This day in history, March 7, 1936, Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi party, violated the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Pact by sending German military forces into the Rhineland, a demilitarized zone along the Rhine River in western Germany.
The remilitarization changed the balance of power in Europe from France towards Germany, and made it possible for Germany to pursue a policy of aggression in Eastern Europe that the demilitarized status of the Rhineland had blocked until then.
The Treaty of Versailles following World War I called for stiff war reparation payments and other punishing peace terms for Germany. Having been forced to sign the treaty, the German delegation to the peace conference indicated its attitude by breaking the ceremonial pen. As dictated by the Treaty of Versailles, Germany’s military forces were reduced to insignificance and the Rhineland was to be demilitarized.
In 1925, at the conclusion of a European peace conference held in Switzerland, the Locarno treaties were signed, reaffirming the national boundaries decided by the Treaty of Versailles and approving the German entry into the League of Nations. The so-called “spirit of Locarno” symbolized hopes for an era of European peace and goodwill, and by 1930 German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann had negotiated the removal of the last Allied troops in the demilitarized Rhineland.
Four years later, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party seized full power in Germany, promising vengeance against the Allied nations that had forced the Treaty of Versailles on the German people. In 1935, Hitler canceled the military clauses of the treaty and in March 1936 denounced the Locarno Pact and began remilitarizing the Rhineland. Two years later, Nazi Germany absorbed Austria and portions of Czechoslovakia. In 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, leading to the outbreak of World War II.