A BRIEF HISTORY OF NAZI GERMANY
By Tim Lambert
THE RISE OF THE NAZIS
The depression of the early 1930s was a disaster for Germany. While unemployment was 1.4 million in 1928 it rose to 4.8 million in 1931. By 1932 it was 6 million. About one man in three was out of work. One effect of the depression was that the democratic parties lost support. Instead people turned to radical parties like the communists or the Nazis who promised seemingly easy solutions to Germany's problems. In 1928 the Nazis only gained 2.6% of the vote. By September 1930 they gained 18.3% of the vote. By 1932 they were the largest party in the Reichstag. (Although they never obtained a majority of the vote). However in November 1932 votes for the Nazi party fell and the economic situation seemed to be getting better. Yet on January 30 1933 President Hindenburg asked Hitler to become Chancellor and to lead a coalition government.
On 27 February the Reichstag burned down. A Dutchman called Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested and confessed to the crime. Hitler claimed that van der Lubbe did not act alone and that it was a communist plot. The next day President Hindenburg was persuaded to sign 'Presidential Decree for the Protection of the People and the State', which allowed arbitrary arrest. As a result all the leading Communists were arrested.
The last election in Weimar Germany was held on 5 March 1933. The Nazi's still failed to gain a majority of the vote. Then on 23 March 1933 Hitler persuaded the Reichstag to pass the enabling law. This would give Hitler the power to pass new laws without the consent of the Reichstag. The new law meant changing Germany's constitution and that would require votes by two thirds of the Reichstag's members. Some 80% of the Reichstag voted in favour of the law, only the Social Democrats voted against it.
Hitler wasted no time in introducing a tyrannical regime in Germany. After 1871 Germany was a federal state. It was made up of units called Lander, which had once been independent countries. A governor ruled each. However in April 1933 Hitler replace them with Reich governors, all of who were loyal Nazis. This helped to bring the country even more under Hitler's control.
In May Hitler banned trade unions. To replace them he created the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front) under Robert Ley. It set levels of pay and hours of work. The Social Democratic Party was banned in June 1933. Later that summer other parties dissolved themselves, under pressure from the Nazis. On 14 July 1933 Hitler banned all parties except the Nazi party.
Hitler consolidated his grip on power with a purge called the Night of the Long Knives on 30 June 1934. The SA or brownshirts wanted to take over the army. The army was appalled by this idea and Hitler needed the army's support. Moreover the SA had other enemies. In 1925 Hitler created the Schutzstaffel (protection squad) of SS as his bodyguard. Heinrich Himmler the head of the SS resented the fact that the SS was officially part of the SA. He wanted the SS to be a separate organisation. He also wanted more power for himself. Himmler told Hitler that the SA were planning to overthrow him. Hitler himself arrested Rohm the leader of the SA. The SS arrested other important figures in the SA and other prominent critics of the regime. All of them were shot.
On 2 August 1934 President Hindenburg died. Hitler, the Chancellor took over the President's powers and called himself Fuhrer (leader). The army were made to swear an oath of loyalty of Hitler. (Previously they swore an oath of loyalty to Germany).
Furthermore any opponents of the regime (mostly communists and socialists) could be arrested and sent to a concentration camp without trial. (At first although prisoners were beaten and tortured concentration camps were designed as prisons rather than extermination camps). Vagrants, beggars and the 'work-shy' were also sent to concentration camps.
The German Economy
The Nazis managed to eliminate unemployment in Germany. Partly they did this by rearming (even though this meant breaking the Versailles Treaty). In 1935 Hitler announced that Germany had an air force. He also introduced conscription. In 1936 German troops entered the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. Britain and France did nothing.
Hitler also built roads called autobahns across Germany and he built great public buildings such as the Olympic Stadium for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. All this helped to reduce unemployment. However although there was full employment workers were paid low wages (to keep the German industrialists happy). They also worked long hours. In the 1930s they worked an average of 49 hours a week. During the Second World War this was increased to 60 hours a week or more. To try and keep the workers happy an organisation was formed called (Strength Through Joy). Some workers went on cheap holidays to places like Norway and Italy. However, more often the organised cheap concerts and trips to the theater.
Hitler's attitude to women was simple. They were to be mothers and housewives. Their role was summed up in the phrase kinder, kuche and kirche (children, khen and church). In Nazi Germany married women were encouraged to give up their jobs and they were encouraged to have children. Women who had four children were given a bronze medal. Women who had six were given a silver medal and women who had eight were given a gold medal. During the Second World War other nations conscripted women to work in industry but Hitler refused to do that.
Hitler hated Jews. In April 1933 he ordered a boycott of Jewish shops. Also in 1933 a law called 'The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service' banned Jews from working in government jobs. Then in 1935 Hitler passed the Nuremberg laws. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor made it illegal for Jews to marry 'Aryans' (people of Germanic descent) or even to have sexual intercourse with them. The Reich Citizenship Law stated that Jews could not be German citizens.
Worse was to come. On 7 November 1938 a Polish Jew called Herschel Grynszpan shot a German official called Ernst vom Rath at the German embassy in Paris. In response the Germans attacked Jews and Jewish property on 9 November 1938. Jewish homes and shops were attacked and so many windows were broken it was called Kristallnacht (crystal night). Thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps. The Nazis also decided that the rest of the Jews must pay a fine of 1,000 million marks and they were not eligible for insurance payments.
The Nazis also detested Gypsies. In 1935 they were forbidden to marry 'Aryans'. From 1939 onward German Gypsies were deported to Poland. Later, like the Jews they were murdered in concentration camps.
In 1933 Josef Goebbels was made head of the 'Reich Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda'. Afterwards newspapers and books were strictly controlled. Nothing critical of the Nazis could be published. The Nazis also arranged for cheap radios to be made so as many people as possible could afford one. The Nazis realized that radio was an effective medium for propaganda. The Nazis also used the cinema. Many Nazi propaganda films were made.
The Nazis attacked modern art, which they called degenerate. They also banned music by Jewish composers. The Nazis also disliked jazz music, which they regarded as decadent. In 1933 the Nazis organised a book burning. They seized books in libraries they disapproved of and burned them on bonfires. Many writers, artists, film directors and musicians fled from Nazi Germany.
The Nazis also controlled education. Children were indoctrinated with Nazi ideas at school. The Nazi version of history was taught and children were taught Nazi racial theories. To further influence young people the Nazis created the Hitler-Jugend (Hitler Youth), which was an organisation boys could join at the age of 14. They went camping and hiking but also learned Nazi ideas. In 1936 membership was effectively made compulsory. For girls the Nazis created the Bund Deutscher Madel (League of German Girls).
However not all German youth conformed to Nazi ideas. By the late 1930s groups called Edelweiss Pirates emerged in western Germany (so called because they wore an edelweiss flower). They often beat up members of the Hitler Youth. There were also the Swing-Jugend (Swing Youth). They liked jazz music (which the Nazis disapproved of).
THE SECOND WORLD WAR
On 30 October 1485 Henry VII was crowned king of England. His surname, Tudor is derived from the Welsh for Theodore.On 1 September 1939 the German Army invaded Poland. On 3 September Britain and France declared war on Germany. However Poland was soon overrun. On 17 September the Russians invaded Poland from the east and by early October Polish resistance was crushed. Then in April 1940 the Germans occupied Denmark and they invaded Norway. They captured Norway in early June. Meanwhile in May 1940 the Germans invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The German army was astonishingly successful and France capitulated in late June. However Britain fought on.
In 1941 German troops were sent to fight the British in North Africa. Meanwhile the Germany army conquered Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete.
However in June 1941 Hitler in 1941 Hitler invaded Russia, a very stupid move. Worse on 11 December 1941 he declared war on the USA.
At first the war had little impact on German civilians. Hitler was convinced that a collapse of morale at home had cost Germany the First World War and he was determined to prevent the same thing happening again. So in 1940-1941 German civilians still had quite a high standard of living. However in 1942 food rations were reduced.
Then at the end of 1942 the British won the battle of El Alamein in Egypt. In November 1942 the Russian army surrounded the Germans at Stalingrad. Part of the German army there surrendered on 31 January 1943. The remaining part surrendered on 2 February. After this disaster Germany was losing the war. Also British and American bombing began to destroy German cities and industry.
The German troops in North Africa surrendered in May 1943. In July 1943 the allies invaded Sicily and in September they invaded Italy. On 6 June 1944 the allies invaded Normandy and opened a second front. That spelled Germany's doom. By the autumn of 1944 they had liberated France and Belgium. The Germans counterattacked in December 1944 but failed.
By January 1945 the Russians were poised to invade Germany. They had suffered terribly at the hands of the Germans and they wanted revenge. Civilians from East Prussia fled in terror. Then as the Russians entered Germany they committed terrible atrocities. Finally on 2 May 1945 the Russians captured Berlin. Meanwhile in late March the British and Americans crossed the Rhine. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945. His tyranny did not long outlast him Germany surrendered unconditionally at 12.01 pm on 8-9 May 1945.
The Nazis brought Germany to ruins, its cities reduced to rubble, its industry mostly destroyed. Furthermore Hitler's was cost millions of German lives. This was the legacy of Nazism.
The Nazis were, of course, responsible for murdering millions of innocent people. From 1940 Polish Jews were confined in ghettos. When the Germans invaded Russia in 1941 the mass murder of Jews in the east began. At first they were shot. Then at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 Nazi leaders decided to exterminate all Jews. So they were rounded up and deported to death camps. When they arrived some were selected for work (and worked to death), while others were gassed. Afterwards the bodies were burned. By the end of World War II some 6 million Jews had been murdered.
More about Auschwitz
A History of Germany
A Timeline of Germany
Tyrants in history
Read more about the dark side of history
Last revised 2019