Hitler dreamed of creating a great German world power. He wanted to invade the East and conquer Poland. The lands in the East would create more living space (lebensraum) for the German people. The local population would be driven out, become slaves or be murdered.
During October 1938, the Eastern Slovak region of Czechoslovakia had broken away from the Czech region (in the West of the country). Jews within the region were attacked and banished to an area between Slovakia and Hungary. In March 1939, Slovakia became an independent state and an ally of Nazi Germany.
On 15 March 1939, the German army marched into Czechoslovakia. The Western regions of the country were renamed Bohemia and Moravia and governed as a German protectorate. On the eve of the German invasion, approximately 120,000 Jews lived in 136 communities across the country.
On 23 August 1939, the two traditional enemies, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, made a pact to divide the independent state of Poland. The Germans would conquer the West, while the Soviets attacked from the East.
On 1 September 1939, the Germans invaded Poland from the West and brought one and a half million Jews under Nazi rule. Poland was split into three sectors: Western Poland was annexed into ‘Greater Germany’, whilst the General Government was created in the remaining part under German control. The General Government was intended as an area of Jewish concentration. Not only Polish Jews, but Jews from Austria and the Czech lands, who were forcibly moved there. Jews were driven into ghettos in towns and cities as a temporary solution. Conditions were terrible; at least 450,000 people died because of overcrowding, disease, starvation and brutality.
The third sector came under the control of the Soviet Union as a result their invasion from the East as part of the Nazi-Soviet pact. On the eve of the invasion around 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland. Around 1.2 million of these Polish Jews came under Soviet rule.
The Soviet Union
On 22 June 1941, the Germans broke their agreement and invaded the Soviet Union. Hitler regarded the Soviets (Slavs) as sub-human. He also believed the Jews had created communism. The war in the East was aimed not merely at conquest but at the destruction of millions of Soviets and Jews.