Within five years Hitler and his aides managed to rearm Germany, to dismantle almost all of the remaining legacy of the Treaty of Versailles, and to make Germany a strong, hegemonic power in Central Europe again. What they reached until 1938 was a formidable success, and it probably made Hitler more popular than ever before in Germany. His ultimate foreign political aims, of course, went far beyond this; they included above all the conquest of living space in Eastern Europe and the "removal" of the Jews (a term that still left open whether the Jews should be segregated and expelled or killed; the first policy was the dominant one until 1941).
This was a far more aggressive program than anything Hitler's conservative allies and indeed most Germans wanted. They still saw revision of Versailles as the top priority. They wanted to return to the German borders of 1914, mostly in the East at the expense of Poland, and they expected at some point to realize the Anschluss of Austria and to annex those territories of the Czechoslovak state that were settled predominantly by Germans (the Sudetenland).
For a while, however, Hitler's radical aims overlapped with the more limited revisionism of his conservative allies. As a first step, Hitler wanted to rearm massively and to strengthen Germany's position through the revisionist program of the conservatives. To strengthen Germany's position for the ultimate struggle against the Soviet Union, which always was his top priority, Hitler hoped to win Britain as an ally. Hitler thought that the British, given their growing concern about the increasing strength of Japan and the United States, would let him expand in Eastern Europe, as long as he would not threaten Britain directly.
Hitler misunderstood British politicians, however. By making partial concessions to him they hoped that he would sign international treaties and accept a stable European order. Exactly because the British did fear Japanese and American power, they hoped to create a stable situation in Europe, in which Germany would check the influence of the Soviet Union, about whose extensive industrialization and rearmament the British were worried, too. But at no point did the British diplomats plan to give Hitler a blank check for eastward expansion. They were willing only to grant Germany the revisionist aims of the German conservatives.
Hitler did not understand this. He projected his own crude Darwinism and craving of racial expansion on the British and believed it would be to the best British interest to win Germany as an ally against the Soviet Union and as a power that the British could ultimately use in an alliance against the remaining world power, the United States. Whether Hitler envisaged world dominion to be achieved during his lifetime is not entirely clear. But evidence suggests that the conquest of living space in the East and the extermination of Jews did not constitute the end in Hitler's foreign political vision. The violent creation of an Aryan elite in Continental Europe should probably have led to a final struggle for world dominance between an Aryan-dominated state and the United States. For this struggle Hitler expected Japanese and maybe British support. (Breeding a supposedly "pure" Aryan elite, of course, would have taken several generations.)
The start of Hitler's foreign policy:
Hitler knew that it was unwise to propagate his ultimate goals right away. To the public, he declared that he had only peaceful aims. Those who saw Leni Riefenstahl's film "The Triumph of the Will," which focuses on a party rally in 1934, remember the repeated stress of peace, work, and unity. That the commitment to peace was always expressed in the most aggressive tone, however, should have raised some eyebrows already then. Hitler indeed started preparations for rearmament almost immediately after taking power. As soon as the economy recovered a little, he increased military expenditure. Already in 1933 he announced German withdrawal from the League of Nations because he did not want to violate openly the League's disarmament clauses.
But Hitler remained generally cautious until 1938. As Tirpitz's fleet-building plan had passed a danger zone during which a surprise attack could have destroyed everything, Hitler feared that German rearmament might trigger an attack by France and its eastern allies, Poland and Czechoslovakia, before Germany was ready. Hitler also looked out for allies and tried to remain on friendly terms with some of Germany's potential enemies.
First he sounded out the chances for an alliance with Italy, just as he had conceived it in Mein Kampf. But although Italian fascism under the dictator Benito Mussolini seemed to have much in common with Nazi Germany, Mussolini at first preferred to remain neutral. When Nazis in Austria staged a putsch in July 1934 and demanded unification with Germany, Mussolini sent his tanks to the Austrian border on top of the Alps. His threat saved Austrian independence for the time being. Hitler's peaceful declarations, however, impressed French and British diplomats. Although they remained suspicious of German rearmament they did not consider the situation serious enough to justify an attack on Germany.
Hitler, moreover, secured a surprising success. In January 1934 Poland concluded a non-aggression pact with Germany. This was a radical departure from the pro-Soviet and anti-Polish policies of the Weimar governments and the military elite. So far, Germany had always cooperated with the Soviet Union in order to ward off a Polish attack and, ultimately, to win back the territories lost to Poland after 1918. Hitler's non-aggression pact with Poland angered some of his conservative allies, but it was a pragmatic, cynical move. Since Poland was the key power in French plans to contain Germany, his pact took the bite out of France's Eastern European alliance system. If Poland did not help the French to fight Germany, the French would have a difficult time forming a second front in the back of the German troops.
France's commitment to defense:
But Poland's decision to sign a non-aggression pact with Germany indirectly resulted from some fatal French decisions. France was the main guarantor of the Versailles system and most likely to disturb German attempts to ignore the peace treaty. In the late 1920s, however, French politicians had realized that their initial aim after the war, namely to weaken Germany's economic and -- indirectly -- military potential for all times would fail. The German economy recovered and looked prosperous from 1924 to 1929, and even during the Great Depression it was obvious that at some point in the future the Germans would again be able to build up a powerful industry and military machine.
France itself was economically healthy until 1933 but structurally still inferior to Germany. With its low birthrate and high war casualties, France expected to fall behind even further. In the mid-thirties a severe shortage of recruits had to be expected. These were the so-called années creuses, the hollow years. In this period the children born during the First World War would come of age, and the boys would join the army. The birth cohorts of 1914-1918, however, were so small that France's army would for several years suffer a severe lack of men. To make matters worse, France could not rely on strong foreign help to keep Germany unarmed and powerless for all times. The United States was not much interested in European affairs. Britain also seemed less interested in Europe than in overseas problems. Italy had never been happy with the postwar order and -- since 1922 under Mussolini's leadership -- was more inclined to revise the order of Versailles than to guarantee it. The only reliable allies of France, Poland and Czechoslovakia, seemed too weak in the long run to help France subdue a newly self-assertive Germany.
The French realized all this in the late 1920s and decided to build a defensive wall on the German border, the Maginot Line, an elaborate system of interconnected fortresses. The First World War had tought that it took fewer people to defend a well-prepared bastion than to storm it and that the attacker always suffered much heavier losses than the defender. Since France had a lack of men and was most afraid of another bloody war, it seemed reasonable to build the best possible fortress. Since until 1933 the French economy was prospering, the money needed to start work on the Maginot Line could be found.
As reasonable as it looked in a purely French perspective, however, the Maginot Line had two serious flaws. First, it made an aggressive move of French troops into Germany more unlikely. The Maginot Line could not be used to punish Germany if it violated the Versailles treaty or attacked Poland. It thus weakened the credibility of potential French military sanctions against Germany. This had severe repercussions in Poland. Poland's dictator, Marshal Pilsudski, concluded that an agreement with one of his hostile neighbors, the Soviet Union and Germany, may be necessary. His non-aggression pact with Hitler did not terminate the Franco-Polish alliance, but it marked a blow to the French security system against Germany, the cordon sanitaire.
The second flaw of the Maginot Line was its geographic limitation. It covered only the border between Germany and France. Both the German-Belgian frontier and the Franco-Belgian frontier (where the Germans had attacked in 1914!) were left unprotected. The north of France had sandy ground on which building fortresses posed difficulties. A protective wall on the Belgian-German border, moreover, was never built. Belgium feared to lose its independence by agreeing to the full extent of military cooperation with France that would have been necessary to extend the Maginot Line to the Dutch border. (Another question is, whether the Maginot Line should not have been continued along the Dutch-German border as well.)
Hindsight, of course, makes critique easy. The French would have fared better, had they concentrated on modernizing their offensive and mechanized weapons. The problem in retrospect was not that France had no aggressive weapons -- even in 1940 the French still had more tanks and airplanes than the Germans -- but that France stopped to keep some of its mobile forces on the highest technological standard. The French relied too much on the defensive Maginot Line and thus helped to disrupt their own Eastern European security system. It was foreseeable that after a few years German rearmament would make a French attack senseless.
To make matters worse for France, the Great Depression hit the French with some delay in 1933 and the following years. So at the time when a preventive strike against Germany would have been possible, the French had the worst economic difficulties. This intensified their war-weariness. The First World War had cost so many casualties that France was unwilling to go to war again. It was more comfortable for France to rely on Hitler's peaceful declarations than to wage war. Hitler, moreover, made foreign countries believe that his foreign policy was no more than the traditional revisionism of the Weimar governments by leaving Schleicher's foreign minister Ernst von Neurath in office until early 1938. When the French finally became alarmed about German rearmament it was too late for them to stop it.
Hitler's first successes:
One success that had more to do with the legacy of the peace treaty than with Hitler's foreign politics was the return of the Saar district to Germany. The Versailles Treaty had separated it from Germany for fifteen years. A plebiscite should then decide its future. The population of the Saar district, having never consented to French rule, voted overwhelmingly for return to Germany in January 1935. This both reflected and increased Hitler's popularity among Germans. In March 1935 Hitler felt safe enough to reintroduce general conscription. This blatant violation of the peace treaty did not provoke a punitive French attack, but it prompted France and Britain to form a closer alliance with each other and with Italy. At a conference in the Italian town Stresa in April they condemned Germany's step and emphasized that treaties were sacrosanct.
This was too little to impress Hitler, even though Mussolini's alignment with France and Britain displeased him. A real alliance evolving from the Stresa conference could have embarrassed him, especially since France concluded a treaty of mutual assistance with the Soviet Union in May 1935. For tactical reasons, the Soviet Union had started to cooperate more closely with the democratic western powers. In 1934 the Soviets had joined the League of Nations. Their treaty with France in 1935 signaled that they had continuing interest in containing Hitler's Germany together with the western powers.
But already in June 1935 Hitler scored another success, which undermined the Stresa declaration on sacrosanct treaties: the British signed a bilateral treaty with Germany, in which the Germans agreed to limit their future naval buildup to 35% of the Royal Navy's strength. Hitler also promised not to build more than 45% of the U-boats the British owned. This looked like an agreement binding Germany without giving it anything in return. The naval treaty, however, achieved two things for Germany. First it showed to the British that Germany was for the moment not interested in translating its industrial potential into a naval threat. Hitler sought to avoid Tirpitz's footsteps for the time being and declared that he had no intention of challenging British naval supremacy. Hitler hoped that the naval agreement might become a step toward the alliance with Britain that he desired. It did not cost the Germans much, since their rearmament for the time being had other priorities and since the German navy was still much weaker than the treaty allowed.
Second, the naval treaty demonstrated blatantly that the Treaty of Versailles was a piece of paper and that the British -- in spite of their declarations in Stresa -- knew and accepted this. The disarmament clauses of the Versailles treaty allowed the German navy far less than 35% of the British ships and forbade the building of submarines. The German-British naval treaty thus helped to undermine both the Stresa front and the peace treaty. In retrospect, we can argue that it would have been wise for Britain and France to keep Mussolini's friendship. But this was very difficult because Mussolini soon did something that put the Stresa front to an even harder test than the Anglo-German treaty had done: He ordered troops from the Italian colonies of Eritrea and Somalia to invade Ethiopia. Ethiopia was an independent African state and a member of the League of Nations.
This put Britain and France into a difficult position. As the leading powers of the League of Nations, they had to punish Italy, impose sanctions, or even go to war until Italy withdrew the troops and restored Ethiopia's sovereignty. As European powers concerned with German rearmament, however, they had no interest in alienating Mussolini because they needed him as a partner. Instead of making a decision, France and Britain adopted a half-hearted policy of economic sanctions against Italy - with the worst results. On the one side, their obvious reluctance to punish Italy destroyed all confidence in the League of Nations, which proved unable or unwilling to protect the sovereignty of a member state. On the other side, the sanctions, though harmless, alienated Italy and pushed Mussolini into Hitler's arms.
Hitler meanwhile played a double game. He secretly provided Ethiopian resistance with weapons so as to prolong the military conflict and further alienate Mussolini from the western powers. At the same time he gave Mussolini diplomatic support. His policy succeeded. In March 1936 the Stresa front had broken, and Hitler therefore risked the next violation of the Treaty of Versailles by sending troops into the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland. Many in his entourage considered this too risky a step, and Hitler himself was afraid of a French and British declaration of war. But nothing happened. The French were absorbed with a domestic crisis, and the British thought that the Rhineland was German territory after all. This new success again boosted Hitler's domestic popularity. The remilitarization of the Rhineland also had strategic importance. If Hitler wanted to attack the Soviet Union he needed to put his own troops to the French border in order to protect Germany against an attack by Russia's ally, France. And Hitler was now increasingly committed to realizing his true foreign political aims.
In 1936 Hitler thus adopted a more vociferous anti-communist foreign policy. He hoped to convince the British to finally conclude an alliance with Germany, which he sought to present as a bulwark against communism. To underpin his anti-communist orientation, he also decided to intervene in the Spanish civil war.
Spain had been a democratic republic from 1931 on but suffered from strong social tensions between socialist workers and anarchists on the one side and the feudal aristocrats, the Catholic church, and the army on the other side. In 1936 a government of left-wing liberals, socialists, and communists was elected. In reaction, General Francisco Franco, the head of fascist militias organized after the Italian model, launched a putsch. Neither side could at first overcome the other. A bloody civil war started that ended in 1939 with a fascist victory.
The republicans were supported by the Soviet Union and France, where the same kind of leftist government had just taken power before. Britain gave some naval assistance to the republicans, who were also supported by an international brigade of many thousand socialists and republicans from other countries. The Spanish fascists received military support from Italy and Germany and some help from Portugal. Hitler wanted to avoid that Spain, now like France under a leftist government including the communists, would join the Franco-Russian alliance against Germany. He also wanted to bind Mussolini more to Gemany by launching a common "fascist" initiative.
Hitler's plan again worked out. In November 1936 Mussolini committed himself to Nazi Germany. The alliance of Berlin and Rome was called the Axis (November 1936), which should suggest an axis of anti-communist resistance in Europe. Only one month later Japan, worried about Soviet power in the Pacific, signed an alliance with Germany, the so-called Anti-Comintern Pact (December 1936), and Italy joined the pact in the following year. (For the text of these treaties, see tripartite text.)
Unlike Germany before 1914, Hitler thus could win some significant allies. Reassured by this he started to intensify war preparations against the Soviet Union. In 1936 he proclaimed the so-called Four-Year Plan, a program for rearmament. Within four years, Hitler told his closest confidants, Germany had to be ready for war. In public, Hitler concealed the Four-Year Plan's military implications and stressed that it was merely supposed to create full employment.
After the quick succession of events in 1935 and 36, 1937 was outwardly a quiet year in European politics. But important decisions happened either elsewhere or in secret. After six years of warlike conflict, Japan invaded China in July 1937. This alarmed Britain and the United States, which both had important trade interests and power political concerns in East Asia. Even more than before, Britain was willing to grant Germany some eastward expansion in Europe if that could preserve European peace. The British government now adopted the controversial policy of appeasement. It signaled to Hitler that it would make concessions regarding Danzig, the city under League of Nations control, Austria, and the Sudetenland. In return, the British demanded that Hitler respect the international commitments he would sign (what a deal!). Hitler, on the other side, simply wanted a British alliance giving him a free hand in Eastern Europe. He liked treaties as long as they gave him some advantage, but he did not plan to keep them. (See anecdote, though a rather depressing one.)
Anschluss and the Munich Conference:
Sooner or later the differences between what the British and French were willing to grant and what Hitler wanted had to clash. In early 1938 Hitler thus got ready for a more aggressive foreign policy. Although he still hoped for an alliance with Britain, he made preparations to realize his aims without it and even against British resistance. But first he had to overcome some difficulties in his own state apparatus and in the military. The foreign ministry, the economic leaders, and the highest generals had gotten restive and critical of Hitler because they considered his foreign policy dangerous and precipitated. Even a military coup against Hitler was discussed.
Hitler reacted by appointing some blind followers to the top of the economy and the military. He also dismissed the conservative foreign minister Neurath and appointed a Nazi, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Thus prepared, he increased pressure on the reluctant Austrian government to let the Austrian Nazis participate in government. This would have been the first step toward Anschluss. When Mussolini told Hitler that he would not oppose Anschluss any more and when the Austrian government continued to reject cooperation with the Austrian Nazis, Hitler ordered German troops to invade Austria on 12 March. Initially he wanted to leave Austria some independence, but when he saw the enthusiasm with which the Austrian population welcomed the German troops he found it safe enough to absorb Austria completely. Britain protested at first but recognized the Anschluss only two weeks later.
The success of the Anschluss encouraged Hitler to increase pressure on Czechoslovakia. He did not believe that he would get the Sudetenland without a war, but now he wanted to start a war in order to conquer eastern central Europe and attack the Soviet Union. Hitler believed he did not have much time to realize his foreign political program and that the sooner he acted, the better. He secretly ordered the German army to get ready for war by 1 October 1938. In public, he declared his peaceful intentions and promised that annexation of the Sudetenland was Germany's last territorial claim in Europe.
His impatient policy triggered a domestic and international crisis in September 1938. Most of Germany's conservative elites, particularly the generals and some former high officials, were highly concerned about Hitler's course. Secretly they warned the British prime minister of Hitler's more far-reaching intentions and asked him to remain tough. They hoped that Hitler would have to back down if he encountered determined resistance from Britain and France. This would weaken him at home and make it possible for the generals to replace him with a more careful leader.
The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, however, did not want to get involved in conspiracies with German conservatives. He preferred a gentleman's agreement with "Herr Hitler" and visited him in his private home in the Bavarian Alps. Chamberlain agreed to force Czechoslovakia to hold a plebiscite in those regions inhabitated predominantly by Germans. This would have made an integration of the predominantly German Sudetenland into Germany most likely.
Hitler, however, always demanded more than what he was granted. A few days after Chamberlain's return to London, Hitler demanded immediate annexation of the Sudetenland without a plebiscite. Europe seemed on the verge of war. In the last minute, Chamberlain asked Mussolini for mediation, and a conference was called to Munich. On 29 and 30 September the leaders of Britain, France, and Italy met with Hitler. They agreed on a compromise plan that originated from the conservative circles in the German foreign office and counteracted Hitler's hopes to destroy Czechoslovakia immediately and to start war against the Soviet Union soon after. Britain, France, and Italy granted Germany control over the whole Sudetenland. They also offered some Czechoslovak territories to Poland and Hungary. In return, Germany -- with all other conference powers -- guaranteed the inviolability of the remaining Czechoslovak rump state. In addition, Germany and Britain also concluded a non-aggression pact. For the text of the Munich agreement, see Yale, Avalon Project: Nuremberg Trials: Munich Conference.
Chamberlain was triumphant. He felt that he had saved peace in Europe. Since non-aggression pacts were so popular and easy to get, Hitler concluded another one with France in the end of 1938. He made it clear to the French, however, that he wanted a free hand in Eastern Europe.
The Munich conference was a remarkable event for several reasons. First, the western allies, France and Britain, agreed to reduce the territory of one of the new states of the Versailles system. The remainder of Czechoslovakia was powerless, since the Czechoslovak army had to surrender its best defenses, the mountains along its borders. Second, the Munich conference made Hitler probably more popular in Germany than he had ever been before. Without a war (going to war seems to have been no more popular in Germany than in France and Britain) he had made some of the most important German dreams come true. Versailles was largely dismantled, Austria and the Sudetenland were united with Germany. Only few people understood that Hitler was less than happy with the conference because he had hoped to go to war and to redraw the map of Eastern Europe without any foreign interference. Third, the Munich conference had ignored the Soviet Union. Chamberlain, who was worried about Soviet power in Europe and elsewhere, had done everything to keep the Soviet dictator Stalin away from the conference table. Britain wanted to be the main mediator of European affairs.
Understandably, Stalin drew his consequences. Since 1934 he had considered Nazi Germany as the predominant threat to the Soviet Union; therefore he had concluded the alliance with France in 1935. In 1938, however, he suspected that the western powers were playing Germany off against the Soviet Union. Stalin was terrified at the thought of seeing the capitalist powers standing united against the Soviet Union. He therefore loosened his commitments to Britain and France and began to think about ways to reach an arrangement with Hitler. The Soviets may not have become a reliable ally of the western powers anyway, at least not before Hitler's attack in 1941, but Britain, in particular, did nothing to keep Stalin in line.
In spite of Hitler's aggressive and criminal final aims, his foreign policy until 1938 was peaceful and extremely successful. What made his successes possible? First, Britain, as the most powerful European state, was so concerned with Japanese expansion in East Asia that it was willing to grant Hitler concessions in Europe hoping to preserve peace there. The Japanese threat also reduced American interest in Europe, which had never been large after the war. Until 1938 the British felt they had not made too many concessions. After all, the Austrians had wanted Anschluss already in 1918, and the Sudetenland was settled by ethnic Germans who also wanted to join the German state. This all conformed with the principle of national self-determination proclaimed at Versailles!
As long as Germany and the Soviet Union neutralized each other in Eastern Europe, Britain did not feel threatened much by either power. Therefore the British pursued appeasement, hoping to satisfy Hitler's territorial appetite soon. Neither the British nor most Germans were aware of Hitler's radical long-term goals. However, a German-British alliance, which Hitler still desired, did not materialize, and it became clear to him that the British did not want to give him the free hand he desired in Eastern Europe. This was the only failure of his foreign policy so far, but it was no more obvious than his ultimate goals.
Second, France experienced severe domestic crises, both political and economical. Considering the wartime losses, the French people was thoroughly pacifistic. France tried to increase security by allying with the Soviet Union and by commiting Britain and initially also Italy to closer cooperation. But as long as the Germans were not threatening them directly, the French were willing to support the British appeasement policy.
Third, Hitler won Italy as an ally. The attack on Ethiopia and Mussolini's involvement in the Spanish civil war alienated him from the western powers and left him no choice but to seek Hitler's friendship. Mussolini could have avoided this, but he felt in need of foreign success to stabilize his dictatorship. For years he had preached expansion, and at some point he had to produce more than boasting rhetoric. He did not take into account the gap between his wild claims and Italy's poor resources and thus became increasingly dependent on Germany. With Mussolini as an ally, Hitler encountered no resistance to Anschluss and was able to intimidate France.
Ever since the thirties, appeasement has been severely criticized. In retrospect, it seems as if Chamberlain and his French colleagues gave far too much to Hitler and that they should have fought Nazi Germany long before 1939. Their gradual concessions seemed to have increased the dictator's appetite, and their repeated acceptance of obvious treaty violations made him believe that they would never fight. Retrospective judgments are easy. But if we criticize appeasement we have to bear two things in mind.
First, for reasons decribed above, both Britain and France hoped to avoid a European war as long as possible. Historians later claimed they should have attacked Germany early. But recent research has shown that even in Hitler's first two years the French and British would have had a hard time subduing Germany. Brüning had already started a rearmament program, which was immediately intensified when Hitler came to power. At the same time, Britain and France made decisions that weakened their military striking potential. By 1938 the balance of power seems to have tipped in Germany's favor. Although France had an initially overwhelming superiority in aircraft and tanks, the Germans had the more effective and modern models and knew how to make better use of them. To attack and subdue Germany, France would have needed to risk severe losses, and Britain would have had to commit most of its forces to Europe. This would have encouraged Japan to act even more aggressively in East Asia.
Second, foreign diplomats, like most Germans, did not understand that Hitler was dead serious about his racial policies and the conquest of living space in the East. These goals seemed too fanciful, too unrealistic, to be taken seriously. Foreigners and most Germans alike saw Hitler as a revisionist politician, more radical and aggressive than Stresemann or Brüning, but essentially concerned about the same limited and predictable goals. That Hitler's vision was radically different from either Stresemann's or Brüning's goals emerged only gradually after 1938.
Finally, circles in the government and the public in France and England had come to the conclusion that the Treaty of Versailles in some ways was arbitrary and unjustly harsh. The Treaty had postulated that German disarmament ought to be followed by international disarmament; since little had happened to this effect in the victor countries it seemed hypocritical to insist on German disarmament to the point of going to war over it. Moreover, one could protest against the way Hitler merged Austria and the Sudetenland with Germany. But in both cases he took over territories settled by ethnic Germans. Few among them seemed to resent being citizens of the new Greater German Empire. That Austria had been forbidden to merge with Germany in 1919 was a blatant violation of the principle of national self-determination (democratically legitimated assemblies of both countries had decided for unity).
And there were still two questions in eastern Europe that Hitler could hope to settle peacefully to Germany's advantage: the "international" status Danzig, populated predominantly by Germans, violated the principle of national self-determination, and so did the fact that many territories mostly settled by Germans belonged to Poland. As the Sudeten Germans, the German minorities in Poland had frequently complained about repression, and even the Allies admitted that the drawing of the German-Polish border in 1918-1921 had consistently favored Poland over Germany. Had Hitler wanted, he could probably have joined Danzig to Germany, redrawn the Polish-German border to Germany's advantage, and linked East Prussia, since 1918 an exclave, with the German mainland - all without going to war. The French press, for example, asked whether it was worth for Frenchmen to die for Danzig, and there was no doubt what the answer was.
Go on to E.3.