Berlin, Germany · October 14, 1933

On this date in 1933 German chancellor Adolf Hitler an­nounced that his coun­try was pulling out of the League of Nations, where it had been a mem­ber since 1926. Hitler, who had been in office less that nine months, had recently asked the League for “equal­ity of sta­tus”—meaning he wanted the League to grant Ger­many the right to build up its mili­tary to a level equal to those of the other major powers. (Under the terms of the 1919 Treaty of Ver­sailles, the Ger­man Reichs­wehr [army] was un­able to grow past 100,000 men, while Hitler’s Nazi Party had a para­mili­tary force of several mil­lion storm troopers, members of the Sturm­ab­teilung [Storm Bat­talion], or SA.) When League mem­bers pre­dictably refused to budge, Hitler made the an­nounce­ment to pull out of the inter­na­tional organi­za­tion to the delight of most Ger­mans, who wanted to shake off, as he ex­plained in a “rant” to Ameri­can ambas­sador William Dodd on Octo­ber 17, the indig­nities a vic­tim­ized Ger­many had faced at the hands of the vic­tors of World War I. (Dodd, a former his­tory profes­sor, told a sud­denly quiet Hitler that war is always fol­lowed by in­jus­tice, and pointed to the example of the southern states after the U.S. Civil War.) Cun­ningly, Hitler told his country­men that they would decide the League issue in a pleb­i­scite set for Novem­ber 12, a date chosen because it was one day after the fif­teenth anni­ver­sary of the armis­tice that brought the Great War to an end. With Hitler’s Nazi Party con­trolling the media and his storm troopers standing out­side polling places, the out­come was never in doubt. Once again in 1933 the Ger­man elec­tor­ate rati­fied Chan­cel­lor Hitler’s leader­ship and “demo­cra­tically” granted him his wish to with­draw Ger­many from the League and em­bark on a new, am­bi­tious, and aggres­sive course for his nation of 66 million people. In 1935 Hitler intro­duced mili­tary con­scrip­tion, en­abling the Ger­man army to an­nually train 300,000 con­scripts, who, since August 1934, swore direct al­le­giance to Hitler rather than to “the People and the Father­land.” By 1939 the Ger­man armed forces (renamed Wehr­macht in 1935) had nearly 100 divi­sions of 1.5 million well-trained men and close to 8,300 mili­tary air­craft avail­able to as­sault neigh­boring Poland in the opening salvo by Hitler’s war machine to dominate all of Europe.

Sir Ian Kershaw is my go-to historian for almost all things related to Adolf Hitler. His two-volume bio­graphy (sub­titled 1889–1936: Hubris and 1936–1945: Nemesis) metic­u­lously details the man and the nation he led to per­di­tion. For peo­ple who sus­pect that 1,500 pages requires too much arm­chair time (it did me), I suggest reading Ker­shaw’s abridged ver­sion, Hitler, at 1,000 pages. The best short bio­graphy of Hitler, at 190 pages, is by another Brit­ish his­torian, A. N. Wilson. I found his bio­graphy Hitler dead on in explaining the essen­tials of what made Hitler, Hitler. Amer­i­can his­torian R.H.S. Stolfi’s 2011 bio­graphy, Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyranny, at just over 500 pages, focuses the spot­light more on the dic­ta­tor’s per­son­ality and less on his male­vo­lent and mur­derous actions. You may wish to read an older bio­graphy of Hitler, titled Hitler, by Joachim Fest, who actually lived through the Nazi years. This probing study offers the per­spec­tive of a Ger­man his­torian on a dema­gogue who trau­ma­tized all of Europe using state-sponsored intimi­dation, war, and genocide.—Norm Haskett

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German Reichswehr, 1930–1933

Parade march of Reichswehr soldiers, 1930Reichswehr machine gun unit during 1930 exercise

Left: On January 1, 1921, Weimar President Friedrich Ebert officially established the Reichswehr pursuant to the limitations imposed by the 1919 Treaty of Ver­sailles. The Reichs­wehr was limited to a standing army of 100,000 men and a navy of 15,000. In this photo­graph, Ebert’s suc­ces­sor, Paul von Hinden­burg (out of camera range), reviews a parade march of Reichswehr soldiers in 1930.

Right: This photo depicts Reichswehr soldiers manning a machine gun in a mili­tary exercise near Frankfurt on the Oder in Septem­ber 1930. Observing the exer­cise was Col. Gen. Wilhelm Haye, Chef der Heeres­leitung (Chief of the Army Com­mand) from 1926 to October 1930. Under Hitler the office would be called Ober­kom­mando des Heeres. The Ver­sailles Treaty forbade the estab­lish­ment of a general staff with oversight over the army and navy. In 1938 Hitler created the Ober­kom­mando der Wehr­macht (Supreme Com­mand of the Armed Forces), headed by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, who signed the German Instrument of Surrender on May 8, 1945, in Berlin.

Reichswehr artillery unit, 1931Reichswehr mortar unit, 1930

Left: Heavy weapons such as artillery above the caliber of 105 mm (for naval guns, above 205 mm), armored vehicles, tanks, sub­ma­rines, and capi­tal ships were for­bidden under the Ver­sailles Treaty, as were air­craft of any kind. Com­pli­ance with these restric­tions was monitored until 1927 by a mixed com­mis­sion of specialists from the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan. In this June 1931 photo an artillery unit practices firing shells.

Right: This December 1930 photo depicts a Reichswehr mortar unit during an exercise.

League of Nations: Germans Question the “Dawn of a New Order”