Did Hitler ever leave Europe

National Socialism: War and Holocaust

Michael Wildt

Michael Wildt is a trained bookseller and worked for Rowohlt Verlag from 1976 to 1979. He then studied history, sociology, cultural studies and theology at the University of Hamburg from 1979 to 1985. In 1991 he completed his doctorate on the subject of "On the way to the 'consumer society". Studies on Consumption and Eating in West Germany 1949-1963 ”and then worked as a research assistant at the Research Center for the History of National Socialism in Hamburg. From 1997 to 2009 he worked as a research assistant at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research and completed his habilitation in 2001 with a study on the leadership corps of the Reich Security Main Office. Since 2009 he has been Professor of German History in the 20th Century with a focus on the Nazi era at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

His main research interests are National Socialism, the Holocaust, the history of violence in the 20th century and notions of social and political order in modern times.

Contact: mailto: [email protected] «

Peter Krumeich, Employee at the chair of Professor Wildt, contributed to the development of the content of the magazine and, in particular, in coordination with the editorial team, was responsible for the image research for this magazine.

The Nazi policy consistently pursued the goal of expanding the area of ​​rule of the German Reich in Europe through military aggression. The Western powers are trying to resolve the conflict with Germany peacefully. But Hitler stuck to his war course and gained a powerful ally in Stalin.

Adolf Hitler in an open car during a parade in Kraslice (Graslitz) after the annexation of the Sudetenland in October 1938. (& copy Bundesarchiv Bild 137-049535)

Foreign policy successes

From the outset, the will of the National Socialist leadership to wage war for "living space in the east" determined its foreign and economic policy. The fact that the European powers cherished so long illusions about the actual character of German politics was due to the unilateral provisions of the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919, the partial revision of which by the British and American side has meanwhile been seen as a legitimate claim by Germany. Encouraged by the relevant Nazi propaganda, National Socialist policy was therefore for a long time misunderstood by the Western powers as a "revision policy" which would have achieved its goal if the territories were relinquished would be reversed. In reality, it aimed far beyond the revision of the Versailles Treaty to the conquest of "living space" in Eastern Europe.

In order to become a continental empire, an alliance with, or at least tolerance by, Great Britain, which ruled the seas as an imperial world power, was necessary, as Hitler had already written in "Mein Kampf." Poland, which at the time was under the authoritarian government of Marshal Józef Piłsudski, the foreign policy plans of the Nazi leadership included the role of a junior partner in the planned war against the Soviet Union, which is why - in a surprising departure from the hitherto notoriously anti-Polish policy of the governments of the Weimar Republic - one came to an end German-Polish non-aggression pact. In order to free itself from any international legal obligations, Germany had already left the Geneva Disarmament Conference of the League of Nations in October 1933, which met intermittently between February 1932 and June 1934 and aimed at disarming its 64 participating states At the same time the German Reich declared se resignation from the League of Nations. At the beginning of June 1933, the Hitler cabinet had already announced a unilateral moratorium on all foreign debts, which the international financial world rightly assessed as an aggressive course of confrontation and made it almost impossible for the Nazi government to obtain new loans on the world financial market in the years to come.

In the background was the new government's unconditional will to rearm. In April 1933 the Reich Aviation Ministry was created under the direction of Hermann Göring, which was supposed to promote the establishment of an air force; In December the decision was made to increase the army to 300,000 men, which meant a breach of the provisions of the Versailles Treaty, which had envisaged a limit of 100,000 men. Anyone who read the figures of the new Reich budget published in the Reichsgesetzblatt in March 1934 could see that the budget for the Reichswehr had officially almost doubled compared to 1933 from 73.7 to 141.5 million Reichsmarks. The actual figures were still considerably higher: the expenditures for the expansion of the Kriegsmarine alone amounted to 172.3 million Reichsmarks in 1934, thus already exceeding the officially stated total expenditures. Within a few years, between 1933 and 1935, the share of military spending in national income grew from less than one percent to almost ten percent. According to the British economic historian Adam Tooze, no other state had ever before so rapidly and aggressively shifted its national product in favor of expenditure on war so quickly and aggressively in peacetime.

In January 1935, the vote in the Saar area resulted in a first triumphant victory for the National Socialists. The Saarlanders, who had been ruled by the League of Nations on the basis of the Versailles Peace Treaty, were to vote 15 years later on whether they wanted to join France or Germany or retain their mandate status. Although, unlike in the German Reich, the opponents of Hitler in Saarland had unlimited political options in the election campaign and therefore hoped for a clear vote against Hitler's Germany, the result of the vote was clear: With a turnout of 98 percent, almost 91 percent of the Saarlanders spoke Population for the connection to the German Reich.

Hitler used this success to reintroduce general conscription on March 16, 1935, contrary to the provisions of the Versailles Treaty. Significantly, this also involved a change in terms: the "Reichswehr" became "Wehrmacht", and the "Reichswehr Minister" became the "Reich Minister of War". The British government protested against this breach of contract, but a few months later, in June 1935, it was ready to conclude a naval agreement with the German Reich. This was aimed at defining mutual arms borders, but at the same time granted Germany a much more extensive navy than the Versailles Treaty allowed. The fact that Joachim von Ribbentrop, who was inexperienced in foreign policy and who had been sent to London by Hitler as a special emissary, was able to successfully conduct these important negotiations earned him the nimbus of a skilled foreign politician and in 1938 even led him to the head of foreign affairs Office.

When Benito Mussolini occupied Ethiopia in violation of international law in October 1935 in order to establish a "great Italian empire", the Nazi leadership saw a new opportunity to win an ally, while the Western powers were divided on how to react to Italian aggression , and were only willing to accept half-hearted sanctions, Germany demonstrated benevolent neutrality. Mussolini, who had not yet sought an alliance with the German Reich, declared that German-Italian relations had fundamentally improved. Even the "Austria problem", in other words The annexation of Austria to Germany, which Hitler wanted and Mussolini had vehemently rejected until then, in order not to allow a powerful empire to emerge on Italy's northern border, could now be resolved together.

The next step in foreign policy was aimed at the Rhineland. Due to the disarmament provisions of the Versailles Treaty, reaffirmed in 1925 in the Locarno Treaty between Germany, France, Belgium, Great Britain and Italy, it represented a demilitarized zone in order to give the western neighbors of the German Reich security from German attacks. The ratification of a Franco-Soviet assistance pact in February 1936 was used by Hitler to claim that the Western powers had broken the Locarno Treaty. Thereupon he had German troops march into the Rhineland on March 7th - with the secret order to withdraw immediately if they should encounter resistance from the French army.

Once again, the Western powers indicated that they would not undertake any military action against the German Reich, despite the blatant breach of international treaties. The League of Nations condemned German aggression, but there were no practical consequences. With that, Hitler's vabanque game was over. In Germany, his renewed success fed the "Hitler myth" according to the historian Ian Kershaw. This man seemed to succeed in everything, his opponents and skeptics fell silent. Few recognized the relentless intent and consistency with which Hitler was heading for war.

With the staging of the Olympic Games in Berlin in the summer of 1936, the world was supposed to be led to believe that Germany was a powerful but peaceful Germany. Contrary to this public appearance, Hitler decided during the games to support the uprising of General Francisco Franco against the legitimate republican Spanish government and thus to turn the Spanish civil war into an international battlefield against "Bolshevism." Together with Italy, despite international agreements, Germany delivered To maintain neutrality, armaments to Spain and even secretly sent the "Legion Condor". The Spanish civil war was to become a test field for one's own warfare, which, as in the case of the devastating attack on the Basque city of Guernica in April 1937, was also directed against the civilian population.

In a secret memorandum from August 1936, Hitler demanded that the German army be operational and the German economy ready for war within four years. In view of the chronic shortage of foreign currency and the dependence of the German Reich on raw material imports, which were drastically intensified by the simultaneous autarky and armament policy, Hitler had already appointed Hermann Göring as "Reich representative for raw material and foreign exchange issues" in April 1936. In October In 1936 a four-year planning authority was formed under Hermann Göring, which was equipped with far-reaching competencies and was supposed to centrally direct and intensify economic efforts. Its primary goal was to reduce dependence on foreign raw materials, in particular with regard to mineral oil production and the manufacture of synthetic rubber (Buna). But the higher in-house production was immediately absorbed by the rapidly growing demand of the Wehrmacht, so that the foreign dependency of the German Reich did not decrease.If one adhered to the vehement rearmament policy, this dilemma necessarily led prove to the consequence that only by conquering foreign industrial plants and raw material fields could the demand be met and the cost explosion contained. Given the gigantic mobilization of military potential, war was no longer a mere political option, but the inevitable consequence of the preparations already made.

Arms expenditure and national income 1932-1938 (The use of this graphic is subject to a fee)

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"Rehearsals" for some ...

The Commander in Chief of the German Air Force, Hermann Göring, later said [before the International Military Court in Nuremberg in 1946] about the German participation in the Spanish Civil War:

“When civil war broke out in Spain, Franco sent a call for help to Germany for support, especially in the air. One must not forget that Franco was in Africa with his real troops. [...] The decisive factor was that his troops came to Spain first. [...] With the permission of the Fuhrer, I sent a large part of my transport fleet and sent down a number of test squads of my fighters, bombers and anti-aircraft guns, and in this way had the opportunity to test with a sharp shot whether the material was being developed appropriately. So that the staff also got a certain experience, I ensured a strong circulation, that is, always new ones and the others back. "

Hans-Christian Kirsch (ed.), The Spanish Civil War in eyewitness reports, Karl Rauch Verlag Düsseldorf / Munich 1971, p. 101 f.




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... an emergency for the others

On April 26, 1937, the "Legion Condor" bombed Guernica, Basque: Gernika. With his world-famous painting “Guernica”, Pablo Picasso commemorates the destruction of the northern Spanish city, in which several hundred civilians were killed. Padre Alberto de Onaindía, a young Basque priest, watches the bombardment:

“[...] It was a wonderfully clear day, the sky was soft and clear. We arrived in the suburbs of Guernica around 5am. The streets were very busy because it was market day. Suddenly we heard the siren. [...] Soon an enemy plane appeared over Guernica. [...] It dropped three bombs directly over the center. Shortly thereafter, I saw seven planes, followed by six more, then another five. All were Junkers machines. Meanwhile, all of Guernica was in a panic. [...]
The eighteen planes stayed at a height of a few hundred meters above Guernica for more than an hour, throwing bomb after bomb.
The noise of the explosions and the noise of the collapsing houses are unimaginable. They flew over the streets. A great many bombs fell. Apparently everywhere. Later we saw the craters. They were sixteen meters in diameter and eight meters deep.
Around 7 o'clock the planes took off, and now a new wave came, this time at a very high altitude. The second wave threw incendiary bombs on our tortured city. The second bombardment lasted thirty-five minutes, but it was enough to turn the whole place into a huge furnace. [...] The attacks and the destruction of the city continued for another two hours and forty-five minutes. When the bombardment was over, people came out of their shelters. Nobody cried. There was amazement on their faces. Each of us just couldn't understand what we were seeing.
At sunset you could still see no further than five hundred meters. The flames raged everywhere and thick black smoke rose. People around me were praying and holding out their arms in a cross shape towards the sky to ask for mercy. [...]
Guernica had no flak, there were no artillery in the city, and not even a machine gun could be found.
In the first hours of the night I saw terrible scenes: men, women and children ran through the forest looking for their relatives. In most cases they only found the bodies riddled with bullets from the guns on board. [...] "

Ders., P. 268 ff.


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