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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

History: World War One and World War Two: Buildup to World War Two

Guide for Library Research on World War One and World War Two

Russian Revolution

Russian Revolution

Lenin in Sverdlov Square 1917

In 1917 in order to aid chaos in Russia, the Germans helped Vladimir Lenin in returning to the country where he and his Bolshevik forces took over the government and began to fight a civil war. Lenin signed an agreement with Germany, taking Russia out of the war and giving Germany large amounts of territory in order to focus on destroying his internal enemies. The Russian Revolution led to the creation of the Soviet Union and the spectre of Communism lording over the civilized world for the rest of the century.

Invasion of Manchuria 1931

Invasion of Manchuria 1931

Japanese Troops in Manchuria 1931

On September 19 1931 Imperial Japanese troops began their invasion 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. 

Reoccupation of Rhineland

Reoccupation of Rhineland

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.

Japanese Invasion of China 1937

Japanese Invasion of China 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.

American Neutrality Acts

American Neutrality Acts

Neutrality Acts Political Cartoon

The Neutrality Acts were a series of laws passed in the 1930s that were meant to keep the United States out of foreign conflict and placed embargos of the sale of arms and munitions as well as the giving of loans to foreign powers. Only in 1939 when Britain and France were finally at war with Germany were the Neutrality Acts amended to allow for "Cash and Carry" in which arms sales were allowed as long as they were paid for on the spot and the purchaser transported the materials themselves. The Neutrality Acts would be ended in 1941 by the Lend-Lease Act.

Appeasement and the Betrayal of Czechoslovokia

Appeasement and the Betrayal of Czechoslovokia

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."

Arsenal of Democracy

Arsenal of Democracy

Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell

In 1940 before the entry of the United States into World War Two, FDR called the country "The Arsenal of Democracy", promising military supplies to Britain for their fight against Germany.

Weimar Germany

Weimar Germany

Marlene Dietrich in Blue Angel

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.

German Hyperinflation

German Hyperinflation

German Housewife Lights Stove with Millions of Deutschmarks 1921

During the period of 1921-1924, there was massive hyperinflation of currency which wiped out the middle class and bankrupted the country. The hyperinflation occured as a result of the German government printing massive amounts of currency to pay their World War One war debts.

1929 Stock Market Crash

1929 Stock Market Crash

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Headline 1929

On Tuesday October 29 1929, known as Black Tuesday, the Stock Market crashed. The crash marked the beginning of a period of economic misery known as the Great Depression.

Roosevelt Elected

Roosevelt Elected

Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1882-1945

In response to the incompetant response of President Hoover to the economic catastrophe sparked by the Stock Market Crash of 1929, a majority of the country chose to elect Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. FDR responded to the crisis with a policy known as "The New Deal". Though his policies did not end the Depression (it would only end with American entry into World War Two in 1941), he remained popular and ultimately served four terms as President, the only person to have done so in the history of the United States.

Hitler Elected

Hitler Elected

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 he 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.

Anschluss 1938

Anschluss 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

Surrender at Munich 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.

Soviet Nazi Pact of 1939

Soviet Nazi Pact of 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.

World War Two Begins

World War Two Begins

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.

Blitzkrieg

Blitzkrieg

German Soldiers in the East 1943

Blitzkrieg literally means "Lightening War" and is a type of warfare where heavy armour formations break though enemy defensive lines with short and powerful attacks and then encircle the enemy. This was the type of fighting the Germans used to defeat France and during the first phase of their invasion of the Soviet Union.

German Rearmament

German Rearmament

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.

Reichstag Fire

Reichstag Fire

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.

Persecution of German Jewry

Persecution of German Jewry

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

Kristallnacht

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

Maginot Line

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.

Spanish Civil War 1936

Spanish Civil War 1936

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.

Soviet Terror and Purge 1937-1938

Soviet Terror and Purge 1937-1938

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.

The Axis Powers

The Axis Powers

Japanese Embassy in Berlin Drapped with Nazi, Japanese, and Italian Flags

The Axis Powers were Germany, Italy, and Japan. Their alliance grew out of a series of treaties signed in the 1930s. Germany and Japan signed an anti-communist treaty in 1936 that Italy joined in 1937. In 1940 the three powers signed the Tripartite Pact that formalized the alliance, having the three parties agree of mutual goals and spheres of influence.