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“We want varl!”—Joachim von Ribbentrop, Aug. 11, 1939.
“Our enemies are little worms . . . Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally ... The stronger man is right!“—Adolf Hitter, Aug. 22, 1939.
BLOOD and iron was Bismarck's doctrine, but the Second World War was started 25 years ago this week with a cynical ruthlessness which would have shocked even the Iron Chancellor.
At about 8 P.M., on Aug. 31, 1939, near the little town of Gleiwitz in German Silesia, not far from the Polish border, a group of nervous men in Pol‐ ish uniforms suddenly invaded the local radio station. They slugged two German employes, seized the transmitter, broadcast an aggressive speech in Polish, and raced away toward the frontier leaving near the station's doorstep a bullet‐riddled, dying man whose name will be forever unknown to history. Alfred Helmut Naujocks, son of a Kiel grocer, member of the Nazi S.S., led the “raiders’’ in this faked attack on a German border town, arranged to provide Hitler with a flimsy excuse for war against Poland. The dying man left behind, clothed in Polish uniform, was actually a victim selected from a German concentration camp.
The incident at Gleiwitz was the last step in Adolf Hitler's march toward World War II. The die was already cast; the troops were moving when “provocative” Polish phrases stuttered from the Gleiwitz transmitter.
* * *
THE characters in this drama could only have been produced by genetic caprice; the dramatist who conceived them would have been derided:
Adolf Hitler—Master of the Third Reich, a corporal come to high estate. A vegetarian, a hater of Jews, who apotheosized himself and cast Germany in his image. A man, like many before him, with a sense of mission and destiny but ruthless, determined, with a great gift for mob‐stirring oratory, a sense of political timing and intuitive generalship; a natural mimic, an untidy administrator, a megalomaniac shouting passion and “sheer vindictiveness.” He was a man who “believed neither in God nor in conscience (‘a Jewish invention, a blemish like circumcision’) ... a Siegfried come to reawaken Germany to greatness, for whom morality, suffering and the ’litany of private virtues’ were irrelevant.” And, withal, a perverted genius who “liked cream cakes and sweets... flowers in his rooms, and dogs . . . the company of pretty—but not clever — women...”
Hermann Goermg—the No. 2 man of the National Socialist hierarchy — a World War I air ace, grown fat and dissolute, corrupted by power, a taker of drugs, a collector of art, antlers and decorations, a lover of fine foods and wines, a seeming Falstaff, vain and petty, but behind the bulky joviality a keen and cunning mind and strong will, a political in‐fighter....
Benito Mussolini—dictator of Italy, Exemplar of Fascism, the “Sawdust Caesar” who made the trains run on time... General Maurice Gamelin, Chief of the French General Staff, who depended upon the Maginot Line, and whose fatuous remark—“My soul is at peace”—epitomized the misjudgments of the time.
Pierre Laval and many opportunistic French politicians who feared the left wing more than the Nazis.
Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, who had returned from the Munich conference a year before, brandishing an umbrella and predicting “peace in our time.”
The British Establishment, who thought they could do business with Hitler, and who agreed with Chamberlain that British blood should not be shed “because of a quarrel in a faraway country [Czechoslovakia] be‐ tween people of whom we know nothing.”
Winston Churchill, almost a lone voice—gadfly, oppositionist, Cassandra warning of Nazi aims.
Joseph Stalin, whose paternal face belied a ruthless will. Dictator of Russia, master of terror and repression, leader of the Communist conspiracy. He knew no friends, tolerated no enemies. To Stalin the ends justified any means. He matched Hitler in cynicism but restrained his megalomania with a shrewd peasant cunning.
Ignace Moscicki, President of Poland, Josef Beck, Foreign Minister, Marshal Edward Rydz‐Smigly, Inspector General of the armed forces—inheritors of Paderewski's and of Pilsudski's mantles, authoritarian rulers of a feudalistic state, beset by ethnic minorities, squeezed between Moscow and Berlin. And across the sea, Franklin Delano Roosevelt—President of a United States still emerging from the Great Depression; a leader loved and hated; master politician, paralytic, ambitious, idealistic, dreamer of dreams and schemer of schemes ... an aristocrat with the common touch, who, in his “fireside chats” made the phrase “My friends ...” a household word and a subject for satire...
* * *
WORLD WAR II festered for a quarter of a century, growing out of the ashes of a Europe devastated by World War I.
The defeat of the Central Powers and the Versailles Treaty had changed the map of Europe. Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France. The Polish Corridor, carved out of what had been Germany, gave Warsaw access to the Baltic and separated East Prussia from Berlin. The Free City of Danzig was established under the League of Nations with a League Commissioner, but —despite its Germanic population — with Polish control over customs and foreign affairs. The seeds of irredentism thus were sown while the gun barrels still were hot....
The brave new world, safe for democracy—soon it became apparent—was to be the same old world with patches on it. Washington rejected the vision of its wartime President, Woodrow Wilson, and refused to join the League of Nations.
Germany's brief experiment in democracy, the Weimar Republic, was beset with problems—war guilt, the loss of territories most Germans held dear, a runaway inflation, severe unemployment, incipient anarchy. Leftwing and right‐wing extremists—Communists and Brown Shirts—battled in the streets and, in 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power and opened one of the darkest periods in the modern history of man.
From the beginning, Hitler was dedicated to the idea of the German master race, to expansion by guile and power. He rearmed openly, despite the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty, reassured his potential enemies publicly while excoriating them privately, signed a nonaggression pact with Poland in order to have a free hand against Czechoslovakia and Austria and started the construction of the West Wall, a fortified zone opposite France and Belgium.
PARIS and London equivocated, hesitated — but did nothing; the United States was preoccupied with its own economic problems and the social revolution led by Roosevelt; and the League of Nations proved powerless to halt or even influence Mussolini's rape of Ethiopia.
Germany's techniques for conquest —economic barter deals, political infiltration, psychological terror—and Hitler's recipe for repression—concentra‐ tion camps, Nazi rallies, and the “Big Lie” of Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister—became familiar. Nazi “Fifth Columns,” boring from within, and “Quislings,” or traitors — Seyss‐Inquart in Austria, Konrad Henlein in the Sudetenland, Joseph Tiso in Slovakia and the one who gave the name to the breed, Vidkun Quisling in Norway —were the puppets of Nazi hegemony.
The year 1938 saw the tide of the Third Reich—the Reich that was to last a thousand years—rolling to the flood. German tanks moved into Austria; Hitler threatened war against Czechoslovakia. Hastily, in a conference whose name is now forever synonymous with appeasement, the leaders of Europe convened at Munich to dismember Czechoslovakia, not even represented at the conference. Hitler got the Sudetenland and the Czech fortifications, and Poland and Hungary, like vultures, tore off pieces of the dying state. London and Paris hailed Munich with relief as “peace in our time.”
Before the year was out Hitler was looking toward new horizons; Joachim von Ribbentrop, Nazi Foreign Minister, suggested to Warsaw the return of Danzig to Germany....
And so, the stage was set.
* * *
THE year of Doomsday — 1939 —opened with the brass tongue of propaganda loud throughout the world. Hitler insisted upon the return of Danzig and upon German control of a 15mile connecting strip across the Polish Corridor. Strident charges and countercharges echoed from the Corridor and the German‐Polish frontiers; in the Free City of Danzig, Nazis agitated and harangued.
In mid‐March what was left of Czechoslovakia ceased to exist as a sovereign state as German troops moved in; Poland was now outflanked from the south as well as from the north. One week later, Lithuania, threatened by the Nazi iron fist, surrendered Memel, former German territory, to Hitler. Even Rumania, which had. been a French ally, along with Poland and vanished Czechoslovakia, signed an agreement with Berlin promising most of her oil output to Germany. And on March 28 the long siege of Madrid ended and the forces of Francisco Franco, aided by Germans and Italians, won the Spanish Civil War.
But now at last in London, the blinders were almost off. The students who signed the Oxford Oath—never again to go to war—and the columnists and intellectuals who asked, “Who Wants to Die for Danzig?” were almost silenced now, along with the politicians of appeasement and their friends in “the Cliveden set.” Even Chamberlain now perceived Hitler's insatiable appetite for world conquest. On the last day of March the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that, if Poland were attacked, Britain and France would “feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. . . .”
Britain, with French concurrence, extended her mantle of moral protection to Greece and Rumania, and Britain, France and Turkey signed formal agreements for mutual assistance in the Mediterranean.
Hitler was furious (“I’11 cook them a stew that they'll choke on”), the more so since it was becoming obvious in Berlin that Poland couldn't be bluffed. Warsaw called up reservists after Hitler's triumphant entry into Memel, and Beck, the Polish Foreign Minister, answered Ribbentrop's threats in kind.
In early April, the strutting Mussolini, aping the long‐dead Caesars and jealous of Germanic power, sent his legions into Albania in search of a quick and easy conquest.
Unknown to the world, Hitler gave oral instructions to his military commanders to prepare for war against Poland by the end of August and followed up, on April 3, with written orders: “The task of the Wehrmacht is to destroy the Polish armed forces. To this end a surprise attack is to be aimed at and prepared . . . in such a way that the operation can be carried out at any time from Sept. 1, 1939, onward... .”
At the end of April, Hitler abrogated the Polish‐German nonaggression pact of 1934 and simultaneously repudiated the Anglo‐German naval agreement of 1935 which had limited the size of the German Fleet to 35 per cent of the British.
* * *
THE milestones toward war were passed in quick step that summer 25 years ago:
Berlin's directives to Army Group North and Army Group South, charged with the attack upon Poland, were issued in May, and in June eight ! divisions were assigned to the Polish frontier for “entrenchment” work, and were gradually built up during the summer from peace to war strength.
* * *
On May 22, a Fascist “Axis” —Rome‐Berlin—was forged in the so‐called “Pact of Steel” when Der Führer and II Duce signed a military alliance. Hitler was protecting Germany's southern flank, neutralizing France. . . .
* * *
Leaders of Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria came to Berlin to pay obeisance to Hitler; each was greeted with a display of Germany's military might. The army was probably the best‐equipped in Europe; the air force the most modern though not as large as then publicly pictured; the Navy small but already including 57 submarines.
* * *
Reluctantly, hesitatingly, Britain and France pressed Poland to compromise on the Corridor and sent envoys to Moscow to attempt to establish a unified front against Hitler. But the German dictator had more to offer Russia, and Stalin was obviously anxious to avoid war.
* * *
A militarized German Frei Korps infiltrated into Danzig; the German Gauleiter Albert Forster openly proclaimed his intention of incorporating the Free City into Hitler's Reich.
Throughout August German military concentrations, camouflaged as “maneuvers,” increased in East Prussia and opposite the Corridor.
* * *
Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Foreign Minister and sonin‐law of Mussolini, noted in his diary entry of Aug 12 that “Hitler is very cordial, but... implacable in his decision... There is no longer anything that can be done. He has decided to strike, and strike he will . . .”
* * *
General Franz Haider, Chief of the German Army General Staff, recorded in his diary Aug. 14 the belief of Hitler that England and France did not want to fight: “The men I met in Munich will not start a new world war.” And on Aug. 15, the German UnderSecretary of State echoed his master — “Chamberlain and Halifax [British Foreign Secretary] in particular wish to avoid bloodshed. America is markedly reserved. .. .”
* * *
On Aug. 17, the Wehrmacht was ordered to supply Reinhard Heydrich, the deputy to Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler, with Polish uniforms—the objective, to “create incidents wherein German soil would be violated by persons identified as members of the Polish armed forces.”
On Aug. 21, the pocket battleship Graf Spee sortied from a closely guarded harbor and headed toward the South Atlantic, under orders, when war started, to harry Allied shipping.
* * *
On Aug. 22 Hitler conferred at Obersalzberg with service chiefs—a “rambling monologue lasting for hours. . . .” “Be steeled,” Der Führer said, “against all signs of compassion. Whoever has pondered this world order knows that its meaning lies in the success of the best by means of force. . . . The invasion and extermination of Poland begins on Saturday morning [Aug. 26]. I will have a few companies in Polish uniform attack in Upper Silesia or in the Protectorate. Whether the world believes it doesn't mean a damn to me. The world believes only in success ... Be hard..... Be without mercy. The citizens of Western Europe must quiver in horror. ...”
In the Kremlin on the night of Aug. 23‐24: The arch‐conspirators Stalin and Ribbentrop met With many toasts in vodka and much conviviality, the sworn enemies from right and left signed a nonaggression pact, with a secret protocol which gave Russia a free hand in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland east of the Narew, Vistula and San Rivers, and . in Rumanian Bessarabia. . . . Hitler and Stalin, the most ruthless cynics of their era, were now virtual allies; Poland was doomed, the West checkmated....
* * *
On Aug. 24, the National Socialist leader Albert Forster was appointed “Head of the State” by the German‐dominated Danzig Senate; frontier guards were increased and mobilization started in Belgium, Holland and Switzerland. The West reeled under the shock of the Nazi‐Communist pact, but the House of Commons passed a special Emergency Powers Act in One day; President Roosevelt addressed a personal appeal for peace first to King Victor Emmanuel of Italy, then to Germany and Poland; Pope Pius XII raised his voice “for the force of reason and not ... of arms.”
Yet Mussolini hesitated; his army was in a “pitiful state”; Italy was not ready for war. And, in the Foreign Office in London, the British, with that peculiar tenacity of a race which achieves the magnificent when faced with the hopeless, put in writing, in a formal United Kingdom‐Poland mutual‐assistance pact, Britain's determination to give Poland “all the support and assistance in its power.”
Hitler hesitated; Mussolini's weakness, and the unexpected British and French firmness prompted him to defer Y‐Day, the date for the attack on Poland. The German Army, with “everything in order” and some units already moving towards the frontier, was halted in place.
* * *
Der Führer offered to “guarantee” the existence of the British Empire and to respect French frontiers, but toward Poland he remained adamant ... By late afternoon of Aug. 25, Berlin had cut off communications with the world...
On Aug. 26, the original YDay, there was some local shooting in Upper Silesia in front of von Reichenau's Tenth Army. “Kernen,” special counterintelligence units under the direct control of the High Command, skirmished with Polish border guards.
The British and French Ambassadors in Berlin—Sir Nevile Henderson and Robert Coulondre—had repeated audiences with Ribbentrop or Hitler to reemphasize their countries’ determination to assist Poland, to urge negotiations. The approaches were conciliatory but firm. The French were stringing barbed wire along the frontier; French garrison troops and reservists, the so‐called “shellfish of the forts” moved into the “impregnable” casemates of the Maginot Line All Europe mobilized.
* * *
At 7:30 P.M. on Aug. 28, there was a conference in the Reich Chancellery with Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Goebbels, Martin Bormann, Haider and others. Haider recorded his impression of Hitler in his diary: “Lacks sleep, haggard, voice brittle, preoccupied....” Later: Hitler—“If things come to the worst I shall even fight a war on two fronts.”
On Aug. 29, as the bells tolled for a dying Europe, Sir Nevile Henderson was received by Ribbentrop and a ranting Hitler, who demanded the return of Danzig and the Corridor, but agreed to enter into direct negotiations with Poland But a Polish emissary must arrive in Berlin on Wed. Aug. 30—the following day—almost a physical impossibility. The time limit, Henderson said “hatte den Klang eines Ultimatums.” And he added later: “I left the Reich Chancellery that evening filled with the gloomiest forebodings.”
* * *
AUG. 31 was the last day of peace.
Berlin, 12:01 AM. Henderson's “forebodings” are justified about midnight in an audience with Ribbentrop, “whose reception of me was... one of intense hostility, which increased in violence ... he produced a lengthy document which he read out to me in German or rather gabbled through to me as fast as he could in a tone of the utmost scorn and annoyance....”
The document incorporates Germany's 16 demands, or conditions for peace, but it is already, Ribbentrop contemptuously says, academic, or über holt (out of date), since no Polish emissary had reached Berlin.
Berlin. 2 A.M. Sir Nevile Henderson receives the Polish Ambassador to Germany, M. Josef Lipsld, and transmits to him the gist of the stormy Ribbentrop interview.
Berlin, 6:80 A.M. Captain Hauser, cavalry aide to General Haider, transmits orders from the Reich Chancellery: Y‐Day will be Sept. 1, H‐Hour, 0445. Haider does some figuring and enters it in his journal: Germany now has mobilized some 2.600,000 men (including 155,000 militarized laborers working on the Westwall fortifications). Of these slightly more than 1,000.000—some 34 divisions, mostly reserve divisions—are deployed in the West; the rest—some 1,500,000 men—more than 50 divisions (including six Panzer or tank divisions) are poised against Poland.
London, 7 A.M. Sandbags are piled against the House of Commons and the stations are crowded as the evacuation of 3,000,000 children, women, invalids and old men from London and 28 other British cities starts—a mass movement unprecedented in modern history. The fear of bombs already looms heavily over the world.
Berlin, 9 A.M. The Italian Ambassador to Berlin, Bernardo Attolico, advises Rome the situation is “desperate... war in a few hours.”
Berlin, noon “... an eerie atmosphere . . . everyone . . . going around in a daze . . .”
Oslo. Representatives of the Scandinavian powers—Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland—issue their “customary” declaration of neutrality.
Warsaw. Farm carts, wagons, trains and trucks are loaded with men no longer young, as all reserve classes are called up to join younger men already in uniform.
The North Sea. Three Polish destroyers stand out of the narrow straits to the Baltic and shape course toward the British Isles. Not far behind German submarines head out into deep water and submerge.
Berlin, 12:30 P.M. Hitler signs “Directive No. 1 for the Conduct of the War”—a “solution by force.”
New York, 1 P.M. The Seventh Cavalry Brigade, Mechanized—the only armored unit of the United States Army — parades in windwhipped rain through the city's streets to a sodden camp site in the “World of Tomorrow”—the New York World's Fair. Its 110 tanks and arm‐ ored cars—virtually the total armored might of the United States Army—are more symbolic of the world to come than all the fair's glittering dreams.
Berlin, 5 P.M. A kind of “Mad Hatter's tea party” is held with Field Marshal Goering and Ambassador Henderson as the principals, and one Birger Dahlems, a Swedish business man who has tried to act as an unofficial mediator, as a go‐between. Goering talks “for the best part of two hours of the iniquities of the Poles and of Hitler's and his own desire for friendship with England [Henderson later noted] ... It was a conversation which led nowhere ... It augured the worst. . . he could scarcely have afforded at such a moment to spare time in conversation, if it did not mean that everything, down to the last detail, was now ready for action....”
Berlin, 6:15 P.M. The Polish Ambassador Lipski seeks out Ribbentrop. It is one of the shortest interviews on record. Lipski says his Government is favorably considering the British proposal for direct negotiations, but that he himself has no authority to negotiate. Ribbentrop dismisses him; back at his Embassy, Lipski finds his communications to Warsaw have been cut.
Gleiwitz, Germany, 7:30‐8 P.M. The gang of men in Polish uniforms seizes the local radio station, broadcasts a vituperative message and departs leaving a bleeding corpse....
Rome, 8:20 P.M. Ciano is informed by the telephone central office that London has cut its communications with Italy. Il Duce says: “This is war but tomorrow we shall declare in the Grand Council that we are not marching.”
Berlin, 9 P.M. At last the text of Hitler's 16 conditions about Poland are broadcast over the Berlin radio, and a few minutes later Henderson receives for the first time a copy of the proposals which were “gabbled” at him by Ribbentrop the night before. It is more window ‐ dressing; Army Groups North and South are already moving.
Europe, midnight. As the last day of peace ends, France is mobilized, Europe stands to arms . ... In Berlin and Warsaw, London and Paris and Rome the lights are out again for the second time in a quarter of a century ....
* * *
AT 4:40 AM. on Sept. 1, 1939. the Luftwaffe bombed Polish airfields all over the country; the old German battleship Schleswig‐Holstein on a “friendly” visit to Danzig harbor shelled the Polish fortress of Westerplatte; the Nazi S.S. took over Danzig, German tanks rolled a?ross the frontiers from north and south and west—and the blitzkrieg (lightning war) was born . . .
While Polish cavalrymen charged German tanks, Hitler justified his aggression to the Reichstag at 10 A.M. Sept. 1. He characterized the German assault as a “counterattack,” and declared “this night (sic) for the first time Polish regulars fired on our own territory . . . from now on bombs will be met with bombs . . . .”
He said he had no quarrel with France and England, but later in the morning when Goering and Dahlems, the Swedish business man, saw. him in the Chancellery, he shouted: “If England wants to fight for a year, I shall fight for a year; if England wants to fight two years, I shall fight two years ... If England wants to fight for three years, I shall fight for three years .... Und wenn es erforderlich ist will ich zehn Jähre kampfen (and if it is necessary I will fight for ten years)...”
At 3 P.M. in Rome, the Duce addressed the Council of Ministers and announced “nonintervention.”
“Sept. 2 was a day of suspense,” Poles were dying under German bombs and guns. The French Cabinet was split and Georges Bonnet, the French Foreign Minister grasped at a straw—a belated attempt by Mussolini to mediate. The capitals of Europe sought for hope. Ambassadors in Rome, Berlin, London came and went; messages and answers streamed in and out of the Foreign Offices of Europe but it was all in vain.
The British Cabinet insisted as a condition to acceptance of Mussolini's offer that German troops be withdrawn from Poland. Ciano knew it was, to Hitler, an impossible condition. “. . . The last note of hope has died...”
Sunday, Sept. 3 was in Berlin “a lovely end‐of‐the‐summer day.” It was also the end of the world that was.
About 9 AM. Sir Nevile Henderson delivered to Ribbentrop's office a communication from Lord Halifax: “I have .... the honor to inform you,” it read in the stilted language of diplomacy, that as of 11 A.M. (British summer time), “a state of war will exist between” England and Germany.
France, her Cabinet beset by doubts, her leaders by anxiety, delayed joining Brit ain until 5 P.M.
By then the world had heard a sad King, George VI, speak with a halting voice to the British peoples in the isles and beyond the seas: “. . . For the second time in the lives of most of us, we are at war...”
* * *
THE war declarations of Britain and France, realists knew, could bring no succor to the reeling Poles. Poland was in a hopeless strategic position, virtually surrounded —west, north and south—by German ‐ held territory, and bordered to the east by the hated Russian colossus.
The German plan of campaign was essentially simple —a gigantic Cannae, a battle of annihilation, a double envelopment of Polish army units west of the Vistula, and then of Warsaw and the remaining Polish forces. The Poles, though they retreated rapidly, were continuously outflanked, their front pierced or strong points bypassed, thousands of them, scattered and disorganized, left in the ruck of the German advance to be mopped up at leisure. By mid‐September, the Polish campaign had become a series of disconnected battles of encirclement and annihilation.
Suddenly, on Sept. 17, strong Russian forces invaded Poland from the east. It was the coup de grace to a dying nation, prearranged by Hitler—though unknown, until the event, to most German soldiers. It was Poland's fourth partition in. her long history of tragedy.
THE rest was anticlimax. Polish Government leaders fled (on Sept. 18) to Rumania; stragglers and small units holed up in swamps and forests or filtered across the frontier. The German High Command began to shift forces to the Western Front.
The lightning conquest of Poland stunned the world. A campaign involving more than 2‐000,000 men was virtually decided within less than a week, its major battles fought within two weeks, a nation destroyed in a month, more than 22 million people, less than a million of them ethnic Germans, brought under the Nazi yoke.
The German tactics of speed and mobility and armored spearheads driving recklessly into the heart of an enemy country, supported by heavy and persistent air attacks and the traitorous cooperation of “fifth columnists” were tactics long discussed but never before tried in war. Sven to the layman, it was apparent that a new and powerful form of offensive had been developed, and that the Anglo‐French faith in the defensive and in the concept of static positions and fixed fortifications was open to doubt.
The triumph stamped the Wehrmacht as the best “shortwar” army in the world. But Hitler and Goebbels not only advertised it to the full; they exaggerated the German strengths. Western commentators emphasized the tank spearheads and the screaming terror of the Stukas, but overlooked what later became in the vast Russian spaces a major weakness—the largely horse‐drawn supply trains of the German infantry, the lack of specialized support and logistics troops, and of well trained reserves.
Berlin dubbed the Polish campaign “Der Feldzug der Achtzehn Tage (The Campaign of the Eighteen Days)” and combat motion pictures of the Nazi war machine rolling across the plains of Poland—shown at the German Embassy in Washington, sent to Rome, leaked to Paris and to London, exhibited all over the world—deeply impressed the neutrals and the waverers, encouraged the appeasers, sowed the seeds of doubt and cultivated a harvest of fear.
“Deutschland über Alles . . . Tomorrow the World.”
* * *
BUT Poland was for Hitler a hollow victory, for it marked not the short and local war he wanted but the start of the long, exhausting, total conflict that was to engulf the world. For when Hitler's Panzers were checked at the gates of Moscow, many lives later,, and the United States entered the war, the blitzkrieg became a war of attritionr—a many‐front war, which, like World War I, Germany could not win.
Hitler's war machine swept across Europe, darkened the Mediterranean, drove deep into Egypt—only to recoil in blood and defeat at Stalingrad and El Alamein, and come to an end in the shattered rains of Berlin.
What Hitler started on Sept. 1, 1938, grew, with Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, into the century's second total war—a war immeasurably larger in geographic scope than the First World War—and even bloodier. Some 23,000,000 men in uniform from 53 nations, countries and dominions were killed or died; at least 28,000,000 civilians died from bombs or guns, hunger or disease or—in the concentration camps—from man's inhumanity to man.
FEW of the principal actors of 1939 survived the holocaust; Hitler killed himself in a bunker in Berlin in a Wagnerian finale in 1945. Neville Chamberlain died, broken in heart and body, on Nov. 9, 1940; he had survived long enough to see the Fall of France and Hitler's bid for conquest across the Channel turned back in the Battle of Britain. Chamberlain's arch antagonist and critic, Winston Churchill, rallied freedom as Prime Minister of Britain, but even he lived to see belied the words he uttered: “I have not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”
Germany and her satellites were completely defeated; Japan was crushed. The Allies achieved total victory, but again, for the second time in a quarter of a century, peace and stability eluded them. The United States and Soviet Russia emerged from World War II as “super‐states”; Communism extended its hegemony over Eastern Europe and even to Berlin. Instead of “peace in our time,” there emerged from World War II colonial conflicts, racial friction, continents in turmoil—and, with the Communist conquest of China by Marxism, a new global menace.
Man , once again, as in the Great War of 1914‐18, was both cause and effect, victor and vanquished, victim of his own worst nature.
World War I, and its imperfect peace, had led inevitably to World War IL The real injustices and, more important, the geographic and ethnic absurdities of the Versailles Treaty, the economic depression and the bitter struggle of right and left helped to lead to Hitler's rise. The appeasers and the pacifists encouraged aggrandizement by passivity and negation and the right wing in France and England, mesmerized by the dangers of Communism, overlooked, minimized or palliated the dangers of Fascism and Nazism. And Communist Russia contributed mightily to world disaster by international subversion and conspiracy and by the cynical power politics of Joseph Stalin.
It was to lead—this second period of total war—to the atomic age, with its incipient horrors, to divided Germany, divided Korea, divided Vietnam, and to the time of troubles unending in which we live. Its consequences linger on unto a third and fourth generation...
Who was to blame?
If one agrees with the Tolstoy theory of history, even great national leaders are but chips on the tidal waves of great events. World War n, in this sense, was part of an epoch of catastrophe and revolution, an inevitable outgrowth of World War I.
Yet if any one man bears primary and major responsibility for World War II that man is Adolf Hitler, corporal in World War I, nemesis in World War n. He it was who wanted war—not the war he got, but a war of conquest and triumph, of revenge and aggression; he it was who led a nation to battle and subjected a continent to devastation.
World War II—Hitler's War —dragged on for almost six long years. At its end the Nazi Reich that was to last a thousand years was dust and ashes, a jumbled mass of wreckage where cities once had been, peopled by men and women with shocked, lackluster eyes—a “master race” led to destruction by the Master Pied Piper of history.
Continue reading the main story
- Fighting a war on two fronts.
- Not attacking Moscow.
- Choosing the wrong allies.
Because of its German majority, the Sudetenland later became a major source of contention between Germany and Czechoslovakia, and in 1938 participants at the Munich Conference, yielding to Adolf Hitler, transferred it to Germany.What did Germany do to the Sudetenland? ›
This footage shows German forces entering the Sudetenland. Under the terms of the Munich Pact, Germany annexed this largely German-speaking region from Czechoslovakia. Germany, Italy, Britain, and France were party to the pact, which averted war.What was the Sudetenland and why did Germany want to annex it? ›
The Sudetenland was a province in northern Czechoslovakia, bordering Germany. Germany wanted to expand its territory to include the Sudetenland and gain control of key military defences in the area. Once it had control of these defences, invading the rest of Czechoslovakia would be considerably easier.What was Japan biggest mistake in ww2? ›
One of the biggest mistakes the Japanese made was not destroying the smallest American ships in Pearl: our submarines. They survived and put to sea to destroy more Japanese tonnage during the war than the Americans lost at Pearl Harbor. And the biggest mistake of all? Underestimating the American public.What were Hitler's 4 main aims? ›
- HITLER'S AIMS #1.
- Overturn the Treaty. of Versailles. Hitler believed that many of Germany's problems. ...
- DESTROY. VERSAILLES. BUILD THE. ...
- HITLER'S AIMS #2.
- Lebensraum. (Living Space) Expand Germany's borders in order to create 'living space' for all German people. ...
- INVADE. EAST. ...
- HOW DID FOREIGN COUNTRIES REACT TO HITLER?
Hitler claimed that 300 Sudeten Germans had been killed. This was not actually the case, but Hitler used it as an excuse to place German troops along the Czech border.Why was the Munich Agreement a mistake? ›
It was meant to be a peaceful agreement but enabled Hitler to continue showing force and have his demands met. The Munich Agreement had the opportunity to stop the war and failed due to its weak predecessors and the strong pattern of appeasement towards Hitler that had already been established.How did the Czech people feel about the Munich Agreement? ›
The Czechoslovaks were dismayed with the Munich settlement. They were not invited to the conference, and felt they had been betrayed by the British and French governments.Why did the Sudetenland crisis happen? ›
The Sudeten crisis of 1938 was provoked by the Pan-Germanist demands of Nazi Germany that the Sudetenland be annexed to Germany, which happened after the later Munich Agreement.
September 29, 1938
The leaders of Britain, France, and Ital y agreed to the German annexation of the Sudetenland in exchange for a pledge of peace from Hitler. Czechoslovakia, which was not a party to the Munich negotiations, agreed under significant pressure from Britain and France.
However just days later Hitler then demanded all of the Sudetenland, not just the German speaking parts. Hitler used the pretext that the Czechs were oppressing the Germans and that the Reich should rescue them. The Sudeten Crisis led to the Munich Agreement in September 1938.Why did Germany invade the Sudetenland quizlet? ›
The Sudetenland was land along the German border that belonged to Czechoslovakia. Hitler wanted this land so badly because the Sudetenland contained Czechs most valuable resources and was a vital defense zone against Germany. If the Germans took over Sudetenland then they could easily take over Czechoslovakia.How was the Sudetenland turned over to Germany quizlet? ›
British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and the French premier signed the Munich Agreement with Hitler, which turned over Sudetenland over to Germany without a single shot being fired. They did this in their eagerness to avoid war.Did Japan ever apologize for Pearl Harbor? ›
Emperor Hirohito let it be known to General MacArthur that he was prepared to apologize formally to General MacArthur for Japan's actions during World War II—including an apology for the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.Why did Japan do so well after ww2? ›
It occurred chiefly due to the economic interventionism of the Japanese government and partly due to the aid and assistance of the U.S. aid to Asia. After World War II, the U.S. established a significant presence in Japan to slow the expansion of Soviet influence in the Pacific.Did Japan get better after ww2? ›
Japan was disarmed, its empire dissolved, its form of government changed to a democracy, and its economy and education system reorganized and rebuilt. Years of reconstruction were required to recover from thousands of air raids, including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.What were Hitler's 3 aims for Germany? ›
Hitler had three main aims in his foreign policy: revise the Treaty of Versailles. unite all German-speaking people into one Reich. expand eastwards to achieve Lebensraum.What was Hitler's best strategy? ›
His most successful tactic was also his most innovative: the blitzkrieg. With tanks racing around fortified positions and destroying and occupying cities and positions behind enemy lines, the attack left Allied forces in both Poland and France reeling.What was Hitler's main promise? ›
Hitler pledged to restore prosperity, create civil order (by crushing industrial strikes and street demonstrations by communists and socialists), eliminate the influence of Jewish financiers, and make the fatherland once again a world power.
The name "Sudeten Germans" was adopted during rising nationalism after the fall of Austria-Hungary after the First World War. After the Munich Agreement, the so-called Sudetenland became part of Germany.Why was Britain so weak in ww2? ›
In particular, there was a lack of home defences, especially against bombing. The heads of Britain's armed forces consistently warned Chamberlain that Britain was too weak to fight.Was the Munich Agreement a failure? ›
Today, the agreement is widely regarded as a failed act of appeasement toward Germany, and a diplomatic triumph for Hitler.Who broke the Munich Agreement? ›
But, despite his promise of 'no more territorial demands in Europe', Hitler was undeterred by appeasement. In March 1939, he violated the Munich Agreement by occupying the rest of Czechoslovakia. Six months later, in September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and Britain was at war.What happened to Czechoslovakia after the Munich Agreement? ›
British and French prime ministers Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier sign the Munich Pact with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. The agreement averted the outbreak of war but gave Czechoslovakia away to German conquest.What was the main cause of the breakup of Czechoslovakia? ›
While raw nationalism fuelled the conflict in Yugoslavia, economics and inept leadership were the prime causes of Czechoslovakia's schism—a dynamic that presages the struggle for independence in contemporary Catalonia, a region of Spain. The two peoples had experienced separation before.How long did it take for Germany to take over Czech? ›
Courtesy of the New York Public Library. In September 1938, the Munich Agreement granted Adolf Hitler the Sudetenland, a border area of Czechoslovakia home to many ethnic Germans. Five months later, Hitler violated the agreement, invaded, and occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia.Why was Sudetenland important in ww2? ›
The Sudetenland was a border area of Czechoslovakia containing a majority ethnic German population as well as all of the Czechoslovak Army's defensive positions in event of a war with Germany. The leaders of Britain, France, Italy, and Germany held a conference in Munich on September 29–30, 1938.How many Germans were Sudetenland? ›
The Sudetenland was inhabited by over 3 million Germans, comprising about 23 percent of the population of the republic. It possessed huge chemical works and lignite mines, as well as textile, china, and glass factories.What does the term Sudetenland mean? ›
(suːˈdeɪtənˌlænd ) noun. a mountainous region of the N Czech Republic: part of Czechoslovakia (1919–38; 1945–93); occupied by Germany (1938–45) Also called: the Sudeten.
The military occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany began with the German annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, continued with the creation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and by the end of 1944 extended to all parts of Czechoslovakia.What happened to the Sudetenland after the Treaty of Versailles? ›
At the end of World War One the treaties of Versailles, St Germain and Trianon broke the Austro-Hungarian Empire and took land from both countries and also from Germany to give to other countries. The Sudetenland was taken away from Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and given to Czechoslovakia.How did the Sudetenland crisis break the Treaty of Versailles? ›
Sudeten Nazis, led by Henlein, caused trouble, claiming that they were being oppressed by the Czechs. Hitler demanded union, and threatened war. This time, although the Czech leader Beneš was prepared to fight, it was Britain and France who, at Munich, broke the Treaty of Versailles and gave the Sudetenland to Germany.What was Hitler's flaws? ›
Almost every one of these strategic blunders were results of deeply rooted flaws in Hitler's character. These major flaws were his inflated beliefs in his skills as a military tactician and his program of wagging a war of annihilation on racial and ideological terms.What was one of Hitler's biggest mistakes? ›
Operation Barbarossa: why Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union was his greatest mistake. Launched on 22 June 1941 and named after the 12th-century Holy Roman emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union represented a decisive breaking of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact.What was Hitler's temperament? ›
According to this study, Hitler showed obvious traits of paranoia, but also of anti-social, sadistic, and narcissistic personality disorders, and distinct traits of posttraumatic stress disorder.What was Hitler's first violation? ›
Answer and Explanation: Hitler's first violation of the Treaty of Versailles was the remilitarization of the Rhineland, which took place on 7th of March 1936.