Causes of World War II

There are many causes of the war and some of them go back to the end of the First World War. The end of World War I and the peace that followed in 1919 changed the face of Europe and the borders of countries completely. New nations emerged and countries that lost the war, especially Germany and Austria had to give up a lot of land. They also had to pay money to other countries for the damages and destruction that happened during the war.


Economic problems

After the war, many countries were in debt. The losers had problems paying reparations and the winners borrowed a lot of money from the United States which they could not pay back. Inflation in many countries left people without any savings. In the 1930s the Great Depression, starting out in the USA, spread to Europe and stopped the continent's recovery. Millions of people were out of work and poverty rose.

Feeding the poor in Germany in 1931

Image :   Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-T0706-501 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons

Political movements

The problems after the war made the governments in many countries weaker and weaker. Two movements became more and more powerful: Communism, known as "the Left", called for a revolution of the working class. Fascism, known as "the Right", wanted a strong national government



The Axis and Allied Powers

Two groups of nations fought against each other during the Second World War.

During the 1930s, Germany, Italy, and Japan led a group of nations called the Axis. The leaders of these countries were dictators. They wanted their own countries to grow and others to become weaker. In the years before the beginning of World War II all three Axis powers had strengthened and modernized their armies.

In the 1930s, the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany. In 1933 the party's leader Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor and became known as "der Führer". He promised to take revenge on the countries that had defeated Germany in the First World War and make Germany the most powerful country in the world. He also claimed that only Germans were the true race and wanted to get rid of Jews, Communists, and other weaker people.

In Italy, Benito Mussolini, known as the "Il Duce", became the leader of the Fascist Party, which gained many supporters. He promised to bring law and order to the country and help solve its economic problems.


Dictators of Axis powers  Italy and Germany : Mussolini and Hitler

Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1969-065-24 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons

The Axis Powers invaded other countries and expanded their territory. At the beginning of the 1930s, Japan invaded Manchuria because it had a lot of raw materials. In 1938, it attacked China and later on expanded to Southeast Asia. In 1935 Italy took over Ethiopia. Germany started its conquest of foreign territories by invading Austria. Italy and Germany also sent soldiers to help another dictator, Francisco Franco, in the Spanish Civil War.

The Allies were made up of a total of 50 countries. They were led by Great Britain, the Soviet Union, France, China, and the United States and opposed the Axis.


The beginning of the war

On September 30, 1938, Great Britain, France and Germany signed the Munich Agreement. It gave Germany the right to take over the Sudetenland, a part of Czechoslovakia. The two Allies hoped it would satisfy Hitler and keep them out of the war. The agreement, however, was broken and Hitler not only invaded the Sudetenland but took over all of Czechoslovakia.

It was clear that Poland, on Germany's eastern border, would be the next target. Great Britain and France promised to help Poland if it were attacked. In August 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union signed a "non-aggression pact", in which they promised not to attack each other. Germany did this so that it would not have to fight on two fronts.

On September 1, 1939 Germany invaded Poland and World War II began.

Hitler watches as German soldiers invade Poland

ImageBundesarchiv, Bild 183-S55480 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons

  • agreement = when two people, groups or countries promise to do something
  • Allies, Allied countries = the countries that fought against Germany and Japan in World War II
  • appoint = to choose someone for a job or position
  • attack = when you use weapons against an enemy
  • Axis = the countries that fought against the Allies  in World War II (Germany, Japan and others)
  • border = line between two regions or countries
  • chancellor = the leader of a government
  • civil war = fight between two groups of the same country
  • claim = declare, say in public
  • conquest = to take over another country through fighting
  • damage = the harm that you do to someone or something
  • defeat = to win against someone or a country
  • destruction = if something is damaged or ruined completely
  • economic = everything connected with business and the economy; the buying and selling of goods
  • emerge = come up ; create
  • especially = above all
  • expand = to grow or get bigger
  • Fascism = a system in which people’s lives are completely controlled by the state ; no other opinions are allowed
  • foreign = from another country
  • front = line that separates two armies
  • get rid of = here: to kill people you don't want any more
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • Great Depression = period after the stock market crash of 1929 ; the time before the Second World War in which millions of people all over the world were out of work and many were poor
  • in debt = when you owe someone money
  • inflation = when prices go up and the value of money goes down
  • invade = to enter a country with an army and take control of it
  • law and order = situation in which people respect the law and follow the rules of a country 
  • Jews = member of a group of people who come from ancient Hebrews; many of them live in Israel
  • Manchuria = part of northeastern China
  • modernize = to make more modern
  • movement = group of people who believe the same things and have the same ideas
  • Nazi = short word for National Socialist
  • oppose = to be against
  • peace = opposite of war
  • poverty = when you are poor
  • race = group of people with the same skin colour
  • raw materials =  very important products that a country needs, like wood, oil, coal etc..
  • recovery = here: when the situation of a country gets better after a time of war or crisis
  • reparations = money which a country that loses a war has to pay for all the deaths and damages that it caused
  • savings = all the money that you have saved
  • sign = to put your name on a document
  • solve = work out; find an answer to a problem
  • soldier = person who fights for a country in a war
  • strengthen = to make stronger
  • supporter = person who follows a leader or his group
  • take revenge = something you do to punish someone who has hurt you
  • target = here: country you want to attack
  • territory = land