GCSE History Revision: First World War: Was Germany to blame for starting WW2?

18th June 2018

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Everything you need to know about First World War: Was Germany to blame for starting WW2?

The signing of the Treaty of Versailles left many of the German citizens feeling angry, disappointed and desperate.   Germany faced crippling reparations, the loss of their military strength and a democratic government which struggled to maintain control of its power and fragile economy.  Germans were driven towards ever more drastic solutions, supporting extreme left and right wing parties who used this ‘dictated peace’ to channel the peoples anger into action.

In 1923, Germany was struggling with hyperinflation as a result of the re-occupation of the Ruhr by the French troops and the ‘passive resistance’ by German workers.  There was great unrest with the people of Germany and they were looking for a solution to end their problems. Many joined Hitler and his Nazi party and in November 1923, Hitler and his supporters attempted to gain control of the Bavarian government in the ‘Beer Hall Putsch’.  The attempted rebellion failed and Adolf Hitler was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment but only served 9months.  During this time he wrote Mein Kampf (My struggle), a political autobiography which outlined his aggressive aims and objectives.  His book rallied mass support for his plans to break the Treaty of Versailles and for his idea of Lebensraum.  Lebensraum, which translates to ‘living peace’, referred to the re-drawing of German territories and boarders to increase the German empire for prosperity and power.  Mein Kampf and the publicity surrounding the Beer hall Putsch had made Hitler a national figure and his popularity grew. By 1939 Mein Kampf had sold over 5 million copies and had been translated onto 11 different languages.  

Despite the hardships, the Weimar Republic flourished until 1929. Then the Wall Street crash in US caused America to recall all their foreign loans, loans which Germany used to pay their reparations.  The German economy collapsed and unemployment and poverty rocketed. This weakness in the Republic gave Hitler the opportunity to express his beliefs and share his radical solutions. He also realised that the only way to power was through legal means, not through rebellion, and set his sights on rising through the ranks and making the Nazi party the ultimate party.  He was banned from publicly speaking until 1927, but he used this time to build his campaign through propaganda, merging with other right wing parties to gain a majority in the Reichstag (parliament) and developing the SS and his personal bodyguards, who were instrumental in Hitler’s rise to power.


The Weimar Republic was growing weak, with chancellors coming and going and the Nazi Party gaining more and more seats.  In 1933, Hindenburg appointed Hitler as chancellor in an attempt to control the Nazi party and their actions but when Hindenburg died in 1934 Hitler declared himself führur, ruler of all.  He quickly set about reforming Germany and cementing his political stances.


Hitler’s actions

Hitler felt the League of Nations made Germany answerable to others and prohibited him from seeking Lebensraum so in 1933 Germany left the League and began its quest for more ‘living space’.  

In 1935 the people of the Saar, who had been under French occupation for the past 15years, voted to return to Germany.  Hitler saw this as a victory as it reversed some of the injustice caused by the Treaty of Versailles.

The Anglo-German Naval Treaty (1935) was also a success for Hitler as it reversed other elements of the Treaty of Versailles and allowed him to build a navy one third the size of Britain’s.  Hitler also began his rearmament programme, increasing his army and air force in ‘secret’ and sped up factory production of munitions. This is also one of the ways he tackled the problem of unemployment.

Neville Chamberlain, Britain’s president at the time, conceded that some of Hitler’s demands were reasonable and believed once his reasonable demands had been met, Hitler would be content.  This was called the ‘appeasement’ and allowed Hitler not only to rebuild his military force and re-occupy the Rhineland in 1936, which was in direct contravention to the Treaty of Versailles, but to also launch demands that German speaking lands should be united with Germany. To this end, Hitler demanded control of Sudetenland, a German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia and after negotiations, where the Czechoslovakian government were not present, Britain and France gave control of the area to Hitler. In 1938 he set about Anschluss – uniting Austria with Germany, which again, was forbidden in treaty.  

In the spirit of appeasement, Britain and France did nothing to oppose Hitler.  Britain needed a strong Germany for trade and Hitler was actually admired by many.  Britain also wanted peace and knew that their military needed time to grow and strengthen.  Hitler now believed he could do what he liked, without interference from Western countries. Russia also perceived Britain’s appeasement as a sign that they were weak and would not intervene to stop Hitler.  In 1939 Germany and Russia signed The Nazi-Soviet pact. It was a promise not to fight each other for ten years and included several economic agreements. It also stated that they would aid each other if war broke out with Poland.  This gave Hitler the chance to stage an attack on Poland, knowing that he would only have to face a war on one front, not two. Britain and France, now convinced Hitler’s ambitions and demands could not be satisfied, offered to aid and protect Poland if Hitler invaded.  On 1st Septemberv1939, Hitler advanced on Poland and by the 3rd of September, Britain and France were forced to declare war on Germany.

SUMMARY: Some historians say there was no armistice after WW1, just a very long ceasefire.  It is easy to say Hitler was to blame for the start of the Second World War. His polices and ideals were aggressive (outlined in Mein Kampf) and he used propaganda and horrific strategies to obtain them. He took advantage of Germany’s desperation during the great depression and seized opportunities freely, like declaring himself Fürher when Hindenburg died. Historians now tend to agree that several factors influenced the path Hitler took and the start of the War.  The Treaty of Versailles was blamed for being too harsh and created a democracy which struggled to maintain control. Many believe that Chamberlains time of ‘appeasement’ gave Hitler the chance to build his military strength and support and the inadequacy of the League of Nations to deal with such rising conflict demonstrated a global weakness. It is also worth noting that if Hitler had not signed the Nazi-Soviet pact then he may never have entered Poland from fear of facing a war on two fronts.

Make sure to check out our music video on " First World War: Was Germany to blame for starting WW2?”, try to remember every lyric, and then have a go at our test!


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