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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Hitlers rise to power

The Great Depression of the early 1930's resulted in the economic and political collapse of the Weimar Republic, Germany's post-World War I experiment in democracy. Adolf Hitler demonstrated his political skill in taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the depression. He developed his Nazi Party into a mass movement and used a combination of his popular support and behind-the-scenes intrigue to propel himself into power. Once he gained office, Hitler moved with ruthless determination to crush his opponents and establish his totalitarian dictatorship. Furthermore, National Socialism showed how a modern "civilized" country could fall to fascism as well as Communism. It created virtual certainty of war in Europe owing to misjudgment of the situation by opponents. Third, it demonstrated that a modern dictatorship is hard to wipe out without war. Owing to his attack on the Soviet Union, Hitler's Germany pushed America and Britain into an alliance with Stalin. Finally, by Antisemitism culminating in Holocaust, National Socialism highlighted its own genocide policies while reinvigorating Zionism.

Hitler Launches the War, September 1939

Hitler ordered the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland in 1938. Hitler's army invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, sparking France and England to declare war on Germany. A Blitzkrieg (lightning war) of German tanks and infantry swept through most of Western Europe as nation after nation fell to the German war machine.

In 1941, Hitler ignored a non-aggression pact he had signed with the Soviet Union in August 1939. Several early victories after the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, were reversed with crushing defeats at Moscow (December 1941) and Stalingrad (winter, 1942-43). The United States entered the war in December 1941. By 1944, the Allies invaded occupied Europe at Normandy Beach on the French coast, German cities were being destroyed by bombing, and Italy, Germany's major ally under the leadership of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, had fallen.

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