In September 1938, a year before the outbreak of World War
II, Adolf Hitler, Chancellor and Fuhrer of the Third Reich in Germany, announced publicly that he would declare war if necessary in order to protect the Sudeten Germans in the west of Czechoslovakia.
Hitler had always intended to create extra living space (Lebensraum) for Germans in Austria and Czechoslovakia and now used the three million Sudeten Germans as an excuse to further his plans, claiming that they were being persecuted.
Hitler stated this would be the last territorial claim he made in Europe. However, although he disavowed having any aggressive intent towards Europe, he had already broken the terms of the Versailles Treaty. In 1934 he had signed a non-aggression pact with Poland, but despite this he rearmed Germany in 1935, entered the demilitarised Rhineland in 1936 and in March 1938 annexed Austria. The Czechs, now almost surrounded by Germany, were worried about invasion. The Czech President, Eduard Benes, appealed to the French and British governments for support: Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, reassured him that Hitler had promised the Czechs had nothing to fear.
At that time Britain and France were still Alienated and unsuccessful as a young man, Hitler had found a niche during World War I in the comradeship of being a soldier. Decorated for bravery during the war, he was extremely bitter when it ended in defeat for Germany. As a result he became involved in politics and made his name as a speaker, becoming head of a political party called the National Socialists, or Nazis, in 1920. In 1923 he made an abortive attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic in Germany and was imprisoned. While in prison he recorded his political philosophy in his book Mein Kampf (‘my struggle’). In this he promised to bring under German rule all European peoples who spoke German and to seize extra living space for Germans from Russia and Poland. He also planned to eliminate the Slavs in Eastern Europe whom he considered ‘sub-human’.
Though some thought Hitler half-mad, many were convinced by what he said. He gradually rose to power, aided by the Great Depression that had left millions of Germans unemployed. Once Chancellor of Germany, Hitler went about creating a one-party state of which he was dictator. Rule was maintained through a secret police, the Gestapo.
Countless opponents of the regime were imprisoned or murdered and Jews lost citizenship in a law passed in 1935. Having brought economic recovery to the country, Hitler then pursued his foreign policy to unite all Germans in a greater single Germany, to destroy Communism and to conquer and colonize Eastern Europe, establishing a ’thousand-year Reich’.
World War II raged until 1945. The Russians invaded Germany in late January and on 7 March the Western Allies crossed the Rhine. The Russians stormed Berlin at the end of April, by which time Hitler had survived various assassination plots by his own countrymen but was a physical wreck. He was cut off from reality, bitter and isolated, living in a bunker in Berlin. On 30 April 1945 he and his wife Eva Braun, whom he had married hours previously, committed suicide, thus ending the Third Reich .
… I have really in these years pursued a practical peace policy. I have approached all apparently impossible problems with the firm resolve to solve them peacefully even when there was the danger of making more or less serious renunciations on Germany’s part. I myself am a front-line soldier and I know how grave a thing war is. I wanted to spare the German people such an evil. Problem after problem I have tackled with the set purpose to make every effort to render possible a peaceful solution.
The most difficult problem which faced me was the relation between Germany and Poland. There was a danger that the conception of a ‘heredity enmity’ might take possession of our people and of the Polish people. That I wanted to prevent.
I know quite well that I should not have succeeded if Poland at that time had had a democratic constitution. For these democracies which are overflowing with phrases about peace are the most bloodthirsty instigators of war. But Poland at that time was governed by no democracy but by a man. In the course of barely a year it was possible to conclude an agreement which, in the first instance for a period of ten years, on principle removed the danger of a conflict. We are all convinced that this agreement will bring with it a permanent pacification. We realize that here are two peoples which must live side by side and that neither of them can destroy the other. A state with a population of thirty-three millions will always strive for an access to the sea. A way to an understanding had therefore to be found ….
‘He will either accept this offer and now at last give to the Germans their freedom, or we will go and fetch this freedom for ourselves.’
And now before us stands the last problem that must be solved and will be solved. It is the last territorial claim which I have to make in Europe, but it is the claim from which I will not recede and which, God willing, I will make good ….
I have only a few statements still to make. I am grateful to Mr Chamberlain for all his efforts. I have assured him that the German people desires nothing else than peace, but I have also told him that I cannot go back behind the limits set to our patience. I have further assured him, and I repeat it here, that when this problem is solved there is for Germany no further territorial problem in Europe.
And I have further assured him that at the moment when Czechoslovakia solves her problems, that means when the Czechs have come to terms with their other minorities, and that peaceably and not through oppression, then I have no further interest in the Czech state. And that is guaranteed to him! We want no Czechs!
But in the same way I desire to state before the German people that with regard to the problem of the Sudeten Germans my patience is now at an end! I have made Mr Benes an offer which is nothing but the carrying into effect of what he himself has promised. The decision now lies in his hands: peace or war. He will either accept this offer and now at last give to the Germans their freedom or we will go and fetch this freedom for ourselves.
On 1 September 1939, Hitler announced to the Reichstag his intention to invade Poland, knowing that this action would bring a declaration of war from Britain and France. In justification, he referred to the terms of the Versailles Treaty and duplicitouslt insisted he had no intention of invading countries to the west of Germany: ‘I have declared that the frontier between France and Germany is a final one.’ Nine rnonths later, German troops had occupied Holland, Belgium and France and Britain was facing the threat of invasion. Even during the war, German industry flourished and productivity increased, helped by slave labour drawn from the occupied territories, including those beyond the ‘western wall’.
I have declared that the frontier between France and Germany is a final one have repeatedly offered friendship and, if necessary, the closest cooperation Britain, but this cannot be offered from one side only. It must find response the other side. Germany has no interests in the West, and our western wall all time the frontier of the Reich on the west. Moreover, we have no aims kind there for the future. With this assurance we are in solemn earnest, and long as others do not violate their neutrality we will likewise take every care to respect it.
‘Germany has no interests in the West, and our western wall is for all· time the frontier of the Reich on the west.’
I am happy particularly to be able to tell you of one event. You know that Russia and Germany are governed by two different doctrines. There was only one question that had to be cleared up. Germany has no intention of exporting its doctrine. Given the fact that Soviet Russia has no intention of exporting its doctrine to Germany, I no longer see any reason why we should still oppose another. On both sides we are clear on that. Any struggle between our people would only be of advantage to others. We have, therefore, resolved to conclude a pact which rules out for ever any use of violence between us. It imposes the obligation on us to consult together in certain European questions. It maker possible for us economic cooperation, and above all it assures that the power both these powerful states are not wasted against one another. Every attend the West to bring about any change in this will fail.
At the same time I should like here to declare that this political decision means a tremendous departure for the future, and that it is a final one. Russia and Germany fought against one another in the World War. That shall and will not happen a second time. In Moscow, too, this pact was greeted exactly as you greet it. I can only endorse word for word the speech of the Russian Foreign Commissar, Molotov.
‘My whole life has been nothing but one long struggle for my people.’
I am determined to solve the Danzig question; the question of the Corridor and to see to it that a change is made in the relationship between Germany and Poland that shall ensure a peaceful co-existence. In this I am resolved to continue to fight until either the present Polish government is willing to bring about this change or until another Polish government is ready to do so. I am resolved to remove from the German frontiers the element of uncertainty, the everlasting atmosphere of conditions resembling civil war. I will see to it that in the East there is, on the frontier, a peace precisely similar to that on our other frontiers.
In this I will take the necessary measures to see that they do not contradict the proposals I have already made known in the Reichstag itself to the rest of the world, that is to say, I will not war against women and children. I have ordered my air force to restrict itself to attacks on military objectives. If, however, the enemy thinks he can from that draw carte blanche on his side to fight by the other methods he will receive an answer that will deprive him of hearing and sight.
This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our own territory.
Since 5.45 am we have been returning the fire, and from now on bombs will be met with bombs. Whoever fights with poison gas will be fought with poison gas.
Whoever departs from the rules of humane warfare can only expect that we shall do the same. I will continue this struggle, no matter against whom, until the safety of the Reich and its rights are secured.
For six years now I have been working on the building up of the German defences.
Over 90 milliards have in that time been spent on the building up of these defence forces. They are now the best equipped and are above all comparison with what they were in 1914. My trust in them is unshakeable. When I called up these forces and when I now ask sacrifices of the German people and if necessary every sacrifice, then I have a right to do so, for I also am today absolutely ready, just as we were formerly, to make every personal sacrifice.
‘A November 19 18 will never be repeated In German history.’
I am asking of no German man more than I myself was ready throughout four years at any time to do. There will be no hardships for Germans to which I myself will not submit. My whole life henceforth belongs more than ever to my people.
I am from now on just first soldier of the German Reich. I have once more put on that coat that was the most sacred and dear to me. I will not take it off again until victory is secured, or I will not survive the outcome.
As a National Socialist and as a German soldier I enter upon this struggle with a stout heart. My whole life has been nothing but one long struggle for my people, for its restoration, and for Germany. There was only one watchword for that struggle: faith in this people. One word I have never learned: that is, surrender.
If, however, anyone thinks that we are facing a hard time, I should ask him to remember that once a Prussian king, with a ridiculously small state, opposed a stronger coalition, and in three wars finally came out successful because that state had that stout heart that we need in these times. I would, therefore, like to assure all the world that a November 1918 will never be repeated in German history. Just as I myself am ready at any time to stake my life – anyone can take it for my people and for Germany – so I ask the same of all others.
Whoever, however, thinks he can oppose this national command, whether directly or indirectly, shall fall. We have nothing to do with traitors. We are all faithful to our old principle. It is quite unimportant whether we ourselves live, but it is essential that our people shall live, that Germany shall live. The sacrifice that is demanded of us is not greater than the sacrifice that many generations have made. If we form a community closely bound together by vows, ready for anything, resolved never to surrender, then our will will master every hardship and difficulty. And I would like to close with the declaration that lance made when I began the struggle for power in the Reich. I then said: ‘If our will is so strong that no hardship and suffering can subdue it, then our will and our German might shall prevail.’
In September 1938, a year before the outbreak of World War