Europe's last year of peace 1938-39


Key Term
Definition
Polish guarantee
March 29, The British Government gave Poland a guarantee to protect it against any threat to its independence.
Pact of Steel
An agreement required each cuntry to help the other in time of war
Nazi-Soviet Pact
A secret agreement signed by Germany and the USSR which have two main provisions. If Germany attacked Poland, the USSR would remain neutral. Second, in a secret part of the Pact, the two countries agreed to divide Poland between them after it had been conquered.
Lebensraum
Living space



Europe in 1938 seems to be a lasting peace. Hitler said that the Sudetenland will be the last territorial claim he'll make in Europe. Hitler and Chamberlian signed an Anglo-German Agreement, declaring their wish never to go to war with each other. a few weeks later an Anglo-Italian Agreement was signedm folowed by a friendly agreement between France and Germany. Eventhough Hitler was happy to sign statements of good will however, at the same time he was planning futher conquests. He plans to occupy Bohemia and Moravia, after the Much agreement was signed. Plans were already in hand for massive increases in the German armed forces.



Czecho-Slovakia destroyed

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There are around half a million Germans that are living in Bohemia and Moravia and were left under Czech rule. The German government now started to claim that these people were being ill-treated by the Czechs. German newspaper carried stories of Czech attacks on Germans living in Bohemia. Although these stories were mostly false, Hitler claimed that the Czech government had lost control of the country. He said there would be a civil war if the German army did not occupy it and restore order. Hitler then bullied the Czech President, Hacha, into inviting German troops to occupy the country by threatening to bomb Prague, the capital. Hacha gave in to the threat and issued the invitation which hitler wanted.
On 15 March 1939 German troops marched into Prague. The next day Bohemia and Moravia were made a 'Protectorate' of Germany. Slovakia remained independent but had to sign a treaty accepting German protection. Ruthenia was given to Hungary. Within two days the Czech state had ceased to exist.

Historians think that Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 was a major step in the coming of WWII:

  • If Munich was the 'high-point' of appeasement, the invasion of Czechoslovakia showed that appeasement would never manage to stop Hitler, because Hitler simply did not keep the treaty promises he made. Before Munich, 'appeasement' was about negotiating Hitler into being reasonable
  • It was the first time - as Chamberlain pointed out on 15 March 1939 - that Hitler had acquired a non-Germanic people. Before March 1939, Hitler had been able to claim that his demands were reasonable, and that they only sought to redress the 'unreasonable' terms of the Treaty of Versailles The acquisition of Czechoslovakia showed that Hitler was going beyond a 'reasonable' correction of Versailles, and instead seeking to dominate central and eastern Europe. This is why William Shirer interpreted Chamberlain's Birmingham speech on 17 March 1939 - promising to resist Hitler if he was intended this - as such a turning point.
  • It outraged the British people. If the British public had cheered the Munich Peace in September 1939, suddenly huge numbers of people were demanding that something be done to stop Hitler- after March 1939, many people were 'up for a war', and everybody realised that war was the only way Hitler would be stopped.
  • A glance at the map made it obvious that Poland would be next
    A glance at the map made it obvious that Poland would be next


  • nobody believed that Hitler would stop with Czechoslovakia, and everybody realised that war was the only way Hitler would be stopped.
  • Czechoslovakia was one of the few remaining democracies in central/eastern Europe. By annexing it, Hitler was destroying a democracy - which alarmed Britain, France and even President Rossevelt of the USA.
  • The invasion of Czechoslovakia was so obviously unjust, that it gave the British the moral high gound; when war loomed, Britain was able to go to war 'to defend the right', rather than simply for self-interest.




The Polish guarantee

Hitler turned his attention north after destroying Czecho-Slovakia. On 23 March German troops occupied Memel, a German port seized by Lithuania in 1923. However, the main attraction in the north was a strip of land which Germans called West Prussia and Poles called the Polish Corridor. Although many people living there were German, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 gave the region to Poland so that it would have access to ports on the Baltic Sea. The Germans wanted to get the area back. The Poles were equally determined to keep it. It seemed certain that Hitler would soon try to take it from them.The German occupation of Czecho-Slovakia showed the British that Hitler could not be stopped by appeasement. Chamberlain now saw that Hitler had deceived him at Munich. He decided that stronger measures were needed to prevent a German attack on Poland. On 29 March the British government therefore gave Poland a guarantee to protect it against any threat to its independence. The French government joined in this Polish guarantee.The Polish guarantee however did not scare Hitler.

Facts of Poland


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Polish Flag


Poland is the sixth country in Europe both as regards area (150,470 square miles) and population (35,500,000). Among all the nations of the world, Poland ranks eleventh in population and twenty-sixth in area. Poland's frontier is 2,250 miles long. Of this only forty-five miles is Baltic sea coast.

In the 15th Century, Poland was the largest state in Europe, as the following table shows:
In the 11th Cent., Poland's area was 130,888 s.m.
In the 15th Cent., Poland's area was 430,502 "
In the 18th Cent., before the 1st partition 392,664 "
In the 18th Cent., before the 2nd partition 200,772 "



Timeline (1918–1939)



  • October 31, 1918–1919: Polish-Ukrainian War.
  • November 11, 1918: Independence; Warsaw was free.
  • December 27, 1918–1919 Great Poland Uprising – against Germany
  • 1918–1939: Border conflicts between Poland and Czechoslovakia.
  • January 23 – 30, 1919: Polish-Czechoslovak War
  • January 26, 1919: Elections to the Sejm
  • June 28, 1919: Treart of Versailles (Articles 87–93) and Little Treaty of Versailles, establish Poland as a sovereign and independent state on the international arena.
  • 1919–1921: Polist-Soviet War, Miracle of the Vistula, Treaty of Riga.
  • 1920: Polish-Lithuanian War.
  • 1919 - 1921 Uprisings in Silesia, .Silesian Uprisings
  • July 15, 1920: Agarian Reform
  • March 17, 1921: March Constitution.
  • 1921: alliances with France, Romania.
  • March 24, 1922: annexation of \Vilnius Region from Lithuania
  • November 2 – 12, 1922: Elections to the Sejm and to the Senat.
  • President Gabriel Narutowicz, and his assassination (December 16, 1922).
  • 1924: iWladyslaw Grabski Government. Bank Polski. Monetary reform 1924 in Poland.
  • President Stanislaw Wojciechowski – December 20, 1922, to Zamach majowy.
  • May 12 – 14, 1926: Coup of May – Zamach majowy, 1926, May, Józef Piłsudski coup d'etat. beginning of Sanacja government. Roman Dmowski, Oboz Wielkiej Polski (4 December 1926), Endecja.
  • 1928: Piłsudski's nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government.
  • November 16, 1930: Polish legislative election.
  • July 25, 1932: non-aggression pact with Soviet Union
  • January 26, 1934: non-aggression pact with Germany
  • April 23, 1935: April Constitution
  • May 12, 1935: death of Józef Piłsudski
  • 1930s: Gdynia, Centralny Okreg Przemyslowy(1936), Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski
  • February 2, 1937: creation of the Oboz Zjednoczenia Narodowego political party".
  • October 1938: annexation of Zaolzie, Gorna Orawa, Jaworzyna from Czechoslovakia
  • January 2, 1939: death of Roman Dmowski
  • March 31, 1939: military guarantees from United Kingdom and France
  • August 23, 1939: non-aggression pact between Soviet Union and Germany: Ribbentrop-Molotow Pact with a secret military alliance protocol targeting Poland (among several other countries)
  • August 25, 1939: alliance between Poland and United Kingdom
  • September 1 – October 6, 1939: Invasion of Poland


Anglo-French talks with the USSR

Stalin knew that Hitler’s ultimate aim was to attack Russia. In 1939, he invited Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Secretary to go to Russia to discuss an alliance against Germany. Britain refused. The British feared Russian Communism, and they believed that the Russian army was too weak to be of any use against Hitler. In August 1939, with war in Poland looming, the British eventually sent a minor official called Reginald Ranfurly Plunckett-Ernle-Erle-Drax. He travelled by slow boat, not by plane. He did not have authority to make any decisions, and had to refer every question back to London. The talks dragged on. The Russians asked if they could send troops into Poland if Hitler invaded. The British refused. The talks broke down.


The Nazi-Soviet Pact


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On 23 August, 1939, the world was shocked when, suddenly, Russia and Germany signed a 'Non-aggression Pact'.
In August 1939, Hitler sent Ribbentrop, a senior Nazi, to Russia. He offered a Nazi-Soviet alliance – Russia and Germany would not go to war, but would divide Poland between them. Germany would allow Russia to annex Estinia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

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Eastern Europe in 1939. Germany and Russia invade Poland.


Stalin knew Hitler was lying, but he did not trust the British either– the Munich Agreement had convinced him that Britain and France would never dare to go to war with Hitler.


Stalin had two choices:





  • If he made an alliance with Britain, he would end up fighting a war with Hitler over Poland.
  • If he made an alliance with Germany, he would get half of Poland, and time to prepare for the coming war with Germany.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact had two main provisions. First, if Germany attacked Poland, the USSR would remain neutral. Second, in a secret part of the Pact, the two countries agreed to divide Poland between them after it had been conquered.



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When Hitler heard that the Pact had been signed, he banged the table in front of him and shouted 'I have them!' The way was now clear for him to put into motion the plans for invading Poland.


Video :
Nazi Soviet Pact 1939

Reasons why Germany invaded Poland

  • Adolf hitler wanted more land, especially in the east, to expand Germany according to the Nazi policy of lebensraum.
  • The Nazi Germans wanted to create a great empire larger than the world had ever seen before.
  • Hitler justified invasion of Poland by the need to recover lands lost in WWI, and he started reasonably from the weakest neighboring country, apart from earlier peacefully annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia.



Analysis Question: What factors during the year of 1938-1939 contributed to the start of WWII?

Germany was one of the main countries which started the WWII in 1939. Between 1938-1939, there are many problems that causes WWII such as the invasion Czechoslovakia, the forming of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and also invasion of Poland. From WWI, Germany had lost a lot of land, some to the Czechoslovakia and some to the Polish. As you know, Hitler was very serious about his issue on war and he wanted to claim those land back and also wanted to expand the German Territory.
However in 1938 Hitler planned to invade Czechoslovakia to expand his territory to the east and Czechoslovakia was one of the few remaining countries that are still democracy. Also, if Munich was the 'high-point' of appeasement, the invasion of Czechoslovakia showed that appeasement would never manage to stop Hitler, because Hitler simply did not keep the treaty promises he made. The invasion of Czechoslovakia outraged the British people. If the British public had cheered the Munich Peace in September 1939, suddenly huge numbers of people were demanding that something be done to stop Hitler- after March 1939, many people were 'up for a war', and everybody realized that war was the only way Hitler would be stopped.
Another factor is when the Nazi-Soviet Pact was form. The agreement clearly said that if German can invade Poland then half of Poland will be the USSR's, and the British had made an agreement with the Polish called the 'Polish guarantee' to help protect the independence of Poland. The main reason that Hitler form the Nazi-Soviet pact and to invade Poland because he want more land to expand German territory to the east according to the Nazi policy of lebensraum. Hitler justified invasion of Poland by the need to recover lands lost in WWI.
Everything seems happy after WWI until 1938 when Hitler actually announced his plan to invade Czechoslovakia secretly. Then the forming of Nazi-Soviet Pact and last when he invade Poland were the reasons that contributed to the WWII.



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