THE INTER-WAR PERIOD. 1934
The German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact was an international treaty between Nazi Germany and the Second Polish Republic and signed on the 26th January 1934. Relations between the two countries were formalised after being strained by border disputes arising from the Treaty of Versailles. The pact agreed, both countries pledged, to resolve any problems by negotiation and would forgo armed conflict for a period of ten years.
The Austrian Civil War was fought between the 12th and the 16th February 1934 in various cities in Austria. The war was in fact a series of skirmishes between socialist and conservative-fascist forces. The clashes started in Linz and took place principally in the cities of Vienna, Graz, Bruck an der Mur, Judenburg, Weiner Neust and Steyr. After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following the Great War, the State of Austria comprised mostly German speaking parts of the former empire. Two major factions dominated politics in the new nation. The socialists were represented by the Social Democratic Worker’s Party who found their strongholds in the working class districts of the cities, and the conservatives represented by the Christian Social Party built their support of the rural population and the upper classes. Armed skirmishes had periodically occurred between the two sides but the Great Depression had brought high unemployment and massive inflation to Austria. When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany many National Socialist sympathisers threatened the Austrian state from within. These sympathisers wished to have unification of Austria with Hitler’s Germany. When Christian Social Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss suspended the Austrian Parliament on the 4th March 1933, he used this opportunity to declare that parliament had ceased to function and assumed dictatorial powers. The Social Democratic Party lost its major platform for political action. The conservatives began to face pressure and violence from incoming Nazi Germany but also from the Austrian left wing party. However, by the 16th February 1934 Dollfuss and the Christian Social party had suppressed the Socialist movement which ended with an “Austrofascist” victory.
On the 20th April 1934 in Germany the Gestapo was passed to the administration of Schutzstaffel (SS) Commander Heinrich Himmler,. The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany and German occupied Europe. It was formed shortly after Hermann Göring was named as Ministry Without Portfolio in the new government of 1933 when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.
The Night of the Long Knives, also known as the “Röhm Affair”, was a purge that took place in Nazi Germany from the 30th June to the 2nd July 1934. The National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazis, carried out a series of political executions intended to consolidate Adolf Hitler’s absolute hold on power in Germany. Many of those who were killed were leaders of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazis’ own paramilitary organisation known as “Brownshirts”. The best known victim was of the purge was Ernst Röhm, the SA’s leader and one of Hitler’s long-time supporters. Also killed were establishment conservatives and anti-Nazis, such as former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and Bavarian politician Gustav Ritter von Kahr. It was von Kahr who had suppressed Hitler’s Munich Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. The murder of the SA leaders were also intended to improve Hitler’s government image with the German public that was increasingly critical of thuggish Brownshirt tactics.
On the 20th July 1934, as a reward for its role in the Röhm purge of the 3oth June-2nd July 1934, Hitler decreed the SS, under Reichsführer SS Heinreich Himmler, to be an independent formation of the Nazi Party. The SS would be directly subordinate only to Hitler himself as Führer (leader).
On the 25th July 1934, Austrian Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated by Austrian Nazis who entered the Austrian Chancellery building and shot him. The assassination was an attempted but failed coup d’état known as the July Putsch against the Austrofascist regime which took place between the 25th – 30th July 1934. Dollfuss had taken the role of dictator when his Christian Social Party defeated the Austrian Social Democratic Worker’s Party (Nazi Party) following the Austrian Civil War of February 1934. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had no hesitation in attributing the attack to the German dictator Adolf Hitler. Mussolini also mobilised a part of the Italian army on the Austrian border and threatened Hitler with war in the event of a German invasion of Austria to thwart the putsch. This was the greatest moment of friction between Italian Fascism and German National Socialism. The assassination of Dollfuss was accompanied by uprising in many regions of Austria, resulting in further deaths. In the Southern Austrian town of Carinthia, a large contingent of northern German Nazis tried to seize power but were subdued by the Italian units nearby. At first Hitler was jubilant, but the Italian reaction surprised him. Hitler became convinced that he could not face a conflict with the Western European powers, and officially denied liability, stating his regret for the murder of the Austrian Prime Minister. Kurt Schuschnigg, previously Minister of Education, was appointed new chancellor of Austria after a few days, assuming the office from Dollfuss’ deputy Ernst Rüdger Starhemberg.
When President Paul von Hindenburg died on the 2nd August 1934, Adolf Hitler combined the positions of chancellor and president into one office and took the title of ”Der Fuhrer” [The Leader] whereby he took control as a dictator. Hitler formed the Third Reich under his dictatorship, using the Gestapo to stifle all dissent. Hitler’s policy, however vague, included a planned economy, in which the unemployed were put to work on government projects. Labour was forbidden to organise into unions, but working hours were reduced to open up employment and jobs. The government oversaw all functions of the economy and education, free speech was strictly controlled. The school curriculum and textbooks written to reflect Nazi ideology and all cinemas, newspapers, radio and art were regulated by the vigilant Ministry of Propaganda headed by Joseph Goebbels. One of the Ministry’s main tasks was to generate German anti-Semitism in support of the Nazi persecution of German Jews. This persecution was a major step in Hitler’s plan to conquer all of Europe for the Aryan race, which resulted in the outbreak of the Second World War.
On the 8th August 1934, Defence Minister General Werner von Blomberg and General Walther von Reichenau drafted the Oath of Allegiance to Adolf Hitler. The oath pledged personal loyalty to Hitler instead of loyalty to the constitution of the country. The oath was sworn by the officers and soldiers of the German Armed Forces and by the civil servants of Nazi Germany between the years 1934 to 1945.
On the 18th September 1934, the Soviet Union accepted the offer to join the League of Nations as a permanent member of the Council. On France’s initiative 30 member countries proposed the USSR to join the league on 15th September 1934. A total of 63 countries were members of the League of Nations from 1920 to 1946. However, the United States of America was never a member despite President Woodrow Wilson’s enthusiastic proposals at the end of the Great War. The League of Nations was the international organisation founded in 1919-1920 to preserve order in the world, with the official languishes being English, French and Spanish.
In Russia, on the 1st December 1934 Sergei Kirov, head of the Leningrad communist party was murdered on the orders of Joseph Stalin. It would appear Stalin used the murder of his political rival as a pretext for eliminating many of his opponents in the Communist Party, the government and the armed forces. The Kirov assassination marked the beginning of Stalin’s massive purge of Soviet society, in which millions of people were imprisoned, exiled or killed.
The Abyssinia Crisis began on the 6th December 1934 when Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia) protested Italian aggression on the border of Ethiopia at Walwal. Italy’s “Il Duce” Benito Mussolini had been impressed with Japan’s invasion of China, and he was determined to show the strength of his regime. He invade Ethiopia who were ill-equipped to match Italy’s modern weapons and the capital, Addis Ababa, was quickly captured. Mussolini incorporated Ethiopia into the new Italian Empire. The League of Nations ruled against Italy and voted for economic sanctions, but they were not fully applied. Italy ignored the sanctions, left the League of Nations and made deals with Britain and France. The crisis discredited the League and moved Fascist Italy closer to an alliance with Nazi Germany.
On the 29th December 1934, the Japanese government gave formal notice that it intended to terminate both the Washington and The London Naval Treaties. The Washington Naval Treaty was signed in 1922 by the major nations, including Japan, limiting naval construction. The London Naval Treaty of 1930 modified the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty and sought additional limitations of warship building. Many Japanese considered the 5.3 to 3 ratio as a way of being snubbed by the West, which was the main reason for the termination of the treaties.