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Nazi Foreign Policy. The push for lebensraum. Ideology. 1921 – the Nazi Program 1923-4 – ‘Mein Kampf ’ 1928 – ‘ Zweites Buch ’ 1933–37 – Revision of Versailles November 1937 – The Hossbach Memorandum (lebensraum). ‘Undoing’ Versailles .

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nazi foreign policy

Nazi Foreign Policy

The push for lebensraum

ideology
Ideology

1921 – the Nazi Program

1923-4 – ‘Mein Kampf’

1928 – ‘ZweitesBuch’

1933–37 – Revision of Versailles

November 1937 – The Hossbach Memorandum (lebensraum)

undoing versailles
‘Undoing’ Versailles

1933-37 period saw a series of foreign policy ‘coups’ as the Nazis ‘undid’ Versailles step by step.

1935 - Saar plebiscite

March 1936 - remilitarisation of the Rhineland

October 1936 – The Rome-Berlin Axis

The Hossbach Memorandum

March 1938 – Anschluss with Austria (arguably)

saar plebiscite
Saar plebiscite

The people of the Saar, a small territory bordering France, had been controlled by the League of Nations since World War I.

In January 1935 they voted to rejoin Germany.

Seen as a vote of confidence in Hitler’s Germany.

remilitarisation of the rhineland
Remilitarisation of the Rhineland

The Rhineland had been designated a ‘demilitarised zone’ at Versailles to act as a buffer zone between France and Germany.

In March 1936 Hitler sent German troops into the Rhineland.

This went against the advice of his generals.

When neither France nor Britain opposed this, in increased Hitler’s confidence, his popularity and his influence over the army.

the rome berlin axis
The Rome-Berlin Axis

In October 1937, Hitler established a political understanding with Mussolini, the dictator of Italy.

This followed Hitler’s presentation of Italy as a German ally in ‘Mein Kampf’.

the hossbach memorandum
The Hossbach Memorandum

A record of a meeting of Hitler and his military generals held in Berlin in November 1937.

The memorandum records Hitler’s plans to occupy Austria and Czechoslovakia.

This is usually seen as a ‘blueprint’ for Hitler’s pursuit of lebensraum.

The date put for the resolution of lebensraum was 1943-45 at the latest, because by then Germany would be starting to lose its advantage in armaments.

anschluss with austria
Anschluss with Austria

At Versailles, any union or anschluss between Germany and Austria had been prohibited. A proposal was made for an economic union during the early years of the Great Depression, but this had been opposed by Britain and France.

In March 1938 Austria became part of Germany. This was a popular move in Austria.

Britain and France did not oppose this.

the push for lebensraum
The push for lebensraum

The anschluss with Austria (due to the Hossbach memorandum)

September 1938 – the Sudetenland crisis and the Munich Conference

March 1939 – the invasion of Czechoslovakia

August 1939 – ‘Pact of Steel’ and the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact

September 1939 – the invasion of Poland

3 September 1939 – declaration of war

sudetenland and the munich crisis
Sudetenland and the Munich Crisis

In September 1938 Hitler claimed that Germans living in the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia, were victimised by the Czech government.

The Sudetens also had their own Sudeten German Party and were demanding a return to Germany.

A conference at Munich in September 1938 between Germany, France, Britain and Italy saw the Sudetenland given to Germany as part of the policy of appeasement. The Czechs were not consulted.

czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia

In March 1939 Hitler ordered the invasion of the rest of Czechoslovakia, going against the Munich Agreement.

Having lost the mountains of the Sudentenland as a natural fortification, Czechoslovakia was easily taken by the German army.

Public opinion swung against appeasement in Britain and Germany.

the pact of steel
The ‘Pact of Steel’

In August 1939 Germany and Italy agreed to a formal military alliance.

nazi soviet non agression pact
Nazi-Soviet Non-Agression Pact

On 23 August 1939 Hitler and Stalin signed a non-aggression pact.

Hitler promoted the pact to avoid a war on two fronts if he invaded Poland. This was despite the fact that Nazi ideology was committed to the destruction of communism.

Stalin was essentially playing for time. He also saw an opportunity to gain more Polish territory. A secret clause in the treaty agreed to a division of Poland between Germany and the USSR. He also mistrusted the west. Britain and France in turn regarded the USSR as being militarily weak and did not respond positively to the idea of an alliance.

the invasion of poland
The invasion of Poland

After the Germany invasion of Czechoslovakia, Britain and France had moved away from appeasement as the guiding principle of their foreign policy.

On 31 March 1939 Britain gave a guarantee to Poland that a German invasion would lead to a declaration of war.

In September 1939 the German army invaded Poland.

declaration of war
Declaration of War

On 3 September, when there was no response from Germany to a British ultimatum to withdraw, Britain and France declared war on Germany.

Britain and France did not directly act to defend Poland.

why war in 1939
Why War in 1939?

It’s the economy, stupid – the German economic crisis of 1935-36. Foreign policy was designed to distract the masses from their rationing as materials were put into war production.

It’s ideology, stupid – the Nazi program for lebensraum and its connections to past German foreign policy and the aims of the army.

It’s all Hitler, stupid – foreign policy was Hitler’s domain and, on Poland, his ‘bluff’ was called by Britain and France.

why war
Why war?

Intentionalists such as Alan Bullock and Hugh Trevor-Roper argue that it was Hitler’s aggression (his intent) that caused the war. Hitler made the major decisions in foreign policy and therefore the responsibility is his. Quote: “Hitler alone possessed the will and had provided himself with the means.” (Alan Bullock)

A revisionist view disputes the idea of their being a ‘blueprint’ for action. AJP Taylor argued that Hitler was an opportunist and improviser in foreign policy who took advantage of the situation and opportunities created by others. Quote: “The war of 1939 far from being premeditated was a mistake, the result on both sides of diplomatic blunders.”

why war1
Why war?

The structuralist view sees less direct involvement for Hitler in the path to war. His leadership style, they argue, was more to sit back and allow competing leaders to vie for power and influence. This made the regime more radical, in particular in foreign policy. Foreign policy was a series of responses to the European situation. Key structuralists include Mommsen and Broszat.

the on going war
The on-going war

Historian Ian Kershaw argues that it makes more sense to see World War I and II as simply a continuation of the same conflict, broken by a period of peace. The aims of Germany in particular did not really change from one war to the next, so the view does have quite a lot of merit.