Predicting Hitler's Eastern-Front Strategy in 1937

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Two years before the Nazi invasion of Poland, an Atlantic author made country-by-country predictions about Germany's eastward expansion.

hitler planning.JPGAP

In 1937, Hitler's military intentions were becoming increasingly clear. He had already ascended to the top of the German government and instilled in the populace a fiery national socialism. But that movement was beginning to be stifled by Germany's established borders. The next move was conquest. In his 1937 piece "Hitler Looks Eastward," Atlantic author Henry C. Wolfe described the restlessness on the ground: "'To DAY Germany belongs to us; tomorrow the whole world!' Nazi Storm Troopers parading along Danzig's ancient cobbled streets sing out National Socialism's challenge to the nations across the 'bleeding frontiers' of the Third Reich." 

To Wolfe, the question at this point was not if the Nazis would strike, but when -- and where. He noted that all throughout Germany, media reports and political speeches were proclaiming a vital need for more land. One Nazi official in Könisberg explained it to him this way: "'Colonies to absorb our surplus population and provide us with the raw materials we lack will solve our economic and social problems.'"

Which countries would fall submissively in line with Hitler, and which would oppose? Here were some of Wolfe's guesses and how they panned out:

Austria: Most certain to dissolve into Germany. (Austria was annexed into Germany a year later.)

The National Socialists are fond of talking about 'peaceful penetration' in Austria. ... National Socialist speeches dealing with Austria drip with sentiments of brotherhood and dwell on the bonds of 'blood community,' 'Pan German solidarity,' and 'one people, one Reich, and one Führer.' 

Romania: The Nazis had gained influence in the country, but some Rumanian political groups would resist. (Romania would join the Axis powers in 1940.)

Rumania is another of the key objectives of German foreign policy. For some months this colorful little kingdom has been a battleground on which Nazis have waged violent warfare against their enemies who support Rumanian ties with France and the Little Entente and cooperation with the Soviet. As in other countries where there is a German minority, Hitler is using the Teutons in Rumania as shock troops to prepare the way for Nazi domination.

Bulgaria: Germany had an eye on the country, but "supine acceptance of defeat is not ... a Bulgarian characteristic." (The country was initially neutral, then joined the Axis in 1941. After a coup in 1944, Bulgaria joined the Allies.)

When the various national delegations paraded into the gigantic Olympic stadium at Berlin last summer, Nazi eyes glowed with delight and National Socialist hearts beat faster at the sight of the Bulgarians. These sturdy Balkan athletes came goose stepping on the field as a prelude to a full fledged straight armed salute to the Nazi All Highest.

Hungary: The country would join Germany if it could find a way to benefit. (Hungary signed an alliance with Germany in 1940.) 

Hungary is watching this Nazi campaign closely, hoping that Rumania will oppose the Germans. In that event, the Magyars[Hungarians] believe, it would be only a question of time till Germany's new army, sweeping through Czechoslovakia, would help the Hungarians reclaim their 'lost provinces.' What Hungary fears is that the Nazis will be able to win complete control of Rumania, thereby lessening for Germany the value of her Hungarian support. Such a development would make territorial revision at the expense of Rumania more difficult for the Magyars to achieve.

Turkey: The Eurasian gateway nation could not afford being isolated. If all the other countries fell, it might not have a choice. (Turkey remained neutral for most of the war, joining the Allies in 1945.)

Should either Germany or Italy gain a substantial foothold in the Balkans, Turkey would have to examine her political fences to determine whether they are strong enough to withstand attack from the invader. For Kemal [the Turkish president] cannot afford the luxury of an isolation that would give his enemies a favored position in a diplomatic and military combination that would force the descendants of Mohammed II back into Asia Minor. If Hitler's Drang nach Osten [thrust toward the east] shows increasing momentum, Turkey will surely be compelled to weigh the danger of being caught on the losing side.

Read "Hitler Looks Eastward" here.

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Brian Resnick is a staff correspondent at National Journal and a former producer of The Atlantic's National channel.

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