With rising power, Germany began to take what they felt was rightfully theirs. The German population of 65 million felt they needed a little stretching room. They considered expansion for "Lebensraum," living space, their inalienable right.
At first, Hitler moved into German-speaking areas that had been taken away from Germany by the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I. Hitler thought the nations of the world had gone soft and would fight as they did in WWI. He was right.
The Saar Basin, the richest coal area in Europe, was taken away from Germany after WWI. It was administered by the League of Nations, with the coal going to France. In January 1933, Germany re-incorporated the Saar Basin. They re-militarized the Rhineland, violating the Versailles Treaty.
In March 1938, Hitler made his next move: the Anschluss. The Germans poured into Austria, hitting the Austrian community by storm. The Austrian public overwhelmingly embraced the Nazi platform and attitudes; in a referendum, 98% of Austrians voted for “annexation” – union with Germany.
Before the referendum, there was loud campaigning with a full spectrum of opinions. Anti-Nazi slogans were painted in the street. When the Nazis won, the changes that had happened gradually in Germany occurred overnight in Austria.
The next day, any Jew passing by was grabbed, forced to his hands and knees, and ordered to scrub the slogans off the street.
Cardinal Theodor Innitzer declared: "The Viennese Catholics should thank the Lord for the bloodless way this great political change has occurred, and they should pray for a great future for Austria."
The final capstone was Hitler’s targeting of Sudetenland, the German-speaking southern part of Czechoslovakia that was home to many German nationals. There was one problem: Czechoslovakia had a mutual treaty with Britain and France. If Czechoslovakia was invaded, Britain and France would have to respond.
In September 1938, England, France and Italy met to discuss Hitler’s demands. They cowered and reneged on their treaty with Czechoslovakia, agreeing that Hitler could annex Sudetenland if he stopped there.
With historical naiveté, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain described Hitler as “a man I can really trust," then proudly declared that he had achieved “peace in our time.”
The Western mind thought they could appease the maniacal beast. But just a few months later, in March 1939, Hitler occupied Prague, and the entirety of Czechoslovakia was gone.
The Western Alliance was silent. Suddenly everyone realized that the lights were about to go off in Europe for the second time in 25 years.
It was the eve of World War II.
German War Strategy
The Germans were restless; "Greater Germany" was being restored; Austria and Czechoslovakia were theirs. They looked to the east – to the large expanses of Poland populated by what they considered "sub-humans.”
The German generals who fought in World War I had learned their lesson well. This time around, there were two things they wanted to avoid:
1) They did not want to get stuck in trench warfare. World War I, with its trenches, bombs and gas being thrown back and forth, came at great cost of money and casualties. The solution was "Blitzkrieg," "lightning-strikes" of mobile tanks, cannons and troops designed to break through static defenses.
2) The Germans did not want to get stuck in a two-front war. In World War I, the Germans fought the Russians on one side, and the Allies on the other. So after years of Hitler’s raving threats to strike at Russian Communism, he suddenly became good friends with Stalin and signed a "non-aggression" pact. (Stalin’s foreign minister was a Jew, but Stalin knew that Hitler would never sit down and sign a treaty with a Jew, so he replaced him.)
Germany Swallows Poland
In a secret part of the "non-aggression" treaty, Stalin and Hitler decided to divide up Poland. It was agreed that Germans would occupy 60% of one side, with the Russians conquering the remaining 40% on the eastern side. Poland was destined to disappear.
The Nazi came up with a “pretense”: They took some prisoners from Dachau and dressed them in German uniforms. They drove them to the border, shot them, and screamed, "Poland is attacking!" Then the German troops poured over the border.
Within six weeks, Poland ceased to exist as an independent nation.
When Germany invaded Poland, Hitler did not think that France and England would get involved. Much to his surprise, they declared war – yet followed with inaction, as the rest of the world watched passively. The catch phrase was: "On the eastern front is Blitzkrieg, and on the western front Sitzkrieg.”
These events became one of the greatest "what-if’s" in history: What if Britain and France had immediately attacked Germany? How much later suffering could have been spared?
But England and France did not enter the fray. They sat back until the following summer. By that time the Germans were ready for them.
Germany Invades Russia
In mid-1941, Stalin’s intelligence agencies informed him that Hitler was about to attack the Soviet Union. In the largest invasion in world history, over 4 million German soldiers were perched on the border. Stalin could not believe that Germany was betraying its ally!
In previous wars, people had fought by the rules. During World War I, holiday time was welcomed with a big truce. The soldiers all went home, had a great time, and came back at a predetermined date and time to resume killing each other. Yet Hitler taught the world how to fight dirty. He broke treaties and showed that a dictator’s word means nothing.
The day that Russia was invaded, the still-disbelieving Stalin sent a huge coal shipment to Germany. It was part of their treaty – the shipment was due, and Stalin felt obligated.
On June 22, 1941, 4 million German troops poured over the Russian border. Within one month, 2.5 million Russians had been killed, wounded or captured. The Germans made tremendous advances into Russia – into portions of Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad.
Then winter hit. The Germans had summer uniforms – and that year was a bitter, cold winter.
Stalin, using sheer force of numbers, threw another 2 million soldiers at the Germans. The German offensive sputtered, then stopped. The German army was 1,800 miles away from home, and the railroads were not working to supply the front lines with food and armaments.
In the spring of 1942, another German offensive was launched around the approaches to Stalingrad. Following a nine-month titanic battle, the German Sixth Army was almost completely destroyed.
That marked the beginning of the end for Germany, but it would take three more years of desperate fighting, and many millions more dead before it was all over.