It would be simple to say, as some historians claim, that World Wear II in Europe was caused by World War I. There is truth to that, because the rise of Hitler and National Socialism in Germany was a direct result of the humiliation of the German people by the Versailles treaty of 1919. Germany suffered greatly from the loss of a generation of young men on the Western and Eastern fronts. There were few if any jobs. Inflation roared to the point where it took a barrel of bills just to pay bus fare. Politicians who formed the Weimar Republic were either too ignorant or not really interested in promoting German economic recovery. No further proof of this can be found than in the elevation of the only military hero of World War I, Paul von Hindenburg, to become the final president of the Weimar Republic.
The Germans had to fix the blame on someone. They could not really stir up the general population against Britain or France in the early Thirties. So, clever and ambitious men focused on two groups that could inspire hatred: Jews and Communists. Adolf Hitler was only one of a few angry men. These men found ready and willing “troops”- young, usually uneducated out of work men who wanted to blame someone for their misfortunes. They scraped up some uniforms- first Brown Shirts, then Black Shirts, and began to march at night, gathering new recruits as they went. Hitler was clever enough to build himself a cadre, and even more clever to arouse the Germans to vote him into power as chancellor.
Fascism, or National Socialism, was not a difficult maneuver for Germans. Despite the few years of the Weimar Republic, the German people had really very little opportunity to comprehend democracy. They had been willing subjects of , first kings of their various states, then, after 1870, the Kaisers. In other words, the German people were basically willing to be subservient to a governmental power over which they had absolutely no say. But, the German Right was more than just a political idea. Hitler and his cadre chose scapegoats for the German economic dilemma: not the French or the British who defeated them in the First World War. No, it was the Communists and the Jews. The Jews, especially, were seen as international conspirators to keep the ordinary German in economic chains,. The Jews were bankers. The Jews owned large stores. The Jews did not suffer the economic miseries of the “ordinary” German. In short, the Jews were the ones responsible for the suffering of the German volk. They must be dealt with so that Germans can again hold their heads up and be proud of their national (and Aryan) heritage.
It seems, somehow, that the Western nations (*France, England and a still-emerging xenophobic America) were little disturbed by the purges of the Stalin era and the communization of the USSR. In fact, if anything, the economic five-year plans which turned Russia’s industry and agriculture around (at a cost of human dignity and lives and displacement) were seen as the wave of the future by young idealists. This included Americans, many of them in the creative arts. (We saw the result of this Communist leaning in the House Un-American Committee hearings of the 1950s, which ostracized writes, actors, musicians, directors and other artists). There were some, of course, who felt that Stalinism was just as dictatorial as was the Nazi movement. But, at the time- the 1930s, no one felt that Russia posed a military or even economic threat to the rest of the world.
The Nazi propaganda machine saw the Communist menace myth as a way to get international support. It worked. There were many Americans who were entranced with the “positive” aims of Hitler not only to send money, but to support him even in America, with the “America First” committee, as well as an American Nazi Party, led by Fritz Kuhn. Even the hero, Charles Lindbergh, seemed pro-Hitler and an America Firster. In fact, Lindbergh and the famous flyer, Eddie Rickenbacker were advocating keeping America out of the war. Anti-Semitism also found many supporters around d the world, including Henry Ford.
Without openly advocating anti-Semitism, it is a fact that a very WASP-ish Wall Street showed support for the Nazis. In the book “Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler” there are many examples of how supposedly Wall Streeters financed Hitler, including General Electric, I^T & T and I B M, among others. “As we probe into behind-the-scenes German interwar history and the story of Hitler and Nazism, we find both Owen D. Young and Gerard Swope of General Electric tied to the riser of Hitlerism and the suppression of German democracy.” (Suttonm, chapt 3).
Why would so many see Fascism as the wave of the future as late as 1939? The answer is really simple., The Nazis were successful. They took Austria, the Rhineland, the Saar, the Sudetenland. They built the autobahn and the Volkswagen. They put Germans back to work. And, perhaps most important of all, especially in the eyes of would-be believers outside Germany, the Nazis instituted a health benefits and a pension program. “All Germans were to be registered with a doctor…. The aim was to ensure that there were enough doctors in rural areas…” (Kitchen 111). And, they were getting the support of young people: was getting the minds and loyalty of Germany’s young. “At the outset of the war there were more than eight million boys and girls in the Hitler Youth…The Hitler Youth had some practical tasks to do, such as painting the curbs white as a safety measure during the blackout and collecting metal and glass for recycling” (Kitchen 130). And, frankly, the imprisonment of Jews didn’t faze very many Europeans who generally had an anti-Semitic leaning, especially in France and among the British aristocracy. Is it any wonder that even the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and Lady Astor and several other noted British aristocrats visited Hitler? . Moreover, power corrupts the otherwise balanced views of many. The power of Stalin, the Communist dictator, and Hitler, the Fascist dictator, contributed to a very diverse but passionate view of the future. World War II destroyed many of those illusions.
Kitchen, M. Nazi Germany At War London: Longman Publishing
Sutton, Antony C.: “Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler”Studies in Reformed Theology