World War I was over. The united forces of Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States of America - the Entente - defeated the armies of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire - the Central Powers.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed. In this treaty, Germany was forced to demobilize, to make substantial territorial concessions and pay damages to the countries which were part of the Entente.
Concerning the domestic reaction in Germany, public opinion viewed the treaty with anger and even hostility from the moment it was made public. The Germans did not consider themselves responsible for starting the war.
Adolf Hitler became the leader of the Nazi Party. In virtue of his dynamism and aided by his oratorical abilities, Hitler began to win the sympathy of the Germans.
While in prison, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, which in English is called My Struggle. It was originally called Four and a Half Years (of Struggle) Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice. In this book, Hitler was clearly demonstrating his intention to transform German society, based on the racial principle.
After the end of World War I, both Germany and the Soviet Union were in a state of diplomatic isolation from the rest of the world. The two countries signed a treaty at Rapallo in which they reestablished diplomatic relations. The Soviets and the Germans also reached a secret agreement at Rapallo in which the Russians allowed the Germans to carry out military tests on USSR territory. In exchange, the Germans trained a number of Soviet officers in military academies in Germany. Also, Germany gave the Soviet Union economic assistance in its industrialization process.
With the signing of the Peace Treaty at Versailles came the problem of enforcing conformation to the treaty, and beginning the process of disarming and demilitarization, especially of Germany. It was desired that this process would be coordinated by the League of Nations. In the Locarno conference, France and Great Britain offered guarantees of security to Czechoslovakia and Poland. Although in this treaty Germany promised to respect France’s borders, it did not offer the same guarantees to Poland and Czechoslovakia.
European efforts to sign a common security treaty came to fruition in the signing of the Briand-Kellogg Pact, although the pact ultimately failed in its mission of outlawing war.
The improvements in Germany’s position were completely wiped out by an unforeseen event: The Wall Street Crash.
The president of the German Republic, Paul von Beneckendorff und Hindenburg, declared Hitler Chancellor of Germany. This event was an important victory for Hitler, since he had gained power.
The Deutschland Pact was a secret agreement made between Adolf Hitler and the head of the German armed forces, General Werner von Blomberg. Through this deal, the army was committed to support Hitler in assuming total power in Germany.
Hitler began to revise the Treaty of Versailles. Many Germans believed that Hitler was only trying to reinstall order. No one took measures against him or against his political decisions.
The rhythm of the Hitlerist aggression grew exponentially as the German dictator gained confidence. During this time, the German generals withdrew from the political decision-making process. A major step in the militarization of Germany was the decree for the creation of the German air force, called Luftwaffe.
Hitler violated the terms of the Treaty of Versailles by sending troops into the industrial region of the Rhine. This, according to article 180 of the Paris Peace Treaty, had been designated a demilitarized zone. If the French and British forces stationed nearby had resisted the German army, the latter had orders to retreat. Such a retreat would almost certainly have cost Hitler his position as chancellor. However, the western powers were eaten up with guilt at having imposed what was described as an unjust peace on the Germans. Thus, they allowed the Germans to enter the Rhineland without putting up resistance.
The international situation was characterized by a tension which got stronger and stronger after Italy invaded Ethiopia.
After the Italian attack on Ethiopia, an alliance was formed between Germany, Italy and Japan.
Another event which contributed to the outbreak of World War II was the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. This broke out due to internal dissatisfaction amongst the factions in the Spanish army.
Germany actively intervened in the Spanish Civil War. Hitler sent the Condor Legion to Spain, a unit composed of over 12,000 ‘volunteers’. To this legion were added Luftwaffe fighter planes. Hitler sent these forces to support his fascist counterpart, General Francisco Franco. In the meantime, Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italy was sending armed forces which, by the end of the war, added up to a total of 75,000 men.
Hitler unleashed his militaristic policy on his neighbors. This policy was especially carried out on countries containing a significant population of ethnic Germans close to the borders of the Reich. The fact that it was all part of a much more ambitious plan was demonstrated by the minutes of a reunion called by Hitler at the Reich Chancellery. The meeting lasted almost four hours. It was called with the intention of dispelling any illusions held by the leaders of the general staff concerning the direction of his plans.
Hitler’s plans troubled Generals Werner von Blomberg and Werner von Fritsch. The latter even intended to delay his planned vacation. It was possible that, working together, Blomberg and Fritsch could have hindered Hitler in finalizing the last stage of his plans. However, von Blomberg was forced to resign from his important position. He resigned after it was discovered that his new wife, Margarethe Gruhn, who was 35 years younger than him, had modelled for a pornographic catalogue, made by a Czech Jew, with whom she had lived. Margarethe Gruhn was also found on a register of known prostitutes held by the Berlin police.
Hitler’s next preoccupation was the annexation of Austria. Anschluss was the Nazi propaganda term for the invasion and forced annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany.
Nazi Germany, profiting from the pacifistic attitude of the western states, progressed to the next step. It handed a note to the representatives of Great Britain and France, in which it informed them that ‘the right moment for the guaranteeing of the territorial status of Czechoslovakia must be left to Germany’s appreciation’ and that ‘no interference of the western powers in this part of Europe will contribute to the organization of peace.’ Thus, the door was opened through which Germany would annex the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia.
German troops occupied what was left of Bohemia and Moravia, in Czechoslovakia. Hitler entered in triumph through a depressed Prague. The Chamberlain cabinet was left without explanations and excuses, especially since, during that month, Hitler had denounced the pact of nonaggression he had signed with Poland five years earlier.
The last political act before the outbreak of war was the signing of the nonaggression pact between the USSR and Germany. The pact was signed by the foreign affairs ministers of the two countries, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov.