Hitler obtained absolute power in 1934. After attaining this goal, he worked to bring Germany out the depression by preparing for war. As Germany strengthened, the Allies looked the other way. When Germany began prodding for Allied weakness, Britain and France crumbled. From the period he obtained power to the outbreak of World War II, Hitler made incremental moves toward war while Britain and France appeased the dictator.
In 1934, Hitler began a sweeping industrialization program. Germany reached full employment by militarizing. This included building weapons and infrastructure. The German autobahn came into existence in order to move tanks and troops. Additionally, the Nazis removed women from the workforce. As a result, unemployment disappeared. So, men went to work building tanks and roads for war while women went to work making soldiers.
Hitler stated his goals clearly in Mein Kampf. He wanted living space for farmers in the east and planned to use the military to get it. In 1935, Hitler threw off the Treaty of Versailles. He announced a military expansion beyond the treaty’s stipulations. He expanded the army to 600,000 men, enlarged the navy, and created an air force. The Allies did not protest. By this point, even they believed the Treaty of Versailles had been too harsh.
The following year, Hitler continued to violate the treaty. He sent troops into the Rhineland demilitarized zone. Again, the Allies failed to act. They believed Germany had been treaty unfairly and understood Hitler’s move. As a result of Britain and France’s newfound tolerance, Hitler grew bolder and used his military in action for the first time.
The Nazi military came to Fascist General Francisco Franco’s aid in the Spanish Civil War. The German troops and equipment received on the job training in Spain. The Allies did not send aid to the anti-fascist forces and Franco triumphed. The United States remembered this following World War II when they sent aid to Greece and Turkey.
While the German military gained experience, Hitler concentrated on the economy. By 1936, the economy showed signs of stress. Hitler responded by envisioning a coming struggle against the Jews and Bolsheviks. The economy might have to suffer. He wanted a rapid moving first rate military and if that destroyed the economy, so be it. Bankruptcy became an option. Eventually, the industrialists that hoped to control Hitler became slaves to the Third Reich.
With the economy showing signs of weakness and the British and French feeling skittish about opposing Hitler, the Germans secured allies. Italy and Germany declared an Axis. Later that year, the Nazis signed an Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. The pact forged an anti-communist alliance. Hitler sent invitations to join the pact to several other nations, but only Italy joined.
With a fledgling alliance in place, Hitler spoke more and more about a greater Reich and living space. In 1938, he demanded a union between Austria and Germany. Hitler was Austrian by birth and German by choice. He wanted to incorporate his homeland into the Reich. This Anschluss occurred quickly and painlessly. Vienna held a tickertape parade for Hitler’s entry into the city. It was reminiscent of a Roman triumph.
Hitler wanted Austria and Czechoslovakia. Austria fell easily, but the Czechs refused to negotiate a surrender of the Sudetenland. This buffer zone between the two countries was home to many German speakers. Using Wilsonian logic, Hitler argued German speakers belong in Germany. The Czechs disagreed and asked Britain and France for help. Meanwhile, Hitler prepared to invade.
By this point, the Allies worried about another bloodletting like World War I. They agreed to a conference at Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s behest. The Allies surrendered the Sudetenland to the Germans without conferring with the Czechs. They told the Czech government that they were on their own. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned with the Munich Agreement promising peace. Meanwhile, the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia.
The same year Czechoslovakia and Austria fell to Hitler, he proclaimed himself Commander-in-Chief of the military. Unlike the United States, the president and chancellor of Germany did not have that title bestowed upon election. The Nazi leadership used scandal to remove the war minister and army commander. Like the politicians and industrialists, the military that hoped to control Hitler became his pawns. As with his foreign conquests, Hitler achieved his goals during this period without bloodshed.
Hitler’s aims had nearly been completely achieved without firing a shot. Poland and the Soviet Union remained. The dictator wanted those lands to fulfill his dream of a German east filled with small farmers. Poland came first geographically, so the Germans agreed to the Nazi-Soviet Pact. This nonaggression pact split Poland between the two brutal regimes. After signing the agreement, the Nazis moved on Poland.
Hitler began saber rattling against the Poles. Up to this point, the British and French refused to confront the Germans after every provocative action. This time, they promised to defend Poland against Germany. Hitler had a choice to make. He could invade and risk war with the Allies or he could negotiate. In this instance, he chose the risk of war. By this point, the Allies had not shown an inclination to fight and he had a nonaggression pact with the Soviets to protect against a two-front war. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war.
Adolf Hitler wanted living space in the east. He geared his country for war from the moment he achieved power. Incrementally, the Germans tested the Allies and received no resistance. Eventually, they conquered Austria and Czechoslovakia without firing a shot. The Allies showed no inclination to fight until the Polish crisis. After the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Allies belatedly responded plunging the world into war.
For more on Hitler’s early life and rise to power, please see: http://dampfang.com/american-history-in-national/adolf-hitler-part-1-1889-1923 and http://dampfang.com/american-history-in-national/adolf-hitler-s-rise-to-power-1923-1934