Hitler's foreign policy to 1939

Saar Plebiscite, 1935

Background

  • The Saar was a small but valuable area, full of coalfields and industrial centres
  • It was controlled by Germany, but put under League control for 15 years under the Treaty of Versailles; during this time, the French ran the coalfields
  • After the 15 years were over, a plebiscite was to be held to decide if the Saar would remain under League control, to return to Germany or to be given to France

Build-up to the plebiscite

  • Communists and Social Democrats formed a 'united front' to try to stay with the League
  • Saar Nazis formed a 'German Front' with the Catholics; helped by the Saar police and the Gestapo, they boycotted and beat up their opponents
  • The League knew, but it was afraid to stop the plebiscite for fear of causing Nazi riots
  • 17,000 Nazi Saarlanders (who had gone to Germany to join the SA) threatened to invade the Saar and impose Nazi rule; this was prevented by British Anthony Eden threatening to send soldiers to the Saar

The plebiscite

  • On 13 January 1935, the plebiscite was held
  • The (foreign) judges declared that the election was fair and the result was genuine  
  • 90.3% of the voters voted to return to Germany

Consequences

  • It was the first step towards Hitler's goal of uniting all Germans under one Reich
  • The result showed people that people were not forced to accept the Nazi regime, they actually did agree with and support Hitler's aims of destroying the Treaty of Versailles
  • It confirmed Hitler's aims of expansion, and the success of the plebiscite made it difficult for other countries to oppose his future claims to Austria and the Sudetenland
  • Events leading up to the plebiscite showed that the League was scared to confront violence
  • Appeasers did not notice how the Nazis immediately backed down when Eden threatened them

Remilitarisation of the Rhineland, March 1936

Background

  • The Treaty of Versailles demilitarised the Rhineland
  • It was to act as a buffer zone between Germany and France
  • Hitler decided to begin remilitarising in March 1936 because:
    • Germany was swiftly rearming
    • The world was distracted by the Abyssinian Crisis, so no one would not intervene
    • France and the USSR had just signed the Mutual Assistance Pact, which meant they would defend each other in the event of war; Hitler could use this as an excuse to begin rearming as he could say that it threatened Germany

Process of remilitarisation

  • Hitler sent forces over to the Rhineland with orders to retreat immediately if met by French resistance, as the German army only numbered 22,000 and could be easily overpowered
  • They met no resistance and easily remilitarised the Rhineland

Consequences

  • Hitler broke the terms of the Treaty of Versailles with no consequences, which gave him more confidence to continue violating the Treaty
  • Hitler proved his ministers wrong- they did not think he should move into the Rhineland; this gave him greater power
  • Britain began rearming
  • The League was no longer seen as a means of

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