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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

American History: The Great Depression: Worldwide

Guide for Library Research on The Great Depression

Indian Civil Disobedience Movement

Gandhi on the Salt March 1930

Gandhi on the Salt March 1930

Until the end of 1929 the policy of the Indian National Congress was not to seek independence from Britain but to become a member of the British Dominion. On December 31 1929 the Congress changed their policy and declared that they would seek independence. Following this declaration in 1930 Mahatma Gandhi marched 30,000 followers to the coast of India to manufacture salt and thus break the British government monopol on it. This march was a part of the Civil Disobedience Movement in which Gandhi advocated that a non-violent approach be taken to seeking independence. India would be partitioned between Hindu and Muslims in 1947 when the states of India and Pakistan were created. (A third country - Bangeladesh - would be created from Pakistan in 1971.)

Invasion of Manchuria 1931

Invasion of Manchuria 1931

Japanese Troops in Manchuria 1931

On September 19 1931 Imperial Japanese troops began their conquest of China by invading the region of Manchuria. They turned the region into a puppet state called Manchukuo and would be involved in attempting to conquer and subdue the rest of China until the end of World War Two.

Night of the Long Knives 1934

Night of the Long Knives 1934

Ernest Rohm

The Night of the Long Knives was a Nazi purge that occured in at the end of June 1934. Hitler moved to eliminate political enemies and to suppress the SA (Strumabteilung), the paramilitary Brownshirts led by Ernest Rohm, whose independence he and the German military high command feared. 

Maginot Line

Map of the Maginot Line

Map of the Maginot Line

The Maginot Line was a series of fortifications built by France on the border with Germany to prevent a German invasion in case of war. It was completely ineffective as the Germans simply went around it by invading Belgium just as they had done in 1914. The Maginot Line became a symbol of massive failure for the French.

Italy Invades Ethiopia

Italian Tanks in Ethiopia 1935

Italian Tanks in Ethiopia 1935 (Italy had 795 tanks and Ethiopia had just three.)


In 1935 Italy under the rule of Benito Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. Over the course of the conflict which lasted from 1935-1936 the Italian army overran its poorly armed and badly trained Ethiopian opponents, eventually conquering the country and turning it into an Italian colony. Ethiopia had appealed to the League of Nations for help but the League was unable to do anything especially since the major powers of the time were uninterested in getting involved. The Italian invasion highlighted to the world the complete helplessness and uselessness of the League of Nations.

Spanish Civil War 1936

Falling Soldier by Robert Cappa

Falling Soldier by Robert Cappa

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) split the country into Republican and Nationalist factions; the Republicans were supported by the Communists and the Nationalist faction were supported by the Fascist powers. The war was seen as an international cause and many foreign supporters flocked to fight there on one side or the other. The Germans and the Soviets each backed a side and the conflict became known ultimately as a proxy war where tactics and weapons that would be used in World War Two were tested.

Japanese Invasion of China 1937

Japanese Soldiers Occupy Shanghai 1937

Japanese Soldiers Occupy Shanghai 1937

Imperial Japan wanted to dominate China and especially have control over its ports and raw materials. In 1931 they detached Manchuria and created a puppet state from it. In 1937 they outright invaded mainland China, fighting battles in Shanghai and capturing the capital of Nanking. However they were unable to completely take over the country and by 1939 were in a stalemate with the Chinese forces. The Japanese invasion was marked by massive and widespread atrocities on the part of the Japanese against the Chinese, in particular against Chinese civilians.

Soviet Terror and Purge 1937-1938

Stalin Issues a Death Warrent 1930s

Stalin Issues a Death Warrent 1930s

Following the death of Lenin in 1924, Joseph Stalin maneuvered himself into power and became absolute dictator of the Soviet Union, a position he would hold until his death in 1953. The Great Terror refers to a campaign of political terror Stalin ran during the 1930s and in particular to the most intense period of it in 1937-1938. During the purge many of the old time Bolshevik elite and much of the army leadership was tortured, put before show trials and put to death.

British White Paper of 1939

Jewish demonstration against White Paper in Jerusalem 1939

Jewish demonstration against White Paper in Jerusalem 1939

Following the end of World War One, the British had been given a legal Mandate over the territory that is today Israel with the goal of helping it to be developed into a Jewish homeland. Immediately afterwards they began to do everything in their power to slow down Jewish immigration and settlement in the territory. Right on the eve of the start of World War Two, fresh from their betrayal of Czechoslovakia, and with all nations of earth closing their doors to Jewish refugees, the British government of Neville Chamberlain issued the White Paper of 1939.

The paper was a British policy statement for the territory that severely limited Jewish immigration for a period of five years before it would close the territory to Jewish settlement entirely. It also severely restricted the right of Jews to purchase land in the Mandate territory. The ultimate result of the White Paper was to condemn millions of Jews who could have escaped from Europe to die in the Holocaust. The White Paper remained British policy until the day the British left the Mandate and Israel declared Independence in May 1948.

The Decline of Weimar Germany

1932 German Electoral Poster for the Nazi Party; the text reads "Our Last Hope: Hitler"

1932 German Electoral Poster for the Nazi Party; the text reads "Our Last Hope: Hitler"

The Weimar Republic is the name given to the German republic that was established following the collapse of Imperial Germany in 1918 and which existed until the rise of Hitler in 1933. Weimar was known for both being massively unstable both politically and economically as well as being very culturally decadent. The economic hardships of the Great Depression destroyed the ability of the country to function and ultimately set the stage for the Nazi party to be democratically elected and brought into power in 1932.

The Rise of Fascism

Austrian women welcome Hitler to his hometown after the Anschluss 1938

Austrian women welcome Hitler to his hometown after the Anschluss 1938

Fascism is a political ideology that was prominent in many European governments that existed between the the end of World War One and the end of World War Two. Every country that implemented Fascism had their own twist on the idea but there are several characteristics that are the same across all fascist governments. They are usually devotion to dictator, an emphasis on ultranationalism and militarism, and veneration on of the state. Mussolini defined fascism as "...everything in the state, nothing against the State, nothing outside the state."

The first fascist state in Europe was actually Italy which was taken over by Mussolini's Fascist party in 1922. Other states became fascist later on, particularly as the Great Depression destroyed the world economy and threw millions out of work. Germany became fascist when the Nazis took over in 1933. Some nations such as Poland and Lithuania adopted some fascist elements but did not become fully fascist during this period.

The League of Nations

The Conference of the League of Nations in Geneva Switzerland 1924

The Conference of the League of Nations in Geneva Switzerland 1924

 

The League of Nations was founded in January 1920 to prevent another World War from breaking out by giving a setting for settling dipolmatic disputes through negotiation. At its largest, the League had 58 member states. The League ultimately proved itself to be toothless and useless in preventing agression throughout the 1930s. It was unable to prevent the conquest of Ethiopia by Italy or end the civil war in Spain. By the eve of the Second World War, several members including Germany, Japan, and Italy had withdrawn from it. In 1946 it was replaced by the United Nations, an organization which has not been much of an improvement.

Hitler Elected

Hitler Elected Chancellor March 1933

Hitler Elected Chancellor March 1933

In the German elections of March 1933 the Nazis won enough votes to become the largest party in the German parliament. Together with the non-Socialist parties they passed an Enabling Act which gave the Chancellor (which is the position Hitler held) to enact laws without having to involve the German parliament. From that point the only obstacle to absolute power for Hitler and the Nazis was German President Paul Von Hindenburg who would die of old age in 1934.

Reoccupation of Rhineland

German Troops reoccupy the Rhineland 1936

German Troops reoccupy the Rhineland 1936

Follow World War One and as part of the Versailles Treaty, the western region of Germany known as Rhineland was demiliterized; German troops were banned from the region. On March 7 1936 Hitler sent the German army into Rhineland in violation of the Versailles Treaty and remiliterized the area. His actions were unopposed by other European powers especially Britain and France.

1936 Berlin Olympics

Jesse Owens after Winning the Long Jump at the 1936 Olympics

Jesse Owens after Winning the Long Jump at the 1936 Olympics

The 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Nazi Berlin. (The Olympics had been awarded to Germany in 1931, two years before the Nazis came to power.)  The Nazis went all out to try and showcase the Olympics as a symbol of Nazi power and Aryan racial superiority. There were calls to boycott that years Olympic games but most countries chose not to do so.

Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the sprint and long jump events during an Olympic games that had been designed to showcase German Aryan superiority.

German-Austrian Anschluss of 1938

Germans Enter Austria 1938

Germans Enter Austria 1938

On March 12 1938 Austria was annexed and became a part of Germany. Though the Versailles Treaty prohibited this action, the Western powers took no action to prevent it.

Surrender at Munich 1938

Neville Chamberlain Betrays Czechoslovakia at Munich Conference 1938

Neville Chamberlain Betrays Czechoslovakia at Munich Conference 1938

In 1938 Hitler demanded that he be allowed to annex the territory of Czechoslovakia known as Sudetenland which was populated mostly by German speakers. Britain, France, Italy, and Germany agreed at the Munich Conference that Germany would be given the territory. Czechoslovakia was not invited to the Conference and afterwards was informed that if they contested the agreement then Britain and France would not support them in any way.

Appeasement and the Betrayal of Czechoslovokia

Neville Chamberlain announcing "Peace in our Time" (War would break out one year later.)

Neville Chamberlain announcing "Peace in our Time" (War would break out one year later.)

During the 1930s the main policy of the western powers towards German demands was Appeasement. In other words they would give in to all of Hitler's demands rather than risk a fight and the possibility of a repeat of World War One. It was a dismall failure of a policy that only emboldened the Germans and ultimately caused the war Western politicians sought to avoid. Winston Churchill summed up the policy after Neville Chamberlain returned from betraying Czechoslovakia to Germany at the Munich Conference in 1938: "You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war."

World War Two Begins

New York Times Headline on the First Day of World War Two

New York Times Headline on the First Day of World War Two

September 1 1939 was the first day of World War Two. It marks the day that Germany officially invaded Poland. The Soviets invaded on September 17th after reaching an end of hostilities with the Japanese in the intermediate two weeks. The conquest of Poland ended on October 6 1939 with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing the country in two.

Pacifism

Anti-War Protest in NYC 1930s

Anti-War Protest in NYC 1930s


Following the end of World War One the citizens of many of the countries involved became very opposed to military conflict of any sort. In the 1920s and 1930s in particular in the Western democracies, Pacifism and opposition to war became a major political position. It actually culminated in the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact that outlawed war and was signed by Germany, France and the United States.

Pacifism would in particular hold a powerful grip in Great Britain during the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1933 the Oxford Union debate at Oxford University carried the motion "that this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country" by a vote of 275-153. The political policy of appeasement by the western powers towards Germany during the 1930s was an extension of the popular pacifist attitude, which in trying to avoid war at all costs ultimately helped to bring about one of the deadliest wars in modern history. Pacifism as a movement became politically insignificant once the powers in question entered the war.

Mussolini and Italy

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945)

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945)

In October 1922, a badly divided Italian government was faced by an attempt of the Italian Fascist party led by Benito Mussolini to take over the country. Mussolini had ordered his followers called Blackshirts to take control of public buildings in Naples where they were holding their annual party congress. The King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III feared bloodshed and appointed Mussolini Prime Minister of Italy. This whole event was called the "March on Rome" by the Fascists. Mussolini would rule Italy until 1943 when he would be rescued by German special forces following an order by the King to arrest him. In April 1945 Italian partisans would capture and execute him.

Reichstag Fire

Reichstag on Fire 1933

Reichstag on Fire 1933

On February 27 1933 the German Parliament or Reichstag was burned down. The Nazis used the fire as an excuse to have civil liberties suspended and to begin a crackdown on all political opposition in Germany.

German Rearmament

Artillery Production in the 1930s

Artillery Production in the 1930s

The Versailles Treaty that ended World War One put many limitations of the size of German army and types of armaments they could have. Almost immediately following the end of the war, the Germans began to covertly violate the terms and expand their military. When the Nazis cames to power they began to openly rather than secretly rearm.

King of England Quits

Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson

Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson

Edward VIII was the King of England for the year of 1936. He had become King following his father's death in January but caused a constitutional crisis by proposing marriage to twice divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. Mrs. Simpson was still in the middle of divorcing her second husband when Edward proposed and the marriage would have caused the resignation of the government which would have destroyed the status of the monarch as politically neutral. Edward chose to marry Mrs. Simpson and gave up the throne to his younger brother Albert who chose the royal name of George VI. the current Queen Elizabeth is the daughter of George VI.

After the abdication and after Mrs. Simpsons divorce was finalized, the two married in 1937. During the war, due to suspected Nazi sympathies, Edward was sent to the Bahamas to be governor of the island. After the war he spent the rest of his life in France.

Persecution of German Jewry

A sign on a store owned by German Jews: “Protect Yourselves, Don’t Buy from Jews!”

A sign on a store owned by German Jews: “Protect Yourselves, Don’t Buy from Jews!”
Yad Vashem Photo Archives 3116/50


The Nazis began persecution of German Jews as soon as they came to power. In April 1933 the Nazis began a boycott of Jewish professionals and businesses and banned Jews from being employed in the civil service. In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws were passed, outlawing relationships between Germans and Jews as well as stripping German citizenship from anyone with Jewish blood. In 1936 Jews were banned from professional jobs such as being doctors or professors. In 1938 all Jews, now considered subjects rather than citizens, were required to have the letter J stamped in their passports and to add the name Israel (for men) and Sarah (for women) to their names in order to be more easily identified as Jews.  On November 9 1938 this culminated in a nationwide pogrom called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass).

Kristallnacht

Synagogue in Baden-Baden Burning November 10 1938

Synagogue in Baden-Baden Burning November 10 1938

Kristallnacht, literally, "Night of Crystal," is often referred to as the "Night of Broken Glass." The name refers to the wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms which took place on November 9 and 10, 1938, throughout Germany and Austria.

USHMM Further Information on Krisallnacht

Yad Vashem Kristallnacht Educational Resources

Soviet Nazi Pact of 1939

Hitler-Stalin Pact Cartoon 1939

Hitler-Stalin Pact Cartoon 1939

The Hitler-Stalin Pact, officially named the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact after the Soviet and German foreign ministers who signed it, was a non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union signed August 23 1939. Officially the pact guaranteed that neither side would ally itself or aid an enemy of the other party. Unofficially the pact was an agreement to split the territory between the two countries between them, specifically dividing Poland and allowing the Soviets to conquer the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. The treaty was in force until Hitler decided to attack the Soviet Union on June 22 1941.