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CHC2D: Twentieth Century Canadian History The Beginning of World War II: Lebensraum and Irridentism: [W]ithout consideration of ‘traditions’ and prejudices, it [Germany] must find the courage to gather our people and their strength for an advance along the road that will lead this people from its present restricted living space to new land and soil, and hence also free it from the danger of vanishing from the earth or of serving others as a slave nation. (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf) The geopolitical concept of Lebensraum (‘living space’) was developed by others in Germany decades before Adolf Hitler came to power. In 1871, for example, Lebensraum was a popular political slogan during the establishment of a united Germany. At this time, Lebensraum usually meant finding additional ‘living space’ by adding colonies, following the examples of the British and French empires. In an era when the earth is gradually being divided up among states, some of which embrace almost entire continents, we cannot speak of a world power in connection with a formation whose political mother country is limited to the absurd area of five hundred thousand square kilometres. (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. The concept of Lebensraum was discussed and developed during the following decades by scholars. In 1926, Hans Grimm’s book Volk ohne Raum (‘A People without Space’) was published. This book became a classic on Germany’s need for space and the book’s title soon became a popular Nazi slogan. Hitler changed the concept of Lebensraum. Rather than adding colonies to make Germany larger, which was implicitly condemned by the Treaty of Versailles, 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) Hitler looked east for Germany’s expansion in Europe. It was in this view that Hitler added a racist element to Lebensraum. By stating that the Soviet Union was run by Jews, Hitler concluded that 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 organisation, 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) Thus, in Nazi ideology, Lebensraum meant the expansion of Germany to the east in search of a unity 2 between the German Volk and the land (the Nazi concept of Blood and Soil). The Nazi modified theory of Lebensraum became Germany’s foreign policy during the Third Reich. Closely connected with the Nazi concept of Lebensraum was a strong sense of irredentism or nationalism: Hitler maintained that all ethnic Germans were fundamentally one people or Volk, and must be re-united in one great German empire. This was expressed in another common Nazi slogan: ‘ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer’ (one people, one empire, one leader). This marked the second characteristic of German foreign policy during Nazi rule: the absorption of ethnic Germans into the German state through gradual absorption of those lands of Europe with sizable ethnic German populations. As we shall see, such lands included Austria, parts of Czechoslovakia, and Poland (which were annexed), and parts of Hungary, Yugoslavia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (which were not annexed). German Foreign Policy, 1933-1939: Since 1920, one of the cornerstones of Nazi Party policy was the repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles. The first steps were taken almost immediately after the Nazis gained power in 1933. 1933 Germany withdrew from the League of Nations, and from the Disarmament Conference then taking place. 1935 As stipulated by the Treaty of Versailles, a plebiscite was held in the Saar region. As a result of intense Nazi agitation, the region voted for reunion with Germany. 1935 Hitler publicly rejected those clauses of the Treaty of Versailles which imposed limits on Germany’s armed forces. France, Great Britain, and Italy issued protests, but did nothing else. 1936 March 7: German troops march into the Rhineland, thus abrogating the Treaty of Versailles’s de- militarisation of the Rhineland. Neither Britain nor France were willing to risk war. 1936 October 25: Rome-Berlin Axis signed, a treaty of friendship between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. 1936 November 25: Anti-Comintern Pact: Germany and Japan signed an alliance against Communist aggression. 1938 March: Anschluss: on March 9 1938, Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg announced a plebiscite on the independence of Austria. Adolf Hitler took this as an opportunity to take action against the Austrian State. Schuschnigg was pressed to resign. The Nazi leader Arthur Seyss-Inquart took over the chancellorship and formed a new government. The Austrian Nazis took power in Austria. On the morning of March 12 1938, troops of the German Wehrmacht and the SS crossed the German-Austrian border. On March 13 1938, Hitler announced the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria into the German Reich. 6 million Germans were added to the Reich by virtue of the annexation of Austria. Czechoslovakia and the Munich Agreement: Once Austria had become part of the greater German Reich, Hitler turned his eye to the east. It will be recalled that Czechoslovakia was one of the new successor states carved out of the old Austro- Hungarian Empire, by the Treaty of St.-Germain. In addition to its Slavic population, Czechoslovakia also had a sizable German minority of 3 million people, mostly located in a region bordering Germany called the Sudetenland. Czechoslovakia had a high standard of living, and was the only democracy 3 remaining in central Europe at this time. It also had a well-trained army, important munitions industries, and strong fortifications against Germany; unfortunately, these were located in the very region were the Germans formed a majority. Motivated by his almost religious quest to unite all Germans, Hitler made his intentions of annexing the Sudetenland clear. Soon after the Anschluss, Nazi agents entered the Sudetenland and began a propaganda campaign to win over the ethnic Germans. In May, 1938 German war games near the Czech border led to fears of an imminent invasion. Great Britain, along with the Soviet Union and France, both of whom had alliances with Czechoslovakia, issued warnings. Hitler assured Europe that he had no intention of invading at that time, but reiterated his intentions of annexing the Sudetenland. That summer, the Czechs agreed to let the British and French negotiate with Germany on their behalf. The result was regional autonomy for the Sudeten Germans, but Hitler was dissatisfied and became increasingly belligerent. As tensions in Europe rose, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Neville Chamberlain, decided to negotiate directly with Hitler in Germany. Hitler agreed to a four-power conference, to be held in Munich. Thus, in September 1938, Neville Chamberlain of Britain, Édouard Daladier of France, Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Hitler met. Neither the Czechs nor the Soviets were invited to the proceedings. Chamberlain and Daladier finally accepted Hitler’s terms: Germany would take the Sudetenland (about one third of all of Czechoslovakia), and France would repudiate its treaty obligation to protect the country. With France no longer committed to Czech defence, and miffed at having been kept out of the Munich Conference, Stalin also left the Czechs to their own devices. In effect, Czechoslovakia had been sold out by France and Britain, in order to appease Hitler and avert war. The ‘peace in our time’, as Chamberlain called it, was short-lived. In March 1939, German forces marched into the remaining piece of Czechoslovakia, Bohemia-Moravia, and declared it a ‘German protectorate’. Despite the solemn guarantees he had made the previous year in Munich, Hitler showed Europe that his ambitions knew no bounds. Shortly thereafter, he seized part of Lithuania, and issued demands for Danzig (Gdansk) and the Polish Corridor. The following month, Italian forces invaded Albania. It was now clear to Britain and France that Hitler could not be trusted, and preparations for war began. Great Britain declared that it would defend Poland, Romania, and Greece. British designs to form an alliance with the Soviets were crushed when, on August 23, 1939 a Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed. The great ideological enemies, Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, ratified a treaty of non-aggression and friendship. What the treaty really meant was that, in the event of a future war, Poland would be divided up between them. In addition, the Baltics would be a Soviet sphere of influence, and it would regain lands lost to Romania in 1919. 1939 September 1: German forces invaded Poland. September 3: Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. September 10: Canada declared war on Germany.
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