How did Hitler challenge and exploit the treaty of Versailles 1933 -1938?
Hitler's aims in foreign policy
1. Abolish the Treaty of Versailles - Thought it was unjust and humiliating/ didn’t like Tiny armed forces, Rhineland demilitarised, Anschluss with Austria forbidden, Germans forced to live in Czechoslovakia and Poland. Treaty was a constant reminder to Germans of their humiliation in World War I. Hitler did not accept that the German army had lost the war and was determined to make Germany great again
2. To expand German territory - The German population was growing. Hitler said that the German nation needed more Lebensraum (‘living space’). He was determined to get it by conquering land in eastern Europe.
This was connected with his belief that the Aryan race was genetically superior and destined to rule over others. Hitler believed he had the right to invade eastern Europe and make the Slav peoples (such as the Poles and the Russians) Germany's slaves
3. To defeat Communism - The Nazis were Fascists: the exact opposite of the Communists who ruled Russia. Hitler blamed the Communists for Germany's defeat in World War One, and he feared that the Communists were trying to take over Germany. He was determined to destroy Communism, and this meant a war with Russia.
Beginning of Rearmament
- Hitler’s aims could not be obtained without armed forces so he worked to make them
- Hitler had to rearm to be able to succeed. They had been the only ones to disarm so there can be some sympathy for them. Treaty of Versailles - reduced army to 100,000 men six warships of over 10,000 tonnes. No submarines or air force.
- In secret meeting in 1933, it was decided that 1933-35 Germany would rearm secretly. This would include:
- 300,000 men instead of 100,000
- 1000 aircraft with secretly trained pilots
- barracks airfields and fortifications
- new air force - Luftwaffe and 2500 aircraft and 300,000 men
Withdrawal from the Disarmament Conference 1933
- As the Treaty of Versailles had virtually disbanded Germany’s armed forces, parity would have meant that where others were reducing their armaments, the Germans would have in fact been increasing theirs.
- Hitler, however, had no intention of having anything to do with disarmament, and in October 1933 he withdrew from the Conference and the League, blaming the French.
- The British delegation made number of attempts were made to try to persuade Germany to return to the conference, but these only angered France (who saw them as an attempted ‘sell-out)
- Ending in April 1934 the French Foreign Minister announced that France would no longer play any part in the Conference, but would look after its own security in whatever way was necessary.
- This was a success for Hitler because:
- it wrecked the conference
- it left him free to rearm however he wanted
- it drove a wedge between the French and the British
- British politicians, while they were trying to persuade Germany to stay in the Conference, had agreed in principle that the arms clauses of the Treaty of Versailles were too harsh.
Non-aggression Pact with Poland 1934
- The Polish chief of state Józef Pilsudski signed a treaty with Germany, not to go to war with each other for the next ten years. This was soon followed by a trade treaty.
- There is some evidence that in 1933 the Polish embassy in Paris sounded out the French government about the possibility of invading Germany to stop Hitler re-arming. When the French refused, the Poles made the treaty with Hitler. Some historians dispute that this happened – there are no documents to support the theory – and just put it down to Pilsudski’s weakness.
- Hitler liked these treaties between himself and another power; this arrangement:
- left his eastern border safe and gave him time to rearm
- undermined the principle of collective security of the League – after the treaty Poland actively neglected the League.
- divided the countries allied against him
- when he was ready, he simply invaded Poland anyway.
Reintroduction of Conscription 1935
Conscription was specifically forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. Rearmament had been going on secretly since 1933, but in 1935 Hitler took the chance and held a huge ‘Freedom to Rearm’ military rally, and in 1936 he reintroduced conscription. 1932-9, the number of soldiers grew tenfold from 100,000 to a million, and the number of airplanes grew 200-fold from 36 to 8250
This was a great success for Hitler:
he had guessed correctly – no country questioned his breach of the Treaty of Versailles; they backed down and his prestige grew.
- it made him very popular in Germany – it reduced unemployment, it made Germany strong, and he had defied the hated Treaty of Versailles
Return of Saar 1935
- The Treaty of Versailles had put the Saar under the control of the League of Nations for 15 years. During these years, the region was administered by the League
- In 1935, as preparations began to hold the plebiscite (vote) then the inhabitants would decide whether they returned to Germany, or retained their separate identity
- The vote was not certain. Many anti-Nazis had fled to the Saar after 1933. Seeing what Hitler was doing in Germany, Communists and Social Democrats formed a 'united front' campaign to try to retain League of Nations status.
- On the other hand, Saar Nazis were equally determined that the Saar should return to Germany. They formed a 'German Front' with the Catholics. Helped by the Saar police and the German Gestapo, they boycotted and beat up their opponents. The League knew what was going on, but it was afraid to stop the plebsicite for fear of causing Nazi riots.
- On 13 January 1935, the plebiscite was held, overseen by two judges from Italy and Holland, and a US History Professor, they declared that the election had been fair, and that the result was genuine. The result was overwhelming: 90.3% of the voters voted to return to Germany.
Anglo - German Naval Agreement 1935
- After the collapse of the Disarmament Conference in 1933, Hitler continued rearming. This caught British government in a dilemma, as the Royal Navy was fixed proportionally to the navies of the USA, France and Japan. So Britain could not increase their navy to match the increases in the German navy.
- There was no point in continuing to support the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles when Germany was disregarding them and nobody was prepared to go to war to stop him.
- It was not just the fact of German rearmament that frightened the British, but its nature. The German navy wanted to grow until it was equal to the French navy; this particularly frightened the British Admiralty, who thought it would be difficult to defend against in the event of a war. The Admiralty favoured a naval agreement with Germany which fixed the German navy to that of Britain’s, because it thought a German navy which was like-Britain’s-only-smaller would be easier to defeat.
- Hitler overruled his Admirals and agreed to a percentages agreement. In June 1935, therefore, a Treaty was signed by which the British agreed to allow the Germans to build their tonnage up to 35% of whatever the British tonnage was in the various categories of warship.
Remillitarisation of the Rhineland 1936
- Under the terms of Versailles, the Rhineland had been made into a demilitarised zone. Germany had political control of this area, but was not allowed to put any troops into it. So many Germans concluded that they did not actually fully control the area despite it being in Germany itself
- March 1936, Hitler took what for him was a huge gamble - he ordered that his troops should openly re-enter the Rhineland thus breaking the terms of Versailles once again and the Locarno Treaty. He did order his generals that the military should retreat out of the Rhineland if the French showed the slightest hint of making a military stand against him. This did not occur. Over 32,000 soldiers and armed policemen crossed into the Rhineland. Justified it by
- Why didn’t the Allies (Britain and France) do anything about this violation of the Versailles Treaty?
- France was going through an internal political crisis at the time and there was no political leadership to concentrate against Nazi Germany. Britain generally supported the view that Nazi Germany was only going into her own "backyard" and that this section of Versailles was not needed to be enforced in the mid-1930’s.
The Anschuluss with Austria 1938
- A union between Germany and Austria had been forbidden in the Versailles Treaty but in 1938 it took place. Between 1933 and 1935, Austria had been protected against any German bullying by Italy.
- But by 1936, Germany and Italy were forming a friendship and by 1937, Mussolini withdrew his support for Austria and said that Italy would no longer defend Austria against attack.
- Hitler had always seen Austria as being part of Germany and many Austrians had the same belief
- The chancellor tried a different ploy. He would order a plebiscite about whether the people of Austria wanted a free Austria or not. If the Austrians voted effectively against Hitler, he would be put in a very difficult position. Hitler demanded that it should not take place and that Schuschnigg should resign. If neither of these took place, he told the chancellor that he would invade Austria.
- Schuschnigg could not take this risk and resigned - along with his cabinet. One member left was Seyss-Inquart. So he invited German troops into Austria in March 1938.
- On March 15th 1938, Hitler entered Vienna in triumph. Austria became part of the German Greater Reich
- What did the powers of Europe do? Mussolini, as expected, did nothing. Britain and France verbally protested to the German government but did nothing else - just as Hitler had predicted.