May 28, 1940 — Belgium surrenders to Germany

The German advance into Belgium in the spring of 1940 was swift and decisive. Belgium was militarily unprepared for war – as late as November 7, 1939, the Belgian government had called for an end to hostilities – and even if its military had been prepared, it was massively outgunned by the Nazi war machine. The invasion of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg began on May 10, 1940.

By May 17, the Belgian capital of Brussels had fallen to the German advance, and deciding that the Allied cause was lost, King Leopold III surrendered to the Germans against the advice of his government on May 28, 1940. He would spend the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Nazis, while the majority of his government went into exile (primarily in Britain) and continued to lead Free Belgian Forces in the fight. Belgium was eventually liberated in 1944, although it was not until the end of the German Ardennes Offensive in 1945 that fighting on Belgian soil concluded.

May 15, 1940 — Holland surrenders to Germany

At the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, Holland had declared itself neutral, just as it had done during World War One. This time, it didn’t work – Nazi Germany invaded Holland on May 10, 1940. The battle was one-sided.

The German forces out-massed the Dutch in every particular – they had more than six times as many aircraft, more than twice as many soldiers, and 759 tanks to Holland’s 1 (yes, one) tank. The decisive incident was the fall of Rotterdam, the last major city still free, on May 14, after a sustained bombing campaign by the Luftwaffe. The Dutch surrendered on the following day, although elements of the Dutch military continued to fight in the Zeeland region (with French assistance) for another 12 days, and the Dutch Queen, Wilhelmina, along with her family and government, escaped to England, where they would become symbols of Dutch resistance for the rest of the war. Holland would remain under Nazi rule until May 5, 1945 (only three days before Germany’s final surrender).

January 30, 1933 — Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany

It’s often overlooked, what with the enormity of his crimes afterwards, but Hitler came to power more or less legally, elected Chancellor of Germany in an election not that much more corrupt than any seen in modern democracies. But his accession to the highest position in Germany was not enough for him.

There were enemies to be purged and pogrommed, lebensraum to be reclaimed, treaties to be ignored or violated, and, of course, the most devastating war in human history to start, and fortunately for us all, to lose. But while his run lasted, he had a better claim to the title of emperor of Europe than any man since the fall of Rome, won in just as bloody a fashion as any Roman Caesar.

July 29, 1921 – Adolf Hitler becomes Führer of the Nazi Party

Hitler was the 55th person to join the German Worker’s Party – the same party that later re-named itself the National Socialist Party. In less than two years, he rose to a position of such popularity and influence that he was more or less able to blackmail his way into being appointed its leader.

On July 11, 1921, he resigned from the party. Fearing that this would cause a split in the party from which it could not recover, the leadership panicked. Hitler then announced he would only return to the party if made leader (or “Fuhrer”). After some panicked debate, the party gave in to his demand, and on July 29, he was introduced as the party’s Fuhrer for the first time. He would remain Fuhrer for the next 24 years, including his years spent in prison during the Twenties (although a deputy took over some responsibilities in this time).