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Causes of World War 2

World War II was a huge war that involved many countries in Europe and Asia. Lots of historians blame Hitler and say that he was the main cause of World War II.

He was very aggressive and wanted to take over all of Europe and build a German Empire.


However, there were lots of things building up in the background for war to break out and for Hitler to take control of Germany.

Funnily enough, in an indirect way, World War I was a cause of World War II. Here’s how.

World War 1: The Treaty of Versailles

After World War I, Germany took nearly all the blame. These days, historians think that all countries had a role to play in the outbreak of World War I.

New York WWI Troops Fight to get into the Fight
Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment man a trench in France during World War I. The Signal Corps photograph collection includes every major aspect of the United States (U.S.) Army involvement in WWI.

When World War I ended, this was not the case. At the end of the War, a big meeting was held between France, England and the USA, and Germany was not allowed to go.

All the winning countries got together at the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the War to blame Germany and decide what would happen to them.

Loading bombs onto a World War II plane

One thing they did do was decide that Germany should no longer have an army and they also had to give up valuable land with lots of resources.

Germany also had to pay back lots of money to the other countries. These were debts they could not afford.


People were angry

Some people were really mad about World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, especially a man called Adolf Hitler.

Germany was so in debt and could not make money that they suffered from something called hyperinflation, which happened in 1923.

Hyper-inflation is where lots of money is printed, with the result that it becomes worthless.

For example, one whole wheelbarrow of cash in 1923 in Germany would barely buy you a loaf of bread.


Some people in Germany carried out violent uprisings (like the The Kapp Putsch) to try to overthrow the government but they did not succeed. Hitler also tried to overthrow the government in a city called Munich.

Hitler’s uprising in 1923 was called the Munich Putsch (also called the Beer Hall Putsch). However, at this time, he wasn’t successful and he was sent to prison.

In prison, he wrote a book called Mein Kampf which expressed his crazy views about his hatred for Jewish people, how all of Europe was against Germany, and how Europe had wronged them in the Treaty of Versailles.

wheelbarrow of cash

Economic Boom – The Roaring Twenties

The economy in Germany recovered and people were really enjoying the 1920s. They were having lots of fun and a man called Gustav Streseman had borrowed money from America to make the economy stronger.

pay and money

This meant that people were happy to support democracy and they forgot about the Treaty of Versailles and the First World War for a while.

Disaster strikes in 1929: the Great Depression

Just as things seemed ok, a terrible thing happened. Remember that Germany had borrowed all that money from America? Well, the American economy crashed in 1929.

This was called the Great Depression. Even though all the countries in the world suffered a little bit, Germany was hit worse because of the money they had borrowed.

stock market crash and panic

Hitler and his party, the Nazi’s, really used this to their advantage. People were absolutely starving and no one had any jobs. They felt desperate.

The Nazi party offered ‘Arbeit und Brot’ (Work and Bread), a very appealing prospect for the German people. They did not really know Hitler would become a dictator at this point in time.

Hitler also promised to fight back against the Treaty of Versailles and make Germany a great country once more.

loaves of bread

He promised people that if he got into power, he would get back all the lands they had lost, rebuild the economy and take over Europe.

Many people liked this idea and voted for him. Hitler got elected chancellor (like Prime Minister) in 1933.

He did not stop there. In 1934 he became (Fuhrer), a dictator that could not be opposed (voted out).

Like all totalitarian dictators, he stopped people speaking freely in the press, killed anyone who stood in his way, and by stopping elections, made sure that only he could rule.

There were no more elections while he was in power. It was quite dangerous because once he was there, he could do what he wanted.

Weimar Republic
Flag of the Weimar Republic

 Straight away, he began to build up the military. Hitler and his chief commanders (such as Himmler and Goering) created a policy to take over Europe, even if it meant going to war. This was called expansion.

It wasn’t just Germany that wanted expansion through war. Japan wanted this too. These two powers would join up to help make this happen.

Japanese expansion

Before World War II, Japan was also expanding their empire (the lands they had control over that belonged to other people).

Hirohito during wartime

They did this to get more resources and materials (things they could not grow or make themselves).

For example, they invaded Manchuria in 1931 and China in 1937. Japan and Germany joined forces to fight the Allies in World War 2.

Other fascist dictators: Spain and Italy

It wasn’t just Germany who had a totalitarian dictator with big plans of expanding their lands. Italy had a ruler called Mussolini who had already invaded Ethiopia (then they called it Abyssinia).

Mussolini Hitler Pact of Steel

He led a brutal war and took over this country in 1935. They also sided with Germany. Meanwhile, Spain was ruled by a dictator called Franco.

Hitler readies for war

In 1938, Hitler started expanding the German Empire by taking back Austria in 1938. He also took over Czechoslovakia in 1939.



Most countries in Europe were tired and broke because of the First World War. Governments and ordinary people had suffered during and after the War and really did not want to fight again.

At first, leaders including Neville Chamberlain of Britain thought that they might let Hitler have a few of the things he wanted to try to calm the situation down. This was called appeasement.

Neville Chamberlain appeasement
Neville Chamberlain

Appeasement is when you try to please someone and make compromises. For another ruler, this would have probably worked. However, Hitler was a particularly aggressive and brutal man.

The appeasement plan totally backfired and Hitler just became bolder. Eventually, France and Britain realised they would have to fight back in order to stop him.

This is how World War II began.

Quiz Time – Test Your Knowledge!


What could you buy with a wheelbarrow full of cash in Germany 1923?

What did Hitler promise the German people with his slogan?

Why did the German people listen to Hitler (what happened in 1929)?


What do dictators take away? (Freedom of press and…)

What was appeasement?

World War 2

Loading bombs onto a World War II plane