History of Germany between the Wars!
Although Germany had started the World War I, she was defeated and surrendered before the Allies on 11 November 1918.
William II, the German Emperor, ran away to Holand. A Provisional Government under Friedrich Ebert, a saddler and leader of the Social Democrats, as Chancellor was proclaimed at Munich.
In February 1919, a Democratic National Assembly was elected to prepare a democratic constitution. The constitution framed by the National Assembly is known as the Weimar Constitution of 1919. It provided for a republican form of Government and Ebert became the first President of the German Republic. He continued to occupy that office till 1925.
The first task of the new German Republic was to negotiate the treaty with the Allies. The terms offered by the Allies were so harsh that it was difficult to accept them. However, when the Allies gave an ultimatum, the German Republic had to submit and ultimately on 28 June 1919 was signed the Treaty of Versailles by the representatives of Germany. It is rightly maintained that the victors of 1918 did not show much wisdom when they imposed very severe terms on the new Republican regime in Germany.
They ought to have imposed very lenient terms on Germany and thereby helped the new democratic regime in that country to take roots into the soil. The harshness of the terms weakened the foundations of the newly-born democracy in Germany and thereby facilitated the establishment of dictatorship under Hitler. Germany had traditions of autocracy but that autocracy was defeated in 1918.
If the Allied statesmen desired the establishment of democratic traditions in Germany, they ought to have treated her leniently in 1919. Another mistake made was that Germany was obliged “to accept the responsibility of Germany and her Allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the War imposed on them by the aggression of Germany and her Allies.”
The German representatives were forced to sign the treaty containing the war-guilt under a threat of renewal of war and thus the war-guilt clause lacked moral binding. It was a blunder to incorporate such a clause in the treaty. While it brought no material advantage to the victors, it created bitter resentment in Germany. The futility of the clause becomes obvious when it is remembered that not only Germany but other countries were responsible for the World War I.
Another mistake committed by the Allies was that they publicly arraigned “William II of Hohenzollern, former German Emperor for a Supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties”. William II was to be tried by a court of five judges to fix the punishment. The Allied Governments requested the Government of Holland to hand over William II to them but the latter refused on the ground that it was contrary to international usage to surrender a political refugee.
If the Dutch Government had accepted the request and handed over William II to the Allied Governments, that would have complicated matters. The trial of William II would have raised his prestige in Germany and made him a national hero and martyr. The attitude of the Dutch Government was a blessing in disguise. By another article of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany had agreed to hand over to the Allied military courts for trial any persons in Germany accused by the Allies of having “committed acts in violation of the laws and customs of war”.
The list prepared by the Allies included a large number of German personalities, e.g., Crown Prince of Germany, Field Marshal Hindenburg, Ludendorff etc. The Germans refused to hand over the persons included in the list. Ultimately, a compromise was arrived at by which the German Government agreed to bring 12 of the accused before the Supreme Court at Leipzig. The trial took place in 1921 in which the Allied Governments acted as the prosecutors. Six of the accused were convicted and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.
- The New German Republic
- Germany had to face a great financial crisis
- Dawes Plan
- The Young Plan
- Rise of Hitler
- Foreign Policy of Hitler
- Hitler and Austria
- The Saar Plebiscite (1935)
- German Re-militarisation
- Anglo-German Naval Agreement (1935)
- Re-militarisation of the Rhineland
- Hitler and Spain
- Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis
- Annexation of Austria (1938)
- Munich Crisis (1938)
- Annexation of Czechoslovakia (1939)
- Mamel (1939)
- Poland (1939)
1. The New German Republic:
The new republic of Germany was threatened from the Right and the Left. On 13 March 1920, Dr. Kapp and General Luttwitz unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the German Republic. Ebert’s Government was successful in crushing the monarchist movement. The Communists and Independent Socialists clashed in 1920 with the Government troops and there were as many as 10,000 casualties.
They were ruthlessly suppressed. In November 1923, Adolf Hitler proclaimed the overthrow of the Republic and announced himself as the president of Germany. The rebels paraded the streets of Munich but the revolt was crushed.
The Treaty of Versailles had provided that the Rhineland was to be permanently demilitarised and occupied by the Allied troops for 15 years. Although the United States did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles, the American troops remained in the Rhineland up to 1923.
The attitude of the Allied troops belonging to the various powers occupying the Rhineland was not the same. While English troops established very friendly relations with the German people, the French troops tried to dominate them and put on airs of conquerors in a hostile land. The French troops had also a detachment of coloured soldiers and this was very much resented by the Germans who described it as the “black shame.”
The treaty of Versailles had provided that if Germany voluntarily defaulted in her obligations, the Allied Powers could undertake definite reprisals against her. Raymond Poincare, a native of Lorraine, bitterly hated the Germans. In 1923, he became Prime Minister of France. He examined the records of payments which were required to be made by Germany and found that Germany had defaulted in timber, telegraph poles, coal, cattle, etc.
That information was sent to the Reparation Commission for necessary action. The German Government maintained that the default was temporary and un-voluntary, but that did not satisfy France and Belgium. In spite of the protests of the British representative, it was decided to take action against Germany and consequently French and Belgian troops entered the Ruhr valley.
The Ruhr valley was the very heart of German Industry as it produced about 80 per cent of the coal, iron and steel of the country and was responsible for about 70 per cent of its commercial railway traffic. Its occupation was bound to result in the economic dislocation of Germany. However, the Germans were helpless and they resorted to a policy of passive resistance. They refused to cooperate with the foreign invaders and the result was that factories and mines were deserted.
The essential services of the State came to a standstill. Local officials refused to carry out the orders of the invaders. The newspapers refused to publish the commands of the Commanders. The Germans were cruelly treated but that did not help the invaders to secure their cooperation. Germany refused to pay reparation. It is rightly contended that “two men have united German people—Bismarck in 1870 and Poincare in 1923.”
The occupation was disastrous both for France and Germany. France lost the goodwill and cooperation of Great Britain. The occupation created a lasting bitterness in the minds of the German people towards France. It completed the economic collapse of Germany. Thousands of Germans were thrown out of employment and many of them died of starvation. The French troops were withdrawn in 1924 when Harriot came to power in France after the fall of Poincare. Gustav Stresemann, the Chancellor of Germany from 1923 to 1929, also helped to bring about a compromise between the two countries.
An attempt was made by the French Government to set up a separatist state in the Rhineland called the “Revolver Republic.” The discontented workers and radicals, released convicts and rowdies from all over Germany were imported into the Rhineland and encouraged to proclaim the region independent. This move of the French Government was very much resented by the British Government and ultimately the French Government was forced to withdraw her support from it. As the whole movement was fictitious and had no popular support, it soon collapsed.
2. Germany had to face a great financial crisis:
The value of the German Mark began to fall. By the middle of 1920, it fell from its normal value of 20 Marks to the pound sterling to about 250 to the pound. By November 1921, it reached the figure of 1,000 to the pound. In the summer of 1922, it fell to 3,500 Marks to the pound. There were many causes for this abnormal inflation. The most important cause was the unsound financing of the World of the World War I.
The German Government was so much confident of its victory in the war that it collected only four per cent of the total war cost of 171,000 million Marks by taxation and the rest was raised by inflation. A large amount of paper currency without gold backing was printed and this process was continued. Another cause was the reduction in Germany’s gold supply.
Whatever purchases were made from the neighboring countries during the War had to be paid for in gold and that resulted in the exodus of gold to the tune of 12,000 million Marks. The cost of maintaining the armies of occupation also necessitated inflation. The German view was that reparation payments were responsible for inflation.
Until 1923, the transfers of money were not enough to affect the monetary situation, but the occupation of the Ruhr valley drove the currency situation out of control. During this period, Germany printed vast quantities of paper money.
As the presses of the Government were not able to satisfy the demand, the Government had to get the help of additional presses to print paper currency. Inflation was also due to the deliberate plan of the great industrialists to cancel their own indebtedness and evade reparation payments.
The depreciation of the Mark was not without effects. It produced a false sense of prosperity. There was lot of industrial activity. A large number of factories were set up and there was no unemployment. However, after some time those who possessed real wealth refused to exchange it for paper Marks.
The merchants and farmers refused to sell their things. Millions of people were threatened with starvation. The depreciation of the Mark also produced a deficit in the national trade. There was a general liquidation of loans and savings. Debtors pursued their creditors and paid off their debts in the worthless paper currency. The clever speculators and industrialists gained.
The financial chaos demanded drastic measures. The German Government issued new “rentenmark” with an exchange value of 23.8 cents. The Rentenbank was established. Provision was made for the surrender of old paper currency at the rate of one billion old paper Marks for one rentenmark.
3. Dawes Plan:
It was under these circumstances that the Dawes Committee was appointed to examine the question of payment of reparations by Germany. After a detailed examination of the question, the Committee made its recommendations.
Full economic and fiscal sovereignty was to be restored to Germany and the Ruhr Valley was to be evacuated. A Central Bank of Issue was to be established for the payment of reparations. The Bank was to have a monopoly for the issue of paper currency for fifty years.
The amount of annual payments to be made by Germany was also fixed. It was to vary according to the index of prosperity of that country. Germany was to be given a foreign loan of 800 million gold Marks. A foreigner was to act as an Agent-General to supervise the execution of the Dawes Plan and he was to be assisted by a Transfer Committee. Gilbert was appointed the Agent-General.
The Dawes Plan had many merits. It fixed the amounts which Germany could pay in favourable circumstances. It separated the question of payments from the question of transfers. It gave the creditors security of certain specified revenues. It removed the question of reparation from politics.
It was to be treated as an ordinary commercial debt. The question of reparations was taken away from the hands of the Reparation Commission and was handed over to an impartial agent for reparation payments. However, the Plan had certain shortcomings. Although it fixed the annual payments to be made by Germany, it did not fix the number of years for which the payments were to be made.
That did not give the Germans an incentive to save. It gave Germany the money with which she could make the reparation payments. Germany borrowed money from the United States and paid to her creditors. The result was that she cleared off one debt and created another.
The prosperity which was created by the Dawes Plan was an artificial one. In the words of Gilbert, “As time goes on and practical experience accumulates, it becomes clearer that neither the reparation problem, nor the other problems depending upon it will be finally solved until Germany had been given a definite task to perform on her own responsibility without foreign supervision, and without transfer protection.”
4. The Young Plan:
The Dawes Plan was supported by the Young Plan in 1929. According to it Germany was to make 37 annual payments, at the rate of 100 million a year. In addition to that, she was to pay 22 smaller annual payments. By the final reduction and fixation of the German debts, by the establishment of progressive scale of annuities and by the facilities which the new Bank afforded for lessening disturbance in the payment of annuities, the Young Plan set the seal on the conclusion of German debts in the list of international settlements.
It involved an appreciable reduction of payments to the creditor-countries on what might have been expected under the Dawes Plan and were equally inimical to the interests of the debtor and to the creditors by substituting a definite settlement under which the debtor knew the exact amount of his obligations. The Allied Troops were completely withdrawn from the German soil soon after the coming into force of the Young Plan in 1930.
With Sir Austen Chamberlain, the British Foreign Secretary and Briand, the Foreign Minister of France, Stresemann drew up treaties of Locarno in 1925. The Franco-German Treaty declared the frontier between the two countries to be permanent.
It pledged both the states to resort to arbitration instead of war for the settlement of any future dispute. Similar treaties were concluded between Germany and Czechoslovakia, and Germany and Poland. The Treaty between Germany and France was guaranteed by Great Britain and Italy. The signing of the Locarno Treaties was followed in 1926 by the admission of Germany to the League of Nations and a seat on its Council.
In 1926, Briand and Stresemann met at Thoiry near Geneva. Stresemann begged for the immediate evacuation of the Rhineland and return of the Saar to Germany, offering in return concession in the form of reparation payments. The French Government was not prepared for this drastic extension of the time limits fixed by the Treaty of Versailles. Stresemann’s offer of a large capital payment of reparation amounts was financially impracticable. No wonder, nothing came out of these conversations.
President Ebert died in 1925 and he was succeeded by Field Marshal Hindenburg. He was a hero of the World War I and was nearly 80 years old. He was a soldier, and unlike many German politicians of that time, a man of honour. He remained faithful to the republic which gained in stability during his Presidency. Under Hindenburg and Stresemann, Germany maintained the reparation payments due under the Dawes Plan.
As the Dawes Plan was not working well, it was succeeded by Young Plan. From the autumn of 1929, the world was faced with an economic crisis and Germany was also adversely affected by the same. During the year 1932, Hindenburg first made Von Papen the Vice Chancellor and then allowed General Schleicher to overthrow him and succeed him as Chancellor.
Early in 1933 Von Papen made an alliance with Hitler with a view to overthrow Schleicher, and urged Hindenburg to choose Hitler as his next Chancellor, hoping that he would be a mere tool. Hitler actually became Chancellor on 30 January 1933. It was the end of Von Papen and beginning of Hitler’s triumphs.
5. Rise of Hitler:
President Hindenburg who was opposed to Hitler and had given the following assurance to Gergor Strasser. “I gave my word of honour that Bohemian Corporal will never be Chancellor. I will make him Postmaster and he can lick my face hundred times a day.” In spite of that, Hitler was appointed the Chancellor by Hindenburg and that was due to many causes.
Germany was badly humiliated by the Peace Settlement of 1919. It was impossible for a proud nation like Germany to forget the loss of her colonies and other concessions in various parts of the world. Her military strength was completely crushed. Her navy was practically wiped out. She was saddled with such a huge war indemnity that it was practically impossible for her to pay.
The Allied troops continued to be stationed on the German soil up to 1930 and they had to be provided for by Germany. The unhappy behaviour of the French troops who put on airs of conquerors, created a lot of bitterness. All this created an atmosphere which was exploited by Hitler to come to power.
Hitler’s own character also helped him to come to power. He was a politician who possessed great resourcefulness. He was a great orator who could control and influence audiences of millions of people. His technique of propaganda helped him to carry the audience with him. He thundered. He asked for blood.
He infused politics with a religious fervour. He was a fanatic in his views and was able to hypnotise all those who came to hear his speeches. The result was that his followers began to swell and ultimately he was led to power.
The character of the German nation also helped him. Most of the people of Germany were not democratic at heart. They cared more for that party which could give them security and glory than for freedom as such. They were sick of the treachery and cowardice of the Republican politicians who had brought the country to ruin. The Germans wanted a strong man who could take them out of the mess which had been created by the politicians since 1919. Hitler promised them and they flocked to him.
The declining fervour of Protestantism in Germany indirectly led to the rise of Hitler. Having lost their enthusiasm in religion, they were in search of some other job of devotion. The Republican regime in Germany was not able to win over their devotion and they found the job in the National Socialism of Hitler.
That added to the strength of Hitler’s party and his followers. Hitler gave to German nationalism a new life which had been eclipsed by the defeat of 1918. The Germans felt humiliated after the events of 1918 and they wanted a strong man who could raise them in the eyes of the world. Such an assurance was given by Hitler and he was accepted by the people.
Hitler was most vocal about the injustices of the treaty of Versailles. He denounced its provisions in the strongest possible terms. The more he did so, the greater became his popularity with the people who wanted somebody who could interpret their inner feelings to the world. They found in Hitler the man they wanted and that helped him to come to power.
Hitler gave to the Germans a high-sounding programme of 25 points which was a catalogue of promises and promised something to every group of the German nation. He promised protection of property from the communists.
He promised protection of labourers against exploitation. He promised protection to consumers against producers. He promised protection to small business men against corporations. As he promised something to everybody, he was able to secure the support of a large number of people.
The miserable economic condition of the country also helped the rise of Hitler. Both the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan failed to solve the economic problems of Germany. In 1919 there started the world-wide economic depression and Germany was also affected. Chancellor Bruning failed to tackle the problems of the country and his Government was styled as “the starvation government.”
The number of the unemployed began to increase. There was a lot of economic distress in the country which was exploited by Hitler. In the words of F.L. Schuman, “The disaster begot 6,000,000 unemployed and general bankruptcy and impoverishment.
Jobless workers flocked to the Communist Party, desperate burghers and peasants joined the NSDAP or Nazis, who’s hysterical. Further promised prosperity, pride and power through the overthrow of the Weimar Jew Republic and the establishment of glorious Third Reich to be based upon anti-Marxism and Semitism and anti-capitalism and misty National Socialism.
Industrialists and Junkers subsidised the brown-shirted Nazi Storm Troopers hoping to make use of them against Communists, Socialists, the trade unions and other threats, real or imaginary, to property and privilege.”
The above factors were exploited to the maximum by Hitler and his followers began to multiply. With that, his strength and popularity also grew in the country. This is proved by the increasing number of seats captured by the Nazi party from 1924 onwards. In December 1924, the Nazi party won only 14 seats.
In 1930 Hitler polled 6,000,000 votes and secured 107 seats. In July 1932, he more than doubled the number of votes and the seats, securing nearly 14 million votes and 230 seats. In March 1933, he won 288 seats.
President Hindenburg dismissed Burning from Chancellorship and appointed Von Papen as Chancellor. When Von Papen found that he could not maintain law and order in the country he resigned. He was succeeded by General Schleicher. Early in 1933 Von Papen made an alliance with Hider to overthrow Schleicher and urged Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as the Chancellor. Hitler actually became Chancellor on 30 January 1933.
On the death of Hindenburg in 1934, he got himself elected the President of Germany and thus combined in himself the offices of the Chancellor and the President till his death in 1945. He abrogated the Weimar Constitution and himself became the Dictator of Germany.
From 1933 until his death in 1945, Hitler was supreme in Germany. The first half of this period was spent in preparing for war and war itself occupied the second half His internal policy was authoritarian and totalitarian in every sense. Both economics and finance were controlled by the state. Rigorous and ruthless measures were adopted to improve the industrial situation. Unemployment was met by turning the unemployed into labour corps and by an enormous programme of armaments.
In the political sphere, all organised opposition soon disappeared. The Jews who were the first object of persecution proved incapable of resistance in Germany and were expelled, deprived of their rights and cowed into silence or submission. However, Hitler met with sub born opposition both from the Protestants and Catholic churches. The most uncompromising opposition came from the Protestant Pastors.
To begin with, the Roman Catholic Bishops were inclined to support Hitler in his fight against Bolshevism. However, both the churches stood firm against Nazi attempts to coerce them into approving the new racial theories as defined in the “Nuremberg laws” of September 1935. Those decrees deprived the Jews of all citizen rights, forbade their marriages with Aryans and virtually excluded them from the official, political and cultural life of Germany.
In 1937, the Church was deprived of the control of its finances. All action on the part of the Protestant opposition was forbidden. Participation in the church affairs was made illegal. During the summer, a large number of Protestant Pastors were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Prominent among them was Pastor Niemboller who was arrested and imprisoned on a charge of “misuse of pulpit and incitement to disregard the laws of the German Government.”
In spite of protests from outside Germany, the persecution of both Catholics and Protestants continued, but did not succeed in exterminating either of them. As a matter of fact, the moral authority of both churches increased in Germany.
The position of the Jews in Germany further deteriorated. In April 1938, a decree was issued by which all Jews in Germany were ordered to declare their property in excess of 5,000 Reichmarks (£250 approximately). Towards the end of October 1938, the first mass expulsion of the Polish Jews began.
The murder of Von Rath, a member of the German Embassy in Paris, by a young polish Jew gave Hitler an excuse for barbarous attacks on Jews throughout Germany. The Times wrote on 11 November 1938, “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings of black-guardly assaults upon defence-less and innocent people which disgraced that country yesterday.” The indignation in the United States was so great that President Roosevelt recalled the American ambassador to Washington to report.”
All this had no effect on Hitler. Further measures against the Jews were decreed and they were deprived of all their movable and immovable property. It was made impossible for them to resort to any economic activity.
It was contended that the object of those measures was to impoverish them and turn them into a criminal class and then to “extirpate them with fire and sword” as criminals. A secret police organisation called the Gestapo was formed to deal promptly and severely with the slightest indication of opposition to or even criticism of the Government.
Liberty disappeared completely. Newspapers were censored or suppressed. The teaching in schools and universities was made to conform with the views of the Nazi officials. Broadcasting was controlled in the interests of the Nazi party. The people were expected to spy and inform against one another.
The workmen were to inform against employers, neighbours against neighbours, brothers against brothers and children against parents. The Nazi view was that the supreme duty of every individual was to the state and not any other individual or organisation.
Hitler proclaimed the superiority of the German race over all others. People with non-Aryan blood were deprived of the rights of citizenship and were excluded from all professions and the public service.
Hitler withdrew Germany from the Disarmament Conference in October 1933 and from that time onwards, the programme of rearmament was pressed on. In March 1935, conscription was introduced. The German Air Force was revived and it increased rapidly. Submarines, destroyers, cruisers and battleships were built for the German navy.
Likewise, aeroplanes, guns, tanks, shells and all kinds of equipment were pressed on. After the re-occupation of the Rhineland in March 1936, the Siegfried Line of fortifications was constructed on the German side of the Franco-German frontier opposite to and parallel with the Maginot Line on the French side.
6. Foreign Policy of Hitler:
The rise of Hitler to power shocked the people of Europe who had not forgotten his utterances from time to time and also what he had stated in a Bible of the Nazi party. The real objective of his foreign policy lay in the South and East of Europe. It was there that German nationalism hoped to fulfill her objective. It was felt that Germany had a growing population and it was only that region which could give her more space to accommodate that population.
That region was thinly populated by races which could not make full use of the potentialities of that region. It was also maintained that that region was economically complementary to Germany. It was rich in coal, oil and wheat which Germany required for her development.
As things were, it was not possible to exploit fully the resources of that region. While Austria had coal, she did not have grain. Hungary had grains, but no factories. Rumania had ores and oil but she had no markets.
The best results could be achieved only after one political power was established in the whole region and that role was intended to be played by Germany under Hitler.
The pursuit of such a foreign policy soon after his coming to power in Germany would have created trouble. All the enemies of Germany could have joined hands and all prospects of success would be doomed once for all. To avoid such an eventuality Hitler decided to follow a policy of caution. He would like to do all that lay in his power to remove the suspicions of his neighbours.
He declared in unequivocal terms that Germany was determined to follow a policy of peace. Even if she would like to get the treaty of Versailles revised, that was to be done by peaceful means. Hitler decided to consolidate his position at home and make friends among the neighbours.
To quote him, “The German Government and the German people are united in the will to pursue a policy of peace, reconciliation and understanding as the foundation of all decisions and all negotiations.” In January 1934, Germany entered into a non-aggression pact with Poland for 10 years. So far as the motives of Germany in making that pact were concerned, it was felt that such a pact would be a good conclusive proof of the peaceful intentions of Germany.
Hitler had shocked and antagonized Western Europe and he feared the isolation of his country. If Germany wanted to advance southwards she must make peace with her Eastern neighbour. Polish friendship was purchased by giving her a guarantee for 10 years Hitler felt that he could not win over the Soviet Union on account of his persecution of the Communists and the Jews.
Austria was also hostile as she feared her own security from the Czechoslovakia was considered to be too small to be bothered about. No wonder, Hitler decided to enter into a friendly pact with Poland. Poland had also her own reasons to join the pact. She had an uneasy time from 1919 to 1934. The German minorities had proved too much of a headache for her.
It was felt that a treaty with Germany would silence the German minorities and Poland would be safe from the perpetual nuisance. Moreover, Poland had become suspicious of France whose ally she had been for the last many years. It was felt in Poland that there was a tendency on the Part of France to subordinate the interests of Poland with a view to guarantee her own security.
The attitude adopted by France on the occasion of the Locarno Pact of 1925 and the Four Power Pact of 1933 could be pointed out to prove their contention. As both the parties hoped to gain by the pact the same was signed. However, as the events of 1939 show, it was merely a stop-gap arrangement so far as Germany was concerned. She had no intention of permanently guaranteeing the frontiers of Poland and to be on friendly terms with her. As a matter of fact, the World War II started on the question of Poland.
7. Hitler and Austria:
Hitler was an Austrian by birth and that partly explains his interest in the affairs of Austria. The Austrians were also Germans and they had been kept separate from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles as the Allies did not want to create a very strong and powerful Germany which could be a perpetual source of danger to the peace and security of Europe. However, Germany would like to annex Austria and with that objective in view. Hitler encouraged the Nazi agitators in Austria to capture the Government. No wonder, their agitation increased day by day.
There was a wholesale condemnation of the Austrian Government by the broadcasts issued from Germany. Leaflets were distributed in large numbers throughout the length and breadth of Austria. Money and arms were also smuggled into Austria. The Austrian Government could not be expected to remain idle in the face of these provocations. No wonder, the Nazi party in Austria was suppressed in June 1933 by the orders of the Government.
The Government of Austria remained firm against German pressure on account of the backing of Mussolini and other powers. Both Great Britain and France were determined to maintain the independence of Austria and they joined hands with Mussolini to make representations to the German Government. The Italian Government also subsidised the Heimwehr which was considered to be bulwark of the independence of Austria.
In spite of this, the Nazis in Austria revolted in July 1934 occupied the Federal Chancery and were successful in fatally wounding Dollfuss, the Austrian Chancellor Their chances of success were not many as they were not supported by the people of Vienna. When the revolt failed, Hitler declared that the he had absolutely no hand in the whole affair.
8. The Saar Plebiscite (1935):
With a view to compensative France for the losses suffered by her during World War I she had been given by the Treaty of Versailles the right to occupy and exploit the Saar for 15 years. However it was provided that after the lapse of that period, a plebiscite would be held under the auspices of the League of Nations with a view to allow the people of the Saar to decide for themselves whether they would like to go back to Germany or not.
Such a plebiscite was arranged in January 1935. About 5 lakhs of people cast their votes and more than 90 per cent of them voted for Germany. Hence the Saar was handed over to Germany on 1 March 1935. The recovery of the Saar added to the resources of Germany. It also proved the effectiveness of the Nazi techniques of propaganda.
9. German Re-militarisation:
On 16 March 1935, Hitler declared that Germany was not bound by the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles and the peace strength of the German army would be 36 Divisions or 5½ lakhs of men The German army was to be raised by conscription which was also against the provisions of the treaty of Versailles. In April 1935, there was an agreement at Stresa among Great Britain, France and Italy to form a “united front” against German aggression.
10. Anglo-German Naval Agreement (1935):
In June 1935, Hitler entered into a Naval Agreement with Great Britain by which Germany agreed to limit the size of her Navy to 35 per cent of the strength of the British Navy. By this agreement, Hitler was able to remove the suspicions of Great Britain and win her to his side.
However, this agreement was against the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles which required Germany to maintain a much smaller naval force than that allowed by the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. This agreement was a master-stroke of Hitler’s diplomacy.
11. Re-militarisation of the Rhineland:
The Treaty of Versailles had demilitarised the Rhineland. It had been specifically provided that no German troops were to be stationed in that region. These provisions were considered to be essential for the safety and security of France and Belgium. However, in March 1936, Hitler denounced the Locarno Treaties and German troops marched into the Rhineland.
While this action of Hitler was condemned by all, his own defence was that France herself was to be blamed for it. It was she who had entered into a military pact with Soviet Russia in May 1935 and as Germany regarded that alliance to be directed against her, she was justified in occupying the Rhineland.
However, it cannot be denied that after the German occupation of the Rhineland, France became exposed to German attack. The same was the case with Belgium. At the time of the occupation of the Rhineland, Hitler made many offers to the Western Powers for a compromise.
He offered to demilitarise the German territory on the German side of the border to the same extent to which Belgium and France were prepared to demilitarise on their side of the border. He also offered to enter into another Locarno Pact.
He also expressed his willingness to enter into a non-aggression pact with his Eastern neighbours. However, nothing came out of those offers. Hitler was absolutely insincere in all that he was doing. His only object was to keep the people busy at a time when he had shocked them by his action. The result was that Hitler was able to have his way and no action was taken against him.
12. Hitler and Spain:
A Civil War broke out in Spain in 1936. The Republican Government of Spain was helped by the Soviet Union and General Franco and his followers were held by Hitler and Mussolini. They got a large number of volunteers from Germany and also a lot of war material with which they were able to overthrow successfully the Republican Government. Great Britain and France followed a policy of neutrality and that helped both Hitler and Mussolini.
13. Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis:
In 1936, Germany entered into an anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. In 1937, Italy also joined the pact and thus the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis came into being. Germany and Japan came together as both of them were opposed to Communism.
Japan had left the League of Nations on account of her condemnation by the League of Nations on the issue of conquest of Manchuria. So far as Mussolini was concerned, he opposed Hitler in 1934 on the question of Austria. However, things changed after Italian intervention in Abyssinia.
It was during the Abyssinian war that Mussolini was condemned by the Western Democracies. They also enforced economic sanctions against Italy. Hitler adopted a friendly attitude towards Italy on the question of Abyssinia. It was this friendly act which brought Mussolini to the side of Hitler. Not only the two dictators agreed to cooperate with each other, Mussolini also agreed to give Hitler a free hand in Austria.
14. Annexation of Austria (1938):
Having removed the Italian hurdle from his way. Hitler decided to annex Austria. After the Nazi failure in 1934 in Austria, Hitler had changed his tactics in his dealings with Austria. The latter was made to understand that the former had absolutely no designs against her. The result was that by 1936, a favourable climate was created in Austria for Germany. In July 1986, Hitler entered into a pact with Austria.
A sort of Italy-German condominium was established over Austria and the relations between Austria and Germany became cordial. In spite of all this, violent demonstrations were made by the Nazis in Austria in 1938. Those were inspired and helped by the German Government. On 12 February 1938, Hitler sent for Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor, to meet him at his personal residence at Berchtesgaden.
The Austrian Chancellor was threatened with an invasion of his country and thereby forced to grant amnesty and full freedom of action to the Nazis Germany. He also agreed to take the Nazi leaders of Austria into his cabinet. The Austrian Chancellor appointed Arthur Seyss. Inquart, the Austrian Nazi leader, as his Minister of the Interior. He also agreed to appoint other Nazi leaders as Ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs.
It was announced on 9 March 1938 that a plebiscite would be held on 13 March 1938 to decide whether Austria would like to remain independent or merge herself with Germany. The Nazi leaders were not willing to have the plebiscite on 13 March as that did not give them enough time for propaganda. Consequently, on 11 March 1938, Arthur Seyss Inquart presented the Austrian Chancellor with an ultimatum demanding his resignation and the postponement of the plebiscite.
He was told that in case he failed to do so, the German troops would enter Austria. The result was that the Austrian Chancellor not only cancelled the plebiscite but also resigned. Arthur Seyss Inquart himself became the Chancellor and in his new position, he invited Hitler to come and save Austria from internal chaos. The German army and air force rushed into Austria. On 14 March 1938, Hitler himself went to Vienna.
The Western Democracies did practically nothing. Their attitude can be compared to sincere widows who moaned and shouted but otherwise did nothing. The annexation of Austria was of great importance to Germany. The Austrian National Bank brought to the German Treasury 20 million pounds of additional gold and foreign exchange Germany came into direct contact with Italy at the Brenner Pass.
She also came into contact with Hungary and Yugoslavia. In the words of Churchill, “Mastery of Vienna gives to Nazi Germany military and economic control of the whole of communications of South-Eastern Europe, by road, by river and by rail.” Czechoslovakia was isolated and she became absolutely at the mercy of Germany who could deal with her as she pleased.
15. Munich Crisis (1938):
The State of Czechoslovakia had been created by the Peace Settlement of 1919-20. Her greatest weakness was that she had many minorities in her population and the most important among them was the Sudeten Germans. Although they were nicely treated, they never forgot their separate German nationality in Czechoslovakia.
They had been given seats in the Cabinet and were pretty well off. After five years of Hitler’s propaganda, the Sudeten Germans began to look up to Germany for their absorption into that country.
Hitler had a special reason to intervene on behalf of the Sudeten Germans. The Sudetenland was important from the strategic point of view. Its Northern frontier had a mountain range which blocked off German expansion to the South. If this territory were to come under Hitler s control, it would become easy for him to penetrate into South Europe. This area was also foil of factories and its occupation was to add to the industrial output of Germany.
However, there were certain difficulties in the way. Czechoslovakia had a large number of forts in the Sudetenland and consequently it was difficult to conquer that region. By a treaty of 1925, France was bound to help Czechoslovakia in case she was attacked by any foreign power. A similar guarantee had been given by the Soviet Union to Czechoslovakia. However, the advantages of capturing the Sudetenland were so great that the difficulties seemed to be insignificant.
Moreover, the manner in which the western democracies had acted in Manchuria, Abyssinia and Spain showed that they would not lie willing to save Czechoslovakia from Hitler So far as the Soviet Union was concerned, even if she would like to help her, she could not accomplish much on account of the barrier policy of Poland and Rumania. The latter were not prepared to allow the Soviet forces to march through their territories. Hitler thus felt sure that he could deal with Czechoslovakia as he pleased.
The Sudeten Germans were encouraged to stage demonstrations against their government. They demanded the right to join Germany. The government of Czechoslovakia headed by Dr. Benes tried to meet their demands in every possible way. However, no reconciliation was possible as the Germans instigated them not to do so. The situation began to deteriorate. On 12 September 1938, Hitler demanded the right of self-determination for the Sudeten Germans. He declared that if the latter could not defend themselves, they would be helped by Germany.
The Soviet Union proposed a conference with Great Britain, France and the United States and expressed her willingness to take part in any collective action that might be taken to defend Czechoslovakia against Germany. However, the proposal was not accepted. The British Government asked Premier Hodza to accept an Adviser. Lord Runciman was sent as an adviser and was accepted by the Government of Czechoslovakia. A plan was prepared which granted practically everything to the Sudeten. Germans accept their incorporation into Germany.
That offer did not satisfy the Sudeten Germans who were backed by Hitler. The Western democracies were in a very difficult position and they did not know what to do. If they supported Czechoslovakia, there was the certainty of a war in which everyone was likely to be involved. If they did not support her, she could not be expected to resist German pressure single-handed and in this war of nerves Hitler won.
Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, decided to prevent war by following a policy of appeasement. He met Hitler on 15 September 1938 and he was frankly told that nothing could stop the war unless the Sudeten Germans were given the rights of self-determination. Chamberlain went back and conferred with the French Government. It was agreed that the only way to stop the war was to give to the Sudeten Germans the right of self-determination.
On 19 September 1938, both Great Britain and France asked Czechoslovakia to agree to the immediate transfer to Germany of the areas inhabited by a population of more than 50% Germans.
The Government of Czechoslovakia agreed to the proposal under pressure. However, at this stage, Hitler increased his demands which were considered by Chamberlain as unreasonable and he refused to do more than refer them to the Government of Czechoslovakia.
It was decided that if Germany immediately attacked Czechoslovakia, the latter would be supported by Great Britain and France. War preparations were ordered. It was declared that the Soviet Union and Great Britain would stand by France if the latter helped Chamberlain against Germany.
At this stage, President Roosevelt made a “Peace by conference” proposal to Hitler to settle the matter amicably. On 27 September 1938, Chamberlain declared. “We cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her (Czechoslovakia) account.” On 28 September 1938 Chamberlain told Hitler, “You can get the essentials without war and without delay.” On the same day, Mussolini asked Hitler to settle the matter amicably instead of going to war.
On 29 September 1938, Chamberlain Daladier and Mussolini went to Munich to meet Hitler. There was no Czech or Russian representative present at the conference. After prolonged discussions, the Munich Pact was signed on the night of 29-30 September 1938. Czechoslovakia was to evacuate all the territory occupied by the Sudeten Germans and this was to be completed before 10 October 1938 without any existing installations being destroyed.
The Government of Czechoslovakia was to be held responsible if any damage was done to those installations. The territory to be evacuated by Czechoslovakia was to be occupied by the German troops.
An international commission was to be set up to decide in which territories the plebiscite was to he held and those territories were to be occupied by international bodies until the plebiscite was completed. The same commission was to fix the conditions in which the plebiscite was to be held, taking as a basis the conditions of the San- plebiscite.
The date to be fixed by the commission was not to be later than the end of November 1938. The final determination of the frontiers was to be carried out by the international commission. Within a period of four weeks from the date of the agreement, the Government of Czechoslovakia was to release from their military and police force any Sudeten German who may wish to be released. She was also to release the Sudeten German prisoners who were serving terms of imprisonment for political offences.
It is rightly said that the heart of the lamb of Czechoslovakia was butchered in the darkness in the midnight by a knife supplied by Chamberlain. Dr. Benes, President of Czechoslovakia, declared that “He had been forced to yield to pressure to which there was no precedent in history and all that was due to the presence of Chamberlain and Daladier.” Ribbentrop, Foreign Minister of Germany, remarked, “The old man (Chamberlain) has signed his death warrant and now it is for us to fill the date.”
Sir John Simon observed, “It can only be for history to decide hereafter whether the things that were done at Munich the day lead, as well as all of us everywhere in this House hope they will, to better things, or whether the prognostications or increasing evil will prove, to be justified.” Winston Churchill described the situation after Munich as “a disaster of the first magnitude.” His prophecy was in these words. “I think you will find that in a period of time which may not be measured by years, but may be measured only by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi regime.” According to L.S. Amery, the Munich settlement represented the triumph of sheer naked force. It was “the greatest and cheapest victory ever won by aggressive militarism.” F.L. Schuman says, “The Munich Pact was the culmination of appeasement and warrant of death for the Western democracies. It was a symbol of the collapse of collective security.”
The question has been asked why the Western democracies submitted to the dictates of Hider. One reason is that Hitler assured Chamberlain that in case his demands on Czechoslovakia were met, he would like to follow a policy of peace and he had no further aggressive designs. To quote Hitler, “I have assured Mr. Chamberlain and I emphasise it now, that when this problem is solved, Germany has no more territorial problems in Europe. I shall not be interested in the Czechoslovakian state anymore and I can guarantee it. We do not want any Czechs anymore.”
It is rightly pointed out that fault lay not in the intentions of Chamberlain, but in his willingness to believe the words of Hitler. He ought to have known the German dictator better. His words were intended to suit merely the occasion and he was not going to keep them as the future events showed. Another reason given for the attitude of Chamberlain is that there was a strong longing for peace in Western Europe. It would take some time before the people were converted to fight against Germany. However, in case Germany attacked at once, there was every possibility of their facing disaster on account of the preparedness of the German armed forces.
There was a wrong belief in Great Britain and France that after having got everything in Czechoslovakia, the attention of Hitler would be diverted towards Soviet Russia, the two dictatorships would get involved in a life and death struggle and thereby exhaust themselves. The Western democracies were likely to gain under those circumstances. Hence they allowed Hitler to have his way at Munich. Chamberlain also believed that the appetite of Hitler was limited. His view was that Germany and Italy had certain grievances and if those were redressed, peace could be maintained in Europe.
That is the reason why he persisted in the policy of appeasement in spite of warning from Winston Churchill. Chamberlain believed in the good faith of Hitler. When Hitler introduced conscription and violated the provisions of Treaty of Versailles, he promised to adhere to the Locarno treaty. When he violated that also, he promised that he had no other territorial claims. Then there was the Anschlus and Munich. All that showed that the basic calculation of Chamberlain was wrong.
Another reason why the policy of appeasement was followed was that Great Britain and France were not prepared to enter into an alliance with Soviet Russia on account of ideological differences. Chamberlain is said to have observed, “I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia.” The only alternative was to come to terms with Hitler as Great Britain and France were not ready for war.
Critics of Chamberlain point out that if he had decided to fight in September 1938, the Soviet Union would have joined the war against Germany. Moreover, in September 1938, there were thirty to forty well-trained Divisions of the Czech army which would have fought against Hitler. All that was not there when Chamberlain ultimately decided to fight against Hitler in September 1939.
All the resources of Czechoslovakia also fell into the hands of Hitler and he fought with more resources in September 1939 than he would have done in September 1938 if the war had been declared then. The British army’s were not in a better position in September 1939 than they were in September 1938 when Chamberlain made a humiliating peace with Hitler.
After the Munich Pact, the Poles and Hungarians made their demands on Czechoslovakia. Poland demanded and got the Teschen area with its important coal mines. Hungary demanded that area in which there were about a million Magyars and got the same.
16. Annexation of Czechoslovakia (1939):
In spite of giving his word of honour in September 1938 regarding the rest of Czechoslovakia, Hitler began to make preparations to annex the same. On 14 March 1939, the Governments of Slovakia and Ruthenia declared their independence after holding a conference with Hitler.
On the same day, Hitler asked Dr. Hacha, the successor of President Benes, to meet him in Berlin. When Dr. Hacha went to Berlin, he was made virtually a prisoner. He was surrounded by the associates of Hider and was asked to sign a document which was to put the fate of the Czech people into the hands of Hitler. General Goering told him that in case he refused to sign the document, his country would be attacked by the German Air Force and completely destroyed. No wonder, Dr. Hacha fainted and he was brought to his senses after administering injections to him.
Finding himself helpless. Dr. Hacha singed the aforesaid document at 4.30 PM. on 14 March 1939. On the morning of 15 March Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazi troops. On 16 March 1939, Hitler declared that henceforth Czechoslovakia would be known as “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.” Hitler was also invited to become the Protector of Slovakia. The invitation was gladly accepted and Czechoslovakia ceased to exist.
The annexation of the whole of Czechoslovakia had very unfortunate results. The Soviet Union was completely disgusted with the attitude of the Western Powers. She felt that the Western Powers were trying to help and instigate Germany against her. Under the circumstances, she felt that her alliance with France was not binding on her. The system of collective security completely broke down. States like Yugoslavia and Rumania began to realise the uselessness and futility of their alliances with France. It was felt that the security of every state was in danger.
Chamberlain was shocked. On 17 March 1939, he observed, “Public opinion in the world has received a sharper shock than has ever yet been administered to it, even by the present regime in Germany. Hitler had violated his own declared principles by including in the Reich a people of non-German race. He had manifestly departed both from the assurances at Munich, as to the extent and nature of his claims and from his undertaking to deal with any further questions in consultation with great Britain.” Chamberlain promised British resistance “to the utmost of its power to any power which attempted to dominate the world by force.”
The joint Anglo-French protest against Germany was followed by the simultaneous withdrawal of their ambassadors from Berlin. On 23 March 1939, Chamberlain was forced to make the following admission, “The possible aim of the German Government is the domination of the whole of Europe.” The policy of Great Britain and France underwent a radical change. Instead of trying to appease Hitler, it was decided to resist him in the future. On 31 March 1939, Great Britain and France declared that “in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, they would at once lend Poland all support in their power.”
On 6 April 1939, Poland agreed to regard the British guarantee as a mutual obligation. Similar guarantees were given to Greece on 6 April and to Rumania on 13 April 1939. On 19 April Chamberlain indicated British intention to extend the guarantee of independence to Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland. On 26 April 1939, the British Government announced its decision to enforce military conscription in the country. On 12 May 1939, Great Britain gave a guarantee to Turkey. In his Albert Hall address on 12 May 1939, Chamberlain declared, “No more deadly mistake could be made than to assume that Britain and France were not in earnest and could not be relied on to carry out their promises.”
17. Mamel (1939):
After the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, Lithuania was given an ultimatum by Hitler. The latter demanded the surrender of Memel and the surrounding districts. The German forces occupied this region on 21 March 1939. The port of Memel was remilitarised.
18. Poland (1939):
Just as in September 1938, Hitler had declared his intentions on Czech independence, so in January 1939 he spoke warmly of the friendship existing between Germany and Poland. That was merely a preliminary to his making claims on Poland. With the passage of time, the attitude of Hitler toward Poland began to change. It was given out that the German minorities in Poland were being oppressed Poland was asked to give back Danzig to Germany. She was also asked to give a strip of territory to connect East Prussia with the rest of Germany.
The Polish Government was not prepared to accept the demands of Germany. Poland was backed by Great Britain and France. Germany not only abrogated her Non-aggression Pact with Poland of 1934, but also repudiated her Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935. Hitler protested that Great Britain was going back on the Munich Pact which was “symbolical of the desire of both people never again to wage war on one another”. Hitler accused Great Britain of following a policy of encirclement.
However, before taking the final step against Poland, Hitler decided to ensure himself against a possible attack from the Soviet Union. Ribbentrop went to Moscow and on 23 August 1939 was signed the Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. This master-stroke of Germany weakened the defences of Poland, Great Britain and France.
Having neutralised the Soviet Union, Hitler was ready and on 1 September 1939, German troops invaded Poland. The war which started between Germany and Poland developed into a global war.The hunger of Hitler was not satisfied even after the defeat and annexation of Poland. He also conquered Belgium, Holland and Denmark. In June 1940, France also fell.
The problem of Hitler in the middle of 1940 was either to conquer or to make peace with Great Britain. He put out feelers in June 1940, asking only the return of German colonies and British acceptance of his control over Western Europe. However, there was no response. The idea of compromise and British approbation to a German attack on the Soviet Union was long in dying.
In May 1941 Hess flew to Scotland in what was considered to be a peace mission. The problem of preparing an invasion of England proved difficult as the German sea power was not strong enough Ld General Goering’s Air Force was not able to snatch control of the air from the Royal Air Force.
Elaborate preparations were made, but the battle of Britain was lost in September 1940 and the invasion of England had to be postponed indefinitely. The decision to crush the Soviet Union before attacking Britain was reached in secret in August 1940 Plans of invasion in the autumn were given up for logistic reasons. However, preparations were pushed forward energetically throughout winter and spring with a view to assault in May 1941.
The invasion had to be postponed to June 1941 because of the invasion and conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941. Ribbentrop’s invitation to Molotov was no more than a device to remove suspicion and gain time.
The German invasion of the Soviet Union turned out to be a blunder, n spite of the initial success made by the German armies in Soviet Russia, the Germans were ultimate y beaten and driven out of the Russian soil. That was partly due to the bravery of the Russian people and partly to the enormous help which was given to her by the United States. In 1945 Germany fell before the combined attacks of the United Nations. Too much greed of Hitler brought mm to Germany. He himself committed suicide before Berlin fell and his associates were tried by a Military Tribunal and put to death.