Once again the conflict that was to blight most of the planet began with German expansion. However the underlying causes were very different from the egotism that led to World War I.
Following the Treaty of Versailles the German people were thrown into desperate poverty. The country struggled to pay the enormous damages demanded by their former enemies. Their economy nose-dived, inflation ran wild and many were unable even to afford a loaf of bread, let alone anything more substantial. The people were starving and they needed a solution. They also needed someone to blame.
Adolf Hitler didn’t start the Nazi party. He was the 555th member of a Nationalist group, The German Workers Party, started by an obscure Munich locksmith called Anton Drexler. Drexler had an axe to grind and a pathological hatred of Jews. Hitler soon rose to prominence within the little group using his natural cunning and impassioned oratory to become both its leader and its hero. A gallant former infantry corporal who had himself been decorated for his courage as a communications ‘runner’ in the trenches of France, Hitler was a useful propaganda hero for the fledgling party. He shared Dexler’s hatred of Jews whom he blamed for Germany’s capitulation in 1918 and, like many Germans looking for a scapegoat, he wanted revenge.
From these ideologically irrational beginnings the doctrine of racial purity and Lebensraum (living space) took hold and spread through the German psyche. The modern blood libel grew gradually at first but with increasing momentum until, by the time Hitler manipulated his way into high political office the country was more or less behind him and the fate of Europe seemed sealed.
Ambitious building projects and job creation gave the German economy a much needed kick-start and under Hitler’s determined stewardship life for ordinary Germans improved. As it did so Adolf Hitler acquired an almost messianic status as deliver of the ‘Volk’.
And then he turned his sights further afield.
German Jews were already suffering, along with the country’s communists, blacks and Roma, all of whom Hitler considered to be racially inferior, sub-human ‘untermenschen’. With this discriminatory ideology before them, Adolf Hitler sent the newly revitalised German war machine into the Slavic Sudetenland, which he quickly annexed for Germany. Expansionism was so far proving straightforward for the army of Blitzkrieg (lightning war)
The Nazis continued their expansionism by force, visiting death and slavery upon the ‘inferior subhumans’ wherever they went. Supported by fascist Italy and imperial Japan it looked as though they might control the whole world. It took the combined effort of even more allied nations than had fought in the Great War to stop the march of Fascism and usher in an era of tolerance and human rights that, although imperfect, still remains. A culture of tolerance, equality and the defence of human rights remains the prize won by the allies against Nazism in that terrible worldwide war.
Over the next few blogs we’ll meet some of heroes who helped defeat fascism during those dark days
When you buy your poppy this year, wear it proudly in honour of those who gave the lives in the defence of freedom from fascism.
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