The invasion of Poland marked the beginning of the European war. The rapid defeat of Poland was followed by the occupation of Denmark and Norway in April 1940, the invasion of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France in May, the battle of Britain from August to October, the invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia in April 1941 and the campaign in North Africa in which the Germans supported the Italians from February 1941, the invasion of the Soviet Union in June and, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the declaration of war on the United States on 11 December 1941. It is possible to argue that each escalation of the conflict followed from the invasion of Poland. But each also required a decision by the German leadership and the willingness of Germans to fight, to administer the occupied territories, to produce the weapons for victory and to maintain morale on the home front. A study of Germany and the origins of the Second World War cannot therefore stop in September 1939. From the invasion of Poland, justified by a deeply felt frontier dispute, to war with the western powers which revived memories of a struggle since the 1890s for Germany to be the equal of the great powers, to the invasion of the Soviet Union which drew on both anti-Communism and specifically ‘Jewish Bolshevism’, Hitler found the support he needed. Germany, which had been fearful and divided at the prospect of war in 1938 and unenthusiastic in 1939, became Germany in occupation of much of the European continent by 1941, and moreover an occupation in Poland, parts of the Balkans and the Soviet Union of extraordinary ferocity and ruthlessness. How did it happen?
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