How did Hitler challenge and exploit the Treaty of Versailles in the period 1933-1938?

AQA Modern World History GCSE revision cards based on the syllabus.


Hitler's Foreign Policy

  • Hitler had three mains aims for his foreign policy. Firstly, he wanted to defeat Communism. Next, he wanted to expand German Territory (Lebensraum). Lastly, he wanted to overturn the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Hitler was anti-Communist as he believed that they had helped to bring about the defeat of Germany in the First World War. He also believed that they wanted to take over Germany.
  • Hitler wanted to get back the land which Germany had lost because of the Treaty of Versailles. He wanted to unite with Austria and wanted German communities to rejoin Germany (e.g. from Czechoslovakia).
  • Hitler, much like many other Germans, wanted to get rid of the Treaty of Versailles as it was a constant reminder of their defeat and humiliation caused by the First World War.
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  • Hitler began to build up Germany's armed forces because he waned to reduce unemployment, he promised to make Germany strong again and he wanted to challenge the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Rearmament began in secret as it would have caused alarm in the international community. In 1936, he introduced conscription to the army.
  • Britain sympathised with the German rearmament as they thought that the limitations put on by the Treaty of Versailles were too tight. They even made a naval agreement with Hitler.
  • Rearmament helped to fulfill Hitler's foreign policy aims because it 'boycotted' the Treaty of Versailles by rearming.
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The Saar Coalfields

  • The Saar region had been run by the League of nations because of the Treaty of Versailles.It was located south-west of Germany and north-east of France.
  • In 1935, there was a plebiscite in the Saar.
  • 90% of the population voted that they wanted to return to German rule.
  • Hitler had succeeded in both his policy of Lebensraum and overturning the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Other countries had little reason to object to this result as it was the League of nations who sanctioned the plebiscite and it was the people who voted for the return to Germany.
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The Remilitarisation of the Rhineland

  • In March 1936, Hitler moved troops into the Rhineland.
  • Hitler was taking a huge gamble because if he had been forced to withdraw, he would have faced humiliation and would have lost the support of the German army.
  • Hitler gave two reasons for justifying his actions. Firstly, France had just signed a treaty with the USSR to protect each other from a German attack. Secondly, Hitler argued that in the face of such a threat, he should be allowed to put troops on his own frontier.
  • This helped to overturn the Treaty of Versailles.
  • The British people felt that Hitler had a right to station his troops in the Rhineland.
  • The French were not happy with this remilitarisation, so they acted against Hitler with force - the German army were no match for the French.
  • The League of Nations condemned Hitler's actions, but had no power to do anything else as they were busy with the Abyssinian crisis.
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Anschluss with Austria (1938)

  • Hitler wanted Austria to unite with Germany as he believed that the two states belonged together as one German nation.
  • Many Austrians wanted to unite with Germany as their country was so economically weak.
  • The Austrian Nazi party helped Hitler by stirring up trouble in the government, staging demonstrations calling for a union with Germany and they also caused riots.
  • Schuschnigg, the Austrian chancellor, reacted to this by asking France and Britain for help. When they declined, he called a plebiscite.
  • Hitler ensured that an Anschluss came about by moving troops into Austria in March 1938. Under the watchful eye of Nazi troops, 99.75% voted for the Anschluss.
  • Chamberlain felt that the Austrians and Germans had a right to be united and the Treaty of Versailles was wrong to separate them.
  • Hitler's foreign policy of Lebensraum had been achieved.
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