The Nazi state idolized Hitler as its Führer ("Leader"), centralizing all power in his hands. Nazi propaganda centered on Hitler and was quite effective in creating what historians call the "Hitler Myth" – that Hitler was all-wise and that any mistakes or failures by others would be corrected when brought to his attention. In reality, Hitler had a narrow range of interests and decision-making was diffused among overlapping, feuding power centers; on some issues he was passive, simply assenting to pressures from whoever had his ear. All top officials still reported to Hitler and followed his basic policies, but they had considerable autonomy on a daily basis.
Hitler's foreign policy during the 1930s used a diplomatic strategy of making seemingly reasonable demands, threatening war if they were not met. When opponents tried to appease him, he accepted the gains that were offered, then moved on to his next goal. That aggressive strategy worked as Germany pulled out of the League of Nations, rejected the Versailles Treaty and began to re-arm, won back the Saar, remilitarized the Rhineland, formed an alliance ("axis") with Benito Mussolini's Italy, sent massive military aid to Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War, annexed Austria in the Anschluss, took over Czechoslovakia after the British and French appeasement of the Munich Agreement of 1938, formed a peace pact with the Soviet Union (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) in August 1939, and finally invaded Poland in September 1939. Britain and France declared war, resulting in the start of World War II - somewhat sooner than the Nazis had prepared for or expected. During the war, Germany conquered or controlled most of Europe and North Africa, intending to establish a "New Order" in Europe and elsewhere of complete Nazi German hegemony.
The Nazis also persecuted and killed millions of Jews, Romani people and others in the Holocaust. Despite its Axis alliance with other nations, mainly Italy and Japan, by 8 May 1945 Germany had been defeated by the Allied Powers, and was occupied by the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain and France. Some 40 million Europeans may have died as a consequence of the war. Hitler, the Nazis and their Holocaust became the symbol of evil in the modern world. Newman and Erber write, "The Nazis have become one of the most widely recognized images of modern evil. Throughout most of the world today, the concept of evil can readily be evoked by displaying almost any cue reminiscent of Nazism.