Hitler was appointed chancellor in January 1933, after dissolving the Weimar Republic, and he quickly established himself as a dictator. Hitler was still full of hatred from the First World War, and wanted revenge for how Germany had been treated over the last two decades. To do this and as Fi??hrer, he created three main foreign policy aims. As an introduction to his territorial ambitions, Hitler wanted to reverse the treaty of Versailles and the restraints on rearmament.
He also wanted to bring all Germans together in a ‘greater Germany’ (Gross Deutschland), which represented continuity with the pan-German tradition and policies of the nineteenth century. His other obsession in foreign policy was the conquest of ‘living space’ (Lebensraum) in the east largely at the expense of Russia. Expansion in the east was one of Hitler’s three main foreign policy objectives. Hitler believed that Germany needed to expand in the east in order to increase the Lebensraum of the Nazi Herrenvolk [the living space of the Nazi master race].
This could be used as both agricultural and industrial land. Hitler saw the aim of lebensraum, coined as the soil policy, as the solution to the ‘unhealthy relationship between rural and city population1. ‘ He went on to argue that ‘the aim of our political activity must be… the acquisition of land and soil as the objectives of our foreign policy2’. (Mein Kampf) However, there is evidence to prove that lebensraum was not Hitler’s single aim in foreign policy. ‘To judge from mein kampf, he was obsessed by anti-Semitism, which occupies most of the book.
Lebensraum gets only seven of the seven hundred pages3’. Hitler viewed Bolshevik Russia as an ideological enemy, a monstrous regime based on communist doctrines of class division and led by the hated Jews – ‘when we speak of new land in Europe today we must principally bear in mind Russia and the border states subject to her4. ‘ The nazi regime sought to establish in Eastern Europe and Russia, an empire based on race, in which those of Aryan descent would rule over the lesser Slav subject races.
To support the view that expansion in the east was not Hitler’s sole foreign policy aim, the Structuralist view of history can be considered, as these historians believe that a whole range of different factors determined German foreign policy collectively. Firstly, Hitler hated the Treaty of Versailles, and thought it was unfair as it was damaging to Germany both socially, economically, territorially and militarily; land being removed, Germans being separated and reparations being demanded.
The dissolving of the Treaty of Versailles would lead to a united Arian race and opportunity for future Aryan development and prosperity, a natural progression in his social Darwinist theory. The announcement of German rearmament in March 1935 was the Third Reich’s first obvious violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler wanted Germany to be a power in Europe again, and to do this he needed to re-arm. In this announcement, the Fi??hrer proclaimed general conscription, stated his intention to expand the army from its legal size of 100,000 to 550,000 troops, and declared the creation of a German air force.
The rejection of the military restrictions of the Versailles treaty marked the next stage of Hitler’s ‘struggle against Versailles’ and he aimed at retrieving all German territories annexed by the Allies in the post war period. In January 1935, the Saar region was rejoined with Germany. In June Hitler’s diplomatic collaboration with Britain through the Anglo-German naval agreement, gave Germany the right to build a fleet of 35% of the Royal Navy. This proved highly beneficial to Hitler.
Such a step by Britain was a direct denial of Versailles, by one of its own participants, significantly undermining both the League of Nations and the Stresa Front. The remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936, furthered the disregard for the Treaty of Versailles, as the Treaty forbade German armed forces or fortifications on the left bank of the Rhine or within a fifty kilometer deep zone on the right bank. The Rhineland was a valuable asset to Hitler having great geographical importance, as it allowed greater German assertion in the East, having economic value and holding 15 million Germans.
A Wood sees Gross Deutschland as Hitler’s fundamental aim; Hitler aimed at the “Germanization of Eastern Territories” (Eindeutschung der Ostgebiete) and the creation of an empire (Reich) to include all Germans nationals, including those of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Sudetenland and the German communities along the Baltic coast. In Mein Kampf he says, ‘people of the same blood should be in the same Reich. ‘ There were lots of German people living in Austria and as Hitler was a fierce nationalist, he saw it as a matter of pride to unite all Germans under one country, one flag, and one leader.
However. The Treaty of Versailles forbade the Anschluss of the two countries. On March 13 1938, Austria was declared a province of the German Reich. The Sudetenland had been taken into the new state of Czechoslovakia under the Versailles treaty but Hitler wanted to unite the Sudeten Germans and claimed the Czech government mistreated them. Germany won control of Czechoslovakia in 1929 and Czechoslovakia was made to surrender Sudetenland to Germany in March 1939.
Around the same time, Lithuania was forced to surrender the town of Memel to Germany, which had been taken away by the treaty of Versailles. Hitler ‘seized the opportunities, which were presented to him by appeasement and achieved his pan-German goals of absorbing Austria, then Czechoslovakia5. ‘ In April 1939, Hitler raised claims to the Polish city of Danzig, which was annexed from Germany in the treaty of Versailles. On 1st September 1939, Germany invaded Poland despite the non-aggression pact.
There is a clear link between Hitler’s foreign policy aims. The crushing of the Versailles treaty led to expansion of German territory both in the east and elsewhere. The acquisition of these territories meant that the German population could now be incorporated into the Third Reich, fulfilling his aim of Gross deutcheland. Globalist historians such as Moltmann, Hillgruber, Hildebrand, Dulfffer and others argue that Lebensraum was not Hitler’s single aim in foreign policy but was the first step to world domination.
There are several recorded statements by Hitler and leading representatives of the Nazi regime, which show only too clearly that Western Europe was also destined to be radically transformed. Among the things Hitler said was: “Luxembourg is to be incorporated into the German Reich, Norway annexed. Alsace and Lorraine will once more become parts of Germany. An independent state will be set up in Brittany. Under consideration is the question of Belgium, particularly the problem of treating the Flemish in a special way and of forming a state of Burgundy6.
Thus the whole of Europe was to be the victim of the Nazi imperialist plans; there can be little doubt that the whole world was included in their further schemes. It also be said that according to nazi ideology, the German people presented the highest virtues of mankind in the world and formed a race of supermen (i??bermensch). In the context of this theory it was not difficult to build up a myth about the historical mission of the German nation and its sacred task to impose its authority on the whole of Europe and eventually on the whole world.
He dreamed of a Greater Germany, a superpower capable of competing with the British Empire and the United States. Such an objective could be achieved only by territorial expansion on a grand scale. As ‘Hitler can be seen both as an fixated ideologue, and a man with a particular talent for exploiting the needs of opportunities, which were presented to him in foreign affairs7’, he did have more than one aim. Although lebensraum was a major component in Hitler’s foreign policy, it was not his single foreign policy aim.
Hitler had 3 main foreign policy objectives. The first priority was the reversal of the Versailles Treaty; this meant building up Germany’s military might through conscription and four year plans, developing an air force, remilitarizing the Rhineland. It also meant winning Germany’s right to rearm and recovery of lost land in 1919 – the Saar, Alsace-Lorraine, German colonies and areas lost to Poland. He wanted to embrace into a Gross Deutschland, a greater Reich, all people of German origin currently living beyond Germany’s frontiers.
He had in mind Austrians, Germans living in Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, Poland and the minorities living in Hungary & the Baltic states. The third and final aim was lebensraum. The first two were the steps to this real goal which was to make Germans the dominant race in Europe at the expense of the racially “inferior” peoples in the east. Germany had to expand for survival as she was surrounded by inferior races that might combine to destroy her.