Why then do the European states claim the right to spread Civilization and manners to other Continents? Why not to Europe itself?
~ Joseph Roth, 1937
Roth's sentiment was not uncommon among people of his day, and had he known what was coming he would justifiably have viewed things even more darkly. The logic of Hitler's war showed itself nowhere more clearly than his establishment of a Greater Germany and his racial policy within in. Hitler and the entire Nazi movement was greatly under the influence of German geographer Karl Haushofer1, who asserted that Germany had the right to impose its will on nations in the Pacific, Asia and Europe. They wished to do so so that they could obtain Lebensraum, or "living space". Hitler had written in Mein Kampf that -
The soil in which some day German generations of peasants can beget powerful sons will sanction the investment of the sons of today, and will some day acquit the responsible statesmen of blood guilt and sacrifice of the people.
Most of this living space was to be sought at the expense of the Slavic regions, particularly the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Soviet Union had a good sense of this and vainly sought alliance with the West against Hitler before eventually trying to buy as much time as possible with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which betrayed and partitioned Poland for yet another time in its history. But by the time the war began with the joint invasion of Poland, some of Greater Germany had already taken shape.
Greater Germany (Großdeutsches Reich) was to be the political unit that contained all the German people, in accordance with the German Volk ideology. Austria was the first target. Many Austrian Germans considered it a wrong that when Otto von Bismarck created the North German Confederation in 1866, he had not included Austria in it. Furthermore, they saw the Treaty of Versailles as been yet another point when the problem could have been solved, but wasn't.2 The Austrian Nazis committed many acts of terrorism, including the assassination of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, and came to wield large influence over Austrian politics and culture. Hitler was eventually forced to occupy the country when it became clear that Kurt von Schuschnigg would not not allow the policy to be forced on him by threats.3
But it was clear who was the boss in all this - and what happened to Austria was more like straight annexation. Gleichschaltung, the "realignment" (i.e. Nazification) of Austrian society began immediately and Vienna, the proud capital of the Habsburgs for centuries, was transformed into a provincial capital. Austria had been subsumed into Greater Germany. Czechoslovakia, surrounded on three sides by German territory, could not survive much longer. The Munich Pact on September 30, 1938, secured its fate. Moravia and Bohemia became "the Protectorate of Moravia and Bohemia", then were referenced just as "the Protectorate". Their national identify was been destroyed and they were becoming just a part of Greater Germany. Chunks of Poland were annexed when the war began, and similarly their status declined from "the Government-General of the Occupied Polish Territories" merely to "the Government-General".
Hitler could be forgiven for being rather confident at this point. This is when his rhetoric about the thousand year Reich reached its zenith, with his predictions that German dominance in Europe would usher in a new period of peace and prosperity for all. German self-determination would be assured and "when National Socialism has ruled long enough it will no longer be possible to conceive of a form of life different from ours". Greater Germany sat at the top of a hierarchy of nations in Europe, and the duty of the others was to serve it - it had won this right through blood and iron. Not all modern races were capable of bearing the weight of a constitutional state, and these would have to be dominated by Greater Germany for their own good.
Of course, Europeanism was not taken seriously either by the Führer or by his military and civilian representatives in occupied Europe. As is often pointed out, the people of the Ukraine first welcomed the Nazi invaders, but the occupation authorities proceeded to destroy this goodwill by treating its Slavic population as slave labour to feed the German war economy. The Germans actually managed to cause a famine in the breadbasket of Europe with their policy of repression, and when they changed their mind in 1943 and tried to be more moderate it was too late. They starved two million POWs to death in six months, treating them quite differently from the French or Belgians captured before. This is because they conceived of Greater Germany, and indeed Europe as a whole, as a racial entity rather than a geographic one. And the Slavs were inferior people.
There was no precedent for Hitler's attempt to so radically change the racial make-up of Europe, but if anything it paid homage more to European imperialism in Asia and Africa than any past European wars. At the start of the war many people had not been opposed to the reconstitution of Europe under authoritarian German rule, but the logic of National Socialism alienated them when it was fully revealed. Greater Germany, the Third Reich, was to sit at the head of Europe and dominate it, with all the other peoples of the Old Continent subject to them, if not actual slaves. Had Hitler any care for national self-determination in the conquered territories to the East he might have been successful, but this was so radically alien to what he actually wanted to accomplish he could never entertain them. For, the logic went, would not a house (racially) divided against itself inevitably fall?
1. Principle works: Macht und Erde (Power and State, 1934) and Deutsche Kulturpolitik im Indopazifischen Raum (German Cultural Politics in the Indo-Pacific Region, 1939). Haushofer, along with Friedrich Ratzel, is remembered as one of the fathers of the concept of geopolitics, the study of politics with reference to geography. He and his Jewish wife committed suicide while under investigation for war crimes following the war. He had spent the last year of the war in a concentration camp when he fell out of favour with the Führer.
2. Anschluss, the connection of Austria to Germany, was specifically forbidden under the Treaty for fears of German becoming too strong again, too soon. Hitler had already violated the Treaty by re-creating an airforce and re-instating conscription (1935) and re-militarising the Rhineland (1936).
3. Instead, he retired. Austrian Nazi Artur Seyss-Inquart took over, and invited the Germans in on March 13, 1938, to prevent "disorder". They met no resistance.