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VI. The Military, Foreign Policy, and War
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Overview   |   I. Building the Nazi Regime   |   II. The Nazi State   |   III. The SS and Police System   |   IV. Organized Resistance   |   V. Racial Politics   |   VI. The Military, Foreign Policy, and War   |   VII. Economy and Labor   |   VIII. Gender, Family, and Generations   |   IX. Religion   |   X. Literature, Art, and Music   |   XI. Propaganda and Public Reaction   |   XII. Region, City, and Countryside   |   XIII. Science

In an annex to the agreement, Great Britain and France committed to a joint guarantee of Czechoslovakia’s new boundaries, but this failed to deter further German encroachment – on March 15, 1939, Germany annexed Bohemia and Moravia. At the same time, Slovak politicians set up a semi-independent state under German “protection.” The nation of Czechoslovakia had thus disappeared, giving Germany another base from which to launch a future attack against Poland.

Shortly after the German takeover of Bohemia and Moravia, General Franz Halder (1884-1972), chief of the army general staff since 1938, drew troubling conclusions about the dimensions of the coming war and the potential risks it posed to Germany. Halder had ties to the military opposition, and in April 1939 he expressed some of his misgivings in a confidential conversation with Raymond H. Geist, the American consul in Berlin. Geist correctly concluded that the Wehrmacht would follow the course that Hitler set, even if that meant a two-front war in which the United States participated.

A surprise move capped Hitler’s diplomatic preparations for war against Poland. After a period of cautious signaling between Germany and the Soviet Union, Ribbentrop flew to Moscow to meet with his Soviet counterpart, Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. The two agreed on the terms of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty , which was concluded on August 23, 1939. On the surface, the treaty protected Germany against the possibility of a two-front war. Ribbentrop and Molotov agreed that if Germany invaded Poland, the Soviet Union would not intervene on its behalf. It followed that if Britain and France entered the war over the invasion, the Germans would only have to fight a single-front war in the West. There was more to the treaty than met the eye, however: a secret annex divided not only Poland but also most of Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence, thus preparing the way for later territorial changes.

The day before German-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty was signed, Hitler had spoken again with military commanders, justifying the need for war and defining the nature of the imminent conflict. Although no official protocol was issued, various participants took notes, and these have been used to reconstruct Hitler’s remarks. Hitler correctly sensed that Britain and France would be unable or unwilling to intervene effectively on Poland’s behalf, even though they were officially committed to do so. His remarks about the need to act with brutality may have actually gone farther than this reconstruction suggests: another version of the speech, probably dramatized, had him exclaim: “Who nowadays still remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” (29)

(29) Winfried Baumgart, “Zur Ansprache Hitlers vor den Führern der Wehrmacht am 22. August 1939; eine quellenkritische Untersuchung,” Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 16 (1968): 120-49.

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