Photo of Lise Meitner

Lise Meitner

Jan 6  Lise Meitner, a Jewish woman originally from Vienna, in exile in Sweden, publishes her discovery of nuclear fission, otherwise known as atom splitting.

Jan 15  Gestapo leader Reinhard Heydrich sets up the Reich Bureau for Jewish Emigration to speed up the expulsion of Jews.

Jan 30  Hitler, speaking at the Reichstag, says that if the "international Jewish financiers" succeed in plunging the world again into another world war, the result will be the "annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe." Reichstag delegates enthusiastically applaud.

Feb 27  Britain and France recognize the Franco regime as Spain's government.

Mar 2  Cardinal Pacelli is selected to succeed Pope Pius XI. He takes the name Pius XII. 

Mar 14  Encouraged by Germany, Slovakia declares independence. The Czechs agree to German demands and make the rest of what had been Czechoslovakia, Bohemia and Moravia, a German protectorate.

Mar 15  The German army enters Prague peacefully. Czechoslovakia ceases to exist. The government of Neville Chamberlain is outraged by Hitler having ignored his promise at Munich to respect what remained of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain now believes that Hitler's word is worthless.

Mar 23  Hitler considers Germany's great challenge to be toward the east. Germans in the city of Memel have been demonstrating their desire to be again a part of Germany. Lithuania has given Memel back to Germany. Hitler makes a triumphant entry into the city, greeted by joyous German crowds.

Mar 28  Franco's forces conquer Spain's capital city, Madrid.

Mar 31  Britain and France sign a treaty with Poland, promising to help defend Poland's western border.

Apr 1  The last of Spain's Republican army surrenders.

Apr 3  Hitler sends a directive to his senior military commanders, demanding that Operation White, the invasion of Poland, be ready for action by 1 September 1939.

Apr 7  To capture some of the glory that he sees in Hitler taking Prague, Mussolini invades and occupies Albania. The king of Albania, Zog the First, is unwilling to become a puppet. He and his family flee to Greece.

Apr 11  In accord with German opinion, Hungary leaves the League of Nations.

Apr 25  A child-refugee bill is making its way through Congress. Its goal is to enable 20,000 German Jewish refugee children to enter the US over a two-year period. Someone from the Allied Patriotic Societies adds his voice to a growing opposition. He complains of immigrants trying "to run the country on different lines from those laid down by the old stock." (Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke, p 120.)

May 7  Spain leaves the League of Nations.

May 17  Britain produces a White Paper on British rule in Palestine. It prohibits Jews from buying more land outside their existing settlements and limits Jews to no more than one-third of the population.

May 20  Italy and Germany begin to withdraw troops from Spain. Germany had around 10,000 military men in Spain.

May 22  Germany and Italy conclude a military and political alliance, the "Pact of Steel."

Jun 2  President Roosevelt chooses not to support the child-refugee bill.

Jun 4  The power of Jewish financiers that Hitler talks about seems to be waning. The SS St. Louis is denied permission to land in Florida after already having been turned away from Cuba. The ship is carrying 907 Jewish refugees and will return to Europe. Most of them will die in concentration camps.

Jun 24  Siam changes its name to Thailand, which means "Free Land."

Jun 29  A referendum orchestrated by French and Turkish authorities results in Turkey annexing Hatay, including the city of Antakya (Antioch). Syrians, ruled by the French, dislike the annexation. 

Jul 6  In Germany, the last Jewish enterprises are shut down.

Jul 10  Pope Pius XII reverses Pius XI's ban on Catholic participation in the racist rightwing Action Français. This anger's France's government and some of France's Catholic clergymen.

Jul 18  A Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, stationed in Lithuania is aware of the danger faced by Poles, including Jews. He will soon start surreptitiously helping people with transit visas across the Soviet Union to Japan. It will be estimated that he saved several thousand lives.

Jul 23  Mohandas Gandhi writes a letter to Hitler telling him he is "the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to the savage state." He ends the letter with "your sincere friend."

Jul 28  Ten days of fierce fighting ends between Soviet and Japanese forces along the border between the Soviet Union and Manchuria. The Japanese declare their own casualties as 18,000 dead and wounded.

Jul 30  Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain writes to his sister and describes Germans as jealous of the Jews because Jews are clever. He writes that Jews "aren't a lovable people" and adds that he doesn't "care for them" but sees no reason for a pogrom. (Nicholson Baker, p 128)

Aug 2  Albert Einstein writes President Franklin Roosevelt about developing the Atomic Bomb using Uranium.

Aug 22  At his mountain retreat, Hitler says to his military commanders that it is time for war and to attack Poland. Germany must strike or be destroyed, he says. "We can only hold out for a few more years." None of the commanders complain, but some wonder about Hitler's mental condition. One finds Hitler's bragging repulsive and complains about Hitler making a "leap into the dark." (Nicholson Baker, p129)

Aug 23  To help him prepare for an invasion of Poland, Hitler settles affairs with the Soviet Union. He offers the Soviet Union territory that had been a part of tsarist Russia's empire and territory that Poland had taken during Russia's civil war – territory east of the Curzon Line. The Soviet Union wants some security vis-à-vis Germany and agrees to give Germany a free hand in Poland west of the Curzon Line. It is to be known as the Hitler-Stalin pact. The pact confuses some of Stalin's comrades in various countries, oriented as the have been to struggle against fascism as they great evil. But Stalin is equating fascism with capitalism, and agreement with capitalist powers is for him an acceptable expedient prior to capitalism's eventual collapse.

Aug 23  Hitler's government names Albert Forster Gauleiter of the Free City of Danzig, A German battleship is on its way to the city. Germans are told that Danzig is officially German.

Aug 27  A German, Erich Warsitz, flies the first turbine-equipped jet aircraft, the Heinkel He 178.

Aug 30  Poland begins mobilization to defend itself from an attack by Germany.

Sep 1  Hitler believes that Britain and France will not go to war. He invades Poland. He says, "Our opponents are poor creatures. I saw them at Munich."

Sep 2  Off the coast at Tel Aviv, a British patrol boat fires at an old ship carrying more than 1,000 Jewish refugees. Two are killed. Some make it ashore and merge with the Jewish population. Some refugees are captured and put in prison.

Sep 3  Britain and France declare war on Germany, and they are joined by India and New Zealand. The British are not yet ready to make war on Germany, and the French sit on their border rather than invade Germany.

Sep 5  The United States declares its neutrality regarding war in Europe.

Sep 6  The French government begins rounding up German citizens.

Sep 15  The Soviet Union and Japan sign a peace treaty.

Sep 17  In accord with his agreement with Hitler, Stalin invades Poland, planning to establish rule in an area that before 1921 was considered by the Soviet Union to be a part of the Soviet Union. Distressed Poles retreating eastward away from the invading Germans hope at first that the Soviet troops are on their way to helping them against the Germans.

Oct 6  Poland has not surrendered, but the fighting between Germany and Poland has stopped, with the German army (the Wehrmacht) triumphant. The Germans are establishing their civilian occupation authorities, and the German army will continue to kill Poles in repraisal actions.

Oct 19  In Germany, a rightwing opponent of Hitler, Ulrich von Hassell, writes in his diary that Germany's good name is being disgraced.

Oct 24  In the state of Delaware, nylon stockings appear on the market for the first time.

Nov 4  With the outbreak of war in Europe, public opinion has changed in the United States. Americans would like to help Britain. Congress amends the Neutrality Act, allowing supplies to be sold to belligerents.

Nov 30  A border dispute between the Soviet Union and Finland erupts into what will be called the Winter War.

Dec 14  The League of Nations expels the Soviet Union for attacking Finland. 

Dec 15  The movie Gone with the Wind premieres in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dec 25  In his Christmas message, Pius XII outlines a five-point program for peace: rights for small nations; the protection of minorities; economic co-operation; disarmament; religion as the only true guarantee of a "just and lasting" peace.

to 1938 | to 1940

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