Hitler Looks Eastward

Two years before Hitler invaded Poland, an Atlantic author predicted the Reich’s expansion and how it would affect the various nations of Eastern Europe.


'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. The echoes of this marching song reverberate in Bohemia, in Memelland, in Upper Silesia, in Transylvania. They inspire irredentist ambitions among the German minorities which dot Central Europe. Their implications cause Czechs, Lithuanians, and Poles to take counter measures against the threat of the new Drang nach Osten which Adolf Hitler and his propaganda and military machines have set in motion.

The Führer's promises of new lands, vast natural resources, and employment for everybody are calculated to stir the imagination of the hard pressed German people. The bait of the Urals' minerals, the Ukraine's grain, and Siberia's forests makes the citizens of the Reich willing to live up to the war cry, 'Cannon instead of butter,' to endure the dearth of fats and pork, and the scarcity of eggs. It is not so painful to tighten the belt of hunger another notch this year, when Nazi propaganda assures you that in the future you will 'swim in plenty.' Has not the Führer himself used those very words? The German press, the radio, and countless speeches delivered in factories, schools, and other places where people assemble, point to territorial expansion as the Reich's way out of internal difficulties. 'Colonies to absorb our surplus population and provide us with the raw materials we lack will solve our economic and social problems,' a Nazi official in Königsberg told me last June. By the term 'colonies' National Socialists do not necessarily mean overseas possessions. In the opinion of many they have in mind the acquisition of Polish, Lithuanian, Czechoslovak, or Russian territory.

There is little doubt that Germans are looking to the East and South for opportunities that are denied them at home. They remember with regret the vast territory in eastern Europe held by their armies at the beginning of 1918, an empire that stretched from the Gulf of Riga to the Black Sea and contained the raw materials and resources of Poland, Galicia, the Ukraine, much of Rumania, all of Lithuania, and part of Latvia. Looking back through the nostalgic vista of almost two decades, German strategists believe that the German army won the war in the East, then lost it through the mistake of Ludendorff's costly offensives in the West. That is why Alfred Rosenberg and other Nazi leaders who are advocating the new push to the East preach that the Reich must take a defensive position on the Rhine, and an offensive position on the Niemen, the Danube, the Vistula.

The remilitarization of the Rhineland last March was part of the Reich's new policy of Eastern orientation. It was perhaps the most important single event since the Armistice, for it changed the European political and military situation overnight. By this coup de main, Hitler placed his 'symbolic' battalions in a position where they could protect his back from attack by France, so that he might devote the major portion of his offensive energies to expansion toward the East and South. Every month lessens the likelihood that the French will attempt to invade the Reich to aid any small nation in Central Europe attacked by Germany. Because of the parallel lines of the French and German fortifications along their common frontier, it is doubtful if either neighbor could penetrate the territory of the other by direct invasion. This situation works to the advantage of Hitler's Eastern ambitions. But it by no means forecasts perpetual peace along the vineyard-covered slopes of the Rhine.

And what of the little nations that lie in the path of these Eastern ambitions? The startling growth of the Nazi military machine, the destructive course French internal strife, the League of Nations' reverse over the Ethiopian affair, and the bloody course of events in Spain have all combined to frighten some of them. States like Rumania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Greece are afraid of being caught on the losing side. The realization that a lost war could mean the end of their national existence has spurred certain of the minor nations in the East to try to disentangle themselves from the French alignment, as Belgium appears to be doing in the West, and to make peace with the German colossus. Every mistake on the part of the Quni d'Orsay, every defeat suffered by Geneva, increases the desire among the lesser powers to come to term with Hitler.

The strength of the Reich's defensive position lies in the fact that it is screened on the East by Poland and the Baltic States. From this position the Nazis can exert pressure against their small neighbors, the little buffer states which are isolated from France and the Soviet, their possible protectors. The sensational challenge to Moscow delivered in September by Hitler against the theatrical background of the Nurnberg Congress was heard from the Gulf of Bothnia to the Aegean. His words aroused hopes or fears, as the case might be, among the peoples along the Danube from the Black Forest to the Black Sea; they penetrated the Near East. They were followed by anti-Semitic riots in Rumania, and by political reorientations in the Balkans.

When Herr Hitler was named Chancellor by President von Hindenburg, the Nazis already had a smoothly functioning propaganda organization. During the previous decade, when their struggle for power was concentrated on the Reich itself, they had been able to pay only limited attention to neighboring states. But, once in control of the German government, the National Socialists immediately started a powerful propaganda offensive to enlist the aid of the Teutonic minorities in building in the heart of the Continent a great empire that would include all European members of the German race. The triumphant swastika would wave over areas remote from the Fatherland. A victorious Fascist Internationale extending from Burgos to Tokio would leave Geneva nothing but the late meeting place of a defunct debating society.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In