31.1: Axis Powers
31.1.1: Hitler’s Germany
Hitler and his Nazi Party ruled Germany from 1933-1945 as a fascist totalitarian state which controlled nearly all aspects of life.
Characterize Germany under the Nazi regime
- The German economy suffered severe setbacks after the end of World War I, partly because of reparations payments required under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. These reparations created social unrest and provided an opportunity for the Nazi Party to attract popularity.
- Racism, especially antisemitism, was a central feature of the Nazi Party.
- After the Nazi Party won a majority of seats in the German parliament, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by the President of the Weimar Republic Paul von Hindenburg on January, 30 1933, and soon eliminated all political opposition and consolidated his power.
- In March 1933, the Enabling Act, an amendment to the Weimar Constitution, passed in the Reichstag. This allowed Hitler and his cabinet to pass laws—even laws that violated the constitution—without the consent of the president or the Reichstag.
- President Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, and Hitler became dictator of Germany by merging the powers and offices of the Chancellery and Presidency.
- Germany was now a totalitarian state with Hitler at its head.
- Adolf Hitler
- A German politician who was the leader of the Nazi Party, Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and Führer of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1945; he initiated World War II in Europe with the invasion of Poland in September 1939 and was a central figure of the Holocaust.
- Hostility, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews.
- Nazi Party
- A political party in Germany active between 1920 and 1945 that practiced the ideology of Nazism, a form of fascism that incorporates scientific racism and antisemitism.
- A form of radical authoritarian nationalism that came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe, whose proponents believe that liberal democracy is obsolete and regard the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state as necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict and respond effectively to economic difficulties.
Nazi Germany is the common English name for the period in German history from 1933 to 1945 when the country was governed by a dictatorship under the control of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Under Hitler’s rule, Germany was transformed into a fascist totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich (“Greater German Reich”) from 1943 to 1945. The period is also known under the names the Third Reich and the National Socialist Period. The Nazi regime came to an end after the Allied Forces defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.
Hitler’s Rise to Power
Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by the President of the Weimar Republic Paul von Hindenburg on January 30, 1933. The Nazi Party then began to eliminate all political opposition and consolidate its power. Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, and Hitler became dictator of Germany by merging the powers and offices of the Chancellery and Presidency. A national referendum held August 19, 1934 confirmed Hitler as sole Führer (leader) of Germany. All power was centralized in Hitler’s person, and his word became above all laws. The government was not a coordinated, co-operating body, but a collection of factions struggling for power and Hitler’s favor. In the midst of the Great Depression, the Nazis restored economic stability and ended mass unemployment using heavy military spending and a mixed economy. Extensive public works were undertaken, including the construction of Autobahnen (motorways). The return to economic stability boosted the regime’s popularity.
Racism, especially antisemitism, was a central feature of the regime. The Germanic people (the Nordic race) were considered by the Nazis to be the purest branch of the Aryan race, and therefore were viewed as the master race. Millions of Jews and other peoples deemed undesirable by the state were murdered in the Holocaust. Opposition to Hitler’s rule was ruthlessly suppressed. Members of the liberal, socialist, and communist opposition were killed, imprisoned, or exiled. The Christian churches were also oppressed, with many leaders imprisoned. Education focused on racial biology, population policy, and fitness for military service. Career and educational opportunities for women were curtailed. Recreation and tourism were organised via the Strength Through Joy program, and the 1936 Summer Olympics showcased the Third Reich on the international stage. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels made effective use of film, mass rallies, and Hitler’s hypnotizing oratory to control public opinion. The government controlled artistic expression, promoting specific art forms and banning or discouraging others.
Beginning in the late 1930s, Nazi Germany made increasingly aggressive territorial demands, threatening war if they were not met. It seized Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939. Hitler made a pact with Joseph Stalin and invaded Poland in September 1939, launching World War II in Europe.
The Rise of the Nazi Party
The German economy suffered severe setbacks after the end of World War I, partly because of reparations payments required under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. The government printed money to make the payments and repay the country’s war debt; the resulting hyperinflation led to higher prices for consumer goods, economic chaos, and food riots. When the government failed to make the reparations payments in January 1923, French troops occupied German industrial areas along the Ruhr. Widespread civil unrest followed.
The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party) was the renamed successor of the German Workers’ Party founded in 1919, one of several far-right political parties active in Germany at the time. The party platform included removal of the Weimar Republic, rejection of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, radical antisemitism, and anti-Bolshevism. They promised a strong central government, increased Lebensraum (living space) for Germanic peoples, formation of a national community based on race, and racial cleansing via the active suppression of Jews, who would be stripped of their citizenship and civil rights. The Nazis proposed national and cultural renewal based upon the Völkisch (German populist) movement.
When the stock market in the United States crashed on October 24, 1929, the effect on Germany was dire. Millions were thrown out of work, and several major banks collapsed. Hitler and the Nazi Party prepared to take advantage of the emergency to gain support for their party. They promised to strengthen the economy and provide jobs. Many voters decided the Nazi Party was capable of restoring order, quelling civil unrest, and improving Germany’s international reputation. After the federal election of 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag (elected parliament), holding 230 seats with 37.4 percent of the popular vote.
Hitler Seizes Power
Although the Nazis won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they did not have a majority, so Hitler led a short-lived coalition government formed by the Nazi Party and the German National People’s Party. Under pressure from politicians, industrialists, and the business community, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. This event is known as the Machtergreifung (seizure of power). In the following months, the Nazi Party used a process termed Gleichschaltung (co-ordination) to rapidly bring all aspects of life under control of the party. All civilian organizations, including agricultural groups, volunteer organizations, and sports clubs, had their leadership replaced with Nazi sympathizers or party members. By June 1933, virtually the only organisations not under control of the Nazi Party were the army and the churches.
On the night of February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building was set afire; Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch communist, was found guilty of starting the blaze. Hitler proclaimed that the arson marked the start of a communist uprising. Violent suppression of communists by the Sturmabteilung (SA) was undertaken all over the country, and 4,000 members of the Communist Party of Germany were arrested. The Reichstag Fire Decree, imposed on February 28, 1933, rescinded most German civil liberties, including rights of assembly and freedom of the press. The decree also allowed the police to detain people indefinitely without charges or a court order. The legislation was accompanied by a propaganda blitz that led to public support for the measure.
In March 1933, the Enabling Act, an amendment to the Weimar Constitution, passed in the Reichstag by a vote of 444 to 94. This amendment allowed Hitler and his cabinet to pass laws—even laws that violated the constitution—without the consent of the president or the Reichstag. As the bill required a two-thirds majority to pass, the Nazis used the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to keep several Social Democratic deputies from attending; the Communists had already been banned. On May 10 the government seized the assets of the Social Democrats; they were banned in June. The remaining political parties were dissolved, and on July 14, 1933, Germany became a de facto one-party state when the founding of new parties was made illegal. Further elections in November 1933, 1936, and 1938 were entirely Nazi-controlled and saw only the Nazis and a small number of independents elected. The regional state parliaments and the Reichsrat (federal upper house) were abolished in January 1934.
On 2 August 1934, President von Hindenburg died. The previous day, the cabinet had enacted the “Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich,” which stated that upon Hindenburg’s death, the office of president would be abolished and its powers merged with those of the chancellor. Hitler thus became head of state as well as head of government. He was formally named as Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor). Germany was now a totalitarian state with Hitler at its head. As head of state, Hitler became Supreme Commander of the armed forces. The new law altered the traditional loyalty oath of servicemen so that they affirmed loyalty to Hitler personally rather than the office of supreme commander or the state. On August 19, the merger of the presidency with the chancellorship was approved by 90 percent of the electorate in a plebiscite.
- Hitler’s Germany
“Hitler’s Rise to Power.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler%27s_rise_to_power. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Adolf_Hitler-1933.jpg.” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adolf_Hitler-1933.jpg. Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Flag_of_the_German_Reich_(1935–1945).svg.png.” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_the_German_Reich_(1935%E2%80%931945).svg. Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.