republic had supported economic reforms by using the Central Bank. Printing new money increased inflation and unemployment. This intervention in the economy proved to be a disaster. Hitler did not repeat the same mistakes. Nazi Germany did not rely on tax and monetary measures. The real economy, represented by actual physical products, was built up. These changes followed the traditional economic policy of Wehrwirtschaft, of supporting the war, carried out by the Germans in the previous two centuries.

Before gaining power, the Nazis were supported in election campaigns by important businessmen. The most eminent were: Emil Kirdorf, Krupp, Hjalmar Schacht, Fritz von Thyssen and Henry Ford. Economic interests took precedence over moral principles and ideological interests. Nazi Germany remained an attractive target for investors, even if this meant indirectly supporting an extremist regime.

Besides personalities from the world of business, a series of famous companies also supported the rise and growth of the Nazi regime. Amongst the best-known were: Ford, Bayer, Coca Cola, IG Farben, Chase Bank, General Motors, Texaco and United Steel. The enforced economic embargo imposed by the Americans on Germany forced the producers of Coca Cola to innovate. The company invented the famous drink of Fanta in Germany.

The reforms were based on: stimulating the creation of jobs, investments in highways and railway lines, and supporting heavy industry - steel and coal. Manufacturing production had a central role. These investments increased the budget deficit. Germany addressed the issue on a short- and medium-term by obtaining foreign loans at 4.5% interest. The Nazi economy was autocratic, prepared to weather conflict and isolation, relying on its own resources. Industry was oriented towards war.

The numbers looked good for the German Nazi economy during the interwar period. According to the American war correspondent, William Lawrence Shirer, in four years unemployment was reduced from 6 million unemployed to less than one million. National income doubled. Heavy industry enjoyed important growth in the economy from 2% to 6.5%. Profit reinvested by German firms increased from 175 million marks to 5 billion marks. Just before the war, the German economy was the third in the world, after the United States and the British Empire.

Hitler’s economic reform was framed in the context of the Nazification of Germany. The process was also influenced by the Fuhrer’s desire to change the economic, political and social systems.

The first steps of stabilizing the situation were: controlling the press, films and radio; indoctrination promoted by the educational system; the compromise with religions; and winning intellectuals such as Martin Heidegger and Oswald Spengler to the side of the Nazis.

Martin Heidegger, the philosopher, participated in Nazi meetings for one year. German existentialism however could not agree with the party ideology. He was forbidden to hold any more courses. Heidegger remained a party member up until the surrender of the Nazis. He was rehabilitated a decade later.

Oswald Spengler voted with the Nazi party, in hope of a rebirth of the country. The great thinker met Hitler, and the impression left by the Fuhrer was a bad one. Spengler did not believe in the shining future promised by the chancellor. In his diary, he wrote: “Hitler will lead the German people to ruin.”

Once Hitler had taken over Germany’s destiny, foreign policy turned towards destroying the diplomatic edifice of the Treaty of Versailles, which many Germans saw as a humiliating ‘Diktat’. The occupation of the demilitarized area of the Rhineland was a definitive failure of the collective security. It opened up the way for the Second World War.

The reoccupation of the Saarland by the Reich, the reinstatement of obligatory military service and the naval agreement with England, all contributed to the domestic strengthening of the Nazi regime. These three events changed the ratio of force in Europe. These accords tacitly allowed the rearmament of Germany and a closer diplomatic relationship with England.

Most generals from Hitler’s circle did not hide from him the fact that the Wehrmacht was not ready to deal with an armed conflict with France. If France had resisted in the Rhineland, Germany would have been forced to retreat.

The decisions made by Hitler, and their consequences, encouraged him concerning the likely reactions of the great powers were he to adopt an aggressive foreign policy. It was clear to Hitler that the Allies would not act together if Germany were to unlawfully reoccupy the Rhineland.

The French-Soviet treaty was interpreted by the Nazis as breaking the Treaty of Locarno. Hitler decided to risk reoccupying the demilitarized zone. It was a secret operation codenamed ‘Schulung’. The plan was put into practice. The French, in spite of their obvious military superiority, decided to retreat.

The success of referendum day in the Saarland, when over 90% of the population of the region voted to return to German rule, encouraged the Germans to boast of their new claims. The vote, monitored by the League of Nations, could not be questioned by the international community.

Hitler managed to strike at the right moment. The Italians had won a victory in Ethiopia. The League of Nations had proven to be incapable of keeping peace. Disagreements between Italy on the one hand and England and France on the other, gave Germany a free hand.

For France, this show of force by Nazism was the prelude to a national drama. Still, France limited itself to adopting defensive strategies. England made a declaration expressing alarm at the situation. The declaration had no practical use, since there were no actual measures taken. From Great Britain there was no opposition to Germany’s aggressive acts.

According to the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was not permitted to maintain an army of more than 100,000 soldiers. Hitler ignored all provisions concerning armament. One year after his reaching power, the Wehrmacht had over 4.5 million soldiers. Most of these had entered the SA, a Nazi paramilitary organization. The introduction of obligatory conscription meant that Germany could train 300,000 soldiers each year. With the greatest population in Europe and an industrial base in the Ruhr region, the Nazis created a war machine in just a few years.

When he invaded Poland, Hitler had an army of 1.5 million infantrymen and 9 tank divisions. Each division was made up of 328 tanks, 8 reserve battalions and 6 pieces of artillery. The occupation of Czechoslovakia facilitated German military development. Hitler obtained a new industrial base and the gold ingots from the bank in Prague.

With the eastern border secured, Berlin began the offensive towards western Europe. The German army was made up of 2.5 million soldiers and 2,500 tanks. Although the French could mobilize double this, the outdated tactics used by the French generals led to the surrender of Paris.

Operation Barbarossa was put into practice by 3 million German soldiers and over 4,000 tanks. At the end of the war, confronted with imminent defeat, Hitler organized ‘the people’s army’. It was made up of young and old men who could not be drafted into the conventional forces. They had the role of defending the fatherland from Soviet invasion. Nazi Germany mobilized 12 million soldiers during the war. At least 3.5 million were killed in battle.

Events in the interwar period led Japan along the road of revisionism. Japan entered into a conflict of interest with the western colonial powers. The USSR had tense relationships with Japan. The Soviet Union wanted to extend its influence in the Far East, especially in Manchuria and Korea. In this context, Nazi Germany and militarist Japan became allies, by signing the Anti-Comintern Pact.

The Anti-Comintern Pact was an agreement against the USSR, common enemy of Germany and Japan. The logic for the alliance was not just a result of power policies. Nazism was not the only ideology that was incompatible with communism. Class battles were a danger to Japanese ultra-nationalism, by affecting the unity of the people. There were similarities between the ideologies of Germany and Japan at that time. There were also profound cultural differences concerning the different motives the Japanese had for supporting extreme nationalism.

The dissolution of the class of the Samurais left 20% of the population without jobs. Many landowners lost everything. Other entrepreneurs began to rise up. This sudden change accentuated the social inequalities in the country. Accusing the political class of treason against the country, the fanatic nationalists assassinated a series of Japanese prime ministers who were pro-westernization. The extremists profited from the social chaos, as in the case of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

In spite of the inequalities and instabilities it brought about, the intense industrialization also brought economic progress. The progress was so great that it caused a demographic explosion. In contrast to Germany, Japan had neither prime materials for industry nor much fertile land for feeding its population. Amongst the Japanese political elite, the belief arose that the economy could not sustain the demographic growth. Japan’s sole chance of survival was military expansion.

The Meiji Restoration, the Japanese enlightenment period, led to an accelerated process of modernization. This was not a natural process. It started with the Japanese fear that they would be colonized by the western powers. In order to avoid becoming a vassal, Japan made up part of its technological lack in just a few decades. This extreme modernization caused profound social problems. The conviction was born that Japan was being betrayed and was in danger of losing its identity. Herein lay the origin of the success enjoyed by the militarist movement.

The first Sino-Japanese war and the Russo-Japanese war were Japan’s first attempts at expansion, from a military and territorial point of view. The main objective was to create areas which were under Japanese influence, not necessarily to directly occupy and govern territories. China and Korea were meant to become satellite states of Japan. Port Arthur and the Liaodong peninsula were to be occupied. Japan came out victorious from both conflicts. This surprised the western world. In spite of categorical victories, Japan’s territorial claims were only partly satisfied, due to the diplomatic intervention of the Great Powers.

In 1923, Japan suffered from an earthquake followed by a devastating tsunami. There were 143,000 casualties. Proving that the process of globalization had begun, the Great Economic Crisis, started in the United States, also affected Japan. These disasters convinced the Japanese political elite that it was time to act. In the middle of an economic crisis, Japan invaded China for the second time and created a satellite state, Manchukuo. Japan’s revisionist interests became more and more different from those of Germany.

Japan fought on the side of the Entente in the First World War. Being on the winning side, it expected to receive territories in Asia which had been held by the European colonial empires. Its requests were only partially respected. Japan received only part of the former German colonies in Asia. From many viewpoints, Japan’s situation was similar to that of Germany and Italy. As in the case of the two European revisionist powers, the Japanese felt cheated and discriminated against. It was time to take its destiny into its own hands, even if this meant using violence.

One year after the signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact, fascist Italy joined the deal. This act was a foreshadowing of the Tripartite Act, which constituted the Berlin-Tokyo-Rome Axis. The Axis powers provoked World War II. The alliance of these revisionist powers had its origin in the Anti-Comintern Pact.

The signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact by Italy was caused by three historical events. The first was the failure of the Stresa Front. England and France’s duplicitous positions displeased Mussolini. He tended towards an alliance with Hitler. Fascist Italy considered that the rebirth of the “Roman empire” could be realized together with the Third Reich.

The third important moment which caused Italy to ally with Germany and Japan was the Abyssinian war. The invasion of Ethiopia by fascist Italy isolated Mussolini from a diplomatic point of view. The Italian victory did not come easily. The army of Abyssinia, today named Ethiopia, resisted for approximately 6 months. It had become clear that Italy needed the German military technology and the military expertise of the Wehrmacht.

Italy sent aid to support Franco’s fascists in the Spanish civil war. Mussolini hoped to obtain a rapid victory and aid the constitution of a new fascist state. In spite of the fact that Italy sent over 50,000 ‘volunteers’, victory seemed far away. The spilling of Italian blood in a prolonged civil war, from which Italy would have nothing to gain in the short-term, increased domestic dissatisfaction.

Out of all the Axis powers, Italy was the weakest, in military and economic issues. Although ‘Il Duce’ carried out a series of economic reforms designed to industrialise the country, Italy lagged behind the other great powers. The modernization of the army was deficient. The great enemy of these reforms was the generalized corruption inside the fascist party. In spite of populist promises, increase in the population’s income could not keep up with the economic growth. Many Italians emigrated and went to America. In the long term, Mussolini’s Italy was an anchor which pulled Nazi Germany down.

Compared with Italy, Japan was in a much better position. By applying the bushido code in all aspects of socio-economic life, national unity had become a reality. Many historians and economists talk about the period begun by the Meiji Restoration, calling it the ‘first Japanese economic miracle’. On a military plane, the Japanese stole a lot of technology from the English. The zeal of the Japanese soldiers had already become legendary. On the other hand, the Japanese had a long way to come to reach the Great Powers. It would have been almost impossible for Japan to offer direct support to Germany if a conflict had broken out in Europe.

Germany was in the middle of great progress. With an intense policy of investment, especially in infrastructure, Hitler managed to pull the country out of crisis. Ignoring the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany began to rearm at a dizzying rate. The great historian, Paul Kennedy, maintained that, at the moment Japan and Italy signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, Germany was spending 17% of its GDP on defense. Germany owned more weaponry than the United States, Great Britain and France put together.

The signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact was not just a symbol for the future constitution of the Axis. The deal also played a very pragmatic role. The democratic powers had adopted a policy of appeasement for fear that an intervention would cause war with Italy and Japan. The leaders of the western democracies hoped that, if they respected Germany’s wishes, they would avoid a new world war.

In Hitler’s vision, the role of women must be limited. Their purpose was summarised in the expression: ‘Kinder, Kirche, Küche’, ie. ‘Children, church, kitchen’. Women must give birth to healthy and racially pure offspring. Nazi organizations for young women were subordinated to the boys’ organizations. During the war, these women helped in tending to the wounded and producing weapons in factories.

After the occupation of Poland, many young female Nazis were incorporated into the ‘Service of the earth’. They had to leave Germany and go to the places conquered by the Nazi army. The Poles were driven out of their own homes by the special SS troops. Their places were taken by the German women who were to support the process of colonization.

Taking advantage of the good faith of the English leaders, Hitler obtained the unification of Germany with Austria, called by historians ‘Anschluss’. The moment, very well planned by the Fuhrer, persuaded the others that through this act, a mistake made at Versailles had been righted. Then came Germany’s claims on a region in Czechoslovakia, in which Germans made up a majority of the population. The great powers decided to give in to these demands through the Munich Accord. This was the peak of appeasement.

The interwar period was marked by a strong pacifist current, especially in France and Great Britain. During this time, people were concerned with avoiding a new total war. The risk of significant victims amongst civilians was invoked, which was eventually proven true. This concern was reflected in the decisions of the English politicians. They promoted a policy of appeasement with Germany.

After he obtained Austria’s independence from Italy, Hitler wanted to unify Germany with Austria. He began skillful diplomatic action, doubled with persuasive domestic propaganda. He managed to convince the leaders of the great powers that ‘Anschluss’ was a natural act, of national self-determination. After obtaining this concession, the German chancellor was enthusiastically received in Austria.

The Sudetenland, a region in Czechoslovakia inhabited by 3.5 million Germans, was Hitler’s next target. He tried to apply the same tactic as in Austria. This time, things were more complicated. In contrast to Austria, Czechoslovakia was well-armed and had a prosperous industry. The great powers had a real interest in protecting it.

The English hoped that these concessions would put an end to German revisionist actions, thus avoiding a new world war. After all, Hitler had obtained the unification of all Germans in one single state. However, Hitler did not see these actions as being full of diplomatic kindness or openness to reasonable negotiation. The dictator interpreted the concessions as acts of weakness and democratic apathy. According to some historians, from certain viewpoints, Hitler was right.

The English policy which tried to satisfy Germany had realistic calculations behind it. The British calculated that a very weak Germany would automatically lead, as had happened before in history, to a hegemonic France on the continent. If Germany was in economic collapse, the entire European economy would suffer.

Hitler sent his demands to Czechoslovakia’s leader. He threatened war if they were not met. He wanted the region to be unified with Germany. At first, the Czechs put up resistance. The great powers called the Munich Conference, where they decided to cede Sudetenland to Germany. Abandoned by all their allies, the Czechs were forced to give up military resistance, and they accepted the evacuation of the Sudetenland.

The French did not intervene in Czechoslovakia. Although during the Rhine crisis, the French army was superior to the German army, the ratio of force was not so easily determined. The United States maintained a foreign policy of isolation. Great Britain did not wish to get involved in a war with Germany, Italy and Japan. England was not in a position to fight on three fronts, neither from a military standpoint nor as regards economics. The British policy of appeasement was an attempt to gain time in which to build up the armed forces again.

During his rule, Hitler employed scientists to produce new devastating weapons. When it became clear that the ratio of force was not in Germany’s favor, the Fuhrer hoped that the discovery of nuclear weapons would change the fate of the war. Besides the nuclear bomb, the German scientists had many projects which were remarkable for that time, for example gas-based weapons, tanks of absurd dimensions and long-range rockets.

Part of the investments made in research paid off. Discoveries were made: the first ballistic rockets, type V1 and V2, the first jet plane engine called the Messerschmitt and the Tabun and Sarin gases, which produced the genocide of millions of Jews. Despite the fact that these were remarkable technological achievements, they were discovered much too late and mattered little in the balance of power.

The Nazis drew up plans for a weapon similar to today’s drones. Project FX 1400 had as its goal the creation of missiles guided by radio signals. This weapon was successfully tested against the Italian warship ‘Roma’. Only two missiles were needed to sink the target. Another promising idea was named ‘Viper’, the first jet plane in the world which could take off vertically. Tens of these aircraft became operational, but they were not used in battle.

The level of absurdity reached by Hitler is best evidenced through his project ‘Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte’. The largest operational tank at the time was the Tiger 1, which weighed 60 tons. The Fuhrer wanted more than this, ordering the construction of a 1000-ton tank, a true force on tracks. It was to be equipped with 6 280-mm cannons, used by the biggest warships, together with 8 anti-aircraft weapons. Realising that there were no roads which could support such weight, the minister of war, Albert Speer, cancelled the project.

No less remarkable were the Nazi technological failures. The ‘Messerschmitt 264’ Bomber, or the ‘Amerika-Bomber’ was designed to hit targets in the United States, carrying out a return trip over the Atlantic Ocean. The sketches which were discovered showed that the airplanes could carry over 6.5 tons of bombs. The prototypes were unable to take off. Other failed projects were acoustic cannons which were supposed to use very strong sound waves, and cannons using compressed wind to take out their targets.

After the Munich accord, Czechoslovakia was forced to cede 11,000 km2 of territory, inhabited by 2,800,000 Germans and 800,000 Czech nationals. Germany offered guarantees concerning the protection of the remaining territory. In truth, it didn’t stop at that. At first, the Germans supported the independence of Slovakia in order to weaken the rest of Czechoslovakia. In the next phase, Nazi Germany entered Prague. Again, the Allies did not intervene.

Only a few days after the Munich Conference, Hitler asked his generals how long it would take to occupy Czechoslovakia and what the military costs would be. In the report he received, the General Staff concluded that the divisions which occupied the Sudetenland would be sufficient. The Nazi leader was certain that the French and English would not start a war over Czechoslovakia.

In order to undermine Czechoslovakia’s ability to resist, Hitler began to work on the disintegration of the country from the inside. He promised the Slovak leaders, Ferdinand Durcansky, Vojtech Tuka and Mach, that Slovakia would become independent, and would have close political and economic ties with Germany.

Hitler gave his word to the Brits that the Sudetenland would be the last piece of territory Germany would annex. From records of government sessions and personal conversations, historians have concluded that Hitler wanted to liquidate the entire country of Czechoslovakia. For this to happen, Germany needed a blitzkrieg victory. A fait-accompli would discourage the intervention of the Great Powers.

In hopes of pacifying the Fuhrer, the Czechs installed a pro-German government, which then began implementing anti-Jewish and anti-communist measures in Czechoslovakia. The leader of Czechoslovakia, František Chvalkovský, met with Hitler in Berlin. Chvalkovsky was threatened that his country would be liquidated if it didn’t withdraw from the League of Nations and drastically reduce its armed forces. Czechoslovakia must join the Anti-Comintern Pact and submit to Germany in all matters concerning foreign and economic policy.

The separatist movements in Slovakia and Ruthenia were getting stronger and stronger. Czechoslovakia decided to repress these groups, arresting the most important leaders. The moment Hitler had been waiting for had arrived. Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, claiming that it was intervening in the aid of the Slovak minority. Hitler demanded the Czechs submit without resistance.

The Tatra mountains pass through the autonomous region of Slovakia. If Hitler had not been able to win the Slovakians to his side, he would have been forced to confront the Czechoslovakian army. The conditions would not have allowed him to obtain an easy victory. Slovakia was an essential strategic location for Germany. Future air attacks towards the east could be launched from there.

Through a very skillful diplomatic and psychological strategy, the German chancellor called the Slovak leaders to a meeting after the German troops occupied Prague. Hitler informed them that Hungarian troops, friends of Germany, were standing ready at the border with Slovakia. If the Slovaks really wanted independence, they must decide very quickly what they would do. Through this blackmail, Nazi Germany obtained absolute control of Slovakia. Not even Hitler’s allies felt safe.

At first, Germany’s objective concerning Poland was limited to the port town of Danzig. Besides its strategic and commercial importance, Danzig also offered a corridor uniting Germany with the region of eastern Prussia. Even before the Nazis, the Weimar Republic had claimed the region. Hitler began negotiations with the Poles in this direction. After repeated refusals, the Fuhrer planned the invasion of Poland. The occupation of Poland was the final straw for the democratic powers. They declared war on Germany.

Hitler contacted the Polish ambassador to Germany. The Germans proposed a new series of bilateral agreements. Germany would guarantee Poland’s borders for 20 years. In exchange, the Danzig region must be ceded. The Nazis offered to build a solid infrastructure, which would pass through the Polish corridor. They requested free passage through this corridor. Poland must join the anti-communist alliance.

The Poles refused Hitler’s proposals. They proposed that the German-Polish guarantee replace the guarantee of the League of Nations. The Fuhrer responded by formulating a secret plan for his army to rapidly occupy Danzig. He was very clear in his instructions. He didn’t want tensions to escalate until the moment when he would be at war with Poland. His success in Austria and Czechoslovakia made him optimistic concerning the reactions of the others.

The German chancellor continued to put pressure on Beck, the Polish foreign minister, concerning ceding Danzig. Even if Hitler’s insistence could be considered suspicious, relations between Germany and Poland remained relatively stable. The reason was simple: the Poles hated the Russians more than they hated the Germans. Germany was the only ally which could efficiently intervene, if the Soviets invaded Poland from the east. Unable to correctly gauge the German intentions, the Polish political elite realised the danger they were in much too late.

The occupation of Czechoslovakia put Poland into a very disadvantageous strategic and military position. Beck requested the aid of England and France. He proposed the formation of an alliance between England, France, the USSR, Romania, Turkey and Poland against Germany. The British refused, since they did not trust Stalin. Chamberlain’s intuition, as British prime minister, was correct. After only a few months, the USSR signed a secret treaty with Germany.

Learning of Beck’s visit to London, the German foreign secretary, Ribbentrop, began the threats. The message was clear: Poland could not hold out between Germany and the USSR. It must sign the Anti-Comintern Pact and give Germany access to the communist borders. Beck was summoned urgently to Berlin to communicate his final decision. If the meeting had been delayed, Germany would have considered that its requests had been denied and Poland would suffer all the consequences.

While Hitler was threatening Poland, Lithuania was in the same situation. Threatened with war, faced with a German ultimatum, Lithuania was forced to cede the Memel region. In compensation, Lithuania received the right to free commerce in the Memel port. The Poles were surprised by this move. It would probably be followed by Germany repeating its open threats concerning Danzig.

By obtaining the Polish corridor, Germany would have regained its eastern borders from before the Treaty of Versailles. It would have meant the final burial of any hope of keeping the peace. Hitler complained that the German minorities were oppressed in Poland and that he was forced to intervene in their defense. The tactics used in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Lithuania didn’t work, and the Poles refused to give in, in the face of German blackmail. Hitler did not understand that Poland had a different history to the other countries.

Even before he came to power, Hitler controlled the educational system and the dissemination of information. He made a real effort to indoctrinate youth. ‘Hitler Youth’ were present at all important parades. Less remembered is the fact that Nazi Germany conscripted minors to fight in the war. At the beginning it was a relatively isolated phenomenon. In the last year of the conflict, the number of ‘boys’ in the army’s database was 8.8 million. Most of these fought a guerilla war, opposing the invasion of the Red Army.

The situation arrived in which the Nazis were promoting youths aged 16-17 to the rank of superior officers, responsible for the fate of an entire battalion, ie between 500-600 soldiers. Officially, ‘Hitler Youth’ was made up of teenagers between 14 and 18 years old. In practice, Hitler gave up this rule, and the situation was reached in which soldiers aged 10 were found on the army lists. Since the main German forces were engaged in the war with the Soviet Union, Germany’s anti-aircraft defense fell into the hands of the Hitler Youth.

The Nazi-Soviet pact was a secret deal between Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR. This pact has remained in history as ‘The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact’, after the names of the foreign secretaries of the two countries. The deal had a considerable impact on the history of international relations. It was at the foundation of the start of World War II. Both countries received guarantees that they would not attack, dividing Central and Eastern Europe into zones of influence.

After the invasion of Czechoslovakia, relations between Germany and the western powers cooled considerably. The Third Reich needed allies. These special conditions determined the unimaginable: Nazi Germany palled up with its deadly enemy, the Soviet Union. Looking back, most historical evidence shows quite a good collaboration between the two totalitarian systems. The propaganda machines of the two countries changed their message overnight, sustaining beliefs opposite to those held until then.

Ideological differences and divergent political interests were great. Due to this, the negotiations went forwards at a very slow pace. Hitler couldn’t afford to lose time. Germany wanted to invade Poland as soon as possible. The operation was only feasible if the Soviets offered guarantees of collaboration. Hitler planned once again to present Great Britain and France with a fait-accompli. The support of the USSR should have discouraged the democratic powers. However, his bluffing game did not work this time.

The most important provisions of the secret deal between Germany and the USSR were those referring to the division of zones of influence. Poland was split between Stalin and Hitler. The Baltic states suffered the same fate: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In the case of war, Finland was also part of the trade. The USSR requested the territory of Bessarabia. The Nazis didn’t object to this.

The alliance between the communists and the Nazis affected other spheres, besides power policies. The secret services of the two states, the NKVD and the Gestapo, collaborated closely concerning information. They facilitated the exchange of prisoners. The Soviets offered the Germans Jews, some of them even communists. The Nazis offered Russian anti-communist fighters and communists who had fallen in disgrace with Stalin.

The German military leaders were convinced that France and England would not risk a large-scale war. In secret, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact engaged the USSR to invade Poland from the east. Hitler hoped to obtain victory in two weeks, showing the world that Poland could not be saved. The scene in Czechoslovakia could repeat itself. From a legal point of view, Germany was responsible for the start of the world war. From a moral point of view, the Soviets also played their part, invading Poland only two weeks after the outbreak of war.

In order to justify the war, the Nazis put in place the ‘Himmler’ plan. This simulated the attack of Germany by the Polish army. In fact, the ‘army’ was made up of 150 prisoners, dressed in Polish military uniforms. The operation was a complete fiasco.

For reasons which have not been clarified to the present day by historians, Great Britain decided to enter the war on Poland’s side. The conflict rapidly escalated into a planet-wide war. Most indications show that Hitler did not want to fight the United Kingdom, at least not that soon. It cannot be completely explained why the English did not intervene for Czechoslovakia, where they had many interests, but they did intervene in Poland.

The Himmler Operation was the act which began the Second World War. The Nazis tried to stage an act of aggression carried out by the Poles, against Germany. A radio station called Sender Gleiwitz was apparently occupied. The Nazi propaganda thus tried to justify the invasion of Poland to international public opinion. It was claimed that 21 attacks were made by the Poles in one night. The mission has remained in history as the Gleiwitz incident.

Before the German invasion of Poland, the entire Nazi propaganda system claimed that the Poles had resorted to ethnic purges in the Danzig region. The most important architects of the Himmler plan were: Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Müller. Alfred Naujocks put the plan into practice. The purpose of the operation was to justify the ‘liberating’ intervention of the Germans in Poland. Hitler hoped that the staged attack would divide the western powers, especially Great Britain and France. The Nazis were sure that there would not be any foreign interference.

The Gleiwitz incident was part of an operation orchestrated by the SS to provoke a conflict. The burning of houses in the Polish corridor and the spread of information maintaining that the Germans would be massacred, were part of a more elaborate plan. On the day he invaded Poland, Hitler held a speech in which he referred to these incidents. In his opinion, Germany’s act of war was just, and was provoked by the Poles.

In order to give credibility to the Himmler Operation, the Nazis arrested Franciszek Honiok, a sympathiser of the Polish cause. He was killed, dressed in Polish military uniform and presented to the press as proof of the attack on the radio station. Impartial observers were not allowed to investigate the German accusations. Very few believed in Poland’s aggression. Hitler went ahead anyway, ordering the beginning of the September campaign, also called Fall Weiss, ie. Case White. The invasion of Poland had begun.

The fate of World War II was played out for Nazi Germany on the eastern front. The analysis of any major war always includes a military aspect and an economic one. Looking at both perspectives, there were two decisive moments which affected this conflict. Hitler’s defeat was caused by military errors during ‘Operation Barbarossa’ and by the entry into the war of the United States. The American participation tipped the balance of material resources. The element of latent power became decisive in any conflict of duration in history.

Germany spent more than 7.415 billion dollars on defense, ie 23.5% of its GDP. In the first stage of the war, Germany had the most sophisticated air force, in second place according to the number of aircraft. The Luftwaffe had 8,295 planes available for war. Only the Soviet Union had more, with 10,382 planes, but they were not as well-equipped, and the pilots lacked rigorous training.

Hitler quickly turned his attention to his former ally and attacked the Soviet Union. With a front thousands of km long, stretched from Leningrad to the Caucasus mountains, Operation Barbarossa was the most ambitions land-based military action in history. Moscow was only 30 km away. The extreme cold and the Russian counter-offensive pushed the Wehrmacht to a distance of 100 km from Moscow. The fatal error was made when Hitler, ignoring the advice of his generals, decided to divide the Army Group South into two branches. This reduced the number of divisions which reached Stalingrad. They were surrounded inside the city and forced to surrender en masse.

From an economic standpoint, Germany was one of the three great powers at the beginning of the war. According to the great military and economic historian, Paul Kennedy, Germany owned 13.2% of the industrial production of the world. Concerning national income, Germany was in fourth place, with 17 billion dollars. The economic growth was slowed by very high military expenditure, and by the fact that Hitler was not able to efficiently administer the vast territories he had conquered. Taxes received and natural resources exploited from occupied regions were quite modest.

The second stage was represented by the tank battle at Kursk. The Wehrmacht, considerably outnumbered, especially in armored vehicles and heavy weapons, was defeated. It became clear to the entire world that the Soviets would march to Berlin. Towards the end of the war, the Axis produced only 18,606 planes, in contrast to the Allies, which had 85,806 planes in its arsenal.

Concerning battles, the first stage of the war was characterised by the rise of the German army, beginning with Poland and ending with Stalingrad. After occupying Poland, Germany gained lightning victories. They have remained in collective memory as Blitzkrieg, and took place against Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and France. Protected by the English Channel, England resisted. Even though the German land army was superior, and the German submarines caused serious problems for the British fleet, the obstacle of the water dashed the Wehrmacht’s attempts to land in Albion.

Historians also talk of other relevant moments which led to Hitler’s collapse. The weakness of fascist Italy, defeated by Greece, caused the Germans to be more actively involved in the Balkans. Forced by circumstances, the Fuhrer decided to invade Yugoslavia. The operation was not a major strategic objective for Germany. Yugoslavia resisted for only 11 days. Due to the massive mobilization of troops, the invasion of the USSR had to be delayed for two months. If it hadn’t been distracted by an insignificant conflict, the German army could probably have occupied Moscow before the beginning of winter.

Japan also had an important role in the defeat of Germany. The Russian secret services managed to discover that Japan did not intend to attack the USSR from the east. Stalin was able to mobilize the bulk of his troops from western Russia and concentrate them in the battle of Stalingrad. If Japan had not chosen to start the war with the United States, a country with a GDP ten times larger, it could have attacked the USSR, occupying a large part of the Siberian region. If he had been fighting on two fronts, Stalin would have been defeated.

The conversation between the German chancellor and the Finnish leader, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, is the only audio recording remaining, in which Hitler was speaking in an informal setting. The Fuhrer was not aware that he was being recorded - he was opposed to this. After approx. 10 minutes, the recording is interrupted. Officer Thor Damen was discovered. Hitler did not order the destruction of the cassette, which remained in the country’s archives. It was re-discovered in 1957, and published one year later.

The calculated way in which the Nazi leader spoke about the failure of Operation Barbarossa is interesting. He acknowledged that the postponement of the offensive was a mistake. He explained however, that various circumstances made a more rapid attack impossible. Firstly, he had to defend his back, and conquer France. He would have liked to attack the French back in 1939, but the rainy weather would have rendered the German weaponry useless. After occupying France, the German war machine needed time to consolidate its power in the west and transport vast numbers of troops to the USSR border.

The defeat of the Italians in North Africa and the situation regarding Yugoslavia, Greece and Albania, were another issue. Hitler understood perfectly that he lost precious time by supporting the Italians. He maintained that he couldn’t abandon Mussolini, in spite of his weaknesses. The opening of a new front in North Africa and the desert battles weakened the German divisions which were preparing for the invasion of the Soviet Union. The German Chancellor claimed that he took into account the extreme weather conditions in Russia, but that he chose the best possible strategy in the situation.

Hitler declared he was shocked by how well-armed the Soviet Union was. The Wehrmacht had managed to destroy around 35,000 Russian tanks up to that moment, and yet Stalin could still continue fighting. The industrial production force of the Bolsheviks was able to replace the losses. The Fuhrer admitted that he had underestimated the force of the Bolsheviks, but he didn’t regret starting the offensive. In his opinion, the Soviet Union had been preparing to invade Europe from the moment it signed the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. The fact that the Soviets were so well armed was clear proof.

The Fuhrer also spoke about the importance of Romanian oil. He drew attention to the final meeting with the Soviet foreign minister. According to him, Molotov had expressed a wish to occupy Romania as early as 1940. Hitler refused, and negotiations were abruptly stopped. The German chancellor feared that the occupation of Romania by the Soviets would have meant a decisive defeat for Nazi Germany, which would be left without reserves of oil, vital for the German war machine.

The image of an irrational dictator, created by the recordings in which Hitler addressed the multitudes, was shattered. The leader who was behind a genocide in which over 6 million Jews were killed, carried out a rational and very calculated dialogue with Mannerheim. From the discussion, it is clear that Hitler was perfectly aware that he had lost the war, naming the main causes. The recording suggests that Hitler was a pragmatic and cool opportunist. The Nazi ideology was more a method of propulsion for him, a means for manipulating the masses.

Hitler considered that the invasion of the Soviet Union was a preventive war. He identified Moscow as the main danger for the whole of Europe. Acknowledging that important strategical errors had been made, the Fuhrer maintained that he did not regret the decision to invade the Soviet Union, even though it seemed that the war had been lost. The German chancellor firmly believed that he had no choice, since the delay in the attack gave the Soviets the opportunity to build up their weaponry even more. In a very short time, the Soviets would have become unstoppable, capable of invading Germany.

The bombing of Dresden was another controversial episode in the history of Nazi Germany. The Allies organized a strategic bombing of the city, even though this was not an industrial center capable of furnishing the Fuhrer with weapons. Estimates vary depending on the source, but between 35,000 and 135,000 civilians were killed in less than 48 hours. As in the case of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some historians have considered that the bombing of Dresden was unjustified.

When the German aviation was annihilated, the Allies decided to organize strategical bombing. This involved the destruction of Germany’s industrial centers, thus destroying the Nazi’s ability to rearm. The main objective was the demoralization of the troops. It was hoped that this would force a rapid unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. Firebombs were used, which caused many civilian victims. Hitler was the first to use this kind of tactic when he invaded Poland and bombed London.

At the moment of the Dresden bombing, Hitler had lost all hope. On the western front, the Ardennes offensive had failed. In the east, the Bolsheviks had crossed the Oder River, and were 50 km from Berlin. Before the war, Dresden was called ‘The Florence on the Elba’ because its architecture and historic monuments were reminiscent of the renaissance town. Since the Fuhrer had concentrated his remaining troops in the defence of Berlin, Dresden was poorly defended. This did not stop the Allies launching approximately 2,500 tons of bombs in just two days.

The battle for the defence of Berlin was the last bastion of Nazi resistance. When the troops of the Red Army approached his bunker, Hitler decided to commit suicide together with his mistress, Eva Braun. His most loyal officers received his last order. In order to avoid being mocked by the Russians, his body was incinerated by German soldiers. Thus, the odyssey of the Third Reich ended, an empire which was supposed to last for a thousand years, according to Nazi propaganda, but which only lasted 12.

The offensive in the Ardennes was the last card played by Hitler. He ordered a massive counter-attack, made up of elite troops, on the western front. Unfortunately for him, Germany’s resources were exhausted. A significant proportion of his soldiers were minors, hardly even teenagers. The plan was one step away from success, with the Allied defenses strongly shaken. After six weeks of intense fighting, the Wehrmacht’s attack was repelled.

There were several attempts made to murder Hitler. The most famous assassination attempt was made by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a veteran from the North African front, who was appreciated by the German chancellor. The operation was called Valkyrie, after one of the dictator’s favorite melodies. Instead of helping the cause and taking Germany out of the war, the failed assassinations increased Hitler’s popularity. Attacked by his close associates, he created a tragic and heroic aura for himself, at the very time when he had lost a large part of the support of the masses.

The phenomenon of desertions from the Wehrmacht was a reality. This was discouraged by mass executions. Tribunals were organized which could declare capital punishment on the spot. These tribunals became mobile at the end of the war, sending German soldiers to death straight from the front. These trial committees gave sentences even after the official surrender of Nazi Germany.

There were also attempts to convince Hitler to accept unconditional surrender, but his decision remained unmoveable. Germany would not repeat the mistakes of the past, and accept the conditions imposed by the Jews. The German people would fight until their self-destruction. The effects of the propaganda could be seen through the stubbornness which characterized the fighting of the German army in a lost war. The fanaticism shown by most of the German people, from officers to clerks, can only be explained by the Nazi propaganda.

Besides the fact that Hitler held absolute power in a totalitarian system, there are various explanations for the German refusal to surrender. The political elite close to him were divided. Some were willing to negotiate, while others wanted to surrender on the western front. A third group supported Hitler regardless. The Allies would only have accepted an unconditional surrender, and would not entertain the possibility of the Germans continuing the war with the USSR.

Realizing they had committed crimes against humanity, the Nazi officers knew they would be executed after the war. They had every interest in preferring death during conflict. Seeking revenge for their own doom, they intensified their crimes against civilians, even against Germans. The rate at which Jews were killed increased by a terrifying amount for this reason. Hate caused by defeat was concentrated mostly on this ethnic group. Many Nazis no longer had anything to lose and chose to destroy as many lives as possible together with their own.

The German people were aware that a Soviet occupation of their country would be the equivalent of an apocalypse. The decision to continue the war can be explained through realistic reasoning. Even those who sincerely hated Hitler and all that Nazism represented, took part in the war. The total war, in which the entire society was involved, erased the importance of ideologies. Very few still believed in the Nazi propaganda. The war was no longer about Hitler versus Stalin. It came down to the survival of Germany. The German citizens’ feeling of duty to the country prevailed. National pride was stronger than any rational policy.

In causing a new war on two fronts, Germany had to acknowledge defeat. The mistakes made in the eastern campaign wiped out the elite of the German army. In contrast to World War I, the stubbornness of the Fuhrer did not permit an armistice which would have saved many lives. Together with human losses, most of the civil economy was destroyed. The Holocaust had left a black mark in the history of the Germans. It sabotaged any natural diplomatic relations with the civilized world, for a significant period of time. Germany was split into four occupation zones. Those in the east waited almost half a century to be reunited with their relatives.

The battle for the defence of Berlin was filled with dramatism. Several thousand German soldiers, the last remnants of defeated battalions, tried to resist two million troops from the Red Army. Battles were fought street by street. Many teenagers died defending their own homes. Reports left behind show a huge wave of suicides. Many brief documents written in Hitler’s last days lead to the same conclusion. The defeat of the Third Reich left many people without any hope in life. The German people’s tragedy was complete.

After the war, those who had committed crimes against humanity were tried by a special tribunal. The Nuremberg Tribunals have remained in history due to the fact that all the important Nazi leaders were condemned there. Hess, Raeder and Funk were condemned to life in prison. The political elite from Hitler’s close circle were executed: Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Rosenberg, Frank, Frick, Streicher, Seyss-Inquart, Sauckel and Jodl. Hermann Goering and Himmler managed to commit suicide before the execution. A significant proportion of the German officers did not conceive of the possibility of falling into the hands of the Soviets. Estimates speak of 3,881 suicides during the last month of the war.

The Red Army destroyed 506 German divisions. Ten million soldiers from the German Army fell victims to war - dead, wounded or missing. The victory was also very costly for the Russians. They lost between 20 and 25 million lives in the war. The revenge of the Bolsheviks was cruel. Testimonies concerning massacres of German soldiers and rapes of women were abundant. The accusation, partially justified, that the invasion of the USSR facilitated the spread of communism in Europe, has remained in collective memory.

After Hitler’s death, in accordance with his will, Admiral Karl Donitz took over the leadership of what was left of the Wehrmacht. Donitz decided to save what was left of the troops on the eastern front, which he did with a certain measure of success. By accepting surrender on the western front, he won himself time. One quarter of the army managed to retreat before the Red Army could capture them and deport them to Siberia. Approximately 700,000 soldiers surrendered to the democratic powers, since the treatment received from them was much more humane. The Allies refused to negotiate a separate peace. Donitz was forced to accept unconditional surrender.

These sad events hide a positive side too. If Nazi Germany had not started World War II, the international scene would not have become bipolar. The special conditions of the Cold War favored the sincere reconciliation of the western powers. The alliance between France and Germany was built on the ruins of the war. In spite of all the things it did not accomplish, the European Union maintained peace in western Europe, which became the most peaceful region in the world.

Shortly after surrender, Germany was split into four occupation zones, governed by the United States, France, Great Britain and the USSR. Due to certain economic problems, the United States took over the French and British zones. In their occupation zone, the Soviets installed a communist regime, the German Democratic Republic. After a totalitarian Nazi regime, the Germans in the east were forced to survive a new totalitarian regime, this time communist. Their attempts to cross over to West Germany were blocked by the famous Berlin Wall. The suffering of the German people was far from over.

Besides the loss of lives, the USSR’s economy was also destroyed by the war. Paul Kennedy’s estimations speak volumes. Stalin lost 7 million horses, 20 million pigs and 137,000 tractors. A total of 4.7 million houses were destroyed, representing 50% of inhabited buildings in urban areas. The infrastructure was destroyed. 65,000 km of railway lines were blown up by the Germans in retreat. In exchange for these immense damages, the Soviets destroyed all they could. Germany lost even the final elements of its economy which hadn’t been destroyed in the conflict. Entire factories were disassembled and sent to Soviet Russia.

Hitler was the most written-about historical figure. Controversies among historians are not limited to factual happenings. The archives of Nazi Germany were captured, offering an immense volume of material for analysis. The intentions of the architect of the Third Reich are what have stirred up the greatest passions in debate. There are two main camps. The first, and largest, consider that Hitler was a malefic person. The criminal Nazi ideology was what led to war. The second opinion, shared by many intellectuals outside the historical discipline, claims that Hitler, in his foreign policy, simply continued the tradition maintained by Germany up until that time. The German chancellor followed the imperative of realpolitik, the fight for power.

The most important debate, which continues to this day, asks whether Hitler created Nazi Germany, or if Nazi Germany created a dictator like Hitler. Those holding to the first belief consider that Hitler’s intentions were clear. Rainer Zitelmann considered Hitler to be a political thinker who was much more revolutionary than his other contemporaries. Germany’s economic reform was thanks to the German chancellor. The second opinion is based on the fact that Hitler was not the main actor. Antisemitism, hate, violence and extremism were widespread in that time, and had been since the 19th century.

Another fundamental work about Hitler belongs to William Shirer. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich explores the idea of the role of the individual in history. Without Hitler’s strong personality, the Third Reich would not have existed. Other important historians such as Frederick Heer and Eberhard Jäckel also follow this idea. The Nazi ideology began to be formed in Hitler’s youth. Hitler remained faithful in respecting it, right up to the end.

Alan Bullock, in his work: Hitler: A study in tyranny held to the idea that Hitler was an unscrupulous opportunist. Hugh Trevor-Roper had a different interpretation. He claimed that the Fuhrer was a person who firmly believed in what he said, and was convinced that he was representing the German public. From this perspective, the German chancellor was a fanatic who rose to power due to the inability of other parties to effectively oppose him. At present, the second perspective has prevailed. Hitler came to believe religiously in the Nazi ideology.

Another German historian, Joachim Fest, had the courage to claim that if Hitler had died in 1938, he would have remained in collective memory as a great leader of Germany. John Toland, an American journalist, conducted a series of interviews with people who had had personal contact with Hitler. His conclusions were that the Fuhrer had an incredible power in marking the lives of all the people around him. Even the shortest of meetings with him created very strong impressions, negative or positive.

The historian Ernst Nolte interpreted the success of Nazism amongst the German people as something almost natural. The phenomenon can be explained as a reaction of self-defence against the rise of Bolshevism. Andreas Hillgruber proposed the idea of the dual war. Up until the invasion of the Soviet Union, ideology didn’t matter. The war in Europe was a traditional war. However, once Operation Barbarossa was launched, ideology took a central role. John Mearsheimer, founder of the theory of offensive realism in international relations, considered that Nazi Germany, in essence, was no different from the Germany of before, or even than the other great powers.

The Origins of the Second World War and Europe, grandeur and decline are the works of British historian A.J.P. Taylor, which have provoked the most heated debates. For the first time, Hitler’s political abilities were acknowledged. From Taylor’s point of view, both world wars were the result of Germany’s attempts to obtain continental hegemony. As such, Hitler was not the main guilty party. Except for his odious crimes on a domestic plane, Hitler was nothing special. He followed the German expansionist policy in seeking the best opportunities. The German population was the main culprit for Hitler’s rise.

Historians have tried to answer a series of questions concerning Nazi Germany. Were Hitler’s abilities the main cause of his rise to power? Was he a malefic or a great leader? Was he a cheater who tricked the whole world, or a fanatic who led Germany to ruin? Was Hitler’s rise inevitable? Could the world war have been avoided? Was the Fuhrer psychologically sound, or was he a rational and opportunistic leader? Why are so many people fascinated by Hitler, even today? Can we objectively study his life? Faced with these questions, historiography has given different answers. The simple passing of time will always create new historical interpretations of the past.