World War Two, a war that changed the entire world, began, ominously, with the German invasion of Poland. It was the most costly war, in terms of human lives lost. It is estimated that about 55 million people died in the European theater during World War II. Globally a total of over 60 million people died in WWII and of those 60 million, more were civilian than soldiers. The war lasted for more than five years, and more than seventy countries were involved in the war. The catalyst, however, was the September 1939 German invasion of Poland. There were other "related" skirmishes taking place around the world prior to Germany's invasion of Poland. For example, Japan invaded China in 1937; and in the spring of 1939, Japan clashed with Russia. But, most contemporary historians site Germany's invasion of Poland as the beginning of WWII.
German leader and Nazi head Adolph Hitler is credited with being the person responsible for creating the climate that created World War Two. Prior to World War II, Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party, took power in Germany and eliminated its democratic government, the Weimar Republic. Hitler's goal was to invade and conquer lands around Germany, and to make them German. He railed against Communists and ethnic minorities, such as Jews. After taking power, he prepared Germany for another war with large political rallies and speeches. Hitler gained power in a Germany facing crisis after World War I. "Using propaganda and charismatic oratory, he appealed to the economic needs of the lower and middle classes, while sounding resonant chords of nationalism, antisemitism, and anti-communism" (Ellis, 43). Adolph Hitler's aim in invading Poland was not just to regain the territories lost in 1918 (and the Treaty of Versailles). He also intended to impose German rule on Poland. In the early morning hours of September 1, 1939, the German armies marched into Poland. Incidently, soon after Germany's invasion, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east, "On September 3 the British and French surprised Hitler by declaring war on Germany, but they had no plans for rendering active assistance to the Poles" (Gilbert, 4). Poland, a desperately poor country at that time, was in no position to defend itself from the more powerful Germany. Only stories of unspeakable atrocities followed the invasion. One incident occurred on September 3rd, two days after the invasion. "German bombers attacked the undefended Polish two of Sulejow, where a peacetime population of 6,500 Poles and Polish Jews were swelled by a further 3,000 refugees. Within moments, the centre of the town was ablaze. As thousands hurried for safety towards the nearby words, German planes, flying low, opened fire with their machine guns. As we were running into the woods', one young boy, Ben Helgoff, recalled, people were falling, people were on fire. That night the sky was red from the burning town'" (Gilbert, 4).
The United Kingdom and France gave Germany two days to withdraw from Poland. Once the deadline passed on September 3, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand declared war on Germany, followed quickly by France, South Africa, Canada and Nepal. That same day, interestingly, a German submarine torpedoed the British liner Athenia. There were several reasons why Britain declared war on Germany. The more obvious one is because Britain promised Poland that it would defend her if invaded, especially by Germany. But, the more logical reason was that Britain feared a Europe that would be dominated by Germany. Britain felt that a Germany dominant in Europe, controlling Poland and probably the Balkans, would be 'too big to handle'. Thus, using their weak ties to Poland as an excuse, the British declared war on Germany in 1939, a war that Germany did not desire or seek. Other theories have to do with Britain 's Prime Minister Winston Churchill's person loathing of German Chancellor Adolph Hitler. "Other statemen more or less got along...
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