Overturning the Treaty of Versailles: Part 2

Overturning the Treaty of Versailles: Part 2

Anschluss with Austria, 1938

Overturning the Treaty of VersaillesAustria had had a fascist government since 1934, though it was separate from the Austrian Nazi Party. Amongst certain parts of the Austrian population, there was support and admiration for Nazi Germany and its vision for the German race. To many (though not all) people in Austria, Germans and Austrians were of the same race. Taking advantage of this sentiment, not to mention the continued unwillingness of Britain and France to interfere in Germany’s actions, on 12 March 1938, German soldiers marched into Austria. Yet another aspect of the Treaty of Versailles was torn up.

So by the spring of 1938, many key parts of the Treaty of Versailles were broken. But had Hitler really done anything really crazy by this point?

* Many people thought that he had in fact not. After all, he had not taken anyone else’s territory by force, and had not gained even a square foot of extra lebensraum in the East.

* However, this view in some ways misses the point about Hitler’s foreign policy in this era. Each small step he had taken to break the Treaty had been successful, and moreover had not got him into any real trouble with Europe’s big powers.

In fact, the response of Britain and France to his foreign policy and the weakness of the League of Nations only suggested that he could easily take more aggressive steps to fulfil his dream of a Third Reich.

The return of the Saar region

Avoiding over work at universityHaving belonged to Germany before World War 1, Versailles gave the Saar region’s coalfields to France for fifteen years, with the region being run by the League of Nations. In 1935, a plebiscite (a vote by the local people) was held to decide if they would return to Germany. The Nazis made a great propaganda effort during the plebiscite, and 90% of the population voted in favour of returning to Germany. Another piece of the Treaty was overturned.

The Re-militarization of the Rhineland, 1936

Rhineland - History GCSE RevisionComing after the Abyssinia crisis, which demonstrated Britain and France’s unwillingness to act against aggressive European powers, Hitler’s decision to send German military forces back into the Rhineland – therefore breaking the Treaty of Versailles – marks a turning point towards Germany taking more assertive steps to overturn the Treaty. By this point in time the terms of Versailles were openly questioned even by Britain, which, in line with its appeasement policy, had started to suggest that Germany simply be given some of its old territories back in return for it not making any more claims on other territories.

Although France was angry about Hitler sending forces back in, it did not turn its anger into action. For its part, Britain didn’t see what all the fuss was about.