Excerpt from "Hitler's Order of the Day to the
German Troops on the Eastern Front"
Issued October 2, 1941 Excerpt taken from Associated Press release reprinted in the New York Times, October 10, 1941, p. 2
After Adolf Hitler was named chancellor (chief officer) of Germany in 1933, the German government stepped up efforts to expand its territory in Europe. In March 1938 the German army moved into Austria and united it with Germany. Soon, Hitler began demanding the return of land that Germany had lost after World War I (1914-18). His first target was a German-speaking section of Czechoslovakia, called the Sudetenland. Czechoslovakia didn't have a strong enough military to stand alone against Germany and prevent it from taking the territory. Czechoslovakia's allies, Britain and France, did not want to go to war over the territory, so they agreed to let Germany take over the Sudetenland. Hitler claimed that this would be his last territorial demand in Europe. In reality, he already had plans for conquering all of Europe.
By March 1939 Hitler's army had taken over all of Czechoslovakia. Soon after, Hitler made demands on Poland, specifically the port city of Danzig. Before World War I, Danzig was a German city. After World War I it became a "free city," which meant it didn't belong to Germany or to Poland, even though it now fell within Poland's borders. Poland had a rightto use the port for its exports and imports. But the people of the city were almost all German. Hitler wanted Danzig returned to Germany and he also wanted to build a road through Polish territory that would connect Danzig and Germany. European leaders were no longer willing to give in to Hitler's demands. Poland refused to give up its right to use Danzig and England and France swore to defend Poland if Germany attacked it.
In August 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, an agreement that the two countries would not fight each other. On September 1, 1939, only a week after the pact went into effect, Hitler launched a German attack on Poland. (Under the terms of the nonaggression pact, the Soviet Union would not interfere with Germany's actions in Poland.) Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. It was too late to save Poland—by September 24 Germany had conquered it. The stunning victory was called blitzkrieg (pronounced "BLITS-kreeg," meaning "lightning war" in German).
By mid-1941 Germany controlled virtually all of Europe west of the Soviet Union. In May and June it had conquered Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. Germany's quest for territory seemed unquenchable. Tensions were mounting between Hitler and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The führer (pronounced "FYOOR-uhr"; German term for "leader," the title Hitler gave himself) was infuriated by Stalin's moves to expand Soviet territory farther into central Europe. On June 22, 1941, more than three million German troops invaded the Soviet Union, thus launching the famous assault that Hitler named Operation Barbarossa. In a July 3 radio address Stalin warned his nation of the seriousness of Germany's aggressions. "A grave danger hangs over our country," he stated. "The enemy must be crushed. We must win." Italy sided with Germany, declaring war on the Soviet Union and setting the stage for a long conflict with the Soviets, the British, and the Americans.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from Hitler's Order of the Day:
- In his July 3, 1941, radio broadcast Stalin predicted: "Our war for the freedom of our country will merge with the struggle of the peoples of Europe and America … It will be a united front of peoples standing for freedom and against enslavement and threats of enslavement by Hitler's … armies."
- On July 12, 1941, the...
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