The Causes of the Second World War


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 Treaty of Versailles
Out of all causes of World War II, the desire of Adolf Hitler to recover the territory that had been taken from Germany as the result of the Treaty of Versailles was undoubtedly the primary one. 
Hitler had successfully taken control of Austria and Czechoslovakia by early 1939, when Britain and France reversed their previous policy and decided they would declare war if Germany attacked Poland.

Hitler, not surprisingly, thought they were bluffing, and signed an agreement with the Soviet Union in late August that divided up Poland and the Baltic states.
Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939.
Hitler's invasion of Poland provided an excuse for Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany, and World War II had begun.

Soviet Troops - Lwów - 1939
The Soviet military, on 17 September 1939, also invaded Poland.
The invasion ended on 6 October 1939 with the division and annexing of the whole of the Second Polish Republic by Germany and the Soviet Union.
Interestingly, Britain and France did not declare war on the Soviet Union.
Under the terms of the Polish-British Common Defence Pact of 25 August 1939, the British had promised assistance if a European power attacked Poland.
A secret protocol of the pact, however, specified that the European power referred to was Germany.

Ideologies, Doctrines, and Philosophies

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
German Communist Party
The internationalist minded, radical Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in November 1917 and subsequently supported attempts to set up similar regimes elsewhere, with brief success in Hungary and Bavaria.
This caused many central and western Europeans (and Americans) to fear that a violent Communist revolution would overwhelm their own countries.
Beginning in 1919 the victorious Entente Powers established a cordon sanitaire of border states on Russia's western frontier in the hope of quarantining Communism in Russia.
Both Italian Fascism and German National Socialism were in part a reaction to international communist socialist uprisings, in conjunction with justified nationalist fears of the Slavic empire.

Munich Friekorps - 1919
A further factor in Germany was the success of Freikorps (voluntary paramilitary groups of discharged soldiers) in crushing the Bolshevik Bavarian Soviet Republic in Munich in 1919.
Many of these veterans became early components of the National Socialist SA, which would be the party's troops in the street warfare with the Communist armed militia in the decade before 1933.
The street violence would help shift moderate opinion towards the need for Germany to take a firm anti-Communist stance in order to restore stability to German life.

Großgermanisches Reich Deutscher Nation
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It was the intention of the national Socialists to create a 'Großgermanisches Reich Deutscher Nation' (Greater Germany), which was intended to unite the German people under one nation state, which included all territories where German minorities were to be found.
Germany's pre–World War II ambitions in both Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia mirror this goal.
After the Treaty of Versailles, an Anschluß, or union, between Germany and a newly reformed German-Austria was prohibited by the Allies.
Such a plan of unification, pre-dating the creation of the German State of 1871, had been discarded because of the Austro-Hungarian Empire's multiethnic composition as well as competition between Prussia and Austria for hegemony.
At the end of World War I, however, the majority of Austrian Germans supported such a union.

Problems with the Treaty of Versailles

As World War I ended in 1918, France, along with the other victor countries, were in a desperate situation regarding their economies, security, and morale.

Paris Peace Conference - 1919
The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 was their chance to punish Germany for starting the war.
Germany was charged with the sole responsibility of starting World War I.
The 'War Guilt Clause' was the first step towards a satisfying revenge for the victor countries, namely France, against Germany.
France understood that its position in 1918 was “artificial and transitory”.
Thus, Clemenceau, the French leader at the time, worked to gain French security via the Treaty of Versailles.
The two main provisions of the French security agenda were reparations from Germany in the form of money and coal, and a detached German Rhineland.
The French government printed excess currency, which created inflation, to compensate for the lack of funds in addition to borrowing money from the United States.

French Occupation of German Territory
Reparations from Germany were necessary to stabilize the French economy.
France also demanded that Germany give France their coal supply from the Ruhr to compensate for the destruction of French coal-mines during the war.
Because France feared for its safety as a country, the French demanded an amount of coal that was a “technical impossibility” for the Germans to pay back.
France wanted the German Rhineland demilitarized because that would hinder any future German attack.
This was intended to give France a physical security barrier between itself and Germany.
The inordinate amount of reparations, coal payments, and the principle of a demilitarized Rhineland were viewed by the Germans to be insulting and unreasonable.
The Treaty of Versailles was neither lenient enough to appease Germany, nor harsh enough to prevent it from becoming the dominant continental power again.
The treaty wrongly placed the blame, or "war guilt" on Germany, and Germany for its "responsibility" rather than working out an agreement that would assure long-term peace.
The treaty resulted in ridiculously harsh monetary reparations, separated millions of ethnic Germans into neighboring countries, territorial dismemberment, caused mass ethnic resettlement and caused hyperinflation of the German currency.

Inflationary Weimar Reichmark
The Weimar Republic printed trillions of marks, and borrowed heavily from the United States to pay war reparations to Britain and France.
The treaty created bitter resentment towards the victors of World War I, who had promised the people of Germany that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points would be a guideline for peace; however, the US played a minor role in World War I and Wilson could not convince the Allies to agree to adopt his Fourteen Points.
Many Germans felt that the German government had agreed to an armistice based on this understanding, while others felt that the German Revolution of 1918–1919 had been orchestrated by the "November criminals", and in particular Friedrich Ebert, who later assumed office in the new Weimar Republic.

Friedrich Ebert
Contributing to this, following the Armistice of 1918, Allied forces, including those of the American Army, occupied the Rhineland as far east as the river with some small bridgeheads on the east bank at places like Cologne.
Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 the occupation was continued.
The treaty specified three occupation Zones, which were due to be evacuated by Allied troops five, ten and finally 15 years after the formal ratification of the treaty, which took place in 1920, thus the occupation was intended to last until 1935.
The German overseas colonies were taken also during the war, and Italy took the southern half of Tyrol after an armistice had been agreed upon.

The German Reaction to Treaty of Versailles

No postwar German government believed it could accept such a burden on future generations and survive.
Paying reparations is a classic punishment of war but in this instance it was the extreme immoderation that caused German resentment.
Germany was required to make its last World War I reparation payment on 3 October 2010, ninety-two years after the end of World War I.
Germany also fell behind in their coal payments.
In response, the French invaded the Ruhr, the region filled with German coal, and occupied it.
At this point the majority of Germans were enraged with the French, and placed the blame for their humiliation on the Weimar Republic.

Adolf Hitler - 1923
Munich Putsch - 1923
In response, Adolf Hitler, the leader of the NSDAP, attempted a coup d’état, known as the Munich Putsch, in 1923, against the republic,  to establish a Greater German Reich.
Although this failed, Hitler gained recognition as a national hero amongst the German population.
The demilitarized Rhineland and additional cutbacks on military infuriated the Germans.
Although it was logical that France would want the Rhineland to be a neutral zone, the fact that France had the power to make that desire happen merely added on to the resentment of the Germans against the French.
In addition, the Treaty of Versailles dissolved the German general staff and possession of navy ships, aircraft, poison gas, tanks, and heavy artillery was made illegal.
The humiliation of being dominated and abused by the victor countries, especially France, and being stripped of their prized military made the Germans resent the Weimar Republic, and idolize anyone who stood up to it.

Hitler's Foreign Policy

Adolf Hitler addressing the Reichstag
League of Nations
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Hitler's diplomatic strategy was to make reasonable demands for the return of German territories and German minority populations, threatening the possibility of war if such demands were not met.
When opponents tried to appease him, he accepted the gains that were offered, but continued to demand the return of outstanding territories and populations.
This strategy worked as Germany pulled out of the League of Nations (1933), rejected the Versailles Treaty and began to re-arm (1935).
In 1935 Germany won back the Saar, in 1936 Germany re-militarized the Rhineland, in 1938 Germany was re-united with Austria, and occupied Czechoslovakia as a result of the Munich Agreement, and finally Germany took back territory which had been ceded to Poland in September 1939.

The Re-militarization of the Rhineland

The re-militarization of the Rhineland by the German Army took place on 7 March 1936 when German military forces entered the Rhineland.
This was significant because it overturned the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties, marking the first time since the end of World War I that German troops had been in this region.
Long before 1933, German military and diplomatic elites had regarded the Rhineland's demilitarized status as only temporary, and planned to re-militarize the Rhineland at the first favourable diplomatic opportunity.
All through the 1920s and the early 1930s, the Reichswehr had been developing plans for a war to destroy France and its ally Poland, which by their necessity presumed re-militarization of the Rhineland.
In March 1933, the Defence Minister, General Werner von Blomberg had plans drawn up for re-militarization.
General Ludwig Beck's memo of March 1935 on the need for Germany to secure lebensraum (living space) had accepted that re-militarization should take place as soon it was diplomatically possible.
In general, it was believed by German military, diplomatic and political elites that it would not be possible to re-miltarize before 1937.
In early 1936, the British Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden had secretly unveiled a plan for a "general settlement" that was intended to resolve all of Germany's grievances.
Eden's plan called for a German return to the League of Nations, acceptance of arms limitations, and renunciation of territorial claims in Europe in exchange for re-militarization of the Rhineland, return of the former German African colonies and German "economic priority along the Danube".
As such, the Germans were informed that the British were willing to begin talks on allowing the Rhineland to be re-militarized in exchange for an "air pact" outlawing bombing, and a German promise not to use force to change their borders.
Eden defined his goal as that of a "general settlement", which sought "a return to the normality of the twenties".
During January 1936, the German Chancellor and Führer Adolf Hitler decided to reoccupy the Rhineland. Originally Hitler had planned to re-militarise the Rhineland in 1937, but chose in early 1936 to move re-militarization forward by a year for several reasons, namely the ratification by the French National Assembly of the Franco-Soviet pact of 1935 allowed him to present his coup, both at home and abroad, as a defensive move against Franco-Soviet "encirclement"; the expectation that France would be better armed in 1937; the government in Paris had just fallen and caretaker government was in charge; and because the Italo-Ethiopian War, which had set Britain against Italy, had effectively broken up the Stresa Front.
Not long after dawn on March 7, 1936, nineteen German infantry battalions and a handful of planes entered the Rhineland.
They reached the river Rhine by 11:00 a.m. and then three battalions crossed to the west bank of the Rhine.
When German reconnaissance learned that thousands of French soldiers were congregating on the Franco-German border, General Blomberg begged Hitler to evacuate the German forces.
Hitler inquired whether the French forces had actually crossed the border, and when informed that they had not, he assured Blomberg that they would wait until this happened.

Adolf Hitler Addressing the Reichstag - 7 March 1936 
On 7 March 1936 Hitler announced before the Reichstag that the Rhineland had been re-militarized, and to blunt the danger of war, Hitler offered to return to the League of Nations, an "air pact" to outlaw bombing as a way of war, and a non-aggression pact with France, if the other powers agreed to accept the re-militarization.
In his address to the Reichstag, Hitler began with a lengthy denunciation of the Treaty of Versailles as unfair to Germany, claimed that he was a man of peace who wanted war with no-one, and argued that he was only seeking "equality" for Germany by peacefully overturning the "unfair" Treaty of Versailles.
When German troops marched into Köln (Cologne), a vast cheering crowd formed spontaneously to greet the soldiers, throwing flowers onto the Wehrmacht.
In Germany, the news that the Rhineland had been re-militarized was greeted with wild celebrations all over the country.
To capitalize on the vast popularity of the re-militarization, Hitler called a referendum on 29 March 1936 in which the majority of German voters expressed their approval of the re-militarization.
An overwhelming majority of voters genuinely chose to vote yes when asked if they approved of the re-militarization.

The Austrian Anschluß

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The Anschluß was the 1938 re-union of Austria and Germany.
Historically, the Pan-Germanic idea of creating a 'Greater Germany' to include all ethnic Germans into one nation-state was popular for Germans in both Austria and Germany.
It was at its peak just after World War I, when both new constitutions declared German Austria as a part of Germany.

Engelbert Dollfuss
Such an action was expressly forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles, nevertheless, Germany pressed for the Austrian National Socialist Party's legality, played a critical role in the assassination of Austrian chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, and applied pressure for several Austrian national Socialists to be incorporated into offices within the Austrian administration.
One of the National Socialist Program's points was "We demand the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany on the basis of the people's right to self-determination."
Adolf Hitler an Austrian German by birth stated in his book 'Mein Kampf' that he would create union between the two German states, his native birth country Austria and Germany.

Austrian Anschluß - Salzburg
Kurt Schuschnigg
Following a speech by Adolf hitler at the Reichstag, Dollfuss' successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, made it clear that he could be pushed "no further".
Amidst mounting pressures from Germany, he elected to hold a plebiscite, hoping to retain autonomy, however, just days prior to the balloting, a successful Austrian National Socialist takeover transferred power within the country.
The takeover allowed German troops to enter Austria as "enforcers of the Anschluß".
Consequently, no fighting occurred as most Austrians were enthusiastic for the Anschluß, and Austria ceased to exist as an independent state.
Britain, France and Italy, who all had vehemently opposed such a union, did nothing.

The Sudetenland

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During World War I, what would later be known as the Sudetenland experienced a rate of war deaths higher than most other German speaking areas of Austria-Hungary and exceeded only by German South Moravia and Carinthia.
Thirty-four of each 1,000 inhabitants were killed.
After World War I, Austria-Hungary broke apart.
Late in October 1918, an independent Czechoslovak state, consisting of the lands of the Bohemian kingdom and areas belonging to the Kingdom of Hungary, was proclaimed.

President Woodrow Wilson
The German deputies of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia in the Imperial Council (Reichsrat) referred to the Fourteen Points of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, and the right proposed therein to self-determination, and attempted to negotiate the union of the German-speaking territories with the new Republic of German Austria, which itself aimed at joining Weimar Germany.
However, this was not permitted, and the German-speaking parts of the former Lands of the Bohemian Crown remained in a newly created Czechoslovakia, a multi-ethnic state of several nations: Czechs, Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, Poles and Ruthenians.
On 20 September 1918, the Prague government asked the United States's opinion for the Sudetenland. President Woodrow Wilson sent Ambassador Archibald Coolidge into Czechoslovakia.
Heim ins Reich
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After Coolidge became witness of German Bohemian demonstrations, Coolidge suggested the possibility of ceding certain German-speaking parts of Bohemia to Germany and Austria, however, the American delegation at the Paris talks, with Allen Dulles as the American's chief diplomat who emphasized preserving the unity of the Czech lands, decided not to follow Coolidge's proposal.
Immediately after the Anschluß of Austria into the Third Reich in March 1938, Hitler made himself the advocate of ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia, triggering what was then termed the "Sudeten Crisis".
The following month, Sudeten National ocialists, led by Konrad Henlein, agitated for autonomy.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain later met with Adolf Hitler in Berchtesgaden on 15 September and agreed to the cession of the Sudetenland; three days later, French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier did the same.
No Czechoslovak representative was invited to these discussions.
Chamberlain met Hitler again in Bad Godesberg on September 22 to confirm the agreements.
Hitler, however, also required the immediate military occupation of the territories, giving the Czechoslovak army no time to adapt their defence measures to the new borders.

Liberation of the Sudetenland - 1938
Liberation of the Sudetenland - 1938
To achieve a solution, Benito Mussolini, Duce of Italy, suggested a conference of the major powers in Munich and on September 29.
At that meeting Hitler, Daladier and Chamberlain agreed to Mussolini's proposals, and signed the 'Munich Agreement', accepting the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland.
The Czechoslovak government, though not party to the talks, promised to abide by the agreement on September 30.

Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren
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The Sudetenland was returned to Germany between October 1 and October 10, 1938.
The Czech part of Czechoslovakia was subsequently annexed by Germany in March 1939, with a portion being turned into the 'Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren' (Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia).
The Slovak part of Czechoslovakia declared its independence, becoming the Slovak Republic (Slovak State), and became an ally of the Third Reich.
The Ruthenian part of Czechoslovakia was annexed by Hungary.
Part of the borderland of Czechoslovakia was also invaded and annexed by Poland.

Sudetenland as Part of the Third Reich

Konrad Henlein
Wappen Reichgau Sudetenland
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The Sudetenland was initially put under military administration, with General Wilhelm Keitel as military governor.
On 21 October 1938, the annexed territories were divided, with the southern parts being incorporated into the neighbouring Reichsgaue Niederdonau, Oberdonau and Bayerische Ostmark.
The northern and western parts were reorganized as the Reichsgau Sudetenland, with the city of Reichenberg established as its capital.
Konrad Henlein (now openly a NSDAP member) administered the district first as Reichskommissar (until 1 May 1939) and then as Reichsstatthalter (1 May 1939 – 4 May 1945).
Sudetenland consisted of three political districts: Eger (with Karlsbad as capital), Aussig (Aussig) and Troppau (Troppau).
On 4 December 1938 there were elections in Reichsgau Sudetenland, in which 97.32% of the adult population voted for NSDAP.

 Karl Hermann Frank
About a half million Sudeten Germans joined the NSDAP, which was 17.34% of the total German population in Sudetenland.
As a result the Sudetenland was one of the most pro-National Socialist regions of the Third Reich.
Because of their knowledge of the Czech language, many Sudeten Germans were employed in the administration of the ethnic Czech Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as well as in government organizations (Gestapo, etc.).
The most notable was Karl Hermann Frank: the SS and Police general and Secretary of State in the Protectorate.


Wappen Memel
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The Memel dispute was a post-World War I dispute regarding sovereignty over the former German Prussian territory of Memelland.
Its seizure by Lithuania was eventually approved by the so-called great powers (England, France and USA).
Before World War I, Memelland, an area on the Baltic Sea located to the north of the Neman (Memel) River, belonged to Prussia.
A portion of its population, particularly outside the port city of Memel, however, was Lithuanian; and after the war the newly formed state of Lithuania requested that the Allied Powers at the Paris Peace Conference grant it possession of the Memel territory (March 24, 1919).
The Allied Powers did detach Memelland from Germany (Versailles Treaty; Article 99); but rather than annex the region to Lithuania, whose political situation was then unstable, they assumed direct control over the area, appointed a French administration to rule it, and only in the fall of 1922 created a special commission to review the status of Memelland.
When that commission displayed sympathy for a plan, supported by German and Polish interest groups, to transform Memelland into a free state, Lithuanian inhabitants of the region formed a Committee for the Salvation of Lithuania Minor, gained the support of numerous volunteers from Lithuania proper, and on Jan. 9, 1923, announced at Heydekrug that they were taking over the government of Memelland in order to unite the region, as an autonomous unit, with Lithuania.
By January 15 the Lithuanian forces had gained control over the entire district, including the city of Memel.
The Allied Powers sent formal notes to Lithuania protesting against this action, but their Ambassadors’ Conference decided on February 16 to place Memelland under Lithuanian control.
The subsequent negotiations concerning the nature of the union and control of the port continued inconclusively until December; and only after the matter was referred to the League of Nations did Lithuania reach an accord with Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan (the member states of the Ambassadors’ Conference) and sign the 'Memel Statute', which officially made Memelland an autonomous region within Lithuania, outlined the governmental structure of the territory, and also established an administrative body for the port of Memel.
The Memel Statute remained in effect until March 23, 1939, when Lithuania was forced to accept a German ultimatum, demanding the return of Memelland.


Coat of Arms of the Polish Republic
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The annexation of Poland, was also known as the Polenfeldzug 'Poland Campaign' or 'Fall Weiss' (Case White) was an annexation of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the beginning of World War II in Europe.
The German annexation began on 1 September 1939, while the Soviet invasion commenced on 17 September 1939.
The campaign ended on 6 October 1939 with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland.

Sender Gleiwitz
The German annexation was in response to the Überfall auf den Sender Gleiwitz which was an attack by Poles on 31 August 1939, against the German radio station 'Sender Gleiwitz in Gleiwitz', Upper Silesia, Germany.
The Polish aggression against Germany in was seen as a justification for the subsequent annexation of Poland.
On 8 October, after an initial period of military administration, Germany directly annexed western Poland and the former Free City of Danzig, as the reunification of the German Reich was the main aim of the attack on Poland.
The remaining block of territory that had consisted of Poland was put under the administration of the newly established 'Generalgouvernement'.
The Generalgouvernement was an occupied area of the Second Republic of Poland that was under the rule of the Third Reich for the duration of World War II, from 1939 to early 1945.
The German government designated the territory as a separate administrative region of the Third Reich.
It included much of central and southern Poland, western Ukraine, and included the major cities of Warsaw, Kraków, and Lviv.
Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, the region of Eastern Galicia, formerly Polish territory which was invaded and annexed by the Soviet Union was incorporated into the Generalgouvernement.
Hitler decreed that large parts of the newly occupied territory were to be annexed directly to the German Reich to increase its Lebensraum.
Most of these areas were organized as two new Reichsgaue, Danzig-West Prussia and Wartheland.
The remaining three regions, the areas of Zichenau, Eastern Upper Silesia and the Suwalki triangle were attached to adjacent Gaus of Germany.
Measures were then introduced to facilitate their immediate Germanization.
The remaining parts were to become a German 'Nebenland' (March, borderland) as a frontier post of German rule in the east.
The Generalgouvernement was established by the Führer's decree of October 12, 1939, which came into force on October 26, 1939.
Hans Frank was appointed as the Governor-General of these occupied territories.
In March 1941 Hans Frank informed his subordinates that Hitler had made the decision to "turn this region into a purely German area within 15–20 years. The Generalgouvernement must become as German as the Rhineland."
By 1942, Hitler and Frank had agreed that the Kraków ("with its purely German capital") and Lublin districts would be the first areas to be repopulated with German colonists.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013