Buildup to World War II: January 1931-August 1939

Men of War Image Gallery Germany and the Soviet Union shocked the world by concluding a strategically pragmatic non-aggression pact. See more pictures of men of war.
Men of War Image Gallery Germany and the Soviet Union shocked the world by concluding a strategically pragmatic non-aggression pact. See more pictures of men of war.

On September 18, 1931, a group of Jap­anese soldiers stationed in the no­rthern Chinese province of Manchuria, masquerading as Chinese bandits, blew up a few feet of the Japanese-controlled South Manchurian Railway. The clumsily orchestra­ted incident was used as a pretext to launch an attack by the Kwantung Army (Japan's field army in China), which aimed to occupy the whole of the province and bring its rich resources under Japanese control. This was the start of a decade of escalating violence that would culminate in the German assault on Poland and the start of World War II.

Within months of the Japanese seizure of Manchuria, the fragile international order of the 1920s was in tatters. The League of Nations did little to protect China from Japanese aggression, and in February 1933 Japan left the League altogether. Japanese statesmen and military leaders had grown frustrated by an international political and economic order that they thought gave them a second-rate status. The global economic slump hit Japan hard, and its goods were excluded from some markets. The world order seemed set to benefit big imperial powers rather than what were called the "have not" powers -- those with poor supplies of raw materials, a modest colonial empire, and an alleged imbalance between population and territory.


Japan was only the first of the powers that acted in defiance of the existing order. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini wanted an international revolution by what he called the "proletarian states" against the "plutocratic powers," namely Britain, France, and the United States. From 1932 he hatched plans to conquer the independent African state of Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia), and in October 1935 Italian forces invaded the kingdom, which they conquered by the following May. This time the League imposed half-hearted economic sanctions. In December 1937, Italy also left the League.

For the long-term stability of the international order, the most dangerous development was the rise to power in Nazi Germany of Adolf Hitler and his movement of fanatical nationalists. The National Socialist Party rejected the Versailles settlement, repudiated the international economy (which they associated with Jewish financial power), and called for the rearmament of Nazi Germany to conquer the globe. On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor. Over the next six years, he was the driving force behind public repudiation of the peace settlement and the expansion of German political and economic influence over Europe.

Adolf Hitler was convinced that Nazi Germany was a "have not" power. He adopted the popular idea of Lebensraum (living space) as a justification for German territorial expansion and the seizure of new economic resources. He also was convinced that Nazi Germany represented a superior culture and was destined to dominate lesser races. He attributed Nazi Germany's current weakness to the malign influence of international Jews, whom he felt had stifled German economic growth, enfeebled the German people, and undermined German cultural heritage. This potent mix of prejudices and grievances became the basis of German foreign policy.

In early 1935, Adolf Hitler publicly announced a secret rearmament that had been going on since the late 1920s. In March 1936, he ordered German forces to remilitarize the Rhineland region in defiance of the Treaty of Locarno. On November 5, 1937, he announced to his military commanders his intention of uniting Austria with Nazi Germany and destroying the Czechoslovakian state (set up in 1919) as the preliminary to a wider war. On March 12, 1938, German forces entered Vienna amid scenes of hysterical enthusiasm. The rest of the world did nothing, as it had done nothing over Manchuria and Abyssinia.

By the mid-1930s, a gulf separated the three revisionist powers -- Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan -- from the major democracies that had dominated the world order in the 1920s. In November 1936, Nazi Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, which was directed at the international struggle against communism; a year later, Benito Mussolini signed up to it as well.

These three nations wanted to alert the Western powers that they saw themselves as a Fascist bloc increasingly opposed not just to communism, but to Western liberal democracy as well. This division was made explicit with the outbreak of civil war in Spain in July 1936. Nazi Germany and Italy both committed forces to help the nationalist rebels under General Francisco Franco. Britain and France led a noninterventionist movement that weakened the cause of the legitimate republican government and exposed the weakness and uncertainty of the West.

For Britain, France, and the United States, the main architects of the post-WWI international order, it was difficult to find ways of containing the sudden crisis. None of the three wanted to risk a major war so soon after the last, but none of them wanted to let the world order slide into chaos. There were powerful pressures against an active foreign policy. The British and French empires were menaced by anticolonial nationalism in India, Indochina, the Middle East, and Africa.

In Palestine, Britain was forced to deploy troops in large numbers to keep the peace between the Arab majority and the Jewish population, which had been promised a Jewish homeland at the end of World War I. In India, the so-called jewel in Britain's imperial crown, popular nationalism -- inspired by the apostle of nonviolent resistance, Mohandas Gandhi -- forced the British government to grant limited self-government with the India Act of 1935. The United States had abandoned the settlement it had helped write.

Even if British and French leaders had taken a more active line, powerful domestic lobbies pushed for pacifism. When a center-left government was elected in France in 1936 under the slogan of the Popular Front, a million Frenchmen marched through Paris demanding peace. In 1934 British citizens founded the Peace Pledge Union, which over the next five years became a mass movement that campaigned against war. Not until Nazi Germany seemed a very real threat in 1939 did public opinion swing more clearly in favor of confronting fascism by violent means.

A second major issue was the attitude of the two potential economic and military giants of the 1930s, the United States and the USSR. Only a decade later, these two states would be the world's superpowers. Yet in the 1930s, they played a more limited role, and their military power was more potential than real. In the United States, the impact of the Great Depression after 1929 encouraged a mood of isolationism. When Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, he promised a "New Deal" for America's impoverished population. His priority was to heal America first and to avoid any international policies that compromised that priority.

Congress adopted the provisional Neutrality Law in 1935, then passed permanent legislation in 1937 designed to prevent the United States from giving money, economic aid, or arms to any combatant state. Though American statesmen remained anxious about Japanese ambitions in the Pacific, and sympathized instinctively with Chinese resistance, Americans did nothing to inhibit Japanese aggression. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was personally hostile to Nazi Germany and to fascism, but he felt too constrained by the economic crisis at home to risk persuading the American people that involvement in European affairs was necessary for American security.

The Soviet Union was an unknown and potentially dangerous power. Though the Communist threat was just brewing by the 1930s, Western states were aware that Communists were committed to the long-term subversion of the West's social and political systems. In the 1930s, the USSR began a program of massive industrialization and rearmament, which made Russia the third largest industrial economy by 1939 and, on paper, the world's biggest military power. Yet Soviet leader Joseph Stalin concentrated on building up the new Soviet system and defeating the remaining domestic "enemies" of the revolution rather than act more forcefully in international affairs. The Soviets did not want war, and hoped to minimize its risks.

In September 1934, the Soviet Union was admitted to the League. However, Communists distrusted the democratic leaders as much as the Fascists, seeing both as varieties of capitalist politics. Britain and France were wary throughout the 1930s of any commitment to the Soviet Union. Although a pact of mutual assistance was signed between France and the USSR in May 1935, it was never turned into a military alliance.

The result of all these many pressures was a confused Anglo-French response -- a mix of inaction, mild protest, and concession that is normally described by the term "appeasement." Efforts were made to find ways to keep Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan within the existing power structure. In 1935 Britain and Germany signed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, which legitimized German naval rearmament, although it was broken by Nazi Germany the year it was signed. Neither Britain nor France risked confronting the Fascist states regarding intervention in Spain. Japan was left alone in the Far East, with only minimal aid provided to China. Nevertheless, both Britain and France realized that war was a strong possibility, and fear of war was a central element in the popular political culture of these nations in the 1930s. From 1936 both states began a program of rearmament.

Evidence of Western hesitancy encouraged the revisionist powers to press on. Japan began full-scale war with China in 1937 and conquered much of China's eastern seaboard by 1938. In Europe, Adolf Hitler ordered his generals in May 1938 to plan an autumn war against Czechoslovakia on the pretext of freeing the German-speaking peoples of the Sudetenland from Czech domination. But when German pressure reached a peak in the summer, Britain and France intervened. Neville Chamberlain, Britain's prime minister, flew to Nazi Germany to meet Adolf Hitler and broker a deal. The result was the Munich Agreement signed on September 30, 1938. The Sudetenland was given to Nazi Germany, but war was averted. In addition, Adolf Hitler was forced to back down from the destruction of Czech independence, which had been his aim.

Unhappy that he had not gone to war with the Czechs in 1938, Adolf Hitler added Britain and France to his list of potential enemies. But he turned first to the east, annexing a large part of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, before insisting that Lithuania and Poland cede Memel and Danzig and come into the German orbit. Only Poland refused to subordinate itself to Berlin, so Adolf Hitler decided to attack that country either by itself or alongside France and Britain if those states intervened. Under these circumstances, he responded to soundings from Moscow that he had earlier rejected. In a secret agreement with the Soviet Union, he agreed to partition Eastern Europe on the assumption that he would conquer it all after defeating the Western powers.

In the winter of 1938-1939, the British and French decided that if the Germans attacked any country that defended itself, they would join in its defense. In the hope that this might deter Nazi Germany, they publicly promised to defend Romania, Poland, and Greece, but Nazi Germany went ahead anyway.

On August 31, despite mounting evidence of Western firmness, Adolf Hitler ordered the campaign to begin the next day. Heinrich Himmler, his security chief, repeated what Japanese soldiers had done in Manchuria in 1931 by staging a fake act of provocation. In alleged retaliation, German forces advanced on a broad front into Poland on the morning of September 1, 1939.

See the next section for a detailed timeline on the important World War II events that occurred during 1931-1933.

For additional information about World War II, see:

World War II Timeline: 1931-1933

Japan began its World War II offensive in 1931, attacking Manchuria in Northern China and then Chapei in Northern Shanghai in January of 1932. In 1932, Adolf Hitler's gained power as his Nazi party became the largest in Germany. The World War II timeline below summarizes important events that occurred from 1931 to 1933.

World War II Timeline: 1931-1933

1931: Japan invades Manchuria in northern China. It will establish a puppet state that it will rename Manchukuo.


1932: The stress of the Great Depression, combined with unwillingness to accept defeat in the Great War and reparation obligations for that war, has left Nazi Germany in economic ruins and susceptible to extreme nationalism. It is in this political climate that Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party becomes the largest in Nazi Germany.

January 9, 1932: Nazi Germany defaults on its Great War reparations payments, which were mandated by the Treaty of Versailles.

A failed assassination attempt by a Korean nationalist on Emperor Hirohito inflames anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan, especially after the official paper of the Chinese Kuomintang publicly laments Hirohito's survival.

January 29, 1932: Thousands die when Japanese bombers level Chapei, in northern Shanghai. This marks the first of Japan's so-called terror bombings of civilians that will become standard policy during World War II.

June 16, 1932: The Lausanne Conference opens in Lausanne, Switzerland, with representatives from Britain, Nazi Germany, and France in attendance. The three nations agree to end the Great War reparations payments established by Versailles in 1919.

November 8, 1932: Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt is resoundingly elected the 32nd U.S. president.

1933: Albert Einstein flees Nazi Germany for the United States. He vows never to return, asserting that he "shall live only in a country where civil liberty, tolerance, and equality...prevail."

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show the details of Japan's invasions of China, as well as Adolf Hitler's rise to power, in the early 1930s.

President Paul von Hindenburg appoints Adolf Hitler as chancellor: Weimar Republic president Paul von Hindenburg appoints Nazi leader Adolf Hitler to the position of chancellor on January 30, 1933. Paul von Hindenberg, elected in 1925, had been unable to relieve the nation's political turmoil and economic depression. By the 1930s, he was also battling senility. As the Nazi Party gained power, Adolf Hitler repeatedly demanded the position of chancellor in return for Nazi support of any government. Paul von Hindenburg resisted appointing "this Austrian corporal," but he gave in to advisers who believed that Adolf Hitler could be controlled since few Nazis held political positions at the time.

Japan takes Manchuria as a puppet state: Early in 1932, the Japanese Kwangtung Army occupied the Chinese area of Manchuria and changed its name to Manchukuo. Nazi Germany and Italy recognized Manchukuo, but the League of Nations condemned the Japanese occupation. Control of this puppet state provided Japan with a portion of the mineral and industrial resources it needed to support its Pacific war with the Allied nations.

Continue to the next page for a detailed timeline on the important World War II events that occurred from January 1933 to October 1933.

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World War II Timeline: January 30, 1933-October 14, 1933

The buildup of World War II increased when Adolf Hitler acquired more power by becoming chancellor of Nazi Germany in January 1933. The World War II timeline below summarizes important events that occurred from January 30, 1933 to October 14, 1933.

World War II Timeline: January 30-October 14

January 30: Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Nazi Germany.


February 4: Adolf Hitler tightens his absolute power in Nazi Germany with the decree "For the Protection of the German People," which gives the Nazis the authority to censor publications and ban political agitating.

February 27: The Reichstag building in Berlin is set afire. Adolf Hitler's government accuses Communists of arson, triggering an anti-Communist crackdown throughout Nazi Germany.

March 20: SS chief Heinrich Himmler announces the establishment of Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp. The camp will receive its first inmates, political prisoners, within the next few days.

March 23: Nazi Germany's Reichstag passes the Enabling Act, affording Adolf Hitler total dictatorial powers.

March 27: Japan announces that it will no longer be part of the seemingly impotent League of Nations.

April 1: Adolf Hitler orders a boycott of all Jewish-owned businesses in Nazi Germany. The boycott itself fails when most German citizens ignore it, but Adolf Hitler will follow with a series of laws that effectively strangle the civil liberties of German Jews.

April 7: With the passage of the Aryan Law, any German who is one-quarter or more Jewish is barred from civil service employment.

July 14: All German political parties except the Nazi Party are outlawed.

October 14: Nazi Germany announces that it intends to follow Japan's lead and withdraw from the beleaguered League of Nations.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show the details of the Nazi's increasing power, as well as Japan's military offensive against China in the early 1930s.

The Reichstag fire: Less than a month after Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor, arson gave the Nazis an excuse to suspend civil liberties and crack down on their political enemies. On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag (parliament) building in Berlin went up in flames, and a Dutch Communist found at the scene was charged with the crime. Claiming that acts of terrorism were about to break out all over Nazi Germany, the Nazis imposed martial law, made mass arrests, and carried out summary executions. Many historians believe that the Nazis set the fire themselves.

The Kwangtung Army captures Shanhai Pass of the Great Wall: Once the Japanese established the puppet government of Manchukuo, the Kwangtung Army turned its attention to the northeast provinces of China. It achieved its first objective, the capture of Shanhai Pass -- the easternmost stronghold of the Great Wall -- on January 3, 1933. After Japan took the Chinese province of Jehol on March 1, Chinese troops attempted to make a stand along the Great Wall, but Japan drove them from the Wall by May 12. Representatives of both countries signed the Tanggu Truce on May 22, the provisions of which entirely favored the Japanese. China relinquished Jehol and agreed to a 100-mile-wide demilitarized zone south of the Great Wall.

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Japan's military successes fuel its future imperial ambitions in the Pacific and Southeast Asia: The Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 demonstrated Japan's emergence as a significant 20th century power. Its successful surprise attack against Port Arthur in 1904 -- without any declaration of war -- and the destruction of the Russian fleet at Tsushima in 1905 also indicated the way that Japan might conduct itself strategically and diplomatically in the future. By the 1930s, the leadership of an increasingly militaristic and radicalized country felt strategically isolated and economically threatened by Anglo-French-U.S. encroachments within the region and by Japan's lack of raw materials. These fears eventually precipitated Japan's campaigns in Manchuria and China from 1931. Its military successes fueled its future imperial ambitions in the Pacific and Southeast Asia areas.

Nazi Germany continued to gain strength and Benito Mussolini built up his Italian military. Go on to the next page for a detailed timeline highlighting the important World War II events that occurred from November 1933 to December 1934.

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World War II Timeline: November 16, 1933-December 1934

World War II tensions increased when Adolf Hitler became chancellor and president of Nazi Germany in August 1934, and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini built up his Italian military. The World War II timeline below summarizes important events that occurred from November 16, 1933 to December 1934.

World War II Timeline: November 16, 1933-December 1934

November 16, 1933: Washington normalizes diplomatic relations with Moscow, with the understanding that Moscow will not sponsor Communist propaganda within the United States.


January 1, 1934: In a year that will see massive buildup of all branches of the German military, officials order some 4,000 new aircraft for the Luftwaffe.

May 5, 1934: The Soviet Union and Poland reaffirm their mutual nonaggression pact, strengthening the geographical buffer zone between Russia and Nazi Germany.

June 14-15, 1934: Adolf Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini rendezvous in Venice and leave their first face-to-face meeting mutually unimpressed, with Benito Mussolini whispering "I don't like him" to his staff.

June 30, 1934: At least 77, and perhaps as many as 400, are killed during Nazi Germany's "Night of the Long Knives," a purge of Nazi Party and other enemies ordered by Adolf Hitler that will secure his ascendancy in the state.

July 25, 1934: Austrian Nazis murder Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in a coup attempt. He will be succeeded by Kurt von Schuschnigg.

August 1934: Adolf Hitler officially becomes Der Führer, a combination of chancellor and president, when the German army swears him allegiance upon the death of President von Hindenburg.

August 19-September 1934: Chinese Nationalist troops launch an aggressive campaign to eject Chinese Communists from their occupied territory south of the Yangtze River.

September 18, 1934: The Soviets belatedly join the League of Nations.

December 1934: A buildup of the Italian military follows Benito Mussolini's order for the conquest of Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia).

World War II Headlines

The headlines below outline more major events of World War II that took place as Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany rose to power.

The Nazi educational system is used to mold children into Nazis: German children would often parrot their teacher's Nazi salute, as the Third Reich carefully subverted the educational system in order to mold children into loyal adult Nazis. School curricula reflected the Nazi line, blaming Jews and Marxists for Nazi Germany's woes. Biology courses taught the "reality" of Aryan racial superiority, while science courses focused on military themes. To ensure compliancy, teachers were vetted by local Nazi officials; 97 percent joined the Nazi Teachers Association.

Direct protests are a part of anti-Nazi sentiment in Britain in the 1930s: British views on Adolf Hitler and the rise of the Nazis during the 1930s were often ambivalent. Many underestimated the Nazis or thought them irrelevant, while others actually admired Adolf Hitler's achievements in Nazi Germany. However, some of those who understood the Nazi policies resorted to direct protests in a vain attempt to expose the growing peril. In 1933 three men and one woman were convicted for damaging this wax figure of Adolf Hitler at Madame Tussauds, a wax museum in London.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Vice President John Nance Garner take office in March 1933: Newly elected, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Vice President John Nance Garner took office in March 1933. During his campaign, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had proposed ways to pull the country out of the Depression. Although his sophisticated education included a background in international affairs, President Franklin Delano Roose­velt's foreign agenda seemed compatible with the nation's isolationism. However, at the 1936 Democratic National Convention, he stated that all was not well with the world, warning that "clouds of suspicion, tides of ill-will and intolerance gather darkly in many places." FDR would initiate naval and air rearmament in 1936 and 1938, respectively, and put the U.S. on a war footing in 1939.

The Dachau concentration camp holds opponents of the Nazi regime: Prisoners march to the kitchen with mess kits for a meal at the Dachau, Germany, concentration camp, which opened in March 1933 as a prison for opponents of the Nazi regime. Political prisoners were soon joined by Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, clergy, and repeat criminals. Gradually, the number of Jews increased at Dachau, especially after Kristallnacht in 1938. Selections for extermination began at Dachau in 1941. In all, the camp held nearly 200,000 prisoners, and about 30,000 were killed. Thousands more died from medical experiments, forced labor, and horrific living conditions. The Nazis, who considered Dachau an ideal concentration camp, modeled others after it.

Hjalmar Schacht was Nazi Germany's economic mastermind: Hjalmar Schacht was a brilliant German financier who believed in "a sound economy in a strong state" and that "the basic ideas of National Socialism contain a great deal of truth." During the 1920s and 1930s, Hjalmar Schacht utilized his mastery of economics and the correlation between the state, industry, and commerce to help Adolf Hitler. As president of the Reichsbank and minister of economics, he established the financial trickery that enabled German rearmament.

Nazi Brownshirts burn more than 20,000 "un-German" books: On May 10, 1933, Nazi Brownshirts ransacked libraries, public buildings, private offices, and even private homes for materials deemed un-German. Chanting scripted slogans, students and Storm Troopers threw more than 20,000 books into roaring bonfires. Bands played and officials gave speeches. In Berlin, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels announced, "The future German man will not just be a man of books, but a man of character."

Many important events in the buildup of World War II occurred between December 1, 1934, and September 15, 1935. The World War II timeline on the following page details these important events.

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World War II Timeline: December 1, 1934-September 15, 1935

Nazi Germany's anti-Semitic views during World War II began to emerge when Nazi Germany adopted the swastika for its national flag and the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. The World War II timeline below summarizes these events and other important events that occurred from December 1, 1934, to September 15, 1935.

World War II Timeline: December 1, 1934-September 15, 1935

December 1, 1934: Soviet Union official Serge Kirov, an associate of Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, is assassinated. Joseph Stalin will use Serge Kirov's death as a pretext to purge Leningrad of 2,000 party officials.


January 7, 1935: France undercuts international efforts to censure Italy for its actions in Abyssinia when it enters into a treaty with Rome. France thinks it is buffering itself against Adolf Hitler's aggression, but it is actually giving also-dangerous Benito Mussolini carte blanche in Northeast Africa.

March 1935: Adolf Hitler publicly repudiates the Treaty of Versailles, announcing that he will not adhere to the limits on the German military imposed by the treaty.

May 2, 1935: Berlin is incensed by a mutual assistance treaty signed between Russia and France that would serve to force Nazi Germany into a two-front war. Russia will enter into a similar agreement with Czechoslovakia within the month.

July 28, 1935: Boeing's B-17 Flying Fortress, a heavy bomber that will become the workhorse of the war's signature European bombing raids, makes its maiden voyage.

August 31, 1935: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signs the U.S. Neutrality Act, prohibiting material support for any side in a European war. FDR famously predicts that the act "might drag us into war instead of keeping us out."

September 1935: Nazi Germany adopts the swastika, an ancient symbol representing life, power, and luck, for its national flag. The Nazi Party had already co-opted the swastika in the 1920s, radically altering its symbolism.

September 15, 1935: The Nuremberg Laws, which impose strict limits on citizenship and civil rights for German Jews, are adopted.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show the details of increasing anti-Semitic propaganda by the Nazis, as well as information about the Dollfuss assassination in the early 1930s.

Anti-Semitic propaganda begins in newspapers and on radio broadcasts: At a 1934 Nuremberg rally, Joseph Goebbels advocated mass-media propaganda to influence the public to follow "superior leadership." With the Nazis in power, many newspapers and radio broadcasts turned anti-Semitic. The political newspaper Der Stürmer (The Attacker) repeated the slogan "The Jews are Our Misfortune." Edited by Nazi politician Julius Streicher, the popular sheet featured cartoons by Fips (Philip Rupprecht) that portrayed Jews as swindling, money-hoarding sexual perverts. This 1934 special edition accused Jews of ritual murders of Christian children.

Nazi Brownshirts help bring Adolf Hitler to power: Adolf Hitler leads senior officers of the Sturmabteilung (SA; Storm Troopers), who were also known as the "Brownshirts." This often-brutal force of roughly two million men, headed by Ernst Röhm, helped bring Adolf Hitler to power. When his position became more secure, Adolf Hitler looked to weed out potential threats within the SA. Röhm's homosexuality -- long overlooked by Adolf Hitler in spite of strict Nazi bans against gays -- suddenly became an issue. During the June 30-July 1, 1934, purge that Adolf Hitler called the "Night of the Long Knives," hundreds of SA officers were arrested. Many, including Ernst Röhm, were executed.

Adolf Hitler orders Austrian Nazis to assassinate Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss: A wounded Nazi is removed from the Vienna Broadcasting Station on July 27, 1934. In February, in a bid to prevent a German takeover of Austria, Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss abandoned parliamentary government and established a dictatorship. Engelbert Dollfuss used Austrian troops and Fascist militias to suppress the Social Democrats, which resulted in more than 1,000 deaths. Austrian Nazis supported by Berlin launched a sabotage and terror campaign across Austria. At Adolf Hitler's orders, on July 25, eight Austrian Nazis attacked the Federal Chancellery and murdered Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. Alarmed by these events, the Italians mobilized four divisions at the Brenner Pass, prompting the postponement of Adolf Hitler's planned Anschluss until 1938.

Triumph of the Will is German director Leni Riefenstahl's most famous work: "It is a documentary, not propaganda," German director Leni Riefenstahl declared after the war in defense of her most famous work, Triumph of the Will. Adolf Hitler had personally chosen Riefenstahl to film the German Nationalist Socialist Party conferences in Nuremberg in 1933 and 1934. She won numerous awards for Triumph, but had to defend her work to those who claimed it was the most insidious propaganda film ever made. Heavily choreographed, it opened with a sequence portraying Adolf Hitler as a god emerging from the clouds to address his followers.

The Thousand-Year Reich through a German Communist's perspective: The Thousand-Year Reich (1938), depicting the fundamental flaws in the Nazi state, was Hans Grundig's greatest masterpiece. The native German and his wife, Lea, were ardent Communists and critics of the Nazi regime. Lea Grundig escaped to Palestine in 1939, but in 1940 Hans Grundig was committed to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. After the war, they returned to Dresden. There they were officially recognized for their art and as acclaimed political campaigners against fascism and repression.

Tensions build as German troops entered Rhineland, and Italy renounced its membership in the League of Nations. The World War II timeline on the following page details these and other important events from October 1935 to July 17, 1936.

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World War II Timeline: October 1935-July 17, 1936

Italy began its World War II offensive when Benito Mussolini ordered his troops into Abyssinia in October 1935, then renounced its membership in the League of Nations in May 1936. The World War II timeline below summarizes these events and other important events that occurred from October 1935 to July 17, 1936.

World War II Timeline: October 1935-July 17, 1936

October 1935: Benito Mussolini orders his troops into Abyssinia. The League of Nations will call for economic sanctions against Italy, but in the absence of French and British enforcement, the sanctions will be meaningless.


December 1935: Samuel Hoare of Britain and Pierre Laval of France create the Hoare-Laval Pact. According to this proposal, France and Britain would give Italy a part of Abyssinia and would give that African nation a guaranteed corridor to the ocean. The plan will be scrapped because of public uproar in England.

February 10, 1936: SS and Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler gains total control of German internal security when the Reichstag declares the Gestapo a "Supreme Reich Agency."

March 7, 1936: On Adolf Hitler's orders, German troops enter the demilitarized Rhineland. A clear violation of the Treaties of Versailles and Locarno, this maneuver also deals a blow to collective security because Britain and Italy, who pledged aid to France in the 1925 Locarno Pact, do nothing.

May 2, 1936: With his country largely overrun by Italian troops, Abyssinian leader Haile Selassie flees the capital of Addis Ababa.

May 12, 1936: Like Japan and Germany before it, Italy informs the League of Nations that it intends to renounce its membership.

July 17, 1936: A coup attempt led by General Francisco Franco against the Popular Front government launches the Spanish Civil War. The rebellion spreads like wildfire throughout Spain. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini send planes to fly Franco's troops from Spanish Morocco to Spain. They will later send planes and soldiers to help Franco fight the Spanish Republic.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show the details of Nazi Germany's plans for breeding a "super race" in the mid-1930s.

Dorothy Thompson criticizes Nazi Germany's rise to power: In 1924 freelance correspondent Dorothy Thompson became head of the Philadelphia Public Ledger's Berlin news bureau. Thompson irritated both Nazi politicians and American isolationists, calling the Nazi rise to power "the most world disturbing event of the century and perhaps of many centuries." Expelled from Nazi Germany in 1934, Thompson continued her crusade against dictatorships in books, articles, her syndicated column "On the Record" (1936-1941), and broadcasts on NBC. In 1939, Time magazine ran a cover story naming Thompson and Eleanor Roosevelt two of the most influential women in the country.

Sir Oswald Mosley heads the British Fascists: Sir Oswald Mosley was the leader of the British Union of Fascists from its formation in 1932. Throughout the decade, Sir Oswald Mosley exploited British anti-Semitism and anti-bolshevism while creating positive perceptions of Adolf Hitler's regime in Nazi Germany. The union's membership rose to as much as 50,000 in 1934. Of the Axis powers, only Italy provided any financial support for Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union. Mosley, his wife (the former Diana Mitford), and others in the union were interned from May 1940 to November 1943.

Heinrich Himmler develops program for breeding Aryan "super race": The Lebensborn (source of life) program was developed in 1935 by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler to produce a German "super race" by selective breeding. Suitable young German women -- those displaying the Aryan characteristics idealized by Heinrich Himmler in his perverted views of Nazi Germany's heritage and culture -- were encouraged to become pregnant by SS officers, all of whom were considered to be politically sound and "racially pure." Once the women were pregnant, special SS-administered medical centers provided them with exemplary maternity care. The young woman seen here was a resident of the Lebensborn home on Swan Isle, a small residential island in Lake Wannsee, near Berlin. (Goebbels and other top Nazis owned homes there.) The cradle room was in the Lebensborn home in Steinhoring.

Continue to the next page for a detailed timeline on the important World War II events that occurred from November 1, 1936, to July 7, 1937.

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World War II Timeline: November 1, 1936-July 7, 1937

Nazi Germany's World War II offensive continued with a German air force bombing raid that destroyed the Basque city of Guernica. The World War II timeline below details this event as well as other important events that took place from November 1, 1936, to July 7, 1937.

World War II Timeline: November 1, 1936-July 7, 1937

November 1, 1936: Speaking to a crowd in Milan, Benito Mussolini coins the name "Axis" for Italy and its allies when he states that the "line between Rome and Berlin is not a partition but rather an axis around which all European states...can also collaborate."


November 18, 1936: General Franco's new Spanish government gains formal recognition from Italy and Nazi Germany.

November 25, 1936: The Anti-Comintern Pact is signed by Nazi Germany and Japan against the International Comintern but not against the Soviet Union.

December 1936: Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek is kidnapped by General Chang Hsueh-liang in order to force Chiang Kai-shek to devote more time and energy to confronting the Japanese, and not the Chinese Communists.

December 11, 1936: George VI is crowned king of England following the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, who married Wallis Simpson, an American divorcée.

April 27, 1937: In support of General Franco, the German air force in Spain carries out a bombing raid that destroys the Basque city of Guernica.

May 28, 1937: Neville Chamberlain becomes Britain's prime minister.

June 25, 1937: Neville Chamberlain, in his first speech as Britain's prime minister, inexplicably congratulates Nazi Germany for its supposed military restraint.

July 7, 1937: Japanese troops meet resistance in China when they demand access to the town of Wanping, near Peiping. A skirmish ensues at the Marco Polo Bridge on the edge of town, providing the spark that will ignite the Second Sino-Japanese War.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show the details of Chinese propaganda, as well as Italy's increasing war offensive in the mid-1930s.

Chinese propaganda posters communicate to a mostly illiterate nation: For centuries, Chinese rulers expressed their beliefs to their peasant population through propaganda posters. With pictures posted on walls, billboards, and other surfaces, the government was able to communicate to a population that was mostly illiterate. To the vast majority of the 500 million Chinese, there was little concern about the ultimate result of the war. Their daily struggle for survival would continue no matter who was running the country.

Benito Mussolini's Italian forces attack and prevail over Abyssinia: On October 3, 1935, in his fervor for empire, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini attacked the African nation of Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia), which had successfully resisted Italian colonialism in 1889. Italian planes strafed rifle-bearing tribesmen with machine-gun fire and bombed mud-hut villages. Benito Mussolini's son proudly commented that the victims blew up like "a budding rose unfolding." The air attack was followed by Italian artillery, infantry, and the use of mustard gas. After a little more than seven months of fighting, Benito Mussolini's forces prevailed.

Adolf Hitler orders the German army to occupy the Rhineland: In March 1936, Adolf Hitler ordered the army to occupy the demilitarized Rhineland, located in the west of Nazi Germany. There, the troops received an enthusiastic reception from the population. In practice, this was a risk by Adolf Hitler, as Nazi Germany was still ill-prepared for war. Britain and France hardly objected to this provocative military action, although France did move 13 divisions to the border area. This remarkable success enhanced Adolf Hitler's wider standing in Nazi Germany. Construction of Nazi Germany's West Wall defenses now could be initiated.

John Heartfield's biting criticism of the Nazis: German artist John Heartfield used politically charged images in works of political criticism. During WWI, he changed his name from Helmut Herzfeld to protest Germans' anti-British sentiment. After the Nazis rose to power, Heartfield exiled himself to Czechoslovakia and later to England. He put swastikas and other Nazi symbols to ironic use in his photomontages, such as Hurrah, die Butter ist alle! (Hurrah, the Butter Is All Gone!). Quoting ­Hermann Göring's statement about iron making people strong (and butter only making them fat), Heartfield showed a family consuming pieces of metal.

Adolf Hitler's 1936 Summer Olympic Games: In May 1931, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1936 Summer Olympics to Berlin. The Nazis schemed to exploit the Olympics by portraying Nazi Germany as a peaceful member of the international community. Prior to the Summer Games, Adolf Hitler ordered the removal of vicious anti-Jewish signs throughout Berlin, such as "Jews are not wanted in this place." As a token, he allowed one German Jewish athlete to participate. Through the veneer, many saw the ugliness of Nazi racism. One German official groused that the Americans were letting "non-humans, like [sprinter Jesse] Owens and other Negro athletes," compete.

The Japanese continued their World War II offensive in China, while Adolf Hitler attained more power in Nazi Germany. Continue to the next page for a detailed timeline on the important World War II events that occurred from July 29, 1937, to August 1938.

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World War II Timeline: July 29, 1937-August 1938

Between July 1937 and February 1938, the Japanese World War II offensive campaign continued in China, and Adolf Hitler became commander-in-chief of the German armed forces as well as German war minister. Continue reading the World War II timeline below to learn more about events that took place from July 29, 1937, to August 1938.

World War II Timeline: July 29, 1937-August 1938

July 29, 1937: Japanese forces occupy Peiping.


September 7, 1937: In a speech underscoring a perceived need for Lebensraum (living space), Adolf Hitler claims that Nazi Germany "is too small to guarantee an undisturbed, assured, and permanent food supply."

December 1937: Japanese troops pillage the Chinese Nationalist capital of Nanking, murdering tens of thousands of civilians, in what will become known as the "Rape of Nanking."

February 1938: Adolf Hitler calls Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg to Berchtesgaden, Germany, and bullies him into giving the Nazis complete control of Austria's interior ministry.

February 4, 1938: Adolf Hitler becomes commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) as well as German war minister.

March 12, 1938: The Anschluss, the annexation of Austria into Greater Germany, begins as a large contingent of German troops enters Austria. The Anschluss ostensibly reunites the ethnically similar cultures, and many Austrians welcome the German soldiers.

March 24-April 7, 1938: Approximately 16,000 Japanese soldiers die at the hands of Chinese during the two-week Battle of Taierzhuang, Japan's first military defeat in modern history.

June 1938: In a remarkably ill-advised attempt to bog down invading Japanese forces, Chiang Kai-shek orders the destruction of dikes along the Yellow River. The ensuing flood leaves two million homeless; destroys more than 4,000 cities, towns, and villages; and leads to a devastating famine.

August 1938: The German government decrees that all Jews must add Israel or Sara to their first names for ease of identification.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events during the buildup of World War II in the mid-1930s.

German military brass forced to resign: Many German senior officers, including Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, Colonel General Werner von Fritsch, and Admiral Erich Raeder, enthusiastically supported Adolf Hitler's rearmament program in order to redress the terms imposed by the Versailles Treaty of 1919. Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg was forced to resign in 1938 after it became known that his new wife had a promiscuous background. Meanwhile, Colonel General Werner von Fritsch's own resignation followed accusations that he was homosexual.

Nazi TV hails Adolf Hitler and tries to win over German hearts: The Nazis claimed television as a great achievement of German technology. In March 1935, Reich director of broadcasting Eugen Hadamovsky described its mission: "to plant the image of the Führer indelibly in all German hearts." In 1936, 150,000 Berliners paid one Reichsmark each to enter special viewing halls for up to eight hours of TV. Later programming included a broadcast of the Nuremberg Rally, being filmed here. During the war, TV sets in military field hospitals provided cabaret and newsreels for wounded soldiers.

Erhard Milch works secretly on the Luftwaffe: In violation of the Treaty of Versailles, Erhard Milch worked secretly with Hermann Göring to build German planes and train pilots. Erhard Milch's practical skills contributed to the powerful Luftwaffe, which devastated European cities at the beginning of the war. To conceal that his father was Jewish, Erhard Milch produced an affidavit by his mother that she had committed adultery. One of America's staunchest isolationists, the famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, considered the Luftwaffe invincible.

"Degenerate" art exhibit draws more than three million visitors: In a 1935 Party Day speech, Adolf Hitler praised artworks that bore "the cultural stamp of the Germanic race." His favorite artists either realistically depicted healthy, handsome Aryans or disparaged Jews. The Nazis cleansed German museums of "inferior" modern styles. Their 1937 Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Exhibit) of unacceptable art -- which included Large Kneeling Woman by Wilhelm Lehmbruck along with works by Chagall, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian, Munch, and others -- opened in Munich and traveled to 11 other German and Austrian cities. It was a hit, drawing more than three million visitors.

A trial run for German military in Spain: German Condor Legion soldiers move an artillery piece in Spain. German intervention in Spain's civil war in 1936 ensured Franco's nationalist victory, and thus provided Adolf Hitler with an important and supportive -- if generally passive -- Fascist ally. Additionally, German intervention facilitated battle-testing of a whole range of the Wehrmacht's new weapons, vehicles, and tactics. The Luftwaffe's capability was demonstrated most dramatically when waves of the Condor Legion's Heinkel, Junkers, and Messerschmitt bombers and fighters devastated Guernica -- a Basque town without any air defenses. Some tanks of Nazi Germany's new panzer divisions were also given successful trials in Spain.

In January 1939, more than 300,000 German Jews fleed the nation in the face of Nazi hostility. Continue to the next page for a detailed timeline on the important World War II events that occurred from September 15, 1938, to January 5, 1939.

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World War II Timeline: September 15, 1938-January 5, 1939

On October 1, 1938, Adolf Hitler's army marched into the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, continuing Nazi Germany's aggressive World War II offensive. The World War II timeline below highlights this event as well as other important events that took place from September 15, 1938, to January 5, 1939.

World War II Timeline: September 15, 1938-January 5, 1939

September 15, 1938: Adolf Hitler meets with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and states his demand that Czechoslovakia yield the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia with a large German population, to Nazi Germany.


September 29-30, 1938: Leaders of Britain, France, Nazi Germany, and Italy meet at the Munich Convention. In a profound act of capitulation, the delegates deliver the Sudetenland into Adolf Hitler's hands. Neither Russia nor Czechoslovakia are invited to Munich. Bristish Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returns to England following his role in the disastrous Munich Agreement claiming to have achieved "peace in our time."

October 1, 1938: Nazi German troops march into the Sudetenland. Without the support of their alleged allies, France and Britain, the Czechoslovakians are powerless against Adolf Hitler's army.

November 9-10, 1938: Nazi-led mobs engage in a night of terror against Nazi Germany's and Austria's Jewish population, destroying more than 1,000 shops and synagogues, arresting 30,000, and killing nearly 40. The action will become known as Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass).

December 1938-September 1939: The British Cabinet allows 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children into Britain in an action called the Kindertransport.

January 1, 1939: Nearly 320,000 of a total population of 500,000 German Jews have fled the nation in the face of Nazi hostility.

January 5, 1939: Adolf Hitler pressures Poland to return its principal port of Gdansk (called Danzig in German), a free state run by the Nazis under the auspices of the League of Nations, to Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler insists that the city will "sooner or later return to Germany."

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show the details of the Adolf Hitler-Benito Mussolini alliance, as well as Japan's war with China in the late 1930s.

Nazi pageantry brings excitement to Germans' drab lives: In parades in Nuremberg and other cities, the Nazis mesmerized their audiences with well-organized rituals, operatic staging, brightly colored flags, and other elements chosen for their nationalistic, mystical, and religious connotations. The settings were often illuminated by giant kleig lights and accompanied by classical music or military marches. This nighttime march features torchlight. William L. Shirer, foreign correspondent for CBS during the 1930s, wrote in his Berlin Diary that he was beginning to comprehend some of the reasons for Adolf Hitler's astounding success: "He is restoring pageantry and colour and mysticism to the drab lives of twentieth-century Germans."

The Adolf Hitler-Benito Mussolini alliance: In 1937, a year after the emergence of the Berlin-Rome axis, Adolf Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini together attended Wehrmacht maneuvers. Although Italy had frustrated Adolf Hitler's ambitions in Austria in 1934, and Adolf Hitler generally regarded Benito Mussolini as a lesser leader, the Führer still needed a like-minded European ally to offset the two-front threat to Nazi Germany. He also needed Italian acquiescence for the Anschluss in 1938 as well as Benito Mussolini's support for his expansionist plans for Eastern Europe. However, despite their shared Fascist ideologies, the later inadequacies and unreliability of Italy's military forces eventually all but negated Benito Mussolini's value as Adolf Hitler's ally.

War with Japan erupts in Peiping, China: A minor skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peiping, China, on July 7, 1937, quickly escalated into the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Unprepared for a sustained conflict, the Chinese army could do little to stop the Japanese advance. In less than a year, the invaders destroyed China's best fighting units and controlled northern China, the industrial center of the country. Initially, Japan's objective was the overthrow of the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, but its advance stalled as China's resistance stiffened.

Nazi Germany's occupation of Czechoslovakia continued, while tension between Nazi Germany and Poland increased. Continue to the next page for a detailed timeline on the important World War II events that occurred from January 12, 1939, to April 7, 1939.

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World War II Timeline: January 12, 1939-April 7, 1939

Nazi Germany's World War II offensive continues with their occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia: Bohemia and Moravia. Tensions with Poland escalate, and Adolf Hitler orders his generals to develop plans for war. Continue reading the World War II timeline below to learn about additional events that took place from January 12, 1939, to April 7, 1939.

World War II Timeline: January 12-April 7

January 12: In a speech before Congress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt details his $552 million defense plan.


January 24: Hermann Göring establishes the National Central Office for Jewish Emigration, and orders the SS leadership to step up the evacuation of German Jews.

March 15: German troops occupy the rest of Czechoslovakia: Bohemia and Moravia.

March 17: In the company of the White House press corps, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt underscores the importance of amending the U.S. Neutrality Act.

March 22: Nazi Germany strong-arms Lithuania into returning the Memel District to Nazi Germany.

March 25: Because the Polish government will not subordinate the country to Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler directs his generals to develop plans for war.

March 28: General Francisco Franco captures Madrid, ending hostilities in the Spanish Civil War. General Francisco Franco will declare the war officially over on April 1.

March 29: In a response to Nazi Germany's posturing over Danzig, Warsaw announces that the Polish army would retaliate against any attempt to take the port.

April 3: Fall Weiss (Case White), the Nazi war plan for the invasion of Poland, is completed. The plan, scheduled to be implemented on September 1, calls for a three-front attack that would end with the capture of Warsaw.

April 7: Italy invades the small Adriatic nation of Albania. The Italians will capture the capital of Tiranë within a day.

Spain signs the Anti-Comintern Pact, aligning itself with Japan, Nazi Germany, and Italy.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show the details of the Japanese troops taking Peiping, as well as the mass killings in the Chinese capital in the late 1930s.

Japanese take Peiping and change its name to Beijing: The Chinese city of Peiping fell to Japanese troops on July 29, 1937, only 22 days after the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Chinese defenders offered little resistance as the enemy closed in on the major cities of Peiping and Tientsin. The former had been the capital of China until the government moved to Nanking in 1928. During the Japanese occupation, Peiping's name was changed to Beijing and was made the capital of the provisional government of the Republic of China. A puppet regime ruled northern China until the Japanese abandoned Beijing in 1945.

The Japanese Imperial Army commits mass killings in Nanking: Although outnumbered by almost two to one, the Japanese Imperial Army captured the Chinese capital of Nanking on December 13, 1937. They entered the city with orders to "kill all captives." Because they were trained to fight until death, Japanese soldiers saw surrender as an act of cowardice and therefore treated the surrendering Chinese soldiers with contempt. Moreover, as representatives of the emperor, Japanese soldiers believed that the citizens of the nations they conquered were less than human and deserved rape, torture, and death. Within six weeks, tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians in Nanking were killed, with many buried alive.

The Rape of Nanking: As Japanese soldiers overtook Nanking, they trucked Chinese prisoners of war to the outskirts of the city. Japanese officers ordered their men to torture and kill these prisoners so as to banish any feelings of humanity that a Japanese soldier may still hold for his captives. Many photos, such as this one of prisoners being killed during a bayonet drill, were taken of the slaughter. Very few Japanese soldiers refused to carry out the barbaric orders. Failure to do so meant immediate death.

Nazi German propaganda poisons young German minds: "The Jew is the most dangerous poison mushroom in existence," a pious mother teaches her son in this 1938 children's book, which was illustrated by the anti-Semitic cartoonist "Fips" (Philip Rupprecht). The success of Julius Streicher's political newspaper allowed him to publish such books as Der Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom) to educate German youngsters in proper Nazi attitudes. Determined to have children well-indoctrinated before adulthood, the Nazis built propaganda into the school curriculum, screened teachers for adherence to the party line, and shaped science programs around their notions of "blood purity."

Nazis use propaganda campaign to press for union with Austria: Following the assassination of Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss by the Nazis in 1934, the new chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, tried to maintain Austria's independence and constitutional government. Within Austria, Nazi pressure for union with Nazi Germany escalated, and was reinforced by a relentless propaganda campaign (pictured) that pushed for a "yes" vote on union. Eventually, in 1938, the Anschluss preempted a democratic outcome when Arthur Seyss-Inquart -- the pro-Nazi interior minister -- "requested" the German invasion. Subsequently, Arthur Seyss-Inquart supplanted Kurt von Schuschnigg as Reich governor of Austria.

Nazi Germany and Poland took another step toward war, and Hungary withdrew from the League of Nations. Continue to the next page for a detailed timeline on the important World War II events that occurred from April 11, 1939, to May 27, 1939.

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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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World War II Timeline: May 31, 1939-August 2, 1939

During the buildup to World War II in 1939, Winston Churchill called for a British-Russian alliance, which was declined by Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin. The World War II timeline below highlights this event as well as other important events that took place from May 31, 1939, to August 2, 1939.

World War II Timeline: May 31-August 2

May 31: In a move that emboldens Adolf Hitler, Vyacheslav Molotov addresses the Supreme Soviet and denies that the Soviet Union is aligning itself with the Western powers against Nazi Germany.


Nazi ­Germany signs a nonaggression pact with Denmark.

June 2: Just two days after Vyacheslav Molotov's denial that the Soviets had picked sides, Soviet Union authorities attempt to create a mutual assistance pact with France and Britain.

July 9: Realizing that Britain could not successfully defend Poland against Nazi German aggression, British Parliament member Winston Churchill calls for a British-Russian alliance. Having imperialist designs of his own on Poland, Joseph Stalin will decline.

July 26: Secretary of State Cordell Hull informs the Japanese ambassador that the United States will not extend the 1911 commercial treaty between the two nations.

August: Despite pressure from the West and his own dire assessment of the German threat, Polish General Edward Smigly-Rydz declares that allowing the Soviets passage through Poland would be a mistake, claiming that once the Red Army enters Polish territory, "they will never leave it."

The Nazi SS obtains 150 concentration camp prisoners, dresses them in Polish army uniforms, and shoots them. Their bodies are used as planted evidence of Polish aggression along the German border, and Adolf Hitler uses the fictional skirmish as a pretext for war.

August 2: Physicist Albert Einstein signs a letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stating that scientists have discovered how to create a nuclear chain reaction, which could lead to "extremely powerful bombs of a new type." This will be a key factor in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's pushing for the U.S. atomic bomb project.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show the details of a Kindertransport journey, as well as the Jewish Youth Aliyah organization in the late 1930s.

The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht): Jews in Berlin spent days cleaning up their homes and neighborhoods after Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), which raged on November 9 and 10, 1938. After a Jewish teenager shot a German diplomat in Paris, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels organized a pogrom against German Jews. Citizens joined Storm Troopers in destroying and looting Jewish homes, stores, and synagogues, and killing nearly 40 Jews. Some 30,000 Jewish men were taken to concentration camps. In addition, Hermann Göring levied an "atonement fine" to pay for all the damage. Kristallnacht signaled many more Nazi cruelties to come.

The British government agrees to take in Jewish children: A Jewish child rests following a Kindertransport journey. After Kristallnacht, the British government agreed to receive Jewish children under age 17 from Nazi Germany and its occupied territories. Jewish organizations selected children -- generally orphaned, impoverished, in danger of arrest, or with parents in concentration camps -- and financially guaranteed each child's care and eventual re-emigration. From December 1938 to September 1939, about 10,000 children traveled by train and ferry to Great Britain, where they lived in foster families, in group homes, or on farms. Most of the refugees never saw their parents again.

The Youth Aliyah Organization encourages Jewish emigration: Jewish students sing at the Youth Aliyah school in Berlin. Before the war, the Youth Aliyah organization prepared Jewish children for a future life in Palestine. When other Jewish youth groups were banned by the Nazis, the Youth Aliyah was allowed to continue because it encouraged Jewish emigration. The organization helped as many as 22,000 Jewish children reach Palestine and other countries. In 1941 the Nazis prohibited all Jewish emigration and closed the Berlin school, but many former Youth Aliyah students would play key roles in the establishment of Israel.

Nazi Germany takes control of Prague on March 15, 1939: The German annexation of Bohemia and Moravia occurred soon after President Hácha's capitulation. The Germans occupied Prague on March 15, 1939, and seized the Czech armaments industry and tank production lines. The Czech army was disbanded, with much of its excellent equipment adopted by the Germans -- including 469 tanks. Politically, the annexation furthered Adolf Hitler's policy of developing Lebensraum (living space) for Nazi Germany in the east. It also delivered some 120,000 Czech and refugee German Jews into the hands of the SS.

In April 1939, Britain institutes conscription for men ages 20 to 21: Because Great Britain had only a small professional army, in April 1939 men ages 20 and 21 were required to register for six months of military training. This was the first peacetime conscription in British history, and all Labour and Liberal members of Parliament voted against it. By 1941 conscription was extended to men ages 18 to 41 (single men were inducted before married men) and to unmarried women.

Jews are denied access to Cuba, the U.S., and Canada: Twins Renate and Innes Spanier gaze out of a porthole on the ship St. Louis. In May 1939, more than 900 Jewish refugees booked passage on the liner, hoping to escape Nazi Germany. However, Cuba, the United States, and Canada all denied permission for the ship to dock. After fruitlessly sailing up and down the North American coast, the St. Louis returned to Europe. Most passengers had to disembark in countries that were later overrun by Nazi Germany. Many died in concentration camps, though the Spaniers survived in Holland and eventually immigrated to the U.S.

Nazi Germany and Japan signed the German-Soviet nonaggression agreement, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and agreed to destroy Poland. Continue on to the next page for a detailed timeline on the important World War II events that occurred from August 4, 1939, to August 23, 1939.

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World War Timeline: August 4, 1939-August 23, 1939

The Soviet Union's World War II offensive campaign escalated as it attacked Japanese army units along Mongolia's Khalka River. Continue reading the World War II timeline below for important events that took place from August 4, 1939, to August 23, 1939.

World War II Timeline: August 4-August 23

August 4: General Francisco Franco establishes authoritarian rule in Spain. He titles himself El Caudillo (The Leader) and asserts that he will answer only "to God and to history."


August 12: Military representatives from the Soviet Union, France, and Britain meet in Moscow to discuss an alliance. Talks will adjourn on the 19th without resolution, as Russia prefers an agreement with Nazi Germany.

August 12-13: Italian foreign minister Galeazzo Ciano informs Adolf Hitler that the Italian military would not be sufficiently rebuilt to fight alongside the Germans for another two years.

August 15: In a letter to French foreign minister Georges Bonnet, the French ambassador to Berlin describes a meeting with German officials in which he expressed the certainty that Britain, Poland, and France would go to war "automatically in case of aggression against any one of them."

August 20-31: In one of the largest battles since the Great War, the Soviets attack Japanese army units along Mongolia's Khalka River. Some 45,000 Japanese soldiers are killed, while 17,000 Soviets lose their lives.

August 22: Adolf Hitler calls a meeting of his military leadership at Obersalzberg and, in a chilling speech, leaves no doubt that he intends to "kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of the Polish race or language."

August 23: Nazi Germany's Axis ally, Japan, is stunned by the signing of the German-Soviet nonaggression agreement, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. War is all but unavoidable, as the two powers agree to carve Poland in half.

August 24: In a last-ditch effort to avoid war, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sends a personal appeal to Adolf Hitler, asking him to address the Polish issue through diplomatic channels.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show the details of Adolf Hitler's final peacetime speech, as well as the significance of the Polish port city of Danzig in the late 1930s.

Adolf Hitler's last peacetime speech presents Nazi Germans as victims: Adolf Hitler makes his last peacetime public speech -- a two-hour rant to the Reichstag -- on April 28, 1939. Claiming to be a pacifist, Adolf Hitler spoke scornfully of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, presented Nazi Germany as the victim of injustice, rejected the 1934 German-Polish nonaggression pact, and denounced the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Treaty (which supposedly restricted the size of the German navy). Broadcast to the world, the speech generated no surprise in Poland and elsewhere.

Soviets rout invading Japanese at Khalkin Gol: After a series of probes along the Mongolian border met with mixed results in 1937 and 1938, Japanese troops invaded Outer Mongolia and set up a defensive position in the Khalkin Gol mountains. Concerned for the security of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin sent his best commander, Lieutenant General Georgi Zhukov, to stabilize the region. Lieutenant Georgi Zhukov launched a swift and unexpected attack, using ground and air forces, on August 20, 1939, against the enemy position at Khalkin Gol. When the battle ended 11 days later, the Soviets had achieved a strategic victory. The Japanese 23rd Division was wiped out, with 18,000 dead.

The strategic significance of Polands's port city of Danzig: The Free City of Danzig was created by the Versailles settlement of 1919. Despite being a major port on Poland's littoral, it was placed under the direct supervision of the League of Nations. However, Danzig's population of 400,000 was overwhelmingly German; less than six percent was Polish. The Germans refused a Polish plan to partition the territory of the Free City that would give Nazi Germany the city itself. The Germans wanted war.

Germans, Soviets split Poland after signing a nonaggression pact: One of the great politico-strategic surprises of the war was the signing of the non­aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on August 23, 1939. These two states' respective political ideol­ogies, fascism and communism, had been considered entirely irreconcilable. The treaty was signed by Reich minister for foreign affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop (top left) and Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov (bottom left) in the presence of Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin. This unlikely but undeniably pragmatic agreement provided for the German-Soviet partition of Poland.

Nazi Germany continued its aggressive campaign against Poland when it occupied Slovakia in late August 1939. Continue on to the next page for a detailed timeline on the important World War II events that occurred from August 24, 1939, to August 31, 1939.

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World War II Timeline: August 24, 1939-August 31, 1939

Europe was on the verge of World War II throughout the summer of 1939. Alliances were created, orders were given, and battle lines were drawn. The World War II timeline below explains the important events that took place during the last week of August 1939.

World War II Timeline: August 24-August 31

August 24: In a last-ditch effort to avoid war, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sends a personal appeal to Adolf Hitler, asking him to address the Polish issue through diplomatic channels.


August 25: Poland and Britain sign a treaty in which they promise mutual assistance.

August 27: In a major conscription push, Britain calls for the enlistment of all men ages 20 and 21.

The German Heinkel He 178, the world's first jet aircraft, makes its maiden voyage, reaching a top speed of 403 mph.

August 29: Adolf Hitler agrees to sit down at the bargaining table with Polish leaders, but the next day Warsaw will send word that it will not be sending a delegation to Berlin.

The noose tightens further still around Poland with the Nazi occupation of Slovakia.

August 31: Nazi Germany insists that the time for negotiation with Warsaw has now passed, claiming that it has been "put off by the Polish side with feeble subterfuges and empty declarations."

With war imminent, Britain begins to evacuate large numbers of people from cities and towns and disperse them in the countryside. Britain mobilizes the Royal Navy and calls up naval reservists.

With the code words "Canned Goods" as the trigger, German operatives seize a radio station in Gleiwitz, Germany, and broadcast a message telling all Poles to attack Germans. The operation goes off smoothly, leaving the impression that insurgents were attacking Germans, and giving Adolf Hitler one more contrived pretext for war.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show Europe's division of power before the war, as well as the details of Japan's conflict with the Soviet Union in the late 1930s.

A map of Europe before World War II: Throughout the summer of 1939, Europe teetered on the brink of war, while from 1933 Adolf Hitler and the Nazis -- and therefore a resurgent and militarily reinvigorated Nazi Germany -- became increasingly more powerful. In 1935 Nazi Germany regained control of the Saar Basin; in 1936 it remilitarized the Rhineland; in 1938 the Anschluss subsumed Austria into Greater Germany. Nazi Germany also annexed the Sudetenland in 1938 and Memel in 1939. Meanwhile, Nazi Germany's 1939 "Pact of Steel" with Italy and its nonaggression pact with Soviet Russia ensured the security of its southern and eastern borders in the event of war. Elsewhere, Franco's German-supported nationalists were finally triumphant in Spain's three-year civil war.

Japan pushes its luck with the Soviets and suffers severe setbacks: Following Japan's victory over Russia in 1905, the latter had to make a number of concessions. The Russians withdrew troops from Manchuria and recognized that Korea was in the Japanese sphere of influence. As Japan pursued its policy of expansion into Asia in the 1930s, its leaders underestimated the military strength of the USSR. This belief was reinforced when the Soviets offered little resistance to Japanese probes along its borders. Japan would soon suffer severe setbacks, however, at the hands of a revitalized Soviet Union army. Here, Soviet Union troops and armor go on the attack in the summer of 1939.

Poland's large army not prepared for a modern war of maneuver: Although Poland had the fifth-largest armed forces in Europe, including an army of a million men with almost 500 tanks, it was unprepared for a modern war of maneuver. In fact, it still included many horse-mounted fighting units. Despite the inevitability of war, Poland mobilized late to avoid being blamed for an outbreak of war. Only 17 of 30 mobilized divisions were fully deployed by August 31. Finally, despite having well-prepared defensive positions, these were dispersed too widely to present a cohesive and viable defense against a mobile fighting force -- especially the powerful Wehrmacht.

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John S. D. Eisenhower, Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Richard Overy Ph.D., David J. A. Stone, Wim Coleman, Martin F. Graham, James H. Hallas, Mark Johnston Ph.D., Christy Nadalin M.A., Pat Perrin, Peter Stanley Ph.D.