THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1938
On 25th January 1938, during the Nanking Massacre, John M. Allison, the consul at the American embassy in Nanjing, was struck in the face by a Japanese soldier. This incident is commonly known as the ‘Allison Incident’. The Americans demanded an apology and the Japanese Consul-General Katsuo Okazaki apologised formally on the 30th January 1938. This incident together with the looting of American property in Nanking that took place at the same time, further strained relations between Japan and the United States, which had already been damaged by the USS Panay incident less than two months earlier.
Following the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army marched rapidly into the heart of China and reached The Yellow River on the 13th March 1938. By the 6th June 1938, the Japanese had control of all North China. To stop further Japanese advances into western and southern China, Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Republic and Nationalist Government in Central China, was determined to open up the dykes on the Yellow River. The dykes were opened on 7th June 1938 but the flooding destroyed the southern bank and the water covered and destroyed thousands of square kilometres of farmland and shifted the mouth of the Yellow River hundreds of kilometres to the south. The loss of life was later estimated at 800,000 drowned.
On the morning of the 12th March 1938, the 8th Army of the German Wehrmacht crossed the border into Austria. The troops were greeted by cheering Austrians with Nazi salutes, Nazi flags and flowers. For the Wehrmacht, this was the first big test of Adolf Hitler’s demands over territorial rights. Although the invading forces were badly organised and coordination among the units was poor, the Austrian government ordered the Bundesheer [Austrian Armed Forces] not to resist. Riding in a car that afternoon, Hitler crossed the border along with a 4,000 man bodyguard. The enthusiasm displayed toward the Germans surprised both Nazis and non-Nazis, as most people believed that a majority of Austrians opposed Anschluss which refers the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany.
The Évian Conference was convened from the 6th to 16th July 1938, at Évian-les-Bains in France to discuss the Jewish refugee problem following the persecution of the Jews by the Germans. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the conference in an effort to obtain commitments from some of the invited nations to accept refugees. The conference was attended by representatives from 32 countries, presenting plans either orally or in writing. Adolf Hitler, Germany’s Chancellor, responded to the news of the conference by saying if other nations would agree to take the Jews, he would help them to leave. The conference was ultimately doomed, when delegates from 31 of the 32 participating nations failed to come to any agreement about accepting the Jewish refugees fleeing the Third Reich. The conference inadvertently proved to be a useful propaganda tool for the Nazis.
The Battle of Lake Khasan began on the 29th July 1938. It was a military incursion by Manchukuo (the Japanese puppet state in China) into the territory claimed by the Soviet Union. This incursion was founded on the in the belief of the Japanese, that the Soviet Union misinterpreted the demarcation boundary based on the Treaty of Peking agreed by Imperial Russia and the Qing Dynasty China. The Japanese also claimed the demarcation markers had been tampered with. Japanese forces occupied the disputed area and on the 31st July 1938 the Soviet army and navy responded. Despite repelling the Soviet thrusts, it became obvious the local Japanese units would not be able to hold the area without widening the conflict. On the 10th August 1938 the Japanese ambassador asked for peace. On the 11th August 1938, satisfied the incident had an “honourable” conclusion the Japanese stopped fighting and the Soviet forces reoccupied the heights overlooking the lake.
On the 27th September 1938 U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote to the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler regarding the threat of war in Europe. Hitler had been threatening to invade the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia over their natural and industrial resources. Roosevelt’s letter and subsequent follow-up letter failed to find a peaceful solution. Hitler’s response was that the Treaty of Versailles had treated Germany in a “shameful way” and given the Sudetenland to the state of Czechoslovakia. Therefore the invasion of “Sudetenland” was justified by returning the area to its cultural and historical roots. Hitler assured Roosevelt that he also desired to avoid another large-scale war in Europe.
The Munich Agreement was a settlement permitting Nazi Germany’s annexation of portions of Czechoslovakia along the countries border mainly inhabited by German speaking people. The new territory was given the designated name of “Sudetenland”. The agreement was signed in the early hours of the 30th September 1938 after being negotiated at a conference held in Munich. The agreement was signed by Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy but excluded Russia. The Sudetenland was of immense importance to Czechoslovakia, as most of its border defences and financial institutions were located there. Czechoslovakia had not been invited to the conference and therefore did not have the opportunity to protest. They realised Britain and France had betrayed them in the face of the demands made by Adolf Hitler. The agreement later proved to be a failed act of appeasement to Germany. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, attended the conference wishing for peace in Europe. On the 30th September 1938, upon his return to Britain, Chamberlain delivered his controversial “peace for our time” speech to crowds of spectators.
Herschell Grynszpan was a seventeen year old German born Polish Jew who was living in Paris when he assassinated Emst vom Rath. Grynszpan was one of thousands of Polish Jews who were expelled from Poland by the Nazis. On the morning of the 7th November 1938, he purchased a revolver and a box of bullets. He went to the German Embassy and asked to see an embassy official. After he was taken to the office of vom Rath, Grynszpan fired five bullets at him, two of which hit him in the abdomen. Vom Rath was a professional diplomat with the Foreign Office who expressed anti-Nazi sympathies, largely based on the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews, and was under Gestapo investigation for being politically unreliable. Grynszpan made no attempt to resist or escape, and he identified himself correctly to the French police. He confessed to shooting vom Rath saying his motives were to avenge the persecuted Jews. He was arrested but never appeared in court. He was transported to various prisons and his fate is unknown. Some sources say he was executed in 1940 while others state he was seen as late as 1960. Despite the best efforts of French and German doctors, vom Rath died on the 9th November 1938. The Nazis used Grynszpan’s action as ‘justification’ for further violent assaults on the German Jews. Within hours, the Nazis began a pogom against Jewish communities throughout Germany, known as Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”), which lasted all night and into the next day. More than 90 people were killed, over 30,000 Jews arrested and sent to concentration camps. Thousands of Jewish shops, homes, offices and synagogues were smashed up or burned. These events shocked and horrified world opinion and helped bring an end of support for appeasement of Hitler in Britain, France and the United States. They also caused a new wave of Jewish emigration from Germany.