Background to War in Europe

Australia and World War II


During the 1930s two major problems faced the world:
  • the economic crisis that swept the world after the Wall Street Crash
  • the attempts by Germany, Italy and Japan (which became known as the Axis powers) to expand their territory.


The Rise of fascism
After World War I (1914–18), Germany had to accept the blame for starting the war. Some parts of Germany were given to other countries, and Germany had to pay Britain and France reparations according to the Treaty of Versailles signed by Germany in 1918. The amount of money Germany was required to pay caused economic difficulties. During the 1920s in Germany, prices rose at a very fast rate (known as hyperinflation) and the Germans’ standard of living fell. Money became worthless. An item that cost 70 German marks to buy in 1921 required 4200 million marks to buy in 1923 and people's savings were quickly used up buying basic items of food.

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Source 1- Some of the ways hyperinflation affected ordinary Germans



In Italy from 1919, a political movement known as fascism grew under the leadership of Benito Mussolini. It subsequently spread to Germany, Portugal and Spain. Fascism was characterised by:

  • control by one man who was supported by most people
  • the use of force to overcome any opposition
  • a belief in the superiority of one's own nation
  • opposition to communism
  • a desire to expand territory.

In the early 1920s, Adolf Hitler made his first attempt to gain power in Germany. When he was unsuccessful, he turned to fascist methods to encourage people to support him.

Fascism Vs Communism ?

Between 1930 and 1932 unemployment in Germany rose from 3 million to more than 6 million and those who had jobs worked for low wages. Hitler promised a better, stronger and more prosperous Germany. Most Germans remembered what had happened in the 1920s and Hitler gave people a sense of hope and pride in their country.

Hitler came to power in January 1933 it was soon clear that he intended to defy the Treaty of Versailles. Like most Germans he was unhappy with the reparations and argued that Germany had been unfairly treated in 1919. Most Germans also blamed their dire economic position on the reparations. Hitler intended getting back those territories that had been taken from Germany in 1919 and he demanded that Germany’s armed forces be strengthened. However, his ambitions went much further than undoing past wrongs. He had a vision of creating a German empire out of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. He referred to this as lebensraum, or ‘living space’


Hitler became popular because he:

  • said he would create more jobs and make people better off financially
  • said he would restore Germany's greatness
  • promised to reunite all German-speaking people into one country
  • blamed the Jews and communists for all Germany's problems
  • was a skilful public speaker
  • organised large rallies to promote his ideas
  • used violence against those who opposed him.

In 1933, Hitler became Germany's leader and his Nazi party (National Socialist) took over control of Germany.

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Source 2 A modern artist's impression of the groups who showed their support for Hitler at Nazi Party rallies



1. Hitler saw himself as a symbol of Germany. He tried at all times to appear casual yet powerful — both as a statesman and a leader.
2. Propaganda posters contained the ‘simple imagery’ that Hitler craved. He understood the power of simple images and ideas.
3. Hitler blamed Jews for many of the problems facing Germany after the war, and incited violence against them.
4. By the mid 1930s, six out of every ten young German people had joined Hitler Youth. They were deluged with Nazi Party ideology, particularly anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish views).
5. Hitler promised to take care of the workers and farmers, and to return the middle class to good fortune and peace. It seemed to them that Hitler, more than any other politician, had the ability to erase the damage done by the war and its aftermath. The crowds saluted him as a sign of respect.


Appeasement


In the years leading up to the outbreak of World War II, Britain and France followed a policy of appeasement towards Hitler. This meant that they usually gave in to his demands in the hope that war could be avoided. Neither Britain nor France was prepared for a war in the 1930s, mainly because of the economic crisis in each country. However, a more important reason for appeasement was that people still believed that World War I had been the war to end all wars and they didn't want to fight again.

Most believed that Germany was poorly treated at the Treaty of Versailles. Some believed that there was even some justification for what Hitler was doing. Others believed that because Hitler was opposed to communism he should be supported and trusted.


When Italy invaded Abyssinia, Britain and France showed a lack of strong action against Mussolini. However, it was Germany's involvement in the Spanish Civil War that showed that Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, was the greatest threat to European peace.

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The appeasement policy resulted in Germany gaining control of first Austria and then, at the Munich Conference, Czechoslovakia, with the support of Great Britain and France. Hitler's claim for lebensraum (living space) for all German-speaking people meant that his next goal was to take part of Poland. This time Great Britain guaranteed Poland autonomy (the right to govern itself), in the belief that Hitler's ambitions had been satisfied with Czechoslovakia after the Munich Conference.


On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland.
Britain and France then declared war on Germany and World War II had begun.Britain and France now realised that Hitler wanted only one thing — complete control of Europe.
A map of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East in the 1930s.png
A map of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East in the 1930s



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Source 3: The Awful Warning’, a cartoonist's view of Britain and France's response to Italy's invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 (from Punch, 1935)
Activities


Examine Source 3 and answer the following:

  1. Identify the country each figure in source 5.4 represents.
  2. In your own words, explain the point the cartoonist is making.
  3. How reliable are cartoons as evidence of what people thought was happening and what was really happening?



Did you get it?
Answer the following questions:


1. Identify the effects of hyperinflation that are described in Source 1.
2. If you were living in Berlin during this time, would it be better to be paid daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly? Explain your answer.
3. Suggest ways in which people living in Germany in 1923 might have been able to obtain basic everyday food items.
4. What is fascism and what are its characteristics?
5. Why was Germany unhappy with the 1919 Treaty of Versailles?
6. What were Hitler’s intentions when he came to power?
7. Why did Hitler become popular?
8. Explain the meaning of the term Lebensraum.



GLOSSARY ACTIVITY
Match the definitions with the key words in the box below

…………. Second Australian Imperial Force, a voluntary Australian army recruited for overseas service during World War II

……………… Nations that were on the same side in World War II. Australia was an ally of Britain and the United States in World War II.

…………………….. hatred of Jews

………………………The name given to the foreign policy followed by the British and French governments in the 1930s towards the European dictators. Appeasement was based on the belief that Hitler in particular had limited demands and that by giving in to his demands another war could be avoided.

…………………… The idea that people had to live simply, avoid wastage or excess and go without luxury items for the sake of the war effort.

……….. alliance of two or more nations to coordinate foreign and military policies and action; for example: Germany, Italy and Japan in World War II

…………………….. means ‘lightning war’ and refers to the use of aircraft and tanks to remove opposition before the German soldiers’ advance

…………………… a word which means ‘prime minister’.

……………………. the suppression or attempted suppression of something regarded as objectionable

…………………… extreme right wing ideology that developed in many countries following World War I. A fascist system is one in which power is strongly centralised and the government controls all the affairs of the nation. Fascism promotes aggressive nationalism and opposes socialism, communism and parliamentary democracy

……………………..an affectionate term used by the Australian troops for the indigenous inhabitants of New Guinea who provided help to the allied soldiers in the war against the Japanese.

…………………………….. an international agreement on the conduct of war, especially on the role of the Red Cross and the treatment of prisoner of war

……………………….. the deliberate destruction of a race of people

………………………….Nazi secret state police

……………….……. the systematic attempt by the Nazis to destroy the Jewish race during World War II

……………..….……... means ‘divine wind’ and refers to Japanese suicide pilots

…………………………… a world organisation set up after World War I aiming to preserve world peace.

……………………………. German term for living space

……………………………German air force

…………… the name of the political party led by Adolf Hitler which ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945.

…………… prisoner of war

…………... Royal Australian Air Force

…………... Royal Australian Navy

………………….. a system devised to ensure the fair distribution of essential commodities in wartime.

………….………. payments Germany was required to make after World War I for the cost of the war.

……………………………………. the peace treaty that ended World War I and forced Germany to accept the blame for starting the war

…………….. Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service



anti-Semitism * censorship * Nazi * blitzkrieg * Geneva Convention * RAAF * Holocaust * rationing * AIF * appeasement * kamikaze * Chancellor * Luftwaffe * Gestapo * axis * fascism * genocide * POW * reparations * League of Nations * allies * WRANS * Fuzzy Wuzzy * austerity *RAN * Treaty of Versailles * lebensraum


Appeasement Activity Questions

  1. What was France and Britain’s policy of appeasement towards Hitler?
  2. Why did they do this?
  3. Why did some feel Hitler should be trusted and supported?
  4. What was the result in the appeasement policy?
  5. What was Hitler’s goal as part of his claim for lebenstraum?
  6. What did Great Britain grant Poland at the Munich Conference in Czechovslakia? Why?
  7. What event happened on 1st September 1939?
  8. What was the result of this event?