Hitler’s Foreign Policy 1933-1939
When Germany lost the First World War, it was forced to sign the Treaty of
Treaty of Versailles 1919
1. Germany had to take the blame for the war
2. Germany had to pay reparations.
3. Germany had to cut its army to 100,000 soldiers, and have no tanks, submarines
4. Germany was not allowed soldiers in the Rhineland.
5. Germany was forbidden to unite with Austria.
6. Germany lost land to Poland.
7. Germany lost all it’s territory overseas.
When he came to power in 1933 Hitler promised to get back all that was lost by the
treaty. Hitler promised also to make Germany powerful and to gain extra lands for the
In 1934, Hitler introduced conscription for the army. He ordered the build up of
submarines, tanks and an airforce.
In 1936, Hitler put soldiers into the Rhineland. Many people in Britain thought this
was only fair. Why shouldn’t Hitler be able to defend Germany?
In 1938, Hitler forced Austria to unite with Germany. This seemed to be popular with
many Austrians. Britain let Hitler do this. Nobody in Britain wanted a war with
Later on in 1938 Hitler forced Czechoslovakia to give up a part of it’s land called the
Sudetenland. Many Germans lived in the Sudetenland. Britain’s Prime Minister,
Neville Chamberlain, let Hitler have all of his demands. This was called appeasement.
Chamberlain believed that if Hitler got what he wanted, Britain could avoid war with
In March 1939, Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia, although he promised
Chamberlain he would not. In August 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. Chamberlain
decided enough was enough and declared war on Germany. This was the start of the
Second World War.
Hitler’s aims in foreign policy 1933-38
Hitler aimed to make Germany into a great power again and this he hoped to achieve
• destroying the hated Versailles settlement,
• building up the army, • recovering lost territory such as the Saar and the Polish Corridor, and
• bringing all Germans within the Reich.
This last aim would involve the annexation of Austria and the acquisition of territory
from Czechoslovakia and Poland, both of which had large German minorities as a
result of Versailles.
There is some disagreement about what, if anything, Hitler intended beyond these
aims. Most historians believe that the annexation of Austria and parts of
Czechoslovakia and Poland was only a beginning, to be followed by the seizure of the
rest of Czechoslovakia and Poland and by the conquest and permanent occupation of
Russia as far east as the Ural Mountains. This would give him what the Germans
called lebensraum (living space) which would provide food for the German people
and an area, in which the excess German population could settle and colonise. An
additional advantage was that communism would be destroyed. However, not all
historians agree about these further aims; A.J.P. Taylor, for example, claims that
Hitler never intended a major war and at most was prepared for only a limited war
Whatever the truth about his long-term intentions, Hitler began his foreign policy with
a series of brilliant successes (one of the main reasons for his popularity in Germany).
By the end of 1938 almost every one of Hitler’s aims had been achieved, without war
and with the approval of Britain. Only the Germans of Poland remained to be brought
within the Reich. Unfortunately, it was when he failed to achieve this by peaceful
means that Hitler took his fateful decision to invade Poland.
First Steps 1933-38
a) Given that Germany was still militarily weak in 1933, Hitler had to move
cautiously at first. He withdrew from the Disarmament Conference and the League of
Nations on the grounds that France would not agree to German equality of
armaments. At the same time he insisted that Germany was willing to disarm if other
states agreed to do the same, and that he wanted only peace. This was one of his
favourite techniques: to act boldly while soothing his opponents with the sort of
conciliatory speeches he knew they wanted to hear.
b) Next Hitler signed a ten-year non-aggression pact with the Poles (January 1934)
who were showing alarm in case the Germans tried to take back the Polish Corridor.
This was something of a triumph for Hitler:
• Britain took it as further evidence of his peaceful intentions,
• it ruined the French Little Entente which depended very much on Poland, and
• it guaranteed Polish neutrality whenever Germany should move against Austria
On the other hand it improved relations between France and Russia, who were both
worried by the apparent threat from Nazi Germany. c) In July 1934 Hitler suffered a setback to his ambitions of an Anschluss (union)
between Germany and Austria. The Austrian Nazis, encouraged by Hitler, staged a
revolt and murdered the Chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, the protege of Mussolini.
However, when Mussolini moved Italian troops to the Austrian frontier and warned
the Germans off, the revolt collapsed; Hitler, taken aback, had to accept that Germany
was not yet strong enough to force the issue and disclaimed responsibility for the
actions of the Austrian Nazis.
d) The Saar was returned to Germany (Ja