East Germany Table of Contents
As führer, Hitler directed foreign policy. In 1933 he withdrew Germany from the League of Nations, aiming to destroy the league's collective security system, and began German rearmament in preparation for eastward expansion. Hitler's demands, carefully timed and swiftly executed, brought about first diplomatic, then military, dominance of the Third Reich over Europe. The announcement of German rearmament in March 1935 was the Third Reich's first overt violation of the Treaty of Versailles. In this announcement, the führer proclaimed general conscription, stated his intention to expand the army from its legal size of 100,000 to 550,000 troops, and declared the creation of a German air force. Britain, France, and Italy responded by sending representatives to a conference in Stresa, Italy, to discuss countermeasures. Hitler succeeded, however, in fomenting the rapid disintegration of the Stresa Front by drawing Britain into an Anglo-German naval agreement that would guarantee British naval superiority. The Anglo-German Naval Pact of June 1935, itself a violation of the Treaty of Versailles, implied tacit British acceptance of German rearmament. France and Italy subsequently abandoned their plans for punitive action against Germany.
Hitler next endeavored to draw Italy away from the Western powers. After lending verbal support to Benito Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. Hitler marched German troops into the Rhineland in March 1936. The German military presence in the Rhineland, a violation of the Versailles and Locarno treaties, suggested the forthcoming alliance between Nazi Germany and fascist Italy and revealed the weakness of the Western democracies. Shortly thereafter, Hitler and Mussolini joined to assist General Francisco Franco in overthrowing Spain's republican government during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39); in November 1936, Germany and Italy formed the Berlin-Rome Axis. In the same year, Germany, Italy, and Japan were diplomatically united in the Anti-Comintern Pact.
The next phase in the führer's tactics of encroachment was the execution of a plan aimed at eastward expansion. The plan for eventual military aggression was originally discussed at a conference in November 1937 in which Hitler met in secret with German military and political advisers. His immediate aims--the annexation of Austria and the Czechoslovak Sudetenland--were to be accomplished by pseudolegal means on the basis of a unilateral national-ethnic revision of the Treaty of Versailles that provided for the incorporation of territories with German populations into the Third Reich. In February 1938, Hitler announced his intention to annex Austria and called for the resignation of Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg. The chancellor attempted to avert annexation (Anschluss) by calling for a national plebiscite that would ratify Austria's independence. The attempt failed, and Schuschnigg stepped down. Arthur von SeyssInquart , the new Austrian chancellor and a Nazi puppet, invited German troops to enter Austria. On March 13, Austria was declared a province of the German Reich.
Hitler next prepared to annex Czechoslovakia. In April 1938, he instructed the Sudeten Nazi leader to organize disruptive nationalist agitation in the German-populated Sudetenland. Czechoslovakia, aware of Hitler's annexationist ambitions, appealed to Britain and France for assistance. British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, however, refused to commit his country to defend Czechoslovakia and instead organized the Munich Conference of September 1938 in which Britain and France agreed to German annexation of the Sudetenland. The territory was annexed on October 1. In March 1939, Germany occupied the Czechpopulated western provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, and Slovakia was made a German puppet-state.
When Germany occupied Bohemia and Moravia, Britain and France finally became convinced of Hitler's imperialist-expansionist objectives and announced their intention to defend the sovereignty of Poland, a country that was not German culturally, politically, or linguistically. In April 1939, Hitler raised claims to the Polish city of Danzig; anticipating war, the führer instructed the military to prepare invasion plans. A month later, Germany and Italy signed the Pact of Steel, a formal military alliance. After negotiations to form an anti-Nazi alliance with the Western powers had repeatedly stalemated, the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact with Germany, thus freeing Hitler to act against Poland. On September 1, 1939, German troops invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later.
Data as of July 1987
East Germany Table of Contents