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 .
The push for lebensraum
1921 – the Nazi Program
1923-4 – ‘Mein Kampf’
1928 – ‘ZweitesBuch’
1933–37 – Revision of Versailles
November 1937 – The Hossbach Memorandum (lebensraum)
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)
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
In August 1939 Germany and Italy agreed to a formal military alliance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.