German-Polish non-aggression pact
Germany and Poland signed a 10-year non-aggression pact: “…The moment has arrived for inaugurating a new era in Polish-German political relations by means of direct communications between the two countries.” It was proposed by Hitler, and Poland never consulted France, its chief ally. Germany was signaling that it had no quarrel with Poland, but only with Communist Russia. Warsaw had concluded it could no longer rely on outside support in preserving Poland’s independence. The treaty stated that neither signatory would “proceed to use force in order to settle” disputes. The pact was also significant in that Poland became the first nation to enter into a harmonious relationship with the new Nazi regime. Warsaw was anxious to avoid becoming involved in the quarrels of Poland’s neighbors, and the pact accurately reflected a Polish policy of trying to maintain friendly relations with all powers.
“Night of the Long Knives”
Ernst Roehm was was one of the first members of the Nazi Party. He took part in the Beer-Hall Putsch of 1923, but after the trial he was released. After the victory of the Nazis in the 1930 election he was appointed commander of the SA by Hitler, which at that time had about 170,000 members. Following the Nazi seizure of power Roehm wanted the SA to be incorporated into the German Army. He was bitterly opposed by high ranking army officers and by Hitler, who was afraid that Roehm would try to seize power as the head of a military government. Hitler ordered the liquidation of the SA. On June 30, 1934 Roehm and other SA leaders were arrested and shot – this purge was later known as “The Night of the Long Knives.”
Nazi putsch in Austria fails
The policy of threats that Hitler applied against Austrian Premier Engelbert Dollfuss in 1933-1934 prompted the latter to conclude an alliance with Mussolini. After establishing an Italian-style dictatorship, Dollfuss began taking measures leading to the political liquidation of his opponents, including Austrian Nazis. In response, the latter assassinated Dollfuss on July 25, 1934, hoping thereby to exploit the assassination for a putsch. The putsch failed; Germany denied all involvement in the affair.
German President Paul von Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, at the age of 86. Although the superannuated president gave the regime an aura of continuity and legitimacy, he possessed no political power and played no role in state affairs. After Hindenburg’s death, Hitler merged the offices of chancellor and president and became the Reichsfuehrer, thereby making him the sole and unrivalled leader of Germany.
Germany reclaims Saar region
In early 1935, as part of their attempts to undo the decisions of the Versailles agreement and expand the Reich borders to include all members of the “Aryan-German race,” the Nazis began to create facts on the ground. On January 13, 1935, after a plebiscite held in the Saar region, in which the local population voted overwhelmingly to come under German rule, Germany proclaimed the liberation of this region (which had been annexed by France after World War I), and re-annexed it.
Prohibition of gatherings urging Jews to remain in Germany
In its first few years, the Nazi policy against German Jews sought to separate German society from Jewish society in every possible respect and, practically speaking, to rescind the Jewish emancipation in Germany. Large groups of Jews, at one level or another, wished at precisely this time to strengthen their German identity and affiliation. The February 10 legislation, outlawing assemblies that encouraged Jews to remain in Germany, was one of a series of laws, orders, and regulations meant to fight this trend of thought. In contrast, Jewish activities in the Third Reich that urged Jews to dissimilate, if not to emigrate, were given official approval and even support. On this basis, the interests of various Nazi establishment figures and Zionist groups sometimes converged and even led to ad-hoc cooperation.
Military conscription in Germany
On March 16, 1935, pursuant to his efforts to reverse provisions of the Versailles accords that were adverse to Germany, Hitler ordered the enactment of a conscription law. The Versailles treaty allowed Germany to have no more than 100,000 men under arms; the new statute promised to multiply this figure many times over. Thus, Germany abrogated another provision of the agreements that had aimed to contain her.
Death of Pilsudski
Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, leader of Poland, dies.
Until Pilsudski´s death, Poland was governed by a coalition of minorities, with members representing the Jews, the Ukrainians, the Germans, and other minorities living in Poland. After his death, a right-wing, antisemitic coalition came to power, and life became more difficult for the Jews of Poland.
German army becomes “all-Aryan”
On March 16, 1935, the German government promulgated the Formation of the Wehrmacht (German Army) Law. Although the law stipulated that service in the Wehrmacht be performed on the basis of general compulsory service, Jews would not be allowed to serve in its ranks. In a letter to the Minister of War, Werner von Blomberg, on March 23, members of the Reichsvertretung complained that the law deprived Jews of the right to be German soldiers. Their protest on this account was to no avail.
“Jews Not Welcome” signs temporarily removed
By order of the Ministry of Propaganda, prompted by the upcoming Winter Olympics in Germany, “Jews Not Welcome” signs on main streets vanished quietly. This was one of the measures that Nazi agencies adopted to improve Germany’s image in the eyes of the outside world as the Olympics approached. This measure, like others that sought to restrain anti-Jewish activity to some extent, created the feeling that the anti-Jewish policy had eased. Indeed, many observers-Jewish and non-Jewish, German and non-German-“took the bait” and believed that the Nazis’ anti-Jewish spree had peaked and was petering out. Thus, the Nazis enhanced their image considerably; many foreign visitors and journalists returned to their home countries with a feeling that the complaints about the condition of German Jewry had been overstated. Importantly, however, the easing of policy was temporary and for outside consumption only. Some of the most crucial decisions concerning the Jews, such as the Four-Year Plan, were made by the Nazis soon thereafter-1936, the Olympic year.
German-British Naval Agreement Concluded
Germany and Britain signed a naval agreement limiting Germany’s fleet to 35 percent of Britain’s surface craft and 45 percent of its submarines. This deeply upset the French, since Paris doubted Britain’s sincerity in an alliance against Germany. France also thought Britain was signaling approval of German rearmament-which it was, of course. The agreement was the first time that a European power not only condoned, but agreed to, an overt violation of the Versailles treaty.
Nuremberg Laws enacted
The term “Nuremberg Laws” refers to anti-Jewish legislation adopted at the Nazi Party Convention, where the Reichstag were guests, in Nuremberg on September 15, 1935. Two swiftly elaborated acts brought about the final legal and social separation of Jews and non-Jews in Germany. The Reich Citizenship Law deprived Jews of electoral rights and made them into second-class citizens. The immediate result was the dismissal of all Jewish civil servants, employees, and workers who still held their jobs. The Citizenship Law provided the legal basis for 13 subsequent administrative orders.
The second law endorsed by the Reichstag that day was the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor. This statute forbade Jews to marry nationals of German or kindred blood. In the wake of this law, a complicated classification system was enacted, defining various degrees of Jewishness according to how many grandparents were Jews, i.e., members of the Jewish community: “full Jew,” “considered Jewish,” etc. Each degree had its own specified privileges, rights, and disabilities. Aryans and German blood were never defined.
The law is a clear expression of Nazi racial ideology, and also clearly illustrates the pseudo-science behind it. Individual Jews were defined by their lineage (an objective biological criterion), but the root of their lineage (their grandparents’ identity as Jews) was determined by “membership in the Jewish religious community,” a most subjective and non-scientific criterion.
Italy attacks Ethiopia
Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia. The Ethiopians’ appeal to the League of Nations did not result in substantive intervention, because of British and French appeasement policies. The Italians overran Ethiopia after half a year of combat; the country’s Emperor, Haile Selassie, went into exile. The Italian occupation lasted until the British liberated the country in 1941, whereupon the emperor reclaimed his throne.
Additions to Nuremberg Laws
On November 14, 1935, the Nuremberg Laws of September 15-the Reich Citizenship Law, and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor-were augmented by the first two of 13 regulations issued through July 1943. The regulations were meant to complement the process that the Nuremberg Laws symbolized: the eviction of German Jews from all fields of life in Germany. The November 14, 1935, regulations were: a) Regulation No. 1 to the Reich Citizenship Law, which deprived Jews of the right to vote and the right to hold government positions (resulting in the dismissal of Jewish civil servants); and, b) Regulation No. 1 to the Protection of German Blood and German Honor Law, prohibiting miscegenation between Jews and second-degree Mischlinge.
Germans enter Rhineland
On March 7, 1936, exploiting disagreements among the Western powers and their preoccupation with the crisis in Ethiopia, Hitler occupied the Rhineland region, which had been demilitarized since the Versailles accords. Hitler had made up his mind to occupy this area in February, regarding the signing of a French-Soviet agreement in early March as a pretext to breach the 1925 Locarno accords, which had ended the border dispute between Germany and France. Despite this act of aggression, the European powers refrained from taking meaningful action against Germany.
Mass anti-Nazi rally in New York
The Jewish Labor Joint Boycott Council, established by the American Jewish Congress in 1936, advocated a boycott of German-manufactured goods and sponsored a series of protest demonstrations against the persecution of Jews in Germany. However, the full spectrum of Jewish organizations did not join ranks for action of this kind, because of disunity among American Jews and disagreements on how to treat Germany.
Himmler appointed Chief of Police
On June 17, 1936, Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler was named chief of police for all German states. The appointment created a centralized police command, entrusted de facto to the SS; until then, the police had been subordinate to the individual state governments. The effect was to give the SS an autonomous status and to erase the line that separated a party from a government institution. This is a clear example of one of the principal ways in which the Nazis sought to Nazify German society. Upon his appointment, Himmler reorganized the police by drawing a clear distinction between the Ordnungspolizei (“Order Police”) and the Sicherheitspolizei (“Security Police”). The Order Police were tasked with ordinary police affairs; the Security Police imposed ideological control in the name of the central regime.
Spanish Civil War begins
The war began when military forces under General Francisco Franco staged a coup against the Republican government, in order to establish an authoritarian right-wing regime. The insurrectionists were opposed by a coalition of liberals, socialists, and Communists. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy helped the rebels almost from the beginning of the war. On the other hand, volunteers from throughout the world fought on the Republican side, seeing the war as a chance to take a clear stand against, and stop the spirit of, Fascism. After heavy losses, the insurrectionists won the war and set up a dictatorship under Franco in early 1939.
Olympic Games begin in Berlin
The Berlin Olympiad was one of the Nazis’ greatest propaganda victories. Visitors and journalists were impressed by Germany’s order, discipline, and might. It even seemed that the Jews had vastly overstated their suffering. Even the president of the United States was misled. In a conversation with the president of the World Jewish Congress, Stephen Wise, Roosevelt said that, according to two witnesses who had been in Germany, the synagogues were full and there seemed nothing especially grim about the situation at that time. Indeed, the Nazis made every effort to portray Germany as a respectable member of the community of nations and to soft-pedal the persecution of Jews. In the buildup to the Winter Games, anti-Jewish signs were removed from main streets and overt anti-Jewish activity was restrained. In response to pressure from foreign Olympic delegations, several Mischlinge and one full-blooded Jew, the ice-hockey player Rudi Ball, were placed on the German team.
In the United States, the question of participating in the Olympics became a matter of public debate. On October 22, 1935, General Charles Sherrill, a ranking American representative on the International Olympic Committee, wrote the following in the The New York Times:
There is grave danger in this Olympic agitation. Consider the effect on several hundred-thousand youngsters training for this contest throughout the United States, if the boycott movement gets so far that they suddenly are confronted with the fact that somebody is trying to defeat their ambition to get to Berlin and compete in the Olympic Games. We are almost certain to have a wave of Anti-Semitism among those who never before gave it a thought, and who may consider that about 5,000,000 Jews in this country are using the athletes representing 120,000,000 Americans to work out something to help the German Jews…. This Anti-Semitism resulting here might last for years. In response to Sherrill’s remarks, the Committee on Fair Play in Sport made the following statement in the New York Times of October 23, 1935:
He has gratuitously attempted to make the Olympic Games a purely Jewish issue. The issue is not Jewry against Germany, but fair play. It has been denied not only Jewish athletes in Germany, but also to Catholic and Protestant sport clubs which do not accept Nazi doctrines of conscience. General Sherrill’s attitude that the Jews should not stir up too much row lest they invite suppression in this country, as well as in Germany, marks him as an unconscious Anti-Semite, even conceding that he sincerely believes he is a friend of the Jews. The Germans, in turn, considered sports one of the arenas in which they should wage a struggle to justify their doctrines. For example, Goebbels wrote in his diary on June 20, shortly before the games began, about the victory of the German boxer Max Schmeling over the American Joe Louis in the heavyweight championships: “Schmeling fought and won for Germany. The white trounced the black, and the white was a German.” However, Goebbels’s remarks on the first day of the games were less jubilant: “We Germans won a gold medal and the Americans won three, two of them by blacks. White humankind should be ashamed. But for what does that count there, in that uncultured country?”
The person who most angered the Germans was the black runner Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals, set several world records, and earned the following half-enraged, half-gloating headline in the The New York Times: “Hitler Ignores Black Medallist.”
The Four-Year Plan was the Nazis’ economic program to prepare Germany for war. Adolf Hitler personally wrote the memorandum for the plan in August 1936. In this, this intervention in economic policy, Hitler personally set forth the goals of the upcoming war and stipulated a timetable for intensified rearmament. The goals were twofold: to give the Wehrmacht operational capabilities within four years; and to enable the German economy to cope with wartime conditions. To attain these goals, the plan called for the creation of a command economy with special emphasis on protecting German agriculture under war conditions, so that it could withstand a blockade to the limits of its ability. Autarchy would be achieved through the adoption of an expansionist policy that would render Germany less dependent on imported raw materials. For this purpose, the Hermann Goering Reich Works were founded, and refineries and aluminum plants were established. The plan also promoted the development of a synthetic-materials industry, in order to replace raw materials and control of the allocation of labor. Hermann Goering was nominated as commissioner for the implementation of the plan and was given extraordinary general powers in the economic sphere. During the war, these powers were extended to the economic structure of the occupied countries, so as to extract everything possible from them in a policy of ruthless plundering. Goering also directed the deportation of millions of people from the occupied territories to forced-labor camps.
Germany’s economic reinvigoration had a direct effect on the potential for speeding up the Reich’s antisemitic policy.
Political activities of Association of Jewish War Veterans banned
The SS enjoined the Association of Jewish War Veterans from engaging in any activity apart from dealing with disabled Jewish veterans of the world war. Nevertheless, members of the association continued to meet intermittently until their organization was outlawed in November 1938.
Rome-Berlin Axis Agreement signed
The term “Axis,” denoting the German-Italian alliance, was first used by Mussolini in a speech he delivered in November 1938 in Milan. In the first three years of Nazi rule, the two countries avoided an alliance despite their ideological closeness, because Italy feared German territorial expansion and because of political interests.
Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935 ruptured Rome’s relations with the democracies and prompted a rapprochement with Nazi Germany that gathered strength when Italy and Germany sided with the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. At first, the Axis was based on political interests. Mussolini still did not identify with Germany’s anti-Jewish racism. However, in view of Germany’s growing strength, Mussolini eventually issued anti-Jewish decrees too.
Germany and Japan Conclude Anti-Comintern Pact
By concluding the Anti-Comintern Pact on November 25, 1936, Hitler placed further pressure on Great Britain which, in any case, was concerned about the escalating Japanese threat to its interests in the Far East. Hitler hoped that Britain would also reach terms with Japan, but the British refused.
Pope issues statement against racism
On March 21, with the religious freedom of German Catholics at grave risk, the concordat notwithstanding, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (“With Burning Concern”). In this missive, he questioned the errors of Nazi ideology. “Whoever detaches the race, the nation, the state, the form of government…from the earthly frame of reference and makes them into the highest norm of all, higher than religious values, and worships them with idolatry, perverts and distorts the order of things provided and commended by God.” He made no specific mention of the plight of German Jewry.
Jews can be released from “protective detention” by emigrating
Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuehrer-SS and chief of police, issued an administrative order allowing Jews to be released from detention on the condition that they emigrate from Germany. The order was meant to pressure Jews to exhaust all possibilities of emigrating from Europe. The order was later honored by many of the tens of thousands of Jews who had been arrested on Kristallnacht. This is a clear articulation of the Nazi policy of using force to effect the emigration of Jews from Germany.
Himmler: returning emigres will be sent to concentration camps
Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuehrer-SS and chief of police, issued an order stipulating the arrest and confinement in a concentration camp of any German emigre who re-immigrated. The order, meant to dissuade anyone who left Germany from returning, defined emigres as persons who left Germany after the Nazi accession on January 30, 1933.
German Army Ordered to Prepare for War
In the course of a discussion in the Chancellery on November 5, 1937, documented in the records of Hitler’s military adjutant, Colonel Friedrich Hossbach, Hitler presented the military and political leadership with his goals. In Hitler’s thinking, Germany’s cramped confines and growing population made territorial expansion necessary. From the intellectual standpoint, his remarks were an extension of the imperialist foreign policy that he had revealed in Mein Kampf. In the realities of 1937, they could be construed as a clear-cut intention to go to war in the near future.
Reshuffling of Portfolios: Schacht Resigns
Hjalmar Schacht, Minister of Economic Affairs and the governor of the German Central bank-who until then had restrained the economic assault on the Jews for pragmatic reasons (to protect the German economy)-resigned his portfolio as Minister for Economic Affairs. This resignation was the first stage in a round of new appointments in which party hard-liners replaced relative moderates in key positions. In early 1938, the foreign minister and the defense minister also resigned, and the army command was reshuffled.
Antisemitic legislation passed in Romania
After Octavian Goga’s National Peasants’ party merged with Alexandru Cuza’s League of National Christian Defense, the anti-Semitic Goga-Cuza cabinet was formed in Romania. The Goga-Cuza party advocated an alliance with the Third Reich and undertook to amend the constitution. Political power would be confined to “Romanians who had pure Romanian blood in their veins”; the Jews would be removed from the press; Romanians would have priority in all economic enterprises and cultural institutions; and Jews would be barred from government service. The government committed itself to the expulsion from the country of Jews who had entered it by illegal means, to deprive the Jews of their citizenship, and to the confiscation of Jewish property.
The gravest of the anti-Jewish measures was a law enacted on January 22, 1938, to review the citizenship of Jews. As a result of this review, a quarter of a million Jews – about one-third of the total Jewish population – were deprived of their rights as citizens.
Under the regime instituted by King Carol II in February 1938, the deterioration in the situation of the Jews that had begun under the Goga-Cuza government continued.
Anschluss: Reich Annexes Austria
Hitler sent his army into Austria on March 11, and the Anschluss-the incorporation of Austria into the “Third German Reich”-was proclaimed two days later. Most of the Austrian population accepted the annexation willingly, if not enthusiastically. The annexation was accompanied by protracted antisemitic eruptions and humiliations of Jews by Austrian citizens under German patronage.
Immediately after the annexation, the Gestapo embarked on a week of organized looting of Jewish apartments, in which confiscated objets d’art and valuables were hauled away to Berlin. Before the week was out, Jews were dismissed from their positions in theaters, popular cultural institutions, and public libraries; soon afterwards, they were banned from universities and colleges. Synagogues were desecrated. Jews were arrested and held in detention until they signed away their property.
Recognition of Jewish organizations revoked
The public status of Jewish community organizations was revoked. From March 31 on, these organizations were no longer recognized under public law and had to re-register as associations under civil law. This cost them their tax exemption as religious societies and deprived them of the right to collect community taxes.
Hitler incites Sudeten German party
On March 28, 1938, shortly after the annexation of Austria, Hitler summoned the heads of the German party in the Sudetenland, Konrad Henlein and Karl Frank, for a briefing. Hitler informed them that he intended to have his representative in the Sudetenland, Henlein, solve the “German problem” of this Czech province in the near future. Hitler appointed Henlein and promised him all possible support. From Hitler’s standpoint, the purported oppression of Germans in the Sudetenland had long since become intolerable. It was agreed that the Reich would not actively intervene in the Sudetenland for the time being and that Henlein would attend to the Sudeten Germans’ needs.
Jewish businesses registered since April are marked
The third regulation to the Citizenship Law, passed in Nuremberg, defined a Jewish business or enterprise. From then on, if an owner or partner in a business was defined as a Jew, the company was considered Jewish and had to be registered as such. This regulation paved the way for compulsory Aryanization. From then on the prior discrimination of the Jews in the economy, advanced to the banishment of Jews from economic life under the provisions of the Four-Year Plan.
“Operation June”-mass arrests of Jews and banishment to concentration camps
In the summer of 1938, 2,200 “asocial” (meaning “criminal”) Jews were arrested and imprisoned in three concentration camps: Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen. Many of these people had committed petty administrative offenses such as illegal parking, late payments, and the like. Unemployed Jews were arrested for having evaded the requirement to work. As a condition for their release, they had to promise to leave Germany.
Eleven days after the Anschluss, as the persecution spree ruled out the possibility of an orderly departure of refugees from Germany and Austria, President Roosevelt proposed an international conference at Evian, on the shore of Lake Geneva in France, to ease the emigration of refugees and to establish a new international organization that would elaborate an overall solution to the refugee problem. Roosevelt noted that none of the participating countries should be expected to modify its refugee admission policy.
Between July 6-15, representatives of 29 states met in Evian to discuss the international refugee problem. 24 voluntary organizations also attended, as observers, many of whom presented plans orally and in writing. The conference was governmental; neither the refugees themselves nor representative organizations of refugees participated. The various countries’ delegates explained why they could not take in masses of refugees from Germany and Austria. The conference achieved almost no success in opening any country’s gates to the refugees, and by the time it adjourned, there was a public consensus that it had failed to find them a safe haven.
Anti-Jewish economic strictures
Another series of anti-Jewish economic regulations was enacted between early July 1938 and the end of the year. The new series focused on restricting Jews’ access to many fields of activity such as bookkeeping, realty, lending, marriage brokerage, tour-guiding, peddling, and any labor outside their area of residence.
Compulsory middle names for Jews
As of January 1, 1939, all Jews except for those who had typical Jewish names were required to take on new middle names: “Israel” in the case of men, and “Sarah” for women. They were ordered to register these names at the population registry offices and to invoke the added name wherever their names were mentioned or used and in any official document. The new rule also prohibited Jews from giving their children any name on a list of “German” names.
Jewish emigration office opens in Vienna
The Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration was an office through which the Security Police and the SD promoted the departure of Jews. It was headed by Adolf Eichmann, who orchestrated the expulsion of Austrian Jewry in ways that would subsequently be applied in deporting Jews throughout Europe: concentration of Austrian Jews in Vienna; setting defined quotas and tasking the Jewish community with full responsibility for filling them; eliminating bureaucratic obstacles; and charging wealthy Jews for the expenses of ousting the needy.
On January 24, 1939, Hermann Goering established a similar center in Germany-the Reich Center for Jewish Emigration-and installed Reinhard Heydrich at its head. After the Reich occupied Bohemia and Moravia, a central office patterned after that in Vienna was set up under Heinrich Mueller. The office in Prague would eventually oversee the banishment of Jews from the Protectorate to Theresienstadt. The offices in Vienna and Prague were subordinated to the Reich Center for Jewish Emigration, the management of which was handed to Eichmann.
After Poland was occupied, Eichmann was instructed to deport the Jewish population from the western Polish provinces, which Germany had annexed. In December 1939, he was further tasked with the “centralized treatment of all Security Police affairs associated with the evacuation of the eastern area.”
Jewish lawyers disbarred
Regulation No. 5 to the Citizenship Law banned Jewish lawyers from the profession. From then on, a small proportion of these lawyers was allowed to work in providing legal counsel for Jewish clients only.
Munich Agreement: England and France accept German annexation of parts of Czechoslovakia
The Munich conference was held on September 29-30, 1938, at a hotel in the Bavarian capital. The participants were Adolf Hitler, French Prime Minister Eduard Daladier, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and Benito Mussolini. The conference was called after a protracted crisis created by the ethnic German minority-sponsored and supported by Nazi Germany-in the Sudetenland, a province of the Republic of Czechoslovakia.
The Nazi regime exacerbated the crisis; the British government, in contrast, was fervently committed to keeping matters from escalating into hostilities-even if it meant repudiating its tripartite defense treaty with France and Czechoslovakia, and even as Hitler constantly changed and stepped up his demands.
Chamberlain and Hitler negotiated at length. Representatives of Czechoslovakia were not invited to take part in the talks. Daladier and Mussolini were secondary players. First, they attempted to conclude an autonomy arrangement for the German minority in Czechoslovakia; later on, they debated the annexation of the Sudetenland to Germany. When Germany increased its demands again, Great Britain, France, and Czechoslovakia verged on declaring war on Nazi Germany. However, in Chamberlain’s famous speech, he stated: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing!”
To prevent war, Chamberlain offered Hitler and Mussolini a quadripartite conference. By accepting the invitation, Hitler forewent a military invasion at the last moment in favor of a settlement. The decisions at the conference amounted to the contents of the memorandum that the British had refused to accept shortly before. The decisions were reported to the government of Czechoslovakia as a final verdict, with which it was to comply without appeal.
Upon his return from Munich, Chamberlain waved the joint statement at the airport in London and proclaimed, “I bring you peace in our time.”
Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland-with its military industries, gold reserves, communications system, coal mines, and anti-German defense lines-sealed the fate of the Republic of Czechoslovakia. With the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia on March 15, 1939, breaking the Munich Agreement, Western statesmen awakened to the realization that war was inevitable.
Passports of German Jews marked with the letter “J”
The Swiss Alien Police, wishing to stanch the influx of refugees, asked the Germans to introduce a symbol of some kind so that they could identify Jews at the border checkpoints. After talks in Berlin with the participation of Heinrich Rothmund, chief of the Alien Police, the Nazis passed a regulation that nullified all Jews’ passports. Jews were given two weeks to deposit their voided passports with the police and were allowed to reclaim them only after they were imprinted with the letter “J”.
Germany annexes Sudetenland
The Sudetenland province of Czechoslovakia was populated by largely ethnic Germans. At the Munich Conference in September 1938, Great Britain and France agreed to allow Germany to annex this area. This consent, and the actual annexation on October 6, 1938, cost Czechoslovakia its fortifications and most of its industry. However, Hitler continued to consider Czechoslovakia a threat to his southeastern border in the event that Germany would be involved in war on another front. The Slovaks’ demand for autonomy from the Czech government, and the Czechs’ dissolution of the government of Slovakia, gave Germany a pretext to invade Czechoslovakia. On March 15, 1939, the Czech president, Emil Hacha, coerced by pressures and threats, signed over control of Czechoslovakia to Germany with no need for an act of war, ostensibly to assure Slovak autonomy.
17,000 Polish-Born Jews expelled from Germany to Poland; most interned in Zbaszyn
Even before Kristallnacht, tens of thousands of Jews living in Germany but whose origins were East European had been deported. The expulsion from the Reich of Jews holding Polish passports was known as the Zbaszyn deportation. On the evening of October 27, the German authorities began to arrest these Jews in order to banish them to Poland. They were thereupon transported immediately to the Polish border and literally dumped there-without their possessions and without even an opportunity to put their affairs in order. The deportees spent months in the border area in limbo, because the Poles, too, were unwilling to accept them.
Grynszpan Affair and the Kristallnacht Pogrom
On November 7, Herschel Grynszpan, a distraught 17-year-old refugee Polish Jew in Paris, whose parents were among the thousands deported to the Zbaszyn area in Poland, assassinated the Third Secretary in the German Embassy in Paris. Grynszpan hoped to call public attention to the plight of the thousands of helpless deportees. Vom Rath died of his gunshot wounds on the afternoon of November 9. The assassination prompted the Nazis to implement previously made plans to conduct a pogrom across Germany and throughout Austria. Although the pogrom was described officially as a spontaneous popular response to the murder of the third secretary, it was, in fact, an organized action at the initiative of Minister of Propaganda Goebbels, and with Hitler’s consent. That very night, instructions were handed out across the country. The SA encouraged the masses to take part in the pogrom. Mass hysteria erupted. Some 1400 synagogues were partially or totally destroyed. The pogrom was given the name Kristallnacht, because of the innumerable shop windows that were shattered. Shops were burgled, plundered, and looted. Property damage was immense. Jews’ homes were attacked in many locations, many Jews were wounded, and about 100 Jews were murdered. Some 30,000 Jews were arrested, most of them affluent and influential, often on the basis of prepared lists. They were sent to concentration camps, where the SS subjected them to brutal treatment. Hundreds died; others were released after signing statements affirming their intention to leave Germany. Their property was confiscated. In many locations, rioting continued even after it was officially declared over. After the pogrom, the Jewish community was assessed a collective fine of 1 billion reichsmarks in reparations for the murder of vom Rath and was charged for the damage caused on Kristallnacht. The Kristallnacht pogrom was a watershed in preparing the final eradication of the Jews’ status in Germany.
Italy adopts antisemitic racial laws
The Italian racial laws prohibited miscegenation between Jews and “Aryans,” and placed Jews, defined by racial criteria much as in the Nazi legislation, under further restrictions. These laws were part of a comprehensive racial system that Fascist Italy began to implement in the autumn of 1938, including the banishment of alien Jews, expulsion of Jewish students and teachers from the school system, and economic constraints.
Harsh anti-Jewish measures
On November 12, several days after Kristallnacht, high-ranking representatives of the various Nazi state ministries and the SS met in Goering’s office to consider all aspects of the “Jewish problem.” This forum discussed the problems that had come about after the Kristallnacht devastation and decided to apply economic measures against the Jews. Here, the Nazis adopted the forced-emigration policy as a guideline for action. The goal now was to remove the Jews from Germany by any possible means. The discussants also decided to impose upon the Jews a fine of 1 billion reichsmarks (“for the murder of vom Rath”) and to establish a Central Jew Emigration Office.
Jewish children banned from German schools
One of the laws promulgated after Kristallnacht concerned the expulsion of Jewish pupils from the general education system, even where special classes for Jews existed. Even before the official ban, many children had switched from public schools to Jewish schools because of the anti-Jewish climate and harassment on the part of non-Jewish teachers and students. On November 15, 1938, youngsters defined as Jewish were totally banned from general schools. The 10th regulation to the Nuremberg Laws, dated July 4, 1939, handed responsibility for the education of Jewish children to the newly constituted Reichsvereinigung. Jewish schools continued to exist until the summer of 1941, when schooling of Jewish children was outlawed totally, even in the form of tutoring by volunteers.
Goering creates the Reich Central Office for Jewish Emigration
By recommendation of Reinhard Heydrich, and by explicit order of Hitler, Hermann Goering established a center in Germany, headquartered in Berlin. This office was similar to the one that had been established the previous year in Vienna under Adolf Eichmann, to deal with the emigration-and deportation-of Jews. On January 30, Heydrich informed all relevant institutions that the new office would be directed by Heinrich Mueller, chief of the Gestapo. Bureaus similar to those in Vienna and Berlin were established in Prague.
Germans occupy Bohemia and Moravia
A crisis erupted in Czechoslovakia in the middle of March, and with the Germans’ encouragement, Jozef Tiso, prime minister of autonomous Slovakia, proclaimed his country’s independence. Germany occupied the Czech zone the next day (March 15), thus liquidating the second Czechoslovak Republic, which had lasted for only a few months. The first Czech Republic had been established after World War One, after the disintegration of the Ausrtro-Hungarian monarchy. The second Czech Republic, was created in the wake of the Munich Conference (September 28-29, 1938).
On March 16, Hitler proclaimed a German “protectorate” in the Czech region. Practically speaking, this area became part of the Reich. Baron Konstantin von Neurath was appointed Reich Protector; Karl Hermann Frank, leader of the Sudeten German Party, was named secretary of state; and all major governmental posts were staffed with Reich appointees. Only in the formal sense did the government of the “autonomous” Czech zone remain intact.
An operation code-named Aktion Gitter, launched immediately after the onset of the occupation, led to the arrest of emigrants from Germany and Czech and Jewish public figures. Anti-Jewish incitement and persecution became vocal. Anti-Jewish actions began; synagogues were torched and Jews were assaulted in the streets. The lead was taken in this “operation” by the most extreme of fascist orginizations, Vlajka (The Flag), which was especially active in Moravia.
Civil War in Spain ends
Madrid formally surrendered to General Francisco Franco. The collapse of all Loyalist resistance led to a series of tribunals that judged individual leaders of the former government and imposed harsh sentences, including many executions. In all, about 750,000 people were killed in the civil war. The Italians had as many as 75,000 “volunteers” involved on the Nationalist side. Germany provided 19,000 men.
Germany cancels non-aggression pact with Poland and 1935 Naval agreement with Britain
The Germans said that “the British Government is now governed by the opinion that England, in whatever part of Europe Germany might be involved in warlike conflict, must always take up an attitude hostile to Germany, even in a case where English interests are not touched in any way by such a conflict.” Britain had by now, of course, given guarantees of aid for the first time to countries east of the Rhine.
On April 28, 1939, in a speech in Wilhelmshaven, Hitler abrogated Germany’s 1934 non-aggression pact with Poland, which was intended to be effective for ten years, pronouncing it anti-German and inconsistent with the “encirclement policy.” The “encirclement policy” referred to isolating Poland as much as possible and the avoidance of a two – front struggle by reaching an understanding with the Russians. Poland turned to Great Britain and expressed its willingness to join London, France and Moscow in a common front against Germany.
Conscription in Great Britain
His Majesty’s Government asked Parliament to authorize it to introduce conscription.
Nazis, Soviets sign non-aggression pact
Viacheslav Molotov, the Soviet People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, agreed after hasty negotiations to conclude an economic treaty and a non-aggression pact that would partition Eastern Europe into Soviet and German spheres of influence.
Ribbentrop signed the non-aggression pact during a visit to Moscow on August 23, 1939. The sides undertook neither to attack each other, nor to help any third party do the same. They agreed to settle bilateral disputes cordially. The treaty was to be in effect for 10 years.
A secret appendix to the agreement discussed the apportionment of spheres of influence and the future locations of borders. The agreement and its appendix were signed a week before the German invasion of Poland. After the invasion, Germany and the USSR carved Poland into separate spheres as stipulated in the agreement.
Germany invades Poland
After creating a series of provocations, Germany attacked Poland on September 1. The Wehrmacht, which enveloped the country from the west, the north, and the south, outnumbered the Polish forces three to one and had superior equipment. The invasion revealed the German fighting method for the first time: the blitzkrieg, cooperation among naval, air, and ground forces to concurrently attack and surround the enemy extremely rapidly. In response to the invasion, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, but took no military measures on Poland’s behalf. Warsaw succumbed on September 28, and the last fighting took place in the first few days of October.
Britain blockades Germany
Despite the initial weakness of its armed forces, Great Britain declared a naval blockade of Germany on September 3, two days after the latter invaded Poland. The Royal Air Force dropped 6 million leaflets on towns in northern Germany and the Ruhr district, the first of the propaganda raids.
Germany countered with a naval blockade of its own against Britain on September 11, stating that since economic warfare had been forced on it, it could not but repay in the same coin.
Britain, France, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa declare war on Germany
France and Britain issued an ultimatum to Germany demanding the immediate withdrawal of the German forces from Poland. When Hitler accused Britain of encouraging the Poles to pursue a policy of provocation, Britain, France, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa declared war on Germany.
Soviets invade Poland
On September 17, when it was clear that the German invasion had succeeded, the Red Army entered the eastern part of Poland in accordance with the secret agreements between Germany and the USSR in the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.
September 21, 1939, it was announced that the Germans would divide the Polish areas that it had occupied into two sectors: One sector was annexed to Germany and became part of the Reich; the other was named the Generalgouvernement and placed under a German civil administration headed by Hans Frank.
Heydrich issues the “Schnellbrief”
Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Security Police, briefed the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen and Adolf Eichmann, ordering: the formation of Judenraete (“Jewish Councils”) in Polish towns, the deportation of Jews from the areas of northwestern Poland that were earmarked for annexation to the Reich, and the concentration of Jews in large towns situated near railroad junctions. He also ordered a census of Polish Jewry and a survey of Jewish property. Heydrich’s edicts made Jewish councils subordinate to his organization and dictated Reich policy toward Polish Jewry.
It was asserted in the brief that these measures were considered as temporary steps on the way to the “final goal” – “Endziel”, which was of course undefined in this brief.
Establishment of the Reich Security Main Office
On September 22, 1939, the SD (Security Service) and Sipo (the Security Police) merged and became the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA). Under the command of Heydrich, the RSHA evolved between 1939 and 1941 into a mammoth organization that eventually included seven departments: Personnel; Organization and Law; Internal Affairs; Gestapo; Criminal Police (Kripo); Intelligence; and, Ideological Affairs.
Germany and the Soviet Union signed a boundary and friendship treaty that formally divided Poland, giving the Germans control over the area generally west of the Bug River. The occupying governments said the partition was necessary “after the disintegration of the former Polish state” and that Moscow and Berlin “consider[ed] it their task to restore law and order in this region.”
Germany obtained nearly 73,000 square miles of Polish territory, including nearly 2 million Jews who lived there, and Russia obtained 78,000 square miles. The Russians included the Baltic states: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in their sphere of influence. The countries also signed an economic agreement that extended their previous trade pact.
Poland surrendered to Germany on October 5. The last regiments of its armed forces surrendered in the Radzyn-Kock vicinity. Out of 800,000 Polish troops, 694,000 were taken prisoner by the Germans; the remainder perished, returned to their homes, or fled to Romania or Hungary. German military losses in the campaign were 13,111 killed and missing, and 27,278 wounded.
Russia, which achieved its gains by invading an overwhelmed Poland, lost only 737 men in the brief conflict.
Warsaw Judenrat Is established
“I was taken to Szucha Avenue, where I was ordered to add twenty-four people to the community council and to serve as its head,” wrote Adam Czerniakow on October 4, concerning the first decisive measure toward establishing the Warsaw Judenrat. Although Czerniakow was a member of the prewar executive council of the Jewish community, he was not well known among the Jews of Warsaw.
Jewish “resettlement” in the Lublin district
On September 28, 1939, one day after the agreement with the Soviets assigned the Lublin area to Germany, Heydrich spoke of a “Reichs-Ghetto” in the Lublin district. The plan to establish a Jewish “reservation” in that vicinity was part of a more comprehensive program to reorganize Eastern Europe along “racial” lines and to physically separate out and isolate the Jews. The program became operative in early October 1939. Eichmann visited Vienna, Moravaska Ostrava (Mahrisch Ostrau) (in the Protectorate), and Kattowice (Kattowitz) (Upper Silesia), where he made preparations for deportations from these three cities.
On October 12, Eichmann chose the Zarzecze vicinity, not far from Nisko on the San River, to be the heart of a reservation, another plan in the search for a “territorial solution”.
First Jewish ghetto established in Piotrkow Trybunalski
Piotrkow Trybunalski is a town in central Poland, about 16 miles (26 km) south of Lodz. In 1939, there were some 18,000 Jews in Piotrkow, about one-third of the total population, with a vibrant community life.
Piotrkow was occupied by the Germans on September 5, 1939, four days after the outbreak of World War II. Anti-Jewish excesses took place at once: brutal beatings, kidnappings for forced labor, and killings. Jewish valuables and household effects were plundered in large quantities. The Germans broke into the main synagogue, famed for its beauty, robbed it of all its sacred objects, and beat and seized 29 worshipers. When Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) came, 10 days later, nothing remained of the synagogue except the four walls. Some 2,000 Jews of Piotrkow managed to escape during the initial days of the occupation, but the number of Jews in the town swelled as refugees from neighboring towns poured in.
On October 8, 1939, the commander of Piotrkow Trybunalski, Hans Drexler, created by decree a ghetto for the Jews in this central Polish town. The Piotrkow Ghetto is the first known ghetto to have been formed in occupied Poland. However, it took until late January 1940 to force the Jews to move there. The Judenrat issued several announcements ordering Jews to make this move, but since they did not have the desired impact, the Germans eventually evicted the Jews one by one from the “Aryan” quarter, ordered them to relocate to the ghetto, and transferred their vacated dwellings to Christians. Although Christian residents of the ghetto area were also ordered to leave their homes, many Poles lived or ran businesses there until the spring of 1942. The ghetto was not fenced and its boundary was not guarded. Signs proclaiming the area a ghetto, bearing the likeness of skulls, were posted only near the ghetto boundaries and the main gate. The Jews were allowed to leave the ghetto without permits, albeit only at specified times of the day, and were allowed to spend longer periods of time on several “Aryan” streets. However, they were not allowed on the main streets. The Jewish curfew in the ghetto varied from order to order. An influx of refugees and displaced persons caused the ghetto population to swell from 10,000 at the beginning of the war to 16,500 in April 1942.
Civil Administration (the “Generalgouvernement”) established in Poland
On October 26, 1939, the German occupation authorities established a political administration known as the Generalgouvernement in the sector of occupied Poland that had not been annexed to the Reich. The name originated in World War I, during which the Germans also occupied Poland and established a civil regime under this title. The Generalgouvernement was divided into four districts: Warsaw, Cracow, Radom, and Lublin, each of which was parceled into subdistricts. The capital of the Generalgouvernement was Cracow. After the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, they added a fifth district, Galicia. The Generalgouvernement was headed by Governor-General Hans Frank.
Failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in Munich
Every year, on November 8, Hitler and the “veteran soldiers” of the National Socialist Party would gather to commemorate the failed putsch of November 9,1923. Hitler would usually begin his speech at 8:30 p.m., and would continue speaking until 10:00. On November 8, 1939, Hitler decided to begin his speech approximately half an hour earlier than usual. He finished at 9:07, and left the site. At 9:20, a bomb exploded and shook the beer hall. Hitler escaped an assassination attempt. Nine people were killed.
While Hitler had been speaking in Munich, a man by the name of Johann George Elser was arrested in Constance while attempting to illegally cross the border into Switzerland. A number of suspicious items were found on his person, and he was sent to be interrogated. When news of the assassination attempt was made known, the initial investigation pointed toward Elser, who, after being tortured, confessed to having planted the bomb in Munich. Elser was sent to Sachsenhausen, and from there to Dachau. In April 1945, he was murdered by order of high-ranking government officials.
Officials of the Nazi regime were convinced that Elser had been operating in conjunction with British intelligence. Opposition forces, on the other hand, as well as many outside Germany, were convinced that Elser had, in fact, been employed by the Gestapo as a provocation. Later research showed beyond doubt that Elser had actually operated on his own.
Elser, who was a carpenter by profession, thought that the Nazis’ rise to power had greatly damaged the labor conditions of the working class. He was outraged by the fact that human beings were no longer free and that the education of children had been taken out of their parents’ hands and turned over to such institutions as the Hitler Youth. He had decided to assassinate Hitler in the wake of the Sudetenland crisis in 1938, in order to avert the war which he was convinced had become imminent. In August 1939, after the war broke out, he began to plan the assassination. He spent a month hiding in the beer hall after it had closed, and dug a tunnel under a row of floor tiles. Every morning he would cover up the tunnel, and would leave the beer hall after it had opened. When he had completed the tunnel, he planted the bomb, which was set on a timer.
Lodz incorporated into Reich
German terror against Jews and Poles escalated after Lodz was annexed to the Reich on November 9. Several thousand Jews and Poles were arrested and taken to the Radogoszcz prison on the outskirts of town; shortly afterwards, some were murdered and the rest were removed to concentration camps in Germany.
Jews in Poland must wear the Jewish Badge
On November 23, Hans Frank, in one of his first edicts as governor-general, ordered “all Jewish men and women in the Generalgouvernement aged ten and over [to begin] on December 1, 1939, to wear on the right sleeve of their garments and upper garments a white band bearing a [blue] Star of David at least ten centimeters wide.”
Soviets invade Finland
On August 23, the Soviets demanded that Finland cede territories near Leningrad and a military base at Hango, for which they offered Finland alternative territory. On November 30, 1939, after the negotiations failed, the Soviet Union launched the “Winter War.” Despite the unequal balance of forces, the Finnish put up stiff military resistance. On March 12, 1940, the countries concluded a peace treaty in which the Soviet demands were met.
Practically speaking, the stipulation that Finland would fall within the Soviet sphere of influence was part of the secret appendix to the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement that partitioned such spheres between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
Nazis initiate use of gas vans to eliminate mental patients
Nazis initiate use of gas vans to eliminate mental patients
In October 1939, the Nazis started murdering mentally ill patients, patients with hereditary diseases, people with disabilities, “asocial elements” (criminals, employees evading work), homosexuals, sick soldiers, residents in welfare institutions, concentration camp prisoners, foreign workers and others, as part of the “Euthanasia Project”. The murders, executed by shooting, gas or lethal injection, were carried out by several hundred doctors, nurses and administrators, as per an order from Hitler. The project did not have an official budget, and some of the murderers – government officials – took on assumed identities in order to preserve the secrecy of the murders. To prevent pangs of conscience, the murderers were supplied with alcohol, and received generous wages and extra days off.
On 2 December, gas vans were introduced, and by the summer of 1941, more than 100,000 people had been murdered. Following a public outcry, Hitler officially ordered a halt to the murders in the summer of 1941, but they continued clandestinely until the end of the war.
Soviet Union expelled from League of Nations
The Soviet Union is expelled from the League of Nations following the pact with Germany and aggression against Finland.
The Soviet Union only became a member of the League of Nations in 1934, a year after Germany left, and was expelled from the League on 14 December 1939 for aggression against Finland. In expelling the Soviet Union, the League breached its own regulations: only 7 out of 15 members of the Council voted for the expulsion, (among them Britain, France and Belgium), and three of these were chosen as members of the Council just one day before the voting: South Africa, Bolivia and Egypt. This was one of the League´s final acts before it ceased functioning due to World War II.
USSR expelled from League of Nations following pact with Germany