We have detected that you are using an older version of Internet Explorer and to have access to all the features on this site, you will need to update your browser to Internet Explorer 8. Alternatively, download Mozilla Firefox or Chrome.

Western FrontAugust 1939

Hitler’s War

Why did Hitler want war?
Hitler, according to Professor Richard Evans, wanted to ‘create in eastern Europe what he thought of as the equivalent of the American West.’ This film examines the barbarity of Hitler’s ‘vision’ and why it meant war.

Video Transcript

Commentary: These are the mountains of the Obersalzberg in Southern Bavaria, near the German border with Austria. It was here, above the town of Berchtesgaden, at his house, the Berghof, that Adolf Hitler liked to come and dream dreams. And one of his greatest dreams was to regain German territory lost after defeat in the First World War. Hitler was completely open to the German people – and to the rest of the world – about his desire to rewrite the peace settlement of 1919. All this land had been taken away from Germany. And Hitler demanded it back. So when Hitler became German Chancellor in 1933, he immediately ordered a massive increase in German expenditure on weapons of war. Hitler even had plans to spend up to thirty per cent of Germany’s Gross National Product on armaments. Most states would spend about a tenth of that. And Hitler didn’t want just to make these weapons to threaten his neighbours – he fully intended to use them.

Laurence Rees: Given this extraordinary expenditure on armaments, it was clear that Hitler - from almost the earliest days in power - intended war.

Professor Adam Tooze: I don’t think there’s any real question about that. I mean Hitler’s entire world view is dominated by the belief that history is struggle, racial struggle. War is essential to the health of the German nation and Germany needs to break out of the encirclement that it’s in. So the idea that the Nazis could have somehow just extended the prosperity of the 1930s into some sort of peaceful, VW future of modernity and satisfaction is just not on the cards for Hitler’s regime. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding that many people succumb to, but it’s really not what’s on Hitler’s mind at all.

Commentary: But Hitler didn’t only want to retrieve German land lost at the end of the First World War – he wanted to create a vast new Nazi Empire. And he knew precisely where it should be.

Words of Adolf Hitler (from Mein Kampf, 1924): When we speak of new land in Europe today, we must principally bear in mind Russia and the border states subject to her. Destiny itself seems to wish to point the way for us here.1

Professor Richard Evans: The core of Hitler’s foreign policy aim was to invade and conquer eastern Europe, to expel or eliminate the vast majority of the Slavs who lived there. To create in eastern Europe what he thought of as the equivalent of the American West - a kind of bread basket for Germany. Somewhere where industrial resources, agricultural resources, would make Germany into a world power capable of standing head-to-head with America in the longer run. And part of the reason for Hitler increasing the pace of his foreign policy aggression in 1938 to ’39 was a feeling that he himself had limited time to run - that his health might not hold out. That he might in fact die at some point in the not too distant future.

Commentary: Hitler knew what he wanted. The question was – could he get it?


1 J. Noakes and G. Pridham (eds.), Nazism 1919-1945: State, Economy and Society, Vol. 2, University of Exeter Press, 2001, p. 278