World War II was the most destructive five year span in world history, taking its toll in human lives and security: in “shelter, sleep, warmth, gentleness, mercy, political refuge, rational discussion, legal process, civil tradition, and public truth. Millions of people were gassed, shot, starved, and worked to death by a paranoid fanatic. The war’s victims felt as if they’d come to the end of civilization” (Baker, 8). The trigger for the declaration of war was caused by the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Yet, this event did not arise from nothing; there were many signs of growing unrest within Germany and in the country’s dealings with other nations. The aftermath of World War I, Hitler as a driving leader and the lack of enforcement of the Treaty of Versailles are all contributing causes to the invasion of Poland.
The aftermath of World War I is believed to be a direct cause of the Second World War. At the end of World War I, nations worldwide gathered to form a peace to settle the violent waters of war. The big three, France, Britain and the United States, were paramount in drawing up the Treaty of Versailles, the document that would cause so much havoc. Each of the three nations had positive and negative reactions to the treaty, with France believing that it was not harsh enough on Germany and the United Kingdom feeling that it was too hard. Germany stood defeated and was pushed to sign a punishing treaty to ensure peace and end the British blockade. The treaty demanded fierce monetary compensation for the cost of the war as well as other limitations on the country’s activity. The German military was limited to 100,000 and the navy was disbanded. The country forfeited lost Alsace-Lorraine, all her colonies and other land in Europe. The treaty also created unmilitarized zones which did not permit military occupancy. The worldwide depression that followed World War I hit Germany even harder as it struggled to make restitution. Citizens fondly remembered the pre-war years as prosperous and happy as they lived under autocratic rule. The post-war democracy was met with suffering and loss. Internal changes in the German government allowed the president and cabinet to bypass parliament (Baker, 36). These events led to a general unhappiness and growing unrest within Germany.
Emerging as a leader in Germany was Adolf Hitler. Young, brash and full of ideas on what the proper place for Germany should be, he was appointed chancellor in January 1933. He assisted President Paul von Hindenburg in canceling political and civil liberties within Germany in February after a widely publicized arson. After the Nazi party was the majority, it passed the Enabling Act, transferring the powers of the legislation to the Hitler’s right wing cabinet. The KPD and SPD, the only remaining political opposition Hitler faced, were banned as he focused his efforts on internal threats. This period was know as the Night of the Long Knives. When President Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler appointed himself the Führer, the new dictator that replaced the dual offices of chancellor and president, and the Third Reich was created. He demanded that Germany’s military oath include a statement of total allegiance to Hitler. These events lead historians to believe that Hitler was building toward a war and that it was, in fact, his goal.
As Hitler moved forward in achieving his goal, he began to ease his way into violating different articles of the Treaty of Versailles, growing increasingly bold. In March 1935, Germany began rearming her military, quickly building an imposing force. The only object from France and Britain was an official protest. The two countries were more concerned with the economic requirements than the military ones. Many people in the United Kingdom believed that Germany had been forced to pay too harsh a price for World War I. An agreement was signed that allowed Germany to begin building a navy just one-third the size of England’s. In March of 1936, Germany moved troops into Rhineland, part of the unmilitarized zone. Again, the treaty was not enforced, though Poland began to get uneasy, requesting to activate the Franco-Polish Military Alliance. After Italy united with Germany, Hitler invaded Austria without violence in 1938. Soon after he began thinking about the German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia. Though the Czech army was powerful and the country had an alliance with the USSR and France, Hitler was not concerned about the treaty or the threat moved into Czechoslovakia’s Sudentenland area and surrounded the rest of the country with occupied forces. After a lengthy political battle with Germany, Britain wanted to appease Hitler and did not object to Germany’s activity. Despite the Czech’s million-man army, the president gave in and the country was soon occupied by Hungary and Poland as well. It was not long before Germany held the entire Czech nation. Hitler was exacting to specified plan to achieve his objective of world domination.
There is no single direct cause of the Polish invasion, but the many events leading up to it make it clear that the escalating tension made war unavoidable. The aftermath of World War I clearly began the unrest that would lead the people of a country to follow someone with such radical ideas. Hitler’s very nature and his calculated rise to power are what drove Germany to invade Poland; without him as their leader, it is doubtful that such an action would have taken place. In addition, the policy of appeasement generated compliance in European powers that should have objected to Germany’s actions. These are the three main causes for the invasion of Poland and starting World War I.