Rise of Hitler
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Rise of Hitler
Mackenzie King visits Hitler and appeases Germany on the brink of the Second World War
In June 1937, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King journeyed overseas to meet with German Chancellor Adolph Hitler. Germanys increasing aggression concerned world leaders and King wanted to assess the situation for himself.
World leaders turned a blind eye when German Chancellor Adolph Hitler annexed Austria in 1938 and a year later completed a takeover of Czechoslovakia. (National Film Board of Canada and National Archives of Canada, PA-130023)
World leaders turned a blind eye when German Chancellor Adolph Hitler annexed Austria in 1938 and a year later completed a takeover of Czechoslovakia. (National Film Board of Canada and National Archives of Canada, PA-130023)

In Germany, King was given a tour of the orderly splendour of the Third Reich, viewing its dramatic architecture and the thousands of Hitler Youth on parade.

King recorded his meeting with Hitler in his diary.

"He smiled very pleasantly, and indeed had a sort of appealing and affectionate look in his eyes. My sizing up of the man as I sat and talked with him was that he is really one who truly loves his fellow man and his country ... his eyes impressed me most of all. There was a liquid quality about them which indicated keen perception and profound sympathy (calm, composed) - and one could see how particularly humble folk would come to have a profound love for the man."

King wasn't alone in being seduced by Hitler's charm and rehearsed simplicity. One British diplomat compared him to Gandhi. The Canadian Prime Minister left Germany convinced Hitler didn't pose an imminent military threat to the world.

King's apparent naiveté suited his political goals well. Canadas national unity was his main concern. King was determined to avoid drawing Canada into overseas conflicts that could upset the countrys fragile harmony. He had a vivid memory of the conscription crisis of the First World War that had bitterly divided French and English Canada.

On an international level, King believed like other leaders like Britains Neville Chamberlain that a stable Germany served as an important counterweight to Stalin's Soviet Union.
In June 1937, Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King journeyed overseas to meet with German Chancellor Adolph Hitler. Pictured here, King (second from left) attending a sporting competition in Berlin. (National Archives of Canada, P08341t)
In June 1937, Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King journeyed overseas to meet with German Chancellor Adolph Hitler. Pictured here, King (second from left) attending a sporting competition in Berlin. (National Archives of Canada, P08341t)

Along with European and North American leaders, King supported the policy of "appeasement" of Germany. Leaders accepted Hitler's increasingly aggressive moves hoping Germany would be satiated once it had consolidated the German-speaking areas of Europe.

King and other leaders turned a blind eye when Hitler annexed Austria on March 13, 1938 and they remained quiet a year later when Germany completed its victory over Czechoslovakia.

But King was also a pragmatist. While he supported "appeasement," the Prime Minister positioned the country in case war erupted. In 1936, Canada began a modest program of rearmament. In 1937, King told British leaders that Canada would support the Empire in a war in Europe.

Despite Kings cautious politics and fondness for Hitler, Canada was primed when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Finally it was clear that Hitler could not be appeased. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany.

King called a special session of Parliament to vote on the question of Canada's participation and on September 10, 1939 the country was once again at war.

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