Dictators and the Start of World War II

Learn about the rise of dictatorships that led to the start of World War II.


  • Students will be to name the dictators that ruled Italy, Germany and Japan during World War II.
  • Students will be able to explain what a dictator is.
  • Students will be able to describe how Adolf Hitler rose to power.
  • Students will be able to identify the countries that formed the Axis Powers in 1936.
  • Students will be able to explain why World War II started.

Suggested Grades:

4th Grade – 5th Grade – 6th Grade


  1. Read lesson or have students read it silently.
  2. Have students answer the questions on the worksheet.
  3. Discuss answers to questions.

Lesson Excerpt:

When the United States fought in World War I, President Woodrow Wilson wanted to “make the world safe for democracy.” But soon after the war ended, some governments in Europe and Asia became anything but democratic. In many countries, dictators were gaining control. A dictator controls a country without giving the people any rights.

In 1922, Italy became the first European country to fall under the rule of a dictator. The dictator’s name was Benito Mussolini. He took control of Italy by promising to end the poverty that had become widespread in the country after World War I. Under Mussolini, the Italian people had no rights or freedoms. The dictator defended his way of ruling by saying that “men nowadays are tired of liberty.”

In Germany, similar trouble was brewing. The Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I had forced Germany pay for damages, leaving the country with no money to rebuild itself. The Great Depression also affected Germany, and by 1932, one third of Germans did not have jobs. They turned to a leader named Adolf Hitler who promised that he could end hard times and make Germany a powerful empire. Hitler told the Germans that they were members of a “master race.” He convinced some that they were destined to rule the world. Hitler blamed Jewish people for the troubles in Germany. His followers, known as Nazis, set out to eliminate the Jews. Under Hitler, millions of Jewish men, women and children were sent to concentration camps where they were starved and murdered.

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