The road to World War II: Germany

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The road to war: Germany factfile
A brief history: Germany
For 2,000 years, peoples have occupied the Germanic territories. These counties, cities, principalities and duchies were
mostly independent for long periods of time: under the Holy Roman Empire (for Germanic people, this lasted almost 900
years), these territories were united, but regions remained largely autonomous: each county or duchy would have its
own leader, who would swear allegiance to the emperor, but retain power in their area. This contrasts drastically with
say, England – a nation since 927; the whole territory under the leadership of a king or queen until 1689 when
parliament assumed control of the decision making for the country.
Figure 1: the separate kingdoms/duchy’s of ununified Germany, 1648
The autonomous duchy system remained until 1871, when Germany was
unified. The story: German states wanted to unify, but one of the main
powers at the time in Europe – Napoleonic France – would not allow it, as
they did not want these smaller states uniting to become a bigger state,
and thus a threat. France couldn’t stop it from happening, as Prussia (the
largest and most powerful Germanic state) engineered a war against
France. Prussia was joined by its southern German-speaking neighbours, and the first
steps towards a truly united Germany were taken.
Left: Otto von Bismarck
Right: Wilhelm II
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Otto von Bismarck was an important influence on the rise of a united Germany, engineering the wars and then also
brokering peace after that kept all the different Germanic states together in the late 19th Century. Eventually, Wilhelm II
came to power, and he continued Bismarck’s idea of ‘empire building’, though through different means; more aggressive
foreign policy.
A brief history: World War One
The Austro-Hungarian Empire encompassed peoples of many different ethnicities. Some of these people decided they
wanted to separate from the empire, and determine their own rules and laws, have their own flag, etc. Usually, big
empires stand against this because they stand to lose the root of their power: if all ethnicities were just allowed to
govern themselves, there would be no empire! For power-hungry leaders, this would not do!
Figure 2: The Austro-Hungarian empire
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Figure 3: the different ethnic groups in the Austro-Hungarian Empire
As you can see above, some of the peoples under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire were Serbians. Franz
Ferdinand and his wife were on an official visit to Sarajevo, a Serbian-dominated city. The Serbs had made it known they
wanted independence for the reasons above, but it was not forthcoming. In the end, they resorted to violent means:
they assassinated the Archduke and his wife.
Figure 4: Franz Ferdinand, Austro-Hungarian Archduke, and his wife were visiting Sarajevo (above)
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After the assassination
Austria-Hungary were furious, and made demands of Serbia (a punishment of sorts) that were only partially met. As a
result, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.
The Russians were closely linked to the Serbs
through ethnic, religious, and political ties.
They were likely to come to its defense
during an invasion. Though poorly armed and
trained, Russia’s army was huge and capable
of posing a formidable threat to AustriaHungary.
Austria-Hungary had friends of their own –
they had secured the alliance of Germany,
which made sense in terms of cultural links,
and offered Germany a route into war that
could help expand land borders.
Austria-Hungary bombed Serbia. A series of
events followed in quick succession. With
news of Austria’s attack on Belgrade (a city
in Serbia), Russia ordered a general
mobilization of its troops on July 30, 1914. Germany, interpreting this move as a final decision by Russia to go to war,
promptly ordered its own mobilization. Although the Russian tsar and German kaiser were communicating feverishly by
telegraph throughout this time, they failed to convince each other that they were only taking precautionary
measures. Britain made an attempt to intervene diplomatically, but to no avail. On August 1, the German ambassador to
Russia handed the Russian foreign minister a declaration of war. Germany and Russia were at war.
On August 3, Germany declared war on France as well. Germany made clear its intention to cross the neutral
nation Belgium in order to reach France’s least fortified border, in violation of its own treaty in respect to neutral
countries. Therefore, Britain, which had a defense agreement with Belgium, declared war on Germany the next day,
August 4, bringing the number of countries involved up to six. There would soon be more.
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Figure 5: Germany shared a border with France, but this was fortified. Germany had signed a treaty of non-aggression,
which the French understood to mean their border with Belgium was safe. The Germans broke the treaty, and suddenly
France had a big problem: the Belgian border was less well defended.
A brief explanation: the start of World War One
Some early accounts of World War I treat its start as a chain of almost coincidental events: a mix of unfortunate lapses in
judgment on the part of political and military leaders, combined with a tangled web of alliances and defense treaties
that triggered declarations of war between countries that really had little reason to be at war with each other. Although
these factors were crucial, a number of other important factors were involved.
After all, most of the countries that came to be involved in World War I had enjoyed relatively friendly interrelations
right up to the start of the war. For the most part, they shared strong economic interdependencies, and trade between
them was brisk, making the prospect of a large-scale war highly unattractive.
Moreover, though several treaties in force at the time did compel certain countries to join the war, it is a mistake to
assume that any of them joined the war “automatically.” Leaders in each country debated whether to enter the war
and generally made their decisions only after evaluating their own concrete interests and risks. Many of these
countries had hidden motives and, at the same time, mistakenly assumed that some of the others would stay out of the
conflict.
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German Motives
Though Germany had little interest in Austria’s problems with Serbia, it had significant
ambitions regarding its other neighbors. In recent years, Russia had become
increasingly involved in European affairs, while simultaneously modernizing and
expanding its military. German military leaders felt that war with Russia was
inevitable at some point. Therefore, they argued, it would be far better to fight Russia
now, while its army was still poorly armed and untrained, rather than to wait until it
could pose a greater threat. Some historians claim that Germany deliberately
encouraged Austria to go to war with Serbia in order to set off a war with Russia.
Furthermore, German military leaders believed there was a good chance that Britain
would remain neutral and that France also might stay at arm’s length, despite its treaty
with Russia. This wishful thinking helped the German military leaders convince
themselves that the war would be winnable and also helped them to sell their plan to
the kaiser.
British Motives
For centuries, Britain had been the greatest naval power in the world and also had
the largest collection of colonies. In the first years of the twentieth century,
however, Germany made a massive and costly effort to build up a comparable
naval fleet of its own, with the specific goal of matching Britain on the high seas.
Germany also had recently shown a stronger interest than before in acquiring new
colonies. Britain, seeing these developments as a dangerous threat to the balance
of power in Europe, argued to Germany (through diplomatic channels) that the
country had no need for a large navy or a large number of colonies. Germany
ignored Britain’s rebuffs and continued as before. Just as some German leaders
favored an “anticipatory” war against Russia, some British leaders felt similarly
about Germany.
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French Motives
In 1871, France had lost the territories of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany in a war—a bitterly humiliating blow that left
France desperate to regain these lands. While fearful of an all-out German invasion, some French leaders felt that if
Germany were distracted by a war with Russia, France might have a chance to seize Alsace and Lorraine. The result: half
of all Frenchmen aged 20 to 32 at war’s outbreak were dead when it was over.
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Russian Motives
Russia’s motives for entering the war are less clear-cut. The period just prior to the war was a time of great instability in
Russia: never before in the nation’s history had the tsar’s grip on power been so fragile. On the other hand, there was
support in Russia for the Serbian cause, and a military victory would likely help the tsar politically. Nevertheless, war was
a risky proposition given the poor state of the Russian military at the time. Tsar Nicholas II, who was personally hesitant
about joining the war, briefly flip-flopped over ordering mobilization. Ultimately, however, he caved under pressure
from overly optimistic Russian military leaders and advisers who had strong nationalistic leanings.
Above: Count Alfred von Schlieffen’s plan to
invade France
So, what happened to Germany in WW1?
Germany went into the First World War with the advantage of a very large, very well-trained, and very well-equipped
army. One-on-one, they could almost certainly have defeated any other country in the world - but they weren't fighting
just one enemy. They were outnumbered, and their opponents had access to much greater resources. The Schlieffen
Plan was based on Germany outnumbering her enemy; even so, it was still used because attacking was thought to be
better than defending: Japan had ‘proven’ this by defeating Russia in 1905. However, there were counter arguments:
Schlieffen himself (before retiring in 1906) favoured defending, because it was easier to redeploy troops by train than
marching there by foot.
Therefore, Germany's best hope of winning was a rapid knock-out blow, destroying their enemies' armies quickly and
then forcing a peace. If the war bogged down in stalemate, then the Allies' greater depth of resources would allow them
to grind Germany down through attrition and defeat them. In effect, that's what happened.
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So, Germany lost WW1 because the French army was able to escape the trap set for them by the Schlieffen Plan (the
plan to attack France through Belgium), redeploy their forces to the Marne, and halt the German advance in September
1914. After that failed, the odds were always going to be against Germany.
Still, German defeat wasn't assured. They had gained territory, and their best hope became outlasting their enemies.
That is, hoping that the constant drain of dead and wounded soldiers, and the ever-increasing financial cost of the war,
would eventually cause their opponents to throw up their hands and say, "This isn't worth it, we quit".
Germany had the big advantage here that their initial offensive, even though it failed in its wider aims, had still left them
in control of almost all Belgium and the most prosperous industrial region of France. Their enemies had to get it back,
and Germany could just dig in and defend it. The available technology of WW1 — trenches and barbed wire and
machine guns and artillery — meant that the defence had massive advantages over the attack. The Allies would
inevitably suffer far higher casualties than the Germans would — though this had to be balanced by the cold-blooded
fact that they had far more men available to lose than Germany did.
Figure 6: With little option to move forward, Germany dug in with trenches.
So here we come to another reason why Germany lost. Their government — which by the middle of the war was
increasingly controlled by the Army, with the civilian politicians sidelined — was unwilling to compromise. They had the
advantage, they'd demonstrated that they could not be driven out of the territory they'd captured except by a long,
grinding battle of attrition, which no one wanted. A far-sighted statesman, such as Bismarck, might have seen the
moment to offer relatively generous peace terms, demanding only a few minor concessions. The Allies would probably
be happy to accept that rather than keep fighting.
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Hindenburg and Ludendorff, however, wanted to wring the maximum advantage from their enemies' weakness. They
wanted to:
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turn Belgium into a permanent German vassal state
annex France's main iron and coal fields
ethnically cleanse Poles from a large strip of Poland and turn it into a German colony and make the rest another
vassal state
take the Suez Canal from Britain.
Anything less than a total victory would, in their minds, mean defeat. But the British, French and Russians would never
agree to such terms while they thought they had the slightest chance of winning - and so the war dragged on. And the
longer it lasted, the lower Germany's chances became.
The first “world war,” from 1914 to 1918, was fought throughout Europe and beyond. It became known as “the
war to end all wars.” It cast an immense shadow on tens of millions of people. “ This is not war,” one wounded
soldier wrote home. “It is the ending of the world.” More than one third of all German men aged 19 to 22 were
killed. Millions of veterans were crippled in body and in spirit. Advances in the technology of killing included th e
use of poison gas. Under the pressure of unending carnage, governments toppled and great empires dissolved. It
was a cataclysm that darkened the world’s view of humanity and its future. Winston Churchill said the war left “a
crippled, broken world.”
The Treaty of Versailles
As a result of losing the war, Germany had a choice: face occupation by allied troops, or sign the humiliating Treaty of
Versailles. The French made the Treaty hard for the Germans so that Germany would not be able to start a new war.
Thus, Germany had to reduce its armed forces from 6 million to 100,000 men, and get rid of its submarines, military
aircraft and most of their artillery. Their Navy battleships were limited to only six small ones.
Germany also had to give back French territories it had occupied, as well as large territories of its own to Poland and
other neighbours, and it had to give up all of its colonies to the League of Nations. It lost 13% of its territory. Germany
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was to pay back the very big World War I reparations for the damage done to Allied countries, mostly France,
during World War I by German troops. This sum was to be very large but was not yet fixed. 132 billion gold marks had to
be paid only as a first part of the German debt.
This Treaty can be seen as a onesided peace, dictated to Germany.
The English economist John Maynard
Keynes thought it was a great
mistake to force such harsh
measures on the German people, but
his advice was ignored. .
In Germany, many veterans and
other citizens struggled to
understand Germany’s defeat and
the uncertain future. Troops left
the bloody battlefields and
returned to a bewildering society.
A new and unfamiliar democratic
form of government—the Weimar
Republic—replaced the
authoritarian empire and
immediately faced daunting challenges. Thousands of Germans waited in lines for work and food in the early
1920s. Middle class savings were wiped out as severe inflation left the currency worthless. Some burned it for
fuel. Economic conditions stabilized for a few years, then the worldwide depression hit in 1929. The German
banking system collapsed, and by 1930 unemployment skyrocketed to 22%. In a country plagued by joblessness,
embittered by loss of territory, and demoralized by ineffective government, political demonstrations frequently
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turned violent. Many political parties had their own paramilitary units to attack opponents and intimidate voters.
In 1932, ninety-nine people were killed in the streets in one month. Right–wing propaganda and demonstrations
played on fears of a Communist revolution spreading from the Soviet Union.
The treaty was criticised as setting Germany up for failure; democracy was a new concept in a Germany that had always
had a ruler rather than an elected leader, and they were handed a near impossible situation.
The Treaty of Versailles, as well as economic hardships felt the world over in the 1930s, set the stage for Adolf Hitler and
the Nazi party to take control.
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The rise of national socialism
Hitler referred to those that had signed the
Treaty of Versailles as the ‘November
criminals’, in reference to the month in which
it was signed. “It cannot be that two million
Germans should have fallen in vain,” Adolf
Hitler, a former corporal, wrote. “We
demand vengeance!” Hitler recruited out-ofwork soldiers to be part of his own private
army – stormtroopers. With his comrades in
the Nazi party, Hitler looked to eliminate any
potential barriers to power. Initially, Hitler
tried to take this power by force.
Figure 7: The ‘November criminals’ – the ‘stab in the back’ myth
Munich, 1923: Nazi party leaders declare the revolution started. Several hundred people were taken hostage, as Hitler
tried taking over government power by force. The coup is defeated, but Hitler gained recognition. He served eight
months in prison, and during this time he realised that he would not come to power through violent means alone. His
trial brought him fame and followers.
Hitler made several moves towards power, but it is important to note that without the Wall Street Crash and Great
Depression that followed, it is unlikely that Hitler would have risen to power. Germany had borrowed money short
term from the United States: when the United States recalled these loans (can we have our money back, please?),
Germany’s economy failed. Think of your friend needing $20 to get something, which you lend to them, but before they
buy it you ask for the money back. They’re going to be stuck.
Almost one in three Germans of working age was
unemployed by the end of 1932. As a result, the
citizens were open to almost any leader who inspired
confidence that the situation could be changed. Hitler
was a powerful and spellbinding speaker who attracted
a wide following of Germans desperate for change.
Downplaying the more extreme Nazi policies, he
promised the disenchanted a better life and a new and
glorious Germany. The Nazis appealed especially to the
unemployed, young people, and members of the lower
middle class (small store owners, office employees,
craftsmen, and farmers). This appeal led to a rapid rise
in popularity for the Nazi party: only 3% of the vote in
1924, to 33% in 1932.
In the aftermath of World War I, Germans struggled
to understand their country’s uncertain future.
Citizens faced poor economic conditions,
skyrocketing unemployment, political instability, and
profound social change. While downplaying more extreme goals, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Par ty offered simple
solutions to Germany’s problems, exploiting people’s fears, frustrations, and hopes to win broad support.
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Despite this, Hitler still wasn’t elected with a majority of the vote, but was able to create alliances with people who
thought they may benefit later; they thought they could subvert Hitler and the Nazi Party, taking control for
themselves. They were terribly wrong. By 1933, Hitler held dictatorial control over Germany, and had circumvented the
policies and laws put in place to make sure that couldn’t happen. The new government’s first targets were political
opponents. Under the emergency decree, they could be terrorized, beaten and held indefinitely. Leaders of trade
unions and opposition parties were arrested. German authorities sent thousands, including leftist members of
Parliament, to newly established concentration camps.
Despite Nazi terror and brutal suppression of their opponents, many German citizens willingly accepted or actively
supported these extreme measures in favor of order and security. Many Germans felt a new hope and confidence
in the future of their country with the prospect of a bold, young charismatic leader. Nazi propaganda chief Joseph
Goebbels planned to win over those who were still unconvinced.
Communism was a real threat to the established order in 1933 (just look at the chart above: people wanted a solution
that worked, and were willing to try new ideas). Hitler hated communism. A majority of historians agree that a man
named Marinus van der Lubbe was partially framed for setting fire to the Reichstag (German parliament building). Hitler
used this opportunity (think: Japanese military plotters in Manchuria, cooking up schemes to take advantage of) to
create the “Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the State”, which basically gave him carte blanche to act
without anyone else checking his actions.
Glossary: Carte blanche - complete freedom to act as one wishes or thinks best.
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Hitler’s main goal: Lebensraum
Rather than adding colonies to make Germany
larger, Hitler wanted to enlarge Germany within
Europe:-
For it is not in colonial acquisitions that we must
see the solution of this problem, but exclusively
in the acquisition of a territory for settlement,
which will enhance the area of the mother
country, and hence not only keep the new
settlers in the most intimate community with
the land of their origin, but secure for the total
area those advantages which lie in its unified
magnitude.
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
Adding living space was believed to strengthen Germany by helping solve internal problems, make it militarily stronger,
and help make Germany become economically self-sufficient by adding food and other raw material sources.
Hitler looked east for Germany's expansion in Europe. It was in this view that Hitler added a racist element to
Lebensraum. Hitler stated that after the Russian Revolution of 1917 that the Soviet Union was run by Jews. Hitler
concluded Germany had a right to take Russian land.
For centuries Russia drew nourishment from this Germanic nucleus of its upper leading strata. Today it can be regarded
as almost totally exterminated and extinguished. It has been replaced by the Jew. Impossible as it is for the Russian by
himself to shake off the yoke of the Jew by his own resources, it is equally impossible for the Jew to maintain the mighty
empire forever. He himself is no element of organization, but a ferment of decomposition. The Persian empire in the east
is ripe for collapse. And the end of Jewish rule in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state.
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
Hitler was clear in his book Mein Kampf that the
concept of Lebensraum was essential to his
ideology.
Figure 8, right: Translation -The German economic
zone has 2.5 times more consumers than France or
England. The message – they need more space!
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Did the German economy improve under Hitler?
Germany’s economy was a mess when Hitler was elected Chancellor in January 1933. Hitler and Nazi propaganda had
played on the population’s fear of no hope. Unemployment peaked at 6 million during the final days of the Weimar
Republic – near enough 33% of the nation’s working population. Now Hitler decreed that all should work in Nazi
Germany and he constantly played on the economic miracle Nazi Germany achieved.
This “economic miracle” was based on unemployment all but disappearing by 1939.
Unemployment in Germany
Total
January 1933
6 million
January 1934
3.3 million
January 1935
2.9 million
January 1936
2.5 million
January 1937
1.8 million
January 1938
1.0 million
January 1939
302,000
But was this true or did the Nazi propaganda machine move into overdrive to persuade the nation and Europe that she
had achieved something that other European nations had not during the time of economic depression?
A number of policies were introduced which caused the unemployment figures to drop.
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Women were no longer included in the statistics so any women who remained out of work under the Nazi’s rule
did not exist as far as the statistics were concerned.
The unemployed were given a very simple choice: do whatever work is given to you by the government or be
classed as “work-shy” and put in a concentration camp.
Jews lost their citizenship in 1935 and as a result were not included in unemployment figures even though many
lost their employment at the start of Hitler’s time in power.
Many young men were taken off of the unemployment figure when conscription was brought in (1935) and men
had to do their time in the army etc. By 1939, the army was 1.4 million strong. To equip these men with
weapons etc., factories were built and this took even more off of the unemployment figure.
With these measures in place the unemployment figure had to fall drastically and many saw the Nazi figures as nothing
more than a book-keeping trick. However, many would have been too scared to speak out against the Nazis or pass
negative comments on the published figures – such was the fear of the Gestapo (state police).
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However, there is no doubt that work was created. The Nazis introduced public work schemes for men who worked in
the National Labour Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst or RAD). Their work would have included:
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digging ditches on farms to assist irrigation
building the new autobahns
planting new forests
Building schools
Building hospitals
Building stadia, such as the Olympic Stadium in Berlin (right)
Other land improvement projects
The men of the RAD wore a military style uniform, lived in camps near to where they were working and received only
what we would term pocket money. However, compared to the lack of success of the Weimar government and the
chronic misery of 1931 to 1932, these men felt that at least the Nazi government was making the effort to improve their
life.
To ‘protect’ those in work, the German Labour Front was set up. This was led by Robert Ley. The GLF took the role of
trade unions which had been banned. To an extent, the GLF did this. Ley ordered that workers could not be sacked on
the spot but he also ordered that a worker could not leave his job without the government’s permission. Only
government labour exchanges could arrange for a new job if someone did leave his employment.
However, the GLF increased the number of hours worked from 60 to 72 per week (including overtime) by 1939. Strikes
were outlawed. The average factory worker was earning 10 times more than those on dole money and few complained
–to do so was fraught with potential difficulties (see figure.
The leisure time of the workers was also taken care of. An organisation called “Kraft durch Freude” (KdF) took care of
this. Ley and the KdF worked out that each worker had 3,740 hours per year free for pursuing leisure activities – which
the state would provide. Theatre performances, concerts, hikes, sporting events, holidays, lectures, museum tours, and
more.
Cheap holidays were a good way to win the support of the average person in the street. A cruise to the Canary Islands
(off the west coast of Africa, and very nice indeed!) cost 62 marks – easily affordable to many, though most cruises were
taken up by Nazi Party officials. Walking and skiing holidays in the Bavarian Alps cost 28 marks. A two-week tour of Italy
cost 155 marks.
Figure 9: The beautiful Canary Islands!
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The KdF also involved itself in introducing a scheme whereby the workers could get a car. The Volkswagen – People’s Car
– was designed so that most could afford it. The Beetle, designed by Ferdinand Porsche, cost 990 marks. This was about
35 weeks wages for the average worker. To pay for one, workers went on a hire purchase scheme. They paid 5 marks a
week into an account.
Figure 10: Hitler inspecting a new Volkswagen – translates to ‘People car’. The company was formed at Hitler’s request
Theoretically, when the account had reached 750 marks the worker would be given an order number which would lead
to them receiving a car. In fact, no-one received a car. The millions of marks invested into the scheme were re-directed
into the rapidly expanding weapons factories. This accelerated as World War Two approached. No-one complained as to
do so could lead to serious trouble with the secret police.
Figure 11: The Nazi Gestapo, or secret police. You did not want these guys looking for you.
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Did the Nazis produce an economic miracle for Germany?
The Minister of the Economy was Hjalmar Schacht. He introduced his “New Plan”. This plan intended to reduce imports,
reduce unemployment, channel government spending into a wide range of industries and make trade agreements with
other nations. Hermann Goering also wanted Germany to become self-sufficient in all industries so that as a nation she
could survive a war. Were these plans successful?
by 1939, Germany still imported 33% of its required raw materials.
Government income had been 10 billion Reichsmarks in 1928. In 1939, it stood at 15 billion. However, government
spending had increased from 12 billion Reichsmarks in 1928 to over 30 billion in 1939; you don’t need to be a math
genius to see they were spending more than their income. From 1933 to 1939, the Nazi government always spent more
than it earned so that by 1939, government debt stood at over 40 billion Resichsmarks.
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unemployment had fallen from 6 million in 1933 to 300,000 by 1939 (but the above ‘book-keeping tricks must
be factored in here) and industrial production in 1939 was above the figure for Weimar Germany before the
1929 Wall Street Crash.
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annual food consumption in 1937 had fallen for wheat bread, meat, bacon, milk, eggs, fish vegetables, sugar,
tropical fruit and beer compared to the 1927 figures. Poultry, fruit and clothing was rationed for many Germans.
The only increase in consumption was in rye bread, cheese and potatoes.
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real earnings in 1938 were all but the same as the 1928 figure. (Real earnings are wages adjusted to allow for
inflation – e.g. it does not matter what your earnings are, what will it buy you? If you earned 10 marks in 1927
but could buy everything you needed, and 100 in 1937 but could not, you have actually lost out).
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German military spending increased astronomically: more than any other state in peacetime. The Nazis
expected to cover this spending by plundering the countries they conquered. This did occur, but results fell short
of Nazi expectations.
So overall, on the surface there was improvement. Jobs were certainly created, and
having one was better than relying on social security. It would be false to say that Hitler
created a utopia in Germany, but he certainly made life better for most – unless you
were what he would consider an ‘undesirable’.
Slave labour
Taking new territories had the ‘advantage’ of not just living space, but an expanded,
enforced workforce. Nazi Germany maintained a supply of slave labour, composed of
prisoners and concentration camp inmates, which was greatly expanded after the
beginning of World War II. In Poland alone, some five million citizens (including Polish
Jews) were used as slave labour throughout the war. Among the slave labourers in the
occupied territories, hundreds of thousands were used by leading German
corporations including Thyssen, Krupp, IG Farben, Bosch, Blaupunkt, DaimlerBenz, Demag, Henschel, Junkers, Messerschmitt, Siemens, and Volkswagen, as well as
Dutch corporation Philips. By 1944, slave labour made up one quarter of Germany's
entire work force, and the majority of German factories had a contingent of prisoners.
Figure 12: Prisoner work force constructing U-boat (submarine) pens in 1944
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The timeline to war
October 1933 – Germany renounces League of Nations – Hitler decided he didn’t want to
limit Germany to the terms provided regarding limiting armaments. He withdrew, and held
a referendum (public vote) afterwards – 96% of voters backed his decision. The letter to
the right, dated 19th October 1933, signifies German departure from the League.
Night of the Long Knives – June 1934 – Hitler orders assassinations in order to secure his
hold over the Nazi party. He ordered the assassination of other Nazi party members that he
thought were threats to the direction he wanted to take the party in.
January 1935 - Germany regains the
Saarland (see map, right)
France was given the Saar region by
the Treaty of Versailles 15 years earlier,
but in 1935, the people voted to return it
to German control. This was called a
Plebiscite; an old Roman word which
means a ballot or poll by the members of
an electorate on an important public
question. Germany now had access to the
richest coal basin in Europe, where German weapons and chemical industries had been
since the 1870’s.
March 1935 – rearmament
Hitler announced Nazi Germany’s new plans for military activity, breaking the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Military
conscription was introduced with a target of 300,000 men to be employed by the Wehrmacht.
Germany’s delegation left the Geneva Conference on Disarmament when the French refused to accept the same level of
demilitarisation as was imposed on Germany and the conference refused to allow Germany to hold equal armaments to
France.
Figure 12: A parade of tanks at a Nazi rally, 1936
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June 1935 – naval agreement with Britain
An agreement was signed with Britain that allowed Germany to increase its naval surface fleet to one third of the total,
and its submarines to an equal number held by the British Navy. The Versailles Treaty had limited the German Navy to
only six warships and banned any submarines, which made it physically impossible for Germany to adequately defend its
boarders against the Soviets.
November 1936 - Germany made two new diplomatic alliances. The Rome-Berlin Axis agreement with Mussolini and the
Anti Comintern Pact with Japan, which was an agreement to jointly oppose Communism.
March 1938 – Anschluss With Austria
The political union with Austria was called the ‘Anschluss’ and was another Plebiscite, or vote by the Austrian people for
Germany to regain their political rule, after its removal by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Hitler encouraged unrest
among the Austrian people and sent troops in to assist the uprising and restore German order. This was approved by the
people with their citizen’s vote.
Figure 13: Austrians welcome German troops as heroes
22
September 1938 – Germany reclaims Sudetenland
With 3 million Germans living in this area of Czechoslovakia, Hitler demanded it be returned to Germany. At the Munich
agreement, Britain, France and Italy agreed, on the condition that this would be Germany’s final claim for territory in
Europe.
Figure 14: Ethnic Germans welcome Nazi troops into the Sudetenland with tears of joy
November 1938 - Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass)
A two-day pogrom (organized massacre of a
specific ethnic group) that happened
against Jews in Nazi Germany and parts
of Austria. It was between 9 and 10 November
1938. About 30,000 Jews were moved
to concentration camps, and over
1,500 synagogues were pillaged and partly
destroyed. Also, almost all
Jewish cemeteries in Germany and Austria
were destroyed. This marked the change
from discriminating against Jews to
actively persecuting and deporting them.
23
24
March 1939 – Germany occupies Czechoslovakia
Germany broke the Munich agreement (whereby Germany gained the Sudetenland without military involvement) seven
months later by military occupation of the remainder of Czechoslovakia. It had only been an independent State since the
end of World War One just 21 years before and prior to that had been part of the Germanic Empire going back hundreds
of years.
August – 1939 German agreement with Soviet Russia
Hitler made an agreement with Stalin for no aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union in order to boost
collective security against Britain and France, who were both anti-communist. Stalin believed this would be to his
advantage.
25
September 1939 Germany invades Poland
The British reacted quickly and declared War on Germany, but no conflicts took place between the two nations until
seven months later when the Germans then invaded Denmark and Norway.
26
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