The brutality, horror and slaughter of World War One meant governments were terrified of another war. Consequently, the British response to Nazism was mixed. Even though the British government and the public were well informed about the persecution of Jews and political enemies, there was very little protest.
The 1930s were a period of economic recession and unemployment. Resources were scarce and most politicians did not wish to spend money on armaments. This meant that Britain was not ready for war.
Communism was considered by many as a greater threat than Nazism. Many admired Hitler’s strong stand against the Soviet Union.
On 13 March 1938 German troops marched into Austria. Great Britain did nothing. That same year Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain abandoned Britain’s ally Czechoslovakia. Hitler was allowed to annex the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia without British intervention.
This weakness spurred Hitler on to occupy the whole of Czechoslovakia on 19 March 1939, with little official reaction from Great Britain.
The Evian Conference of July 1938 had shown the Nazis that the democracies would not interfere in Germany’s internal policies towards the Jews. The Nazis introduced antisemitic policies wherever they conquered and extended their reign of terror against the Jews.
Hitler’s conquests led some British government ministers to realise that appeasing the Nazis would not work, as Hitler would never be satisfied and would always want more.
On 23 August 1939, the western world was shocked by a pact between the two traditional enemies, Germany and the Soviet Union. A secret deal was concluded: the Germans would invade Poland from the West, the Soviets from the East. On 1 September 1939 the German army marched into Poland.
This time Britain stood firm with her ally Poland and declared war on Germany.
Having conquered Poland in six weeks, Hitler turned westwards and took much of Europe. Certain members of the British government still hoped for peace with Hitler. It was not until Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, in May 1940, that the government became determined to defeat the Nazis.