Berlin, Germany · December 11, 1941

On this date in 1941 in Berlin, Adolf Hitler, Chancellor and Fuehrer of Nazi Germany, addressed a tooth­less Reichs­tag (German parlia­ment), its mem­bers eager to hear him declare war on America. Hitler did this four days after the Japa­nese attack on the U.S. Pacif­ic Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, with­out techni­cally being forced or even obli­gated by treaty to do so. (A new tri­par­tite treaty was being read­ied that would have obli­gated Axis treaty part­ners Ger­many and Italy to become in­volved in hos­tili­ties against the United States should war break out between Japan and the U.S., but it was unsigned.)

Hitler ex­pressed sur­prise and ini­tial incre­dulity when he learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor, though he long ex­pected that Japan would be forced to act against the United States if it was serious about claiming world-power status. Pres­sured by the Japa­nese ambas­sador in Berlin to declare war on the U.S. sooner than later, Hitler’s ges­ture of soli­dar­ity with a coun­try half­way around the world seemed absurd and un­neces­sary, but it was, Hitler told his foreign minis­ter, Joachim von Rib­ben­trop, the “poli­tically cor­rect” thing to do. An added bene­fit to the U.S.‑Japa­nese war, Hitler told his pro­pa­ganda minis­ter, Joseph Goebbels, was that the U.S. would be less likely to pro­vide air­craft and wea­pons and con­voy support and ships to the British, with whom Ger­many had been at war since Septem­ber 1939, because “it can be pre­sumed that they will need all that for their own war with Japan.”

At this point in time, though, the Luft­waffe’s air battle against Britain was lost, the blitz­krieg on Germany’s Eastern Front (Operation Barbarossa) had failed with a loss of over 750,000 men to the parti­ci­pating Axis powers, and the Ital­ian ven­ture in North Africa by Hitler’s Axis partner Benito Mus­so­lini needed all the sup­port Gen. Erwin Rommel’s German Afrika Korps could pro­vide. Now before in­sanely cheering depu­ties of the sham Reichs­tag Hitler screamed in­sults, often bizarre ones, at his new enemy, Presi­dent Franklin D. Roose­velt, “that man who, while our sol­diers are fighting in snow and ice . . . likes to make his chats from the fire­side, the man who is the main cul­prit in this war.” No doubt British Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill was as sur­prised as Roose­velt was that the Fuehrer’s favorite bête noire had shifted from the stub­born British bulldog to the determined American eagle.

Germany and the U.S. Declare War on Each Other, December 11, 1941

New York Times headlines, December 11, 1941

Above: Headlines in the late edition of the New York Times, Decem­ber 11, 1941. Earlier in the day the U.S. Senate and House of Repre­senta­tives passed a unan­i­mous declara­tion of war on Ger­many and Italy, only hours after Hitler had declared war on the U.S. and three days after Congress had declared war on Japan.

Hitler explains reasons for war to Reichstag, December 11, 1941Roosevelt signing declaration of war on Germany

Left: Hitler receiving the endorsement of the Reichstag on Decem­ber 11, 1941, after declaring war on the United States. Full of opti­mism and confi­dent of vic­tory, Hitler told Reichs­tag deputies that Ger­many, Italy, and Japan had con­cluded an agree­ment to “wage the com­mon war forced upon them by the U.S.A. and Eng­land with all the means of power at their dis­posal, to a vic­torious con­clu­sion [and pledged] . . . not to con­clude an armis­tice or peace with the U.S.A. or with Eng­land without com­plete mutual unders­tanding.” Less than four years later both Ger­many and Japan were com­pelled to sign sepa­rate uncon­di­tional sur­renders by their enemies on May 7–8 (Germany) and September 2 (Japan), 1945.

Right: President Roosevelt signing the declara­tion of war against Ger­many. Texas Senator Tom Con­nally stands to the left of the presi­dent, holding a pocket watch to fix the exact time of the signing—3:05 p.m. EST. One minute later Roose­velt signed the declara­tion of war against Italy. In so doing the U.S. joined a war that threat­ened the sur­vi­val of peoples and nations in Europe, North Africa, and the Far East. Six months later, on June 5, 1942, Con­gress declared war on Ger­many’s and Italy’s Axis partners, Roma­nia, Hun­gary, and Bul­garia. Not until Febru­ary 10, 1947, were peace treaties con­cluded between the vic­torious Allies and Italy, Fin­land, and the Soviet Union’s East Euro­pean satellite countries of Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria.

Adolf Hitler Declares War on the United States and the Lead-Up to World War II