Rise of Hitler

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By far the most ominous event of these depression years was the emergence of Hitler in Germany. A psychopathic personality, he rejected all conventional moral standards. In his book Mein Kampf (2 vols., 19251927, q.v.) and in later speeches he had disclosed his abhorrence of such concepts as equality and majority rule, his hatred of Jews, his belief that “Aryans” were a “master race” entitled to dominate others, and his conviction that the state had a right to use any means to achieve its ends. He had also set forth his views on foreign policy. He held that Germany should expand in order to bring within it all Europeans of German nationality. Saying also that the German people needed Lebensraum (space for living), he indicated that it was to be found in eastern Europe. At the same time he declared that Germany had to have “a final active reckoning with France.” His words showed that he desired German hegemony over Europe and would have no scruples about the methods he used.

The other nations of Europe viewed him with alarm but also with uncertainty. Few could believe that he really meant what he said, or that once in office he would not become more restrained, more conventional, and more prudent. At first his actions justified this opinion. While he carried out the domestic programs he had advocated, succeeding soon in abolishing all but the forms of democracy and constituting himself furer (leader) of the German people, externally he followed courses somewhat at odds with what he had said and written. In token of peaceful intentions he even negotiated with Poland an agreement relating to the large German minority in that country. In a joint declaration issued on Jan. 26, 1934, the German and Polish governments promised for a period of 10 years not to resort to war to solve differences and not to intervene in behalf of members of their nationality groups who were not legally citizens of their states.

Until the summer of 1934 the only actions of Hitler that excited international apprehension were those concerning armaments. As part of the campaign to revive the German economy, he undertook to increase production by heavy industry,. particularly those branches that would make the greatest contributions to a war effort. In May 1933, he asked the other League powers to allow Germany to move immediately toward the “equality” which had been promised her for the distant future. The French refused, pointing out that the promise had always been conditioned on the development of effective international controls. Hitler replied by declaring on October 14′ that Germany would proceed to arm herself with or without consent. He announced on the same day his nation’s withdrawal (effective in two years’ time) from the League of Nations. But the effect of these actions was softened by an offer to France of a bilateral pact in which Germany would agree to limit its army to 300,000 men and its air force to 50 percent of that of France and to accept some measure of international control. Although the French refused this offer, taking the position that they should not sanction German rearmament even in principle,. the fact that the offer had been made left it unclear whether or not Hitler was bent on carrying out the external programs outlined in Mein
Kampf.

The first strong indication that this might be the case came in July 1934 in Austria. That country had a National Socialist Party modeled on Hitler’s and more or less openly supported by German officials. In the spring of 1934, the party increased its agitation. Then, when Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated on July 25, it attempted a coup d’etat. German official statements and troop movements made it seem that the coup would have active support from across the frontier. The Austrian Nazis had, however, overestimated their strength. Dollfuss’ successor, Dr. Kurt von Schuschnigg, quickly consolidated his power. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini meanwhile declared that Italy would not tolerate a change in the status of Austria and moved Italian troops to the Brenner Pass. Whatever plans the Germans had were frustrated by these actions.

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Pre-war Economic Issues

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