All themes
World War II
The Lead Up to the War
Printable version
The Lead up to the War
Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler review SS troops

One of the major campaign themes of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in 1932 was the harsh punishment Germany had received after losing the First World War. Hitler promised that he and a new Germany would restore Germany to its rightful position as a major power. The militaristic vision of the Nazis and their hatred of Jews was a cause for concern around the world.

A New Order

As soon as the Nazis gained power in January 1933, they started to establish a radical new order in Germany. Within months, many political opponents were jailed, the first measures against Jewish citizens were passed and democracy gave way to a dictatorship. The Nazis promised an end to suffering, to restore law and order, boost the economy and also to take action against Jews.

Thousands of Jews and others did not trust the Nazis and quickly left Germany for safer shores. Among these were Anne Frank and her family. Most Germans took a wait-and-see attitude or openly embraced the harsh measures of the new government. They thought such measures could solve the crisis that Germany was experiencing. People who were anti-Semitic were happy that the government had started to take action against their fellow Jewish citizens.

War as a solution

The Nazis were angry that parts of Germany had been taken away and occupied after the First World War. But they also demanded even more land that was not in Germany. A key concept of the Nazi belief system was that the Germans, as the superior race, needed more living space (Lebensraum). They wanted to create this space to the east of Germany, in countries such as Poland, the Ukraine and the Soviet Union. The world watched anxiously, but was more interested in appeasing Germany than directly confronting it. On September 1, 1939, the German army attacked its neighbor Poland. This signaled the start of the worst warfare of the twentieth century.
USHMM, courtesy of Estelle Bechoefer
Anne Frank Guide
This day in history
Today: 11 December 2018
Then: 11 December 1941

Germany and Italy declare war on the United States; the U.S. respond in kind.

View the timeline