After the First World War, harsh peace was imposed on Germany and other defeated countries. This had created intense nationalist upsurge in Germany. The economic breakdown and the rise of socialist parties paved the way for the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany. Similarly such situation arose in Italy and Japan. This resulted in the Axis formation. The aggressive foreign policy of Hitler led to the Second World War.
At the end of the World War I, the German King William was forced to abdicate A republic was proclaimed in Germany.Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Social - Democratic Party formed a temporary government. This was followed by an election to the Constituent Assembly. The Social Democratic Party emerged as the largest party. The session of the Constituent Assembly was held in the city of Weimar. A new constitution was drafted. This is known as Weimar Constitution.
The Treaty of Versailles was very harsh and humiliating to Germany. It suffered territorial loss. The policy of disarmament was imposed. The war reparation was enormous. Germany was held responsible for the World War. This affected the sentiments of the Germans. A group of people opposed the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
In March 1920, the royalists under the leadership of Dr. Kapp revolted. But he failed and surrendered before the republican government. The second such revolt was led by Ludendorff. He was assisted by Hitler. Ludendorff and Hitler were arrested and imprisoned for 5 years. It was during this jail life, Hitler wrote the famous book Mein Kampf which later became the Bible of the Nazi party.
The post war Germany posed a disastrous financial crisis. For the payment of reparation, the government was forced to take loans. Factories were closed. Trade and commerce were deteriorating. Heavy taxes were imposed. To meat the financial crisis the government had no other option but to issue more and more paper currencies. This resulted into inflation. Unemployment was rampant.
According to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany, which was held responsible for the First World War, had to pay a heavy amount of compensation. The Reparation Commission fixed the amount as 660 million pounds. There was opposition against these provisions. Most of them argued that, since Germany was not responsible for World War I, there was no need to pay the heavy amount of war indemnity.
The financial crisis in Germany forced the Weimar Republic to make an appeal to the allies for the reduction of the amount of reparation. As a result a committee consisting of ten members was formed under the chairmanship of Dawes, an eminent finance specialist of U.S.A. The committee made some amendments to the provision of the Treaty of Versailles. This known as Dawes PlanThe financial burden of Germany was reduced to certain level. When the problem of reparation again appeared in 1929 the YoungCommittee made a plan to solve it.
Adolph Hitler was born in April 1889 in a very humble family in an Austrian village. On account of poverty he could not get proper education. His father wanted to make his son a government employee. But Hitler was very fond of art from his early days. So he went to Vienna at the age of 18 to learn the art of painting and architecture. While he was in Vienna, he happened to witness the behavior of the Jews. He felt that the Jews were the moral enemies of individualism, nationalism and racialism. Further he felt that the Jews were the supporters of the Marxian ideology. Thus his anti- Jews ideas developed at very early age. Hitler was opposed to democracy and believed in the supremacy of the German race.
During the First World War Hitler joined the army and participated in the war. In recognition of his service and bravery shown during the war, he was honoured with the award of the 'Iron Cross'. He believed that the Jews and the communists were responsible for the defeat of Germany. He therefore undertook a programme to avenge the defeat. He began to work as a spy in Munich. He also started a new party with the cooperation of his friends. National Socialist German Labour Party was launched.
To carryout his programmes, Hitler started the National Socialist Party or Nazi Party. 'Swastika' was made the symbol of Nazi Party. By the year 1932, the membership of the Nazi Party increased to 70 lakhs. To attract the young people to his party, Hitler started 'Hitler Young Society.' Also he formed two military bodies. The members were wearing brown shirts with a red armband carrying a black Swastika. Another division was called as the 'Black Shirts'. They were the body guards of the Nazi party leaders.
In 1932, Hitler contested for the post of President. But he was defeated with a few votes against Hindenburg. But in the general election conducted in the same year, his party became the largest party in the parliament. According to the provisions of the constitution as a leader of the majority party in the Reichstag, Hitler was made the Chancellor. Thus he formed the Nazi Government.
He established the dictatorship of the Nazi Party. Communist party was banned and its leaders were arrested. The civil rights of the people were suspended. The Weimar Republic came to an end. Hitler declared the establishment of the Third Reich. The flag of the Nazi Party became the National flag. The Parliament was dissolved. The powers of the parliament were transferred to Hitler.
In Germany, the Jews enjoyed a privileged position due to their wealth and education. He believed that they were anti- nationals. Hitler now made several efforts to crush the Jews. Anti- Jew Laws were passed. They were denied German citizenship. He adopted very harsh and repressive measures for the economic and cultural boycott of the Jews.
Hitler reorganised his military on the basis of German nationality. Germans alone were admitted into the military service. He established a totalitarian type of government so that he could follow an aggressive foreign policy.
Hitler did not approve the Treaty of Versailles. It was a dictated peace. Hence it was a humiliating one. The German people accepted the policy of Hitler and accepted him as their leader. The important aspects of his foreign policy are given below.
Following the League of Nations Disarmament Conference on February 3, 1932 Hitler announced the withdrawal from the League. He started the process of rearming Germany.
As mentioned above, after the Geneva Disarmament Conference, Hitler withdrew from the League of Nations. Now he was free to rearm Germany. On March 16, 1935, Hitler announced compulsory military training for all German people. He also aimed to have the air force equal to that of England and France. He announced that the reason for the increase in the strength of the army was self-defence. But France and England had natural suspicion over these actions of Hitler. Therefore they convened a meeting at Stressa in Switzerland and condemned the behaviour of Hitler. But their condemnation did not affect Hitler from rearmament.
Rhineland was to be demilitarised, according to the Treaty of Versailles. On March 7, 1936, Hitler sent his army into the heart of Rhineland and started the construction of fortifications. France opposed this move of Germany. But England was a silent spectator to this action of Hitler. Thus a golden opportunity to stop the aggressive behaviour of Hitler was lost by both England and France.
A Republic had been proclaimed in Spain in 1931. In 1936 the conservatives under General Franco started a Civil War against the Republic. Now Germany and Italy supported Franco whereas Russia supported the Republicans. The Republicans were defeated and the dictatorship of Franco was established. The net result of the Spanish Civil War was that it helped Italy and Germany to come closer and later their friendship was converted into a treaty.
In October 1936, On the basis of an agreement Germany approved Italian control over Abyssinia and Italy granted permission to Hitler to annex Austria with Germany. Hitler was antagonistic towards Russian Communism. Therefore Hitler in November 1936, signed an Anti- Commintern Pact with Japan, another enemy of Russia. In November 1937, Italy was admitted into the alliance. This Anti Commintern pact was otherwise called as Rome -Berlin-Tokyo Axis. This Axis was formed against England, France andRussia. This was the beginning of Second World War.
Nazism grew in Germany under Hitler. It stood for aggressive nationalism, authoritarianism and the leadership principle. On becoming Germany's Chancellor in 1933, Hitler undertook a rearmament programme. His aggressive foreign policy led to the Second World War. Similarly, Mussolini organized the Fascist movement in Italy. He believed in dictatorship, aggressive foreign policy and colonial policy. Thus, he emerged as the Il Duce or supreme commander. The emergence of dictatorship in Europe paved the way for Second World War.