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The Beginning of German Aggression in 1933

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 3, 2012

The Beginning of German Aggression in 1933

In flat defiance of the Versailles Treaty, Hitler ordered Germany to begin rebuilding its military shortly after he became chancellor. Rearming began in 1933 and escalated in 1936 as part of Hitler’s plan to begin a war of aggression in which he would restore Germany to its mythical imperial glory. In concrete terms, his plan in the late 1930s was to create a culturally and ethnically German empire in central Europe, and to annex an undetermined number of the smaller Eastern European states.

Germany moved into the Rhineland and occupied it in 1936. In 1938, the German army invaded and annexed Austria (the Germans referred to this event as the Anschluss, or “union”), and in 1939, Czechoslovakia. Other European nations watched with concern, but there was no popular support anywhere for another war with Germany. Hitler was therefore allowed to proceed almost unchecked, and he proved he was entirely capable of effective intimidation tactics against anyone who did object. The next step required forming an alliance with the Soviet Union.

Secretly, Hitler and Stalin signed a nonaggression pact with two major provisions. First, neither nation would attack the other. Second, both nations would invade Poland from opposite sides and divide it between them. Stalin’s motive was to recover Polish territory that had been under Russian control before World War I. Hitler’s motive was to recover a stretch of formerly German territory known as the Danzig Corridor.

Danzig was an important port city on the Baltic; the fifty-mile-wide Danzig Corridor provided overland access to it. The Versailles Treaty had declared Danzig a free city and had given the corridor to Poland, thus separating East Prussia geographically from the rest of Germany. Hitler intended to take over the corridor and the port, thus reuniting the German state into one landmass. Of course, the invasion of Poland would also allow the German army direct overland access to the Soviet Union—something the usually distrustful Stalin apparently had not considered.

Britain and France were agreed that Germany could not be permitted to upset the balance of power by taking over all of Eastern Europe and had formally guaranteed Poland’s sovereignty. Hitler’s closest associates, knowing of the agreement, had tried to dissuade him from provoking a war against the Allies by invading Poland, but Hitler refused to listen to them, considering the agreement a bluff. He promptly realized his mistake: Britain and France declared war on Germany immediately after the German invasion of Poland.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

World War II in Europe Practice Test

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