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Buildup to World War II: January 1931-August 1939


World War II Timeline: April 11, 1939-May 27, 1939

The buildup of World War II continued with Hungary withdrawing from the League of Nations and Adolf Hitler announcing that he will no longer honor Nazi Germany's nonaggression pact with Poland. The World War II timeline below highlights these and other events that took place from April 11, 1939, to May 27, 1939.

World War II Timeline: April 11-May 27

April 11: Following the lead of an increasingly influential Berlin, Hungary withdraws from the failing League of Nations.

April 13: France and Britain pledge that they will support Greece and Romania if attacked.

April 28: Adolf Hitler announces he will no longer honor the nonaggression pact Nazi Germany signed with Poland in 1934, prompting Polish authorities to negotiate an alliance with London.

May 3: Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Union's people's commissar for foreign affairs and a staunch supporter of collective security, is replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov. This move will pave the way for a Soviet-German alliance later in the year.

State-sanctioned persecution of Hungarian Jews begins with a series of laws that restricts civil liberties.

May 5: In another step toward war, Poland reiterates its refusal to capitulate to Nazi Germany's demand to annex Danzig and the Polish Corridor.

May 11: No longer content with Manchukuo, its puppet state of Manchuria, Japan eyes Soviet Union territory, kicking off a series of border skirmishes that will continue through August.

May 17: Norway, Sweden, and Finland reject Nazi Germany's offer of a nonaggression pact.

May 22: Galeazzo Ciano, Benito Mussolini's foreign minister (and son-in-law), reluctantly signs the Pact of Steel with German representatives in Berlin.

May 27: U.S. secretary of state Cordell Hull pens a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging an end to the arms embargo provision of the U.S. Neutrality Act.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show the details of the Anschluss, as well as the rising tensions in Sudetenland in the late 1930s.

The Anschluss is key to Adolf Hitler's foreign policy: The political union (Anschluss) of Austria and Nazi Germany was a key element of Austrian-born Adolf Hitler's foreign policy, but it was forbidden by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. Generally, both countries favored an economic and customs union, but in 1931 this was denounced by France and others and prevented by the International Court of Justice. Then, beginning in 1933, the Nazis revived the issue. They supported an abortive coup attempt in 1934 and annexed Austria by an unopposed invasion in 1938. Apart from the Jewish population, most Austrians, including those pictured, welcomed the German army enthusiastically and applauded Austria's union with Nazi Germany.

Czechoslovakia's Emil Hácha is Nazi Germany's puppet president: With the international abandonment and impending dismemberment of his country, Czechoslovakian President Edvard Benes resigned in protest in 1938. Emil Hácha was chosen as his successor. With the German invasion imminent and aware of Adolf Hitler's threat to bomb Prague, Emil Hácha capitulated, signing a declaration surrendering Czechoslovakia and incorporating it into the Third Reich. Subsequently, Emil Hácha became the Nazis' puppet president of the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and urged the Czechs not to resist. He died in prison in 1945 while awaiting trial for high treason.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declares "Peace in our time": The Munich Agreement between Germany, France, Britain, and Italy made Adolf Hitler master of Central Europe. It eliminated Czechoslovakia's defensive capability, highlighted the military weakness of Britain and France, and provided all concerned with more time to prepare for war. Meanwhile, while stating he achieved "peace in our time," Neville Chamberlain received a hero's welcome in Britain, where -- for much of the population -- fears of yet another European war far exceeded any concerns for distant Czechoslovakia. However, war would ensue in 1939. When Nazi Germany attacked Norway in April 1940, Neville Chamberlain's parliamentary support finally collapsed, and Winston Churchill replaced him soon after.

Adolf Hitler leans hard on Britain: Franco-British apathy over the Anschluss encouraged Adolf Hitler to proceed with his plans to destroy Czechoslovakia. By doing so, he hoped to eliminate Czechoslovakia as a separate state while gaining access to its burgeoning steel and armaments industries. During three meetings with Adolf Hitler, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was presented with ever-greater territorial demands. Eventually, at the Munich meeting of September 29-30, 1938, appeasement triumphed, and Czechoslovakia was effectively sacrificed. The cession of the Sudetenland to Germany provided Adolf Hitler with yet another strategic victory achieved through coercion rather than war. However, he bitterly regretted pulling back from war in the face of Britain's threat to fight if he went further.

Tensions rise between the Sudeten-German people and the Czech central government : The Sudetenland, the mountainous region of northeastern Bohemia and northern Moravia, was placed within Czechoslovakia by the 1919 Versailles settlement primarily for historical and economic reasons. However, many of the three million ethnic Germans living in the Sudetenland believed that the Czech central government's policies discriminated against them -- a perception enhanced by pro-German agitator Konrad Heinlein in the 1930s. This volatile situation was subsequently exploited by Adolf Hitler, and regional tension increased significantly. With conflict clearly looming, many Sudeten-German people sought safety in the German border village of Friedland during September 1938.

Sudeten Germans welcome the Nazi German occupiers: Most of the population of the Sudetenland (northeastern Bohemia and northern Moravia) was ethnically German, although Czechs comprised the majority in the two provinces overall. This potentially volatile ethnic mix was exploited by pro-Nazi agitator Konrad Heinlein during the 1930s. In early October 1938, the Sudeten Germans finally realized their aspirations with their annexation by the Third Reich. They welcomed the Germans enthusiastically.

Nazi Germany signed a nonaggression pact with Denmark, and the U.S. declined to extend its 1911 commercial treaty with Japan. Go to the next page for a detailed timeline on the important World War II events that occurred from May 31, 1939, to August 2, 1939.

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