Against Woodrow Wilson’s advice, Germany was severely punished by the Allies after World War I, creating great German resentment over the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Germans suffered depressed economic conditions as a result of reparation payments imposed on them by the Treaty. For example, during the 1920s, inflation in Germany was astronomical. There are anecdotes of prices for bread doubling and tripling overnight and women taking baskets of currency to the store to buy groceries. The malaise that infected the Germans led to the rise of mass demagogic movements, one of which was the National Socialists (the Nazis), led by Adolf Hitler.
The Nazi program combined nationalism, militarism and the racist doctrine of Aryan supremacy and anti-Semitism. They preached the biological superiority of peoples of northern Europe and classified nonwhites, including Jews and gypsies, as “degenerate races.” They also sought to destroy members of their own race who were born with defects such as mental retardation and physical imperfections. The Nazis were also very hostile to communists and, therefore, Soviet Russia. These beliefs led to led to aggressive expansionist foreign policies. (Hakim, pp. 281-282.) Nazi ideology publicly, officially and repeatedly declared since the 1920s that its goal was nothing short of global domination by force. Hitler expressed the idea of inevitable conflict with the Soviet Union in Mein Kampf.
As economic matters got worse in Germany during the 1920s, the Nazis began to make inroads in German national politics. They rose from a fringe local group in Bavaria to a significant force in the national legislature, the Reichstag. On the same day that FDR was inaugurated President of the USA in 1933, Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany. Hitler immediately took steps to consolidate Nazi power and make himself a dictator. Over a short time, the Nazis destroyed all political opposition and made themselves the only legal political party. This allowed Hitler and the Nazis to pursue their militaristic and anti-Semitic agendas.
Nazi paramilitary groups, like the Brownshirts, harassed Jews with impunity. In 1935, Hitler published the Nuremberg Laws, which denied all civil rights to Jews. Jewish real and personal private property, most notoriously art collections of untold value, were confiscated by the Nazis. Jews, along with other disapproved groups and political prisoners, were sent to concentration camps.
Over time, the campaign against the Jews became more and more vicious. On November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht or ”Night of the Broken Glass” occurred. There were orchestrated attacks on Jews by Nazi goon squads in cities all over Germany and Austria, such as Berlin, Stuttgart, Munich, Dusseldorf, and Vienna. The attacks were planned by Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister, ostensibly to gain revenge for the shooting of a German diplomat in Paris by a French Jew. During Kristallnacht, 111 Jews were murdered, scores of Jewish women were raped, 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses were looted and destroyed, 200 synagogues were burned, Jewish hospitals and orphanages were attacked and plundered and more than 20,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps.
Militarily, in 1936, in violation of the Versailles Treaty that required a disarmed Germany, Hitler began to prepare for war without significant protest or reaction from other European countries. He began to rebuild German armies. He sent 35,000 troops to occupy Rhineland, which had been demilitarized by the Versailles treaty.
Hitler also began to implement a plan for German expansion. Using the rationale of Lebensraum, the need for sufficient living space and resources for the German people, Hitler claimed the farmlands of Denmark to the north and France to the west. For permanent living space, he looked east to Poland, the Ukraine, and Russia. In March 1938, under the justification of Anschluss, the pretext of restoring law and order to protect Austrian Germans, Germany annexed Austria. Many Austrians willingly adopted Nazism. Hitler and the Nazis were welcomed by Austrians in triumphant parades. Thus, Hitler was able to make significant strides in his goal to create a “Greater Germany.” Again, the European powers stood by and let Hitler do what he wanted.
Then, in September 1938, Hitler turned his eyes on the Sudetenland, the German-populated part of Czechoslovakia. In the Munich Pact, to avert war, the leaders of Great Britain, Neville Chamberlain, prime minister, and France, Georges Bonnet, foreign minister, sold out Czechoslovakia. Despite the fact that Stalin and Russia were willing to assist Czechoslovakia, and resist Hitler, Britain and France accommodated Hitler’s claim. Critics denounce the agreement as “appeasement.”
According to the terms of the Munich Pact, the German army was to occupy the Sudetenland by October 10, and an international commission would decide the future of other disputed areas. The Czech government, having been betrayed by the West, felt they had no choice but to swallow the agreement. On September 30, Chamberlain went to Hitler and asked him to sign a peace treaty between the United Kingdom and Germany. He happily agreed. When Chamberlain arrived back in London, he declared that he had achieved “peace for our time.”
Realizing that the western European countries could not be counted on to stand up to Germany, on August 23, 1939, Stalin agreed to sign a non-aggression pact with Germany. As part of this pact, the two countries agreed to create spheres of influence in Eastern Europe, including the division of Poland, with the Russians taking the eastern part and the Germans taking the west, and the allocation of part of Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to Russia. In reality, the pact was a cynical ploy by both countries to buy time before they would face-off against the other. Stalin needed time to improve his military, and Hitler needed time to defeat France in order to avoid a two-front war. (Jennings and Brewster, p. 212; http://greyfalcon.us/Russia%20In%20World%20War%202.htm.)
“In Old Moscow,” written by Walter Gourlay (aka Walter Cliff) to the tune of “My Darling Clementine,” (1939), addresses the cynical nature of the German-Russian agreement.
In old Moscow, in the Kremlin,
In the fall of Thirty-nine
Oh, I never will desert you
For I love this life of mine
Leon Trotsky was a Nazi
Oh, we knew it for a fact
Pravda said it, we all read it
Before the Stalin-Hitler Pact
Oh my darling, Oh my darling,
Oh my darling party line.
Oh, I never will desert you
Cause I love this life of mine.
One a Nazi would be shot see,
That was then the party line
Now a Nazi’s hotsy-totsy
Trotsky’s laying British mines
Now the Nazis, without Trotsky (alternate: Now the Nazis and Der Fuherer)
Stand within the Party line
All the Russians love the Prussians
Volga boatmen sail the Rhine