The war was directly blamed by the victors on Kaiser's Germany; it was Germany that effectively started the war with an attack on France through Belgium. France had in 1871 suffered a defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and demanded revenge for its financial devastation during the First World War (and its humiliation in the earlier war), which ensured that the various peace treaties, specifically the Treaty of Versailles imposed tough financial war reparations and restrictions on Germany in the Aftermath of World War I. The British naval blockade of Germany was not lifted until the treaty was signed at the end of June 1919.
Hitler was appointed Reichskanzler (Chancellor) on January 30, 1933. The arson of the Reichstag building on February 27 — allegedly by a Dutch communist — was used as an excuse for the cancellation of civil and political liberties, enacted by the aged President Paul von Hindenburg and the right-wing coalition cabinet led by Hitler.
After new elections, a Nazi-led majority passed the Enabling Act on March 23. This transferred legislative powers to Hitler's cabinet. Hitler's remaining political opposition, the KPD and SPD, were banned, before Hitler turned on internal threats to his power during the Night of the Long Knives. Chief among those was Ernst Röhm, the leader of the Nazi Brown Shirts.
After President Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, Hitler replaced the offices of chancellor and president with a single dictatorial position by declaring himself Führer ("Leader") of a new German Reich – the Third Reich. With little resistance from its leadership, the oath taken by members of Germany's armed forces was modified to become a statement of absolute obedience to Hitler.
After several liberal governments failed to rein in these threats, and the fascists had increased their public profile by highly visible punishment expeditions to supposedly crush the socialist threat, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy invited Benito Mussolini to form a government on October 29,1922. The fascists maintained an armed paramilitary wing, which they employed to fight anarchists, communists, and socialists.
Within a few years, Mussolini had consolidated dictatorial power, and Italy became a police state. On January 7, 1935, he and French Foreign Minister Pierre Laval signed the Franco–Italian Agreement giving him a free hand in the Abyssinia Crisis with Ethiopia, in return for an alliance against Hitler. There was little international protest. He then sent large numbers of troops to Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, the two colonies of Italy that bordered Ethiopia.
Britain attempted to broker peace but failed; Mussolini was bent on conquest. Britain then declared an arms embargo on both Italy and Ethiopia. Britain also cleared its warships from the Mediterranean, further allowing Italy unhindered access. Shortly after the League of Nations exonerated both parties in the Walwal incident, Italy attacked Ethiopia, resulting in the Second Italo–Abyssinian War.
Shortly after Italy conquered Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War began. During the Spanish Civil War, seen by many as a testing ground for the Second World War, he provided troops, weapons and other aid to Francisco Franco's nationalists.
These steps produced nothing more than official protests from the United Kingdom and France; they were more serious about enforcing the economic provisions of the treaty than its military restrictions. Many Britons felt the restrictions placed on Germany in Versailles had been too harsh, and they believed that Hitler's aim was simply to undo the extremes of the treaty, not to go beyond that. This sentiment was underscored by the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, which authorized Germany to build a fleet one third the size of the Royal Navy and put an end to British naval operations in the Baltic Sea, granting Germany supremacy there.
Hitler moved troops into the demilitarized Rhineland on March 7, 1936. But, as before, Hitler's defiance was met with inaction, despite Poland's proposal to put the Franco-Polish Military Alliance in action.
Following lengthy negotiations and blatant war threats from Hitler, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with French leaders tried to appease Hitler. In the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938, the major European powers allowed, for the sake of "peace in our time", German troops to occupy the Sudetenland. Czechoslovakia, which at that time already had mobilized over one million men and was prepared to fight for independence, was not allowed to participate in the conference. When the French and British negotiators informed the Czechoslovak representatives about the agreement, and that if Czechoslovakia would not accept it, France and Britain would consider Czechoslovakia to be responsible for war, President Edvard Beneš capitulated. German forces entered the Sudetenland unopposed, celebrated by the local population. Soon after, Polish and Hungarian forces also invaded parts of Czechoslovakia. Poland annexed the Zaolzie area.
Hitler continued to put pressure on Czech government. On March 14 Slovakia declared her independence under Jozef Tiso, which was recognized by France, Britain and other important powers. Emil Hácha then accepted a German occupation of the remaining parts of the Czech lands on the next day. From the Prague Castle, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was proclaimed by Hitler.Memel territory which had been separated from Germany in 1920 and annexed by Lithuania was returned to Germany ("heim ins Reich").