World War II (1939–45) officially began when Nazi (an abbreviation for the National Socialist German Workers's Party) Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Germany had already set the stage for the war, however, by occupying the Rhineland in 1936, annexing Austria in 1938, and invading Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Poland was soon crushed by a German war machine under the command of Chancellor (minister of the state) and Führer (leader) Adolf Hitler (1889–1945). While being attacked by the Nazis from the west, Poland was also threatened by the Soviets from the north and east. The events in the eastern European country would culminate in a worldwide conflict.
After occupying Poland, the Germans moved into Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and France, taking control as they went. By June 1940 only Great Britain was standing against Germany, which had been joined by its Axis neighbor Italy. Soon, fighting had spread into Greece and northern Africa. Germany continued its bold aggression when it invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, expanding the scope of the war. The world's focus on war-torn Europe allowed Japan, another Axis country, to execute a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941. The United States was thus drawn into the war, which finally ended with the surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945. Italy had surrendered to the Allies in 1943.
Further Information: "Adolf Hitler." MSN Encarta. [Online] Available http://encarta.msn.com/index/conciseindex/13/013CA000.htm, October 25, 2000; Calvocoressi, Peter. Total War; the Story of World War II. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972; "The Origins of World War II, 1929–39." Encyclopedia Britannica. [Online] Available http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/5/0,5716,108375+1+105970,00.html, October 25, 2000.