Life in Europe during the time leading up to World War 2 was a time of great turmoil. While the countries in the League of Nations wanted to avoid conflicts and wars altogether because of the severity of World War One, there were several factors that led to the beginning of World War Two. The rise of Nazism and Adolf Hitler rising to power as German Chancellor and employing the use of aggressive foreign policy, were among some of the causes of World War Two. When you combine a country that is blamed for the entirety of the first World War with one of the most effective leaders in the history of the world, a ticking time bomb is activated.
The Treaty of Versailles is extremely important to the cause of World War Two because the Treaty of Versailles put one country into the spotlight, Germany. Following their loss in the first World War, the Germans were forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles conjured up by the victors. The main terms of the Treaty of Versailles involved Germany accepting the blame for causing the World War, Germany having to pay 132 billion gold marks for the damage caused as a result of the war, Germany having to disarm their entire military and they were only allowed to have a small army for the purpose of defending. Their naval force, airforce, and ground tanks were not allowed to be possessed by the Germans. Despite their dislike for the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany signed the document anyway.
The Treaty of Versailles had created major problems that the Germans would have to face. The Treaty of Versailles was extremely harsh on the German economy because of the reparations payments. This resulted in the inflation of basic goods in Germany which angered citizens. Many of the German people were extremely poor and they could not afford even the most basic of goods because unemployment was high. The disarmament of the military put many Germans out of jobs, and there were not many jobs to go around to begin with. Heinrich Hauser, a German author paints an image of life within Germany in his article With Germany’s Unemployed. In his first hand account, Hauser writes, “An almost unbroken chain of homeless men extends the whole length of the great Hamburg-Berlin highway. There are so many of them moving in both directions, impelled by the wind or making their way against it, that they could shout a message from Hamburg to Berlin by word of mouth” (Perry 151). This excerpt from Hauser’s article paints an image of a herd of Germans who feel a feeling of hopelessness, wandering the highways of Germany searching for something that is not there. Hauser continues, stating, “It is the same scene for the entire of two hundred miles, and the same scene repeats itself between Hamburg and Bremen, between Bremen and Kassel, between Kassel and Wurzburg, between Wurzburg and Munich. All the highways in Germany over which I travelled this year presented the same aspects. Most of the hikers paid no attention to me. They walked separately or in small groups, with their eyes on the ground. And they had the queer, stumbling gait of barefooted people, for their shoes were slung over their shoulders. Some of them were guild members, -- carpenters with embroidered wallets, knee breeches, and broad felt hats; milkmen with striped red shirts, and brick layers with tall black hats, -- but they were in a minority. Far more numerous were those whom one could assign to no special profession or craft-- unskilled young people, for the most part, who had been unable to find a place for themselves in any city or town in Germany, and who had never had a job and never expected to have one. There was something else that had never been seen before-- whole families that had piled all their goods into baby carriages or wheelbarrows that they were pushing along as they plodded forward in dumb despair. It was a whole nation on the march” (Perry 152). Hauser perfectly paints the image of how the German people felt. Aimlessly wandering the country, a hatred and resentment building on the inside of each and every German. The treaty created this resentment towards the victors of World War I, because the German people were very unhappy about the treaty and thought that it was too harsh. Germans were rallying for a leader. The German people were extremely unsatisfied with the government until a man seized his opportunity for power. That man was Adolf Hitler.
Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Hitler tried to gain power in 1923 during the “Beer Hall Putsch,” where he attempted to overthrow the Bavarian goverment, Hitler served 9 months in jail and during his imprisonment, wrote Mein Kampf, where he presented his views and the Nazi ideals. Hitler talks about his views of the German people. Hitler writes, “Nature does not want a pairing of weaker individuals with stronger ones; it wants even less a mating of a higher race with a weaker one. Otherwise its routine labors of promoting a higher breed lasting perhaps over hundreds of thousands of years would be wiped out. History offers much evidence for this process. It proves with terrifying clarity that any genetic mixture of Aryan blood with people of a lower quality undermines the culturally superior people. The population of North America consists to a large extent of Germanic elements, which have mixed very little with inferior people of color. Central and South America shows a different humanity and culture; here Latin immigrants mixed with the aborigines, sometimes on a larger scale. This example alone allows a clear recognition of the effects of racial mixtures. Remaining racially pure the Germans of North America rose to be masters of their continent; they will remain masters as long as they do not defile their blood” (Perry 155). Hitler in this excerpt expresses his admiration of Germans and the dislike of people anything less than pure blood. Hitler later touches upon how he feels about “non pure blooded people” later in Mein Kampf, in which he states, “All great cultures of the past perished because the original creative race was destroyed by the poisoning of its blood. Such collapse always happened because people forgot that all cultures depend on human beings. In order to preserve a given culture it is necessary to preserve the human beings who created it. Cultural preservation in this world is tied to the iron law of necessity and the right to victory of the stronger and better...If we divide humanity into three categories” into founders of culture, bearers of culture, and destroyers of culture, the Aryan would undoubtedly rate first. He established the foundations and walls of all human progress.... The mixing of blood and the resulting lowering of racial cohesion is the sole reason why cultures perish. People who do not perish by defeat in war, but by losing the power of resistance inherent in blood. All that is not pure race in this world is chaff….” (Perry 155). The primary ideal of Nazism is that the Germans were the master race of the world, and everyone else was below them. The main goal of Hitler was to rally the German people and put them up in arms. Hitler painted a situation where it was about the survival of the German people, and there were two main enemies that needed to be rid of, the Jews and Slavic people.
Hitler used propaganda to his advantage, painting pictures of the wretched enemies that lie beyond the German borders. Hitler describes the best way to use propaganda in Mein Kampf where he states, “The art of propaganda lies in sensing the emotional temper of the broad masses, so that you, in psychologically effective form, can catch their attention and move their hearts…. The attention span of the masses in very short, their understanding limited; they easily forget. For that reason all effective propaganda has to concentrate on very few points and drive them home through simple slogans, until even the simplest can grasp what you have in mind. As soon as you give up this principle and become too complex, you will lose your effectiveness, because the masses cannot digest and retain what you have offered. You thereby weaken your case and in the end lose it altogether” (Perry 157). Hitler describes exactly what he did to rally the German people. Hitler was able to turn Germany into a full dictatorship, rally his citizens, and eventually take over almost all of Europe because of his oratory skills. Hitler appealed to the emotions of the German people. Germany was lost, distraught, and poor. Hitler’s passion and charisma radiated in his speeches and movements. Hitler turned Germany into a power house overnight because every German was on his side. Hitler started building up the military of Germany despite the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler then went on to go on a land conquest, gaining control of parts of Czechoslovakia and Austria, furthering his power and territory. No one wanted to mess with Hitler because countries wanted to avoid war at all cost. Hitler played his cards that he was dealt very right, and turned Germany into a force to be reckoned with. A force that could have changed the history of the world forever.
- Perry, Marvin; Berg, Matthew; and Krukones, James. Sources of Twentieth
- Century Europe Since 1900. 2nded. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning,2011