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World War II
A Narrative History

"A People Without Living Room"
Else Wendel
Hausfrau at War (1957)

Russian Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (seated) signs the non-aggression pact while German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, standing directly behind him, and Joseph Stalin, to Ribbentrop's left, look on.

The policy of lebensraum -- "living room" was not new to Hitler, but he used it to muster support for his aggressive policies, persuading the German people that expansion and conquest would make the Fatherland stronger and more self-sufficient. The policy also contained racist elements, as Hitler argued that the land and resources he sought to grab for the German Volk were possessed by inferior peoples -- the Jews, the Slavs, and the Poles...
There was only one topic of conversation in the homes and cafes during those last days of August 1939, the Non-Aggression Treaty with Russia. It had come as a complete shock to all of us. Ever since the Reichstag fire in February 1933, Communism had been expelled from German political life. Members of the Communist Party had been bitterly pursued and put in prison. Russia was declared the arch-enemy. In February 1933 we had been told that Russia had prepared a revolution in Germany, and had it not been for Hitler we would all have been swallowed up in the Communist regime, and now, after six years of hate campaign, the Press suddenly declared unanimously that Russia had no wish to export her ideology to Germany. Nor did Germany wish to export National Socialism to Russia. The world, our Press said firmly,  was wide enough for both ideologies to flourish side by side .... Our feelings now were a jumble of relief and astonishment at this quick change. Towards Hitler we had nothing but admiration and respect. A man who had the courage to step over the abyss between Germany and Russia to prevent war was a man worthy of the highest praise.
Mr. Wolter told us all to read the writings of Machiavelli. "Get a copy of Machiavelli's book Il Principe," he told me. "Keep yourself up to date. Learn about politics, my dear comrade-assistant. The key is 'no morals'; forget the Salvation Army; be ruthless and have no remorse. No price is too high for peace in your home-country." He said all this in a stern voice with a half-twinkle in his eye. Then he became gentler and added: "You know, in the long run this ruthlessness my be best. It's more merciful than a long 'decent, human' war, don't you agree?"
I agreed.
"In time you will get used to seeing the flag with the hammer and sickle flying in the Unter den Linden," said Mr. Wolter ironically.
On 1 September 1939, however, my personal views changed. The radio and newspapers announced the attack on Poland.
"You look like the Mater Dolorosa," Mr. Wolter said to me that morning. You want your sons to live, don't you? Well, how can they live if Germany is to be cramped up -- ein Volk ohne Raum [a people without living room]? Twenty years after the Treaty of Versailles and we are still separated from our own people by the Polish Corridor! Danzig is a German town. If the Poles won't give it back to us voluntarily, then, all right, we march in and take it ....
"It's all trash when they accuse Germany of being responsible for the first World War, and say we must be punished. They talk of freedom to us, but where is freedom when a big town like Danzig can't come back into its Fatherland? Do you seriously think we would have got the Rhineland back if we hadn't marched into it?; or Austria?; or Czechoslovakia?; and our Army?; and our rivers; we weren't even masters of our own rivers till Hitler came! Now we have got our Army and no more foreign restrictions in our country." He looked at me with a certain pity. "But, of course, you women don't understand politics. You have to be hard and strong to grasp such things. Women have the brains of babies over politics. My wife is just the same."
Somehow I just had to answer back. "But up till now Hitler has done everything peacefully. I do admire his foresight and diplomacy, as long as it means peace. But this is war!"
Mr. Wolter commented, "No need to worry at all. You take my word for it, this war against Poland will be just a Blitzkrieg. It will be over in a flash."
Hausfrau at War is out of print but available at ABEBOOKS
 Non-Aggression Pact
Agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union that set the stage for World War II. On Aug. 23, 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany stunned the world by announcing a Nonaggression Pact. The two nations, ideological enemies in public, had been negotiating in secret for some time, but the breakthrough came swiftly when the two leaders, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, directly intervened.
....The Germans sweetened their negotiation offers by hinting that a slice of Poland could be included. This intrigued Stalin. Then, on Aug. 20 Hitler sent a personal message to Stalin: War was imminent between Germany and Poland. He asked Stalin if he would meet with German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. Stalin replied that he would welcome Ribbentrop to Moscow on Aug. 23.
Less than an hour after getting Stalin's message, Hitler had the German radio network announce agreement on the pact. That same day, the Soviets issued a similar communique. The signing of the agreement in Moscow by [Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav] Molotov and von Ribbentrop was an anticlimax. Nine days later, on Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Later that month Soviet and German negotiators sliced up Poland ....
The pact shocked the world, especially Communists and Communist sympathizers, who had zealously condemned Nazism. British author Evelyn Waugh saw it as "the Modern Age in arms" -- two evils allied, "huge and hateful, all disguise cast off." .... Not quite two years later, reacting to Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin ... did not admit that he had been betrayed. He defended the pact as one that "not a single peace-loving state could decline."
Not until 1945 did secret protocols of the pact become known, and not until 1990 were full texts of the protocols made public. Secretly, the pact established the borders of German and Soviet "spheres of influence" in Eastern Europe, dooming Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to Soviet takeover.
World War II: America at War, 1941-1945, Polmar and Allen (1991)
 Polish Corridor
....[A] narrow strip of land of some 15,500 sq. km. (6,000 sq. mi.) which gave Poland access to the Baltic Sea and separated east Prussia from Germany proper. Awarded to Poland in the Versailles settlement of 28 June 1919, the corridor had a mixed population with a Polish majority. Between the wars it was of vital economic and strategic importance to Poland; for Germany, it was a territorial irredenta. In Polish eyes, it formed the bulk of the province of Royal (West) Prussia, seized by the Hohenzollerns in 1772.
Oxford Companion to World War II, Dear and Foot, eds. (1995)