Between 1935 and 1939, Nazi Germany began taking aggressive steps toward rebuilding the German military and expanding the Third Reich across Europe. At the same time, Nazi hostility toward Jews within the Reich intensified, culminating in the 1938 pogroms known as Kristallnacht. This chapter explores the open aggression of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s toward both neighboring countries and individuals within its borders, as well as the dilemmas faced by leaders around the world in response.

Essential Questions

  • What choices were available to world leaders in response to Nazi Germany’s aggression toward other countries and toward groups of people in the late 1930s? What factors influenced the choices these leaders made? Could the Nazi march toward European war have been stopped?
  • What choices were possible for individuals in response to Nazi Germany’s aggression? In what ways could individuals influence the actions of governments? In what ways could they make a difference on their own?
  • What are the consequences when a nation removes a group of people from its universe of obligation? 
  • At what point does a nation have a right or even a duty to intervene in the affairs of other nations?



Before you explore our readings on Nazi Germany's aggression in the late 1930s, get famliar with the historical context and central themes.

Reading 1 of 24

Rearming Germany

Examine how the world responded to Hitler’s first acts of military aggression, including Germany’s remilitarization of the Rhineland.

Reading 2 of 24

The "New Germany" on the Olympic Stage

Discover how the Nazis used the 1936 Summer Olympics as an opportunity to showcase German society to the world.

Reading 3 of 24

"The George Washington of Germany"

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George describes his admiration for Hitler's leadership in a 1936 newspaper article.

Reading 4 of 24

Intervention in Spain

Learn about Nazi Germany’s participation in the Spanish Civil War and analyze Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica.

Reading 5 of 24

A Decline in Public Enthusiasm

Gain insight into a growing wariness of Hitler in the mid-1930s through a German police report and a letter from a US diplomat. 

Reading 6 of 24

Taking Austria

Learn about Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938, the Anschluss, and the world's response to this act of open aggression. 

Reading 7 of 24

A Refugee Crisis

Consider how nations around the world responded to the Jewish refugee crisis created by Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria.

Reading 8 of 24

Crisis in Czechoslovakia

Consider why Hitler's demand for the Sudetenland evolved into an international crisis, and evaluate the resulting agreement forged by Hitler, Chamberlain, and Daladier.

Reading 11 of 24

Opportunism during Kristallnacht

Examine firsthand reports of the theft committed against Jews during the chaos and violence of Kristallnacht (Spanish available).

Reading 13 of 24

Thoroughly Reprehensible Behavior

Read a report from the disciplinary hearing of a German college student who chose to help his Jewish neighbors after Kristallnacht (Spanish available).

Reading 14 of 24

A Visitor’s Perspective on Kristallnacht

Consider a Swiss merchant’s account of how his German colleagues responded to the events of Kristallnacht (Spanish available).

Reading 15 of 24

World Responses to Kristallnacht

Consider how leaders like FDR, clergy members, and ordinary people around the world responded to the news of Kristallnacht (Spanish available).

Reading 16 of 24

Diplomatic Responses: The Smallbones Scheme

Discover how a British diplomat created a visa program that allowed 48,000 Jews to escape Nazi-occupied Germany.

Reading 17 of 24
Global Immigration

Two Who Dared

Learn how the Sharps' rescue work began with a phone call from the American Unitarian community asking for their leadership in the refugee crisis in Prague, 1939. 

Reading 18 of 24

The Narrowing Circle

Learn how Nazi officials used laws and bureaucracy to exclude Jews from public German life in the aftermath of Kristallnacht. 

Reading 19 of 24

Mocking World Leaders

Examine excerpts from Hitler’s speech to the Reichstag in 1939 in which he set forth his vision of the world’s future.

Reading 20 of 24

The Voyage of the St. Louis

Consider why countries including the United States refused to accept Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis who sought escape from Nazi-occupied Europe.

Reading 21 of 24

Refugee Blues

Read W.H. Auden’s poem “Refugee Blues” about the plight of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

Reading 22 of 24

A Pact with the Soviet Union

Learn about the non-aggression pact forged by Hitler and Stalin in 1939, the pact’s secret clauses, and the role of propaganda.

Reading 23 of 24

Targeting Poland

Get insight into the German public opinion on Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939 with these primary source excerpts. 

Reading 24 of 24

The Hangman

Explore bystander behavior and the challenges of speaking up with Maurice Ogden's poem “The Hangman.” 

Analysis & Reflection

Analysis & Reflection

Enhance your students’ understanding of our readings on Nazi Germany's aggression in the late 1930s with these follow-up questions and prompts.

Get Our Companion Unit: Teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior

Lead your middle and high school students through a thorough examination of the history of the Holocaust. Over the course of the unit, students will learn to:

  • Craft an argumentative essay
  • Explore primary sources, videos, and readings that lead them through an in-depth study of the Holocaust
  • Recognize the societal consequences of "we" and "they" thinking
  • Understand the historical context in which the Nazi party rose to power and committed genocide

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