World War I plunged Europe into crisis. Many buildings and homes had been destroyed. Jobs were scarce and both governments and individuals were without money. Many people were looking for a strong leader to solve their problems. This turned out to be a mistake as corrupt and violent men were allowed to gain power.
- Adolf Hitler was elected as chancellor of Germany in 1933. He blamed the Jewish people for the country’s hardships. He quickly took dictatorial power.
- Hitler believed that purebred, or Aryan, Germans were superior to other races, particularly Jews. In 1938, the government organized Kristallnacht, which means, “the night of broken glass.” On this night, mobs set synagogues on fire and smashed windows in the homes and businesses of Jewish people. Hundreds of people were killed; approximately 20,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps.
- The Na-zi government organized ghettoes, crowded places in the cities that were closed off. Jews were forced to live in the ghettoes where they were watched and intimidated by Na-zi soldiers. All Jews age six and older were required to wear a yellow star with the word, “Jude,’ on it, which means Jew in German.
- At the same time, Benito Mussolini marched his private army into Rome where he overthrew the government and became a fascist dictator. In Japan, General Hideki Tojo was rising to power.
- Leaders in these three countries wanted to dominate and conquer the world. Together, the countries of Germany, Italy, and Japan became known as the Axis Alliance.
- The United States had not joined the League of Nations after World War I and had a policy of neutrality. American leaders did not want to get involved in another European war. Although they expressed protest over the actions of leaders in the three countries, they did not make a stronger statement. President Roosevelt warned Congress and the American people that it would be impossible to remain neutral.
- Hitler invaded and took over Austria in March, 1938. That fall, Germany took over the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia, promising British and French leaders that that would be his last conquest. He broke his promise only six months later, taking over the rest of the country.
- In September, 1939, German tanks, soldiers, and fighter planes moved into Poland. France and Great Britain declared war on Germany two days later.
- Soon, Germany had invaded and conquered Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Na-zis seemed unstoppable.
- Dictator: a leader who governs the country with absolute power, often using violence and intimidation
- Synagogue: a Jewish place of worship
- Concentration camp: an organized camp where Jews and others were sent to work; the prisoners were harshly treated and many were killed.
Questions and Answers
Question:Could the allies have stopped the war if they had gotten involved more quickly?
Answer: Great Britain, France, and America were slow to use force to stop Hitler and his Na-zi forces. The destruction of World War I was fresh in their minds and they wanted peace. Still, many people believe that the war could have been prevented if Allied leaders had showed greater strength sooner.
Visit the Imperial War Museums to learn about the rescue at Dunkirk. German troops rolled through France in May of 1940, trapping French, British, and Belgium soldiers at Dunkirk. Hundreds of British people crossed the English Channel to rescue over 340,000 troops. The British bravely came in fishing boats, tugboats, and yachts while German submarines and fighter planes lurked nearby.