The world in August 1939 was a world that held its breath. Fighting had ended in Spain, and the war in China had stagnated. But few people believed war would be avoided.
What was not certain was where and when. Adolf Hitler enjoyed tremendous popularity at home, and pro-Nazi factions were active in the United States, France, and Great Britain. His recent occupation of Czechoslovakia had raised alarms in capitals across Europe, even though many people ignorant of the violence and terror of the German political machine still looked to Hitler as a role model for their own governments.
Then the unthinkable happened. Joaquim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister, went to Moscow the last week of August to secure a Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. Stalin, perhaps trying to buy time with Hitler himself, ordered his Foreign Minister, Molotov, to sign on August 21, 1939. When this agreement was announced to the world, it left out some key terms: the dismemberment of Poland.
Anyone reading Mein Kampf could see what Hitler thought of Poland. A former province of Czarist Russia, Poland had been guaranteed access to the sea — the “Free Corridor” of Danzig — by the League of Nations. This agreement separated Prussia from Greater Germany by cutting a path through to the seaport of Danzig. This angered Hitler and many Germans, who saw the land as the birthright of Germans everywhere.
Moreover, Poland was not an Aryan land. Poles were untermensch, “inferior people,” only good as slaves or corpses. After the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, Hitler ordered his general staff to draw up plans for the invasion of Poland. The Germans would invade from the West, the Soviets from the East, and divide the country along previously agreed upon lines.