Sei sulla pagina 1di 20

Nazi Consolidation

The SA had been a major factor in the Nazi battle for power, fighting street battles and terrorising opponents. They were mostly made up of lower middle-class men and the unemployed, and at 3 million strong (1934), outnumbered the German army. They were more radical and left-wing, believing Hitler’s revolution had not gone far enough. They were an unstable force in the regime, interfering at different levels of government and threatening a potential for a second revolution.

Hitler wanted to retain the confidence of the army, but the SA were a possible threat to this. The SA saw themselves as a more superior force than the army, with Rohm believing that they should be the main military force in the army. The army leaders or Hitler were not happy with this idea, and the army was intensely suspicious of the potential SA threat.

Hitler wanted the support of the army, as it was vital for him to get the confidence of the army if he wanted to carry out his future policy of conquest in Europe. On the other hand, after Hindenburg’s impending death, Hitler wanted to replace him as the commander of the German army. This too would require the confidence of the army.

The Night of the Long Knives (30 th June 1934) was a result of Hitler agreeing with the army leaders that the SA had to be brought under control, and the assurance that the army would be the sole bearer of arms in the Reich. In return, the army would support Hitler as Hindenburg’s successor. Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, the leaders of the SS would be the ones to remove the SA leadership in the Night of the Long Knives.

Rohm and hundreds of other SA officers were arrested and accused overthrowing the state. The next day, many were killed, and other people on the Nazi list were also killed in the process. The army was so pleased with Hitler’s removal of the SA that they barely complained at the death of two of their numbers.

The event reaffirmed the brutality of regime, and also strengthened Hitler’s power base. With one action, he removed the threat of the SA (and a second revolution) and gained the support of the SS. Hitler’s power was now absolute. AJP Taylor notes that from this point on, there was no turning back.

Much justification was used to cover the event. It was said that:

The army was to be the only bearer of arms

The SA was a treasonous lot

The SA was a threat to the stability of society

A law (Law Concerning Measures Taken in Defence of the State) was passed in 1934 to legally justify the event

The Role of Terror and Repression

Nazi use of propaganda was one of the first peacetime attempts to reach the masses and win over a large majority to support government programs. It made a wide use of a variety of forms of communication. A continuous propaganda was a major feature of the Third Reich.

The aim of the Nazi Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda was to influence the German people to accept the Nazi regime, define the cultural and social life of the nation by reinforcing the Nazi ideologies. This was done with the efficient use of technology, and the simplification of Nazi ideology for the masses. Propaganda defined Jews as the enemy of the state, promoting the vision of the National Community, the achievements of the state and the image of the leader represented by the slogan “En Reich, en Volk, en Fuhrer”.

Dr. Joseph Goebbels led the Propaganda Ministry, and understood the value of propaganda and the psychology behind its use. As a minister, Goebbels was responsible for the control of German music, theatre, music, writing, art, literature, architecture and sport under the Reich Chamber of Culture, and control over German newspapers, radio and film. The Central Propaganda Office was responsible for the promotion of the regime through great Nazi-related displays, rallies and special ceremonies.

Goebbels believed that the press could not only inform, but also instruct. Editorial Law (1933) required newspaper editors to follow government policy, and all members of the printed press to be registered and made members of the Reich Press Chamber (a branch of the Reich Chamber of Culture). All news stories were issued through the Propaganda Ministry’s German New Bureau as independent news agencies were abolished. Unsatisfactory newspapers were simply closed down.

Goebbels understood the importance of broadcast and therefore placed much emphasis on the radio by allowing every German to own the cheap and effective People’s Radio. Home ownership sprung to 9 million and radio audience numbered 56 million. All of Hitler’s speeches and the party rallies were broadcasted, and communal listening was encouraged. Goebbels emphasised the fact that the radio was to be instructive, but at all costs, not boring.

The German film industry was subject to control by the Propaganda Ministry. All German filmmakers were required to join the Reich Chamber of Film, and the Reich Motion Picture Law required the subject matters of all films to be approved and all employees in the industry had to take an oath of loyalty to Hitler. There was less Nazi interference in film than in radio or newspaper, and the industry thrived.

Hitlerjunge Quex (1933) about a Hitler Youth boy who dies for the Fuhrer and Hans Westmar (1934) which glorified the life of an SA member were propaganda films detested by Goebbels. He believed films had to be entertaining and indirect about their message. Many of such films were historical dramas which paralleled the present. Hitler was also promoted, appearing in brief films and news reels which focused on Hitler’s sacrifice for the good of the nation and emotion to create and sustain the Fuhrer myth. The Jews were blamed for Germany’s military defeat and the economic hardship which followed, and depicted as a threat to the racial purity and unity of the German national community. They are shown as such in Jud Suss, where the villain Suss seduces a German maiden,

tortures her husband and is finally hung by outraged Germans. The Eternal Jew (1940) horrified its audience through its depiction of Jews as rats.

Goebbels believed that one of his duties was to shape the nature of German cultural life, and this was done through the Reich Chamber of Culture. Modern art which flourished in the Weimar period was deemed “degenerate” and under the Reich, realistic art which embraced the everyday Aryan lifestyle, idealised womanhood, landscapes and rural scenes were encouraged. Nudes were accepted as they were believed to glorify strength and the Aryan form. The Exhibition of Great German Art was organised to hold Nazi-approved art taste and arts reinforcing the People’s Community. The Reich Chamber of Literature banned “un-German” books and controlled all authors and new publications, making many authors leave the country. As with art, modernism in music was out, as was Jewish composers and jazz. Music inspiring nationalist emotions and reflecting heroic themes were encouraged, and new holidays were added into the new German calendar.

The Nuremberg Party Rallies were held on the National Day of the Party, and was a 3-5 day long celebration and propaganda events conducted by the state. It aimed to reflect the unity and the will of the German people, the bond with their leader and the success.

During the war years, Germany’s victories were used to promote the themes of German invincibility and greatness, and reinforcing Hitler as a great military leader and strategist. During the war situation turned against Germany, everyone was urged to work hard for victory, and the war was depicted as a struggle by the German people to protect European civilisation from barbarians and Bolshevism. Kolberg was a film depicting the story of the German people’s defence of their land from Napoleon over a century before, attempting to inspire the German people in their struggle against the allies.

The Role of Terror and Repression

There was no attempt to hide the activities of the secret police, as terror was more effective if it was seen happening.

The SS had begun as Hitler’s personal bodyguards and was initially part of the SA. Where the SA had attracted street fighters, the SS was strictly controlled and all members were required to meet to high educational and physical standards. Members and women associated with them were required to have a racially Germanic line. They saw themselves as an elite racial community and acted independently of the government and the party.

The SS carried out police functions, removed internal enemies of the state and deported people from conquered lands. They were involved in the enslavement of foreign labour and illegal use of prisoners of war, and ran concentration camps. Special SS killings squads were formed to operate in territories conquered by the war, and murdered Jews, communists, intellectuals and anyone capable of opposing the regime. Most notably, they eliminated Ernst Rohm and the SA leadership.

In 1936, Heinrich Himmler was appointed Chief of German Police, giving him responsibility for all police agencies. Under Himmler, the Gestapo (the secret police state) and the SS Security Service were established.

The Waffen SS were a combat arm of the SS, and the army leaders were opposed to their creation until Hitler assured them that the army would be the sole bearer of arms for the nation. With the inclusion of non-Germans servicing in the Waffen SS, they peaked at 40 divisions and some 900,000 men. Under the command of the army, their quality varied, but made a formidable contribution to the war.

The Gestapo was responsible for the internal security of the Reich and responsible for investigating and repressing all anti-state activities. It was known to be ruthlessly efficient and it was implied that anyone could be summoned to police headquarters, mistreated and held indefinitely before being sent to a concentration camp under protective custody. They were able to imprison people without the need for judicial proceedings. They also ran the concentration camps with the SS, where a person could be sent to for “loafing on the job” or “defeatist statements”.

Historical research confirms that the Gestapo was not as massive as it was originally thought, with only 15000 personnel, most of who were career policemen whose careers started in the Weimar years. The Gestapo depended on state citizen reports to the police, normally on closed personal behaviour of citizens such as criticisms of the state or illegal relationships. 60-70% of cases began this way. Denunciations were more frequent in large towns than close-knit communities, and kept the terror state functioning. Block wardens were police informers placed in every block who reported on neighbourhood activities.

The Order of the Death’s Head was another SS unit who ran the concentration camps. When Hitler initially came to power, the camps were used to detain political prisoners (especially communists and socialists). Over time, trade unionists, religious dissenters, those who opposed the regime and

socially undesirables (Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, gypsies) were also sent. Prisoners were reduced to numbers, colour coded and beaten or worked to death.

Once the war began, the camps were established near factories or quarries where the prisoners were worked to death (“annihilation through work”).

Homosexuality was illegal in Nazi Germany, and any homosexual in the SS was put to death. Lesbians were not subjected to systematic persecution. The death rate in concentration camps for homosexuals was 60% due to widespread prejudice. Homosexuality was often used to discredit political opponents.

Gypsies were regarded as inferior people. They were disliked for not being racially German, anti- social and unproductive, challenging the idea of the National Community. All gypsies in Germany and other conquered lands were deported to concentration camps. Over 200,000 of them had been killed by the end of the war.

People certified by a team of specially selected doctors to be handicapped or mentally ill were killed simply because they were considered to have a life “unworthy of living”, and their continued survival was not considered not to be in the best interests of the nation. After being presented with the letter of a father who did not wish for his seriously handicapped son to continue living, Hitler signed a persona order killing mentally and physically handicapped kids. After the war began, more people were transported to be killed by pure carbon monoxide gas and lethal doses of medicine. The bodies were immediately cremated, fake death certificates issued and a standard letter of sympathy sent to grieving relatives.

The program aroused much suspicion and by 1941, the euthanasia program had leaked out. Cardinal Clemens von Galen made it a public issue when he publicly denounced it through a series of sermons. This is one of the few examples of Nazi policy being influenced by public protests, as Hitler had to cancel the program in 1941, but the killings began again in secret in 1942. Instead of gassing, victims were now lethally overdosed in several medical clinics throughout Germany.

The Role Played by the Army

Hitler always treated the army leadership with care and respect, as they were essential if he was to carry out his future program of European expansion. Also, after 1934, it was the only force in Germany capable of threatening his regime. Other aspects of German life were quickly brought under control, but the Nazis could not yet do this to the army with its proud tradition of independence. While the army was under Hindenburg’s control, Hitler needed to ensure that he had their support so that he could move into Hindenburg’s position after his death.

With the disposal of the SA and Ernst Rohm, the army was very pleased and barely baulked at the fact that two of their own (General von Schleicher and General von Bredow) were also murdered in the process. They believed that they were binding Hitler to support the needs of the German army, but in reality, the army had begun to bind itself to him. When Hitler abolished presidency and assumed Hindenburg’s authority, the army offered no resistance, and as a result, they were now required to take an oath not to the state, but to Hitler. Defence Minister Field Marshal von Blomberg admired Hitler, and believed that strengthening the army meant cooperation with the regime and its rearmament policy. The Nazi salute and swastika was introduced into the army, Jews removed from the armed forces and the importance of the nation and the people became a part of military colleges. Many aspects of the Nazi regime such as nationalism and race were attractive to the army, especially to the younger members.

When the Nazis came to power, Germany began to rearm. Hitler authorised an increase in the army size and it grew to 280,000 men by the end of 1934. In March 1935, he announced the reintroduction of conscription and by 1939, the army stood at 1.4 million men. German officers could look forward to promotion regardless of social and family background, and the idea of national community fostered closer bonds between German men. The use of armour as a prime attacking force became a newly developed technique which could play an essential role in military planning and were to be used with devastating effect. In May 1935, under Wehrmacht Defence Law, the Wehrmacht (“armed forces”) would replace the Reichswehr and the three branches would be the Army, the Navy (Kriegsmarine) and the Air Force (Luftwaff). In order to avoid the disaster with the allied blockade in the previous war, the Four Year Plan of 1936 aimed to make Germany self- sufficient in essentials such as oil, iron ore, textiles and food by 1940 (ready for war).

Airfields were built, and under the cover of the German Air Sports League, pilots were trained in private flying and glider clubs. Aviation companies began creating military transport planes, training craft and bombers. The air force was to have the dual role of delivering attacks on the enemy and providing air support for ground forces such as the mobile armed division. Submarines had been proven to be a great success in WWI and were therefore given priority. By 1939, Germany had 57 U- boat fleets and growing. Battleships were also being provided for.

Hitler had his doubts the Minister for War Field Marshal Blomberg and his army commander-in-chief General von Fritsch. Both were from the conservative aristocratic elite, but Hitler believed both lacked the will or sense of purpose to carry out future tasks and speed up the process. In early 1038, Blomberg married his secretary, who was later found out to be a registered prostitute and the disgrace forced Blomberg to retire. In the same month, Fritsch was linked to a homosexual

blackmailer, who was referring to another man of the same name. The removal of the two allowed Hitler to reorganise the army leadership, forcing the retirement of another 16 generals who were thought to be lacking sympathy for the regime. He assumed the position of Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and set up the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces, handpicking its members. The top army leadership was now either pro-Nazi, or incapable of opposing the army leadership.

Kershaw notes that the army had demonstrated weakness. Hitler, who saw the weaknesses, became increasingly contemptuous of the officer corps and came to see himself as not only the Head of State, but also a great military leader.

Opposition to the Regime

The highest vote the Nazis received in the Weimar period was 37%, meaning there were many who did not support Hitler. However, his rule came to be a very popular one. Reasons include:

The effectiveness of Nazi propaganda (particularly with the focus on the People’s Community

The role of propaganda came to ensure that expressions of opposition would not become public

The re-establishment of order and stability

Real economic gains and overcoming the problems associated with the depression

Dramatic drop in unemployment and improvements in living standards

Genuine popularity of Hitler himself

Restoration of Germany’s national honour

Institutional opposition from groups like other political parties, trade unions, the army and institutions like churches were given the opportunity to grow, All parties, save for the Nazi Party, were abolished, trade unions closed and the army pacified through the removal of the SA and the emphasis on military rearmament. Both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches did not become influential points of opposition, but the state was prepared to arrest outspoken critics and figures. There was also personal opposition from individuals who died for aired their opposition too publicly.

As resistance groups were isolated and lacked coordination they were ineffective.

The Edelweiss Pirates were young people aged between 16 and 18 who formed sub-cultures and rejected Nazism. They rejected Hitler Youth, evaded mandatory military service and observed a lifestyle which opposed the conservative conformity of Nazi Germany. During the war, they were more active with the anti-Nazi slogans in public places, assisting deserters or fugitives and were severely punished or sent to concentration camps. Himmler ordered the public execution of 13 in Cologne in 1944.

The Kreisau Circle was a group of conservatives who opposed the Nazi regime, but are restrained by their Christian principles from trying to overthrow it. They often met to discuss a new Germany based on Christian ethics. During the war, they passed intelligence on to the British. In 1944, Moltke was arrested, and several members supported the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life. By the end of the war, many (including Moltke) were executed.

The White Rose was a movement founded by the siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl in the University of Munich, and came to include a large group of students who printed pamphlets demanding an end to the regime. Sophie and Hans were executed.

During the war, severe laws were introduced to deal with the “enemies of the people”. This came to range from sabotage to anyone who voiced criticism of the government or the war effort, defeatist talk, listening to foreign broadcasts or jokes about the government. By 1944, 40 crimes carried the death sentence and the People’s Court frequently dished this out. The number of people in concentration camps increased rapidly.

By the time the war began, one of the only groups able to do something about the system was the army. A group of army officers led by General Ludwig Beck, the Army Chief of Staff, feared that reckless foreign policy would lead the nation into war and they plotted to overthrow Hitler. The plot failed, because Hitler succeeded in breaking Czechoslovakia without a war. During the war, there were two secret opposition groups composed of numerous conservative figures. They would all later pay with their lives for their opposition to Hitler.

Hitler, with very good luck and very close security (fewer public appearances, private travel plans and a remote location during the war) was able to survive a number of assassination plots during WWII. In November 1939, George Elser, a socialist, placed a bomb where Hitler was due to speak. Hitler shortened his speech and left 13 minutes before the bomb was due to set off. Elser was arrested trying to cross into Switzerland and executed a few weeks before the war ended. March 1943, General Henning von Tresckow, disillusioned by the SS and Gestapo activities, placed a bomb in a bottle of brandy in a plane carrying Hitler. The bomb failed to explode and was retrieved so that the attempt would go undetected. In February 1944, Captain Axel von den Bussche planned to wire himself with explosives and kill Hitler along with himself. The British Royal Air Force bombed the venue where a display was to take place, and the display (and the assassination) was cancelled. In July 1944, it was clear that Hitler intended to fight until the annihilation, so a group of officers with access to Hitler decided to kill him. Count Claus von Stauffenberg carried a bomb in a suitcase into a room and left it there less than a metre away from Hitler. The bomb detonated, only injuring Hitler and getting everyone involved arrested, with 200 brutally executed and families + 500 other supporters sent to concentration camps.

Opposition to the regime was ineffective because:


- loss of basic rights and legal protection

- SA, SS, Gestapo and other police activities

- denunciations from fellow Germans

Increasing control over civilian lives:

- Organisations such as Hitler Youth and the German Labour Front

No mass organisations to coordinate opposition:

- all political opposition eliminated

- abolition of trade unions

- ineffectiveness of conservative forces

Impact of propaganda:

- winning support from Germans

- censorship eliminating desire and ability to change system leading to increased public apathy

Elements of Nazi success until 1940:

- compared to Weimar, life was much better (threat of communism eliminated, standard of living improved, recovery of international standing) leading to public support

Early interpretations saw German people as victims of a totalitarian regime. However in the 1960s and 70s, the structuralist school led by Mommsen and Broszat challenged this view. They claim that the stat actually was left a great deal of initiative to the Germans themselves.

Karl-Heinz Reuband claims that Hitler and National Socialism were so immensely popular amongst most Germans that intimidation and terror were rarely needed to enforce loyalty.

According to Robert Gelletely, many welcomed the restoration of “law and order”, the destruction of the “communist threat”, the elimination of unemployment and the re-establishment of the economy, meaning more people were willing to support Hitler. AJP Taylor also supports this view, stating that without the cooperation of and support of his people, Hitler would have been nothing.

The prevailing view of the Nazi regime among historians is that Nazi Germany rested not only on coercion, but also a very substantial degree of persuasion and popular support, helped along by the propaganda machine. Many Germans were aware of the brutal elements of the state, and perhaps were even active participants of it. This may have persuaded them that opposition was futile. Resistance was often met with by death.

Social and Cultural Life

Volksgenmeinschaft (People’s Community) was a new sense of national unity which was to replaced community class divisions and social conflict. It was to be a racially pure community where everyone was equal and everyone displayed their loyalty to the nation, the leader and each other. After the political and social division of the Weimar era, this concept had appeal.

Kershaw writes that Nazism was incapable of bringing about a complete and permanent social revolution. Nazism’s intentions were directed to a transformation of value and belief systems – a psychological revolution rather than one of substance.

The Role of Women

Under Nazi Germany, women had a lesser role as according to Hitler, women were weaker and inferior. They were excluded from political life, did not hold any high positions in Nazi Germany and married women were discriminated against in the workforce. Single women were allowed to work, but there was a deliberate policy to force women out of the workforce and into the home. Professions such as law were closed off to women, admission of women to universities was drastically cut. Only unmarried women over 35 could hold permanent positions in civil law, and women were not allowed to serve on juries as it was believed their reasoning was based on emotions.

The German Women’s League was set up to define and encourage the new role for women in the Reich. Under Nazi ideology, the role of women was confined to the role of family life and motherhood. Propaganda pushed this idea, and girls were honed into their future roles at school. Women were expected to be homely, and were discouraged from make-up, smoking, fashion and weight reduction.

Policies were introduced, which aimed to increase the birth rate for “racially pure” sections of society. Ideally, families had at least 4 children, and those with more were kinderreich, and gained concessions such as reduced rail fares and gas and electricity bills. The Law for the Promotion of Marriage (1934) allowed “genetically healthy” married couples to be eligible for a loan of up to 100 reichmarks, provided the woman gave up her job at the time of her wedding and took no employment while her husband was working. One quarter of the loan was said to be “childed off” with the birth of each child. Childless couples and single men paid more taxes to help fun this program. On the 12 th August (Hitler’s mother’s birthday), bronze Mother’s Crosses were awarded to women with 4 children, silver to 6 and gold for 8. Mothers wearing the gold cross were entitles to be saluted by the Hitler youth. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour (1935) made it illegal for a German and a Jew to marry. While birth rates did increase, many believe the increase reflected the end of depression and the peaceful years before 1939. Number of marriages increased, but the number of children per marriage did not. The average family in Germany remained a “two- child” family.

The Nazi regime promoted the family as a core unit of society, but their policies undermined it. The Nazi focus on the young created generational tension, and ideas promoted by the education system caused tension between children and their parents. The Lebensborn or Spring of Life program set up

special homes for unmarried mothers referred by party agencies for women who fell pregnant to SS men outside of marriage. Children in these programs were often fostered out to German couples. Teenagers who bored illegitimate children felt they had done their duty and seemed remarkably unconcerned about the scandal.

The Role of Hitler Youth

Moulding the youth was seen as important by the Nazis, as if the Third Reich was to endure it was essential for the regime to win the loyalty of the next generation. Roberts says “he who has control over the elementary schools for 5 years is established in power forever”. Thanks to the moulding of the youth through their mandatory activities, Hitler was to them more than a demigod.

The Hitler Youth had existed as early as 1933, and the girls’ equivalent, The League of German Maidens was set up in 1930. Once the Nazis came to power, all other youth organisations were gradually closed down. Initially, the youth groups of Roman Catholic Church survived because of a concordat with the Vatican, but they were also banned in the late 1930s. By 1936, boys were legally obliged to be a member of Hitler Youth.

Boys aged between 6 and 10 were encouraged to join the Little Fellows, and 10-14, the German Young People. The boys engaged in various tests of endurance, were taught map and compass reading, the meaning and purpose behind Nazism and their role as future leaders. They were awarded the “Blood and Honour” dagger to mark their entry into Hitler Youth which placed great emphasis on physical activity. They were taught self-discipline, loyalty and obedience to superiors and were expected to know all the words to the Nazi songs and anthems. As a result, school was regularly interrupted for Hitler Youth activities. They were always present on days of great political rallies and Nazi celebrations.

Girls aged 10 to 14 participated in the League of Young Girls, and from 14 to 18, League of German Maidens, Once again, there was emphasis on physical activity, and preparation for their future roles as wives and mothers. At 18, the girls could join Faith and Beauty, which conditions girls into preparation for the Nazi ideal of marriage and motherhood.

By the late 1930s, the Nazi officials were increasingly concerned at elements of resistance in youth who had grown tired of regimentation and the demands of the youth movement. They Edelweiss Pirates were such a group, made mostly of working class youths from the industrial west who provoked and fought Hitler Youth in gangs, The Swing Movement was made up of middle class urban youth who reacted against the conformity of the Hitler Youth by dressing in English style clothes, embracing swing and jazz music and refusing to accept the Nazi ideal of the People’s Community. While Nazism appealed to the young, it was only partially successful in winning their loyalty.


The Nazis regarded education as a form of indoctrination. As a result, education was controlled to reflect German values, and to serve the purposes of the state. History and biology became the important subjects, and all children studied “Science of the Races”. As Hitler believed in the importance of sport in building a healthy and strong generation, physical activity received much attention. Race became an important topic at school, and nationalism militarism, the study of Germany’s historic past and the rise of National Socialism were emphasised.

All teachers were forced into this direction, and forced to join the National Socialist te-+achers’ Alliance. As most teachers held a conservative view and disliked the freedom of expression in the Weimar period, this suited them well. Special schools such as the National Political Training Institutes and the Adolf Hitler School were set up to train specially selected students for futures roles in the Nazi Party. Curses in universities were revised to place more emphasis on science and technology, and many academics who valued intellectual freedom left for other countries. Enrolments declined and by the late 1930s, the quality of the students in university courses had plummeted due to the Nazi educational system.

The Role of Religion

To many Germans, National Socialism was a religion itself. Hitler had nothing but contempt for Christianity, but understanding the influence of its churches, he moved cautiously in his dealings with them.

In 1933, a concordat was drawn up between the Third Reich and the Vatican, each promising not to interfere with one another’s affairs. By 1937, the government had violated the main points of the concordat, placed restrictions on Catholics schools, persecuted priests and nuns and pashing out religious instruction in schools. The result was an angry pope and an encyclical which was read out in most German churches during the 1937 Easter services.

The Protestants, not being part of an international organisation and having a long tradition of loyalty to the state and obedience to authority, were easier to deal with. The Nazis sought to coordinate the activities of the churches, which only resulted in a deeper division within the church and the formation of the Confessional Church which opposed the Nazi attempt to control and “Nazify” the church, condemning the state’s “false teachings”.

Pastor Martin Niemoller, a former U-boat commander, had been an avid Nazi supporter until he was disillusioned by the Nazi attempt to control religious expression. He was imprisoned in a concentration camp for expressing his views. Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke up and was executed. On the whole churches were critical about the loss of religion, but remained passive and silent about the matter.

Impact on Cultural Life

Hitler and Nazi leadership despised intellectuals and the cultural activities of the 1920s. They sought to define a new cultural life which reflected the ideologies of the Nazi state.

“Un-German” books were burnt (including Jewish authors, books that expressed socialist or liberal views or pacifism and communist publications) and the Reich Office of Literature had to approve of all publications.

Classical music prevailed and German composers were favoured. Acceptable non-German music and opera was tolerated, as long as it had no trace of Jew, and a number of world-wide famous Jews left the country. Modern experimental music and jazz was banned for its black origins.

Bauhaus architecture and its emphasis on modernism were replaced by the classical forms of Ancient Greece and Rome. Buildings were planned on enormous scales to emphasise strength and presence, reinforcing the power and permanency of the Nazi state.

Modern and abstract art where artists sought to convey feeling and emotion was considered to be depraved. Hitler believed art should be understood by the people, and used it as a way to express Nazi ideology and the notion of the People’s Community. Sculptures of large heroic figures depicting idealised themes of strength, sacrifice and the collective will were favoured, and all artists and sculptors were strictly scrutinised through the Reich Chamber of Culture. Artists wishing to join were expected to create work reflecting Nazi ideology. “Unacceptable” art was burnt, and in 1937, an Exhibition of Degenerate Art for mocking modern art was set up by Goebbels, who soon closed it down since it was becoming popular. Similarly, the House of German Art was set up, which reflected the Nazi concept of art.

Impact on the Economy

Hitler, who had no interest in economics, never placed any importance on the Party’s “socialist aims”. Those in the Party left wing ideas lost influence after 1933, and its leaders were assassinated in 1934 to ensure no further problems.

Hitler’s idea of socialism was that every individual or group in the state should work unhesitatingly for national policy, that that all racially pure Germans, regardless of class, were party of the national community. Hitler was prepared to allow capitalism and big businesses (which had helped the Nazis into power and were needed for Germany’s economic recovery) to function in the new Germany. Political power over the state was enough to control the economy as well.

A program of public works which had been planned by the Weimar government was expanded and put into effect by the Nazi government. It was put forward as an example of National Socialism in action. New laws restricting the rights of women in the workforce led to hundreds of thousands of women leaving the workforce. The worst of the depression had passed, and the government provided loans and concessions to businesses which could as a result, employ more workers. The creation of the Reich Labour Service in 1935 required all males over the age of 18 to do six months of labour service, and in the same year, conscription was introduced. Therefore, unemployment fell.

The economy recovered under Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, who was appointed as Minister for Economics under Hitler and used to be president of the Reichsbank and worked under Schmidt to deal with the 1923 hyperinflation. Businesses and industrial leaders were encouraged by Schacht’s employment, and even more so by the removal of trade unions and the imposed wage constraints on German workers. Germany’s trade position was strengthened with strict controls over Germany’s imports, and trade treaties were signed with countries economically weaker than Germany. Under such treaties, Germany acquired raw materials in exchange for its imports.


The aim of the Four Year Plan under Hermann Goering was to make the German economy ready for war within 4 years, as of 1936. This was to be the precursor to Hitler’s foreign policy of expansion.

Autarky, or economic self sufficiency in food and raw materials, was a key part of the plan. This meant reducing dependency on overseas trade, the production of synthetic rubber and textiles, the development of better oil and petroleum supplies and the expansion of the iron and steel industry.

Schacht, who managed the economy with great care, clashed with Goering who spent much money at a rapid pace for rearmament. Schacht’s resignation in 1937 signalled to German industrial leaders that the aims of the party were all that mattered.


In the 1930s, the Nazi ideology had never really considered the working class. The Nazis abolished trade unions and the German Labour Front was set up to manage the working class. The government sought to restrict wage increases, and in 1936, the average wage level per week was well below that of the 1920s. Time set aside for work increased, and workers were required to pay sickness and accident insurance, and compulsory membership fees to the German Labour Front. The German Labour Front was there to indoctrinate workers into accepting their role in the state.

In 1933, the Bureau of the Beauty of Labour was set up to improve workers’ physical working conditions. The better working conditions came in, and it was compensation for the fact that throughout the Nazi period, their wages only increased slightly.

The Strength Through Joy used money confiscated from trade unions to provide leisure activities in order to have workers return to work with greater motivation in their daily work. Workers who previously could not afford to go on a holiday now could on subsidiary trips, and the tourism industry grew. In accordance to the People’s Community, there were no class divisions on trips.

The Volkswagon, financed by the German Labour Front, was to be a symbol of the new society where in the national community, class barriers came down.


Farmers were seen as the noblest class in the nation, being racially the most pure, and away from the corruption and influence of the great urban centres.

In the 1920s, small farmers experienced falling incomes for their produce and increasing debt. In 1933, the government introduced the Hereditary Farm Law, which meant that hereditary farms could not be sold or broken up, and had to be passed to descendants. The Reich Food Estate which established control over the production, distribution and price of food. To raise the dignity of agrarian life, special festivals and rituals were held. The term “peasant” was declared an honourable title, and rural workers were projected as the core of the national community. The Propaganda Ministry organised German farm workers to meet their Fuhrer to celebrate the autumn festival annually.

Was There a Social Revolution in Germany?

David Schoenbaum suggests that there was a social revolution in German, and Nazis broke down the class system. He concedes that the landowning class survived, but the Nazis had moved very much to a classless society.

On the other hand, Jeremy Noakes disagrees, focussing on Nazism’s negative reaction against the social, political and economic system. It was determined to establish a totalitarian rule to carry out a racist and aggressive policy of expansion in Europe. There were superficial changes and vague concepts, such as the national community, but it wasn’t until the end of the war that the real social revolution occurred in Germany.

The status and position of the privileged remained unchanged, capitalism survived and institutions such as the church survived, so family life was not greatly altered.


By the 19 th century and during the Weimar period, Jews had won acceptance into society and were an integral part of the intellectual, financial, educational and cultural life of Germany, even displaying loyalty in WWI. Until the Nazis came to power, Jews in Germany faced less anti-Semitism than Jews in other neighbouring countries, and enjoyed equality with all other Germans. On the other hand, there were racist movements (Volkish Movement) from German philosophers, writers and artists who saw Jews as an obstacle to the purity of the Aryan community, and a challenge to German culture. They were to be excluded, not assimilated.

According to Hitler, civilisations and nations decline when they fail to maintain the purity of their race, and it was the government’s fundamental duty to preserve that purity if they were to remain the superior race and maintain dominance over inferior races. To him, the Jews were the complete opposite of Aryans, for they had no nation or culture. He was convinced that there was a Jewish world conspiracy, and that they were responsible for all the evil which had befallen upon Germany. Above all, they were a threat to Hitler’s vision of a pure, racial community. The fact that many of the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution were Jewish led him to the idea of a Jewish Bolshevik revolution world conspiracy which could challenge Germany and the Aryans.

The four distinct phases of Nazi racial policies as outlined by Richard Overy are:

Vilification – deliberate attempt to make Germans dislike and fear Jews in Germany, especially through the Nazi propaganda machine

Discrimination – laws that were progressively passed to deprive Jews of their rights, including citizenship

Separation – the progressive removal of Jews from the community and the “resettlement” to the east

Extermination – the killing of Jews and others in extermination camps

Vilification and Discrimination

In April 1933, the boycott of Jewish shops, goods, doctors and lawyers was organised. Jewish civil servants were dismissed. Only famers who could prove they had no Jewish blood in them could inherit land. Many Jews immigrated as a result, taking their possessions with them.

Between 1933 and 1935, laws removing Jews from civil service, the education, legal and health systems were enacted. The Law Against the Overcrowding of German Schools restricted the amount of Jewish children allowed to attend government schools. Goebbels expelled Jews from artistic and cultural life, and Jews were removed from elite sporting teams and forbidden from representing Germany internationally.

The Nazi leadership had to move carefully, being aware of international criticism and the possibility that the situation may get out of hand. Many middle-class Germans did not approve of the new policies against the Jews, and those in big cities were generally more tolerant towards Jews than those in smaller communities.

The Nuremberg Laws of September 1935 forbad marriage between German and Jews and deprived all German Jews of their citizenship. Another subsequent law identified Jews not by religion, but by grandparents in an attempt to define who constituted as a Jew.

In 1938, Jewish shops had to be registered and show a special trade mark. July that year, all Jews were forced to apply for special ID cards to be shown on demand.

The campaign against the Jews resumed in 1937 after the easing of conditions in 1936 during the Berlin Olympics. The attacks were now legitimised by the State through the laws passed. Historian Daniel Goldhagen argued that many Germans were intolerant of the Jews and accepted the brutal treatment imposed by the Nazis. He then suggests that my people were actually involved in the separation and extermination of the Jews.

In November 9 th 1938, a young Jewish student assassinated a Nazi diplomat in Paris. In retaliation, the SS organised a series of “spontaneous” demonstrations against Jews all over Germany. The demonstrations were to be staged as if German civilians were thrashing out against their uncontainable rage against the Jews. Shops were broken into and looted, many synagogues were burnt down and Jews arrested. The Jews were forced to pay for damages, and a further fine of 1.25 billion reichmarks was imposed on the Jewish community. Jews were allowed to leave the country, but without their money or possessions. This event came to be known as Kristallnacht, one of the most violent outbursts against the Jews before the war. It was initiated by Goebbels and other Nazi leaders to please Hitler by “working towards the Fuhrer” and carrying out radical initiatives that Hitler would approve of.

Separation to Extermination

Between 1935 and 1933, hundreds of thousands of Jews left the country. After September 1939, it was very difficult to leave. However, as Germany’s war successes brought other countries under its rule, and millions of other Jews under Nazi control, their policy towards Jews became even more radical. The first systematic killings began in Poland, where Jews were herded into ghettos and camps across the country where many starved to death. Those still alive were transferred to extermination camps across the nation. Of Poland’s 3 million Jews, only 0.4million survived.

Einsatzgruppen, or Special Action Units under Reinhard Heydrich were set up within the SS to kill Jews and other undesirables in the occupied territories of the east. There was no attempt to conceal their activities, as they were often photographed at work. The army accepted the activities of the Special Action Units, and many German officers accepted the Nazi doctrine that Jews and Bolsheviks were linked, and that the Slavs were subhuman.

From 1941, Nazi treatment of the Jews worsened further. In August 1941, all German Jews were legally required to wear the Star of David on their clothing, could not travel beyond their community without a written police permit, and if they did travel, were only permitted to occupy the third-class section on trains. From May 1942, a law even required them to hand over their family pets. In late 1941, all Jews in Germany were to “resettled” into east, but in reality, they were sent to be killed. There is no document or date of the Final Solution, but there is no doubt that Hitler approved of it, as such a large operation could not have gone by unnoticed, and he had made his will known to men who wear eager to “move towards the Fuhrer”.

The Wannsee Conference of 1942 called together 15 senior government and SS officials to discuss the technical details of the Final Solution, and ways to expand the slaughter and make the killings more efficient. It considered problems with the transportation of such large numbers, and the most effective way with dealing with the Jews at the extermination camps in Poland. Special camps were already being built near railways to speed up the movement of people, and Polish Jews were starting to be gassed in ghettos. Shooting by the Special Action Units was considered too slow, and gassing by carbon monoxide was unreliable.

Some of the death camps built includes Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek, Belzec, Chelmno and Stutthof all located in Poland, far away from Germany. Most of the killing was done via mass gassing with a form of prussic gas. Between 1942 and 1944, over two million people were killed in gas chambers disguised as shower rooms. As the war went on, the transportation of Jews continued, regardless of arguments that the rail stock was vitally needed elsewhere and that the Jews could have been used more effectively as labour for the war industry, demonstrating that ideology prevailed over all else.

Historical Debate

Historians do not doubt that Hitler did not know of the Final Solution, but due to the fact that there is no direct evidence which proves that Hitler ordered the regime, the subject has generated some debate.

Some historians, including Hans Mommsen and Martin Broszat as part of the structuralist school of thought argue that the increasing radicalisation of the war and anti-Semitic policies led to the Final Solution. As attempts to find other solutions failed, the final solution simply evolved, rather than being deliberately planned.

Other historians, including Karl Dietrich Bracher and Eberhard Jackel as part of the intentionalist school of thought see Hitler as being the key element in the existence of the Final Solution. Lucy Dawidowicz argues that it had always been part of Hitler’s plans to eliminate the Jews, and that the opportunity to do so came as Germany occupied large areas of Europe.


Totalitarianism is a system of government in which power and all aspects of state affairs are in the hands of one party and that party tolerates no opposition. There is total control over all aspects of life, and no provisions for debate or criticism. A key feature of totalitarianism is that it seeks to change society’s thinking and actions by imposing its philosophy, and uses modern science and technology to pervade every aspect of life. It is different from earlier forms of totalitarianism in that it usually based on some element of support.

In 1939, Germany, Russia and Italy were considered to be significant totalitarian regimes as they displayed key features in common, despite their ideological differences. Throughout the 1950s, both German and non-German historians saw Nazi Germany as a totalitarian state. It had an oppressive dictatorship, and used terror as a form of control over its people.

In 1956, Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzeznski defined six characteristics of a totalitarian state:



single party, usually led by a charismatic leader


An official ideology


Total control over the economy


Control over mass communications


system of terror and police control that was systematic and directed at enemies of the regime and “arbitrarily selected classes of the population” alike



Control over the armed forces of the state

Many historians now question whether it is appropriate to see Nazism as totalitarianism. They believe that there are important aspects of the Nazi state which simply do not fit the all-embracing concept of totalitarianism. Criticisms include:

The state seemed to be a rigid, organised and monolithic, but the reality was quite different

Nazism was a vague ideology, more a plan of action than a systematic theory

There was never the level of state ownership or control over the economy like Stalin’s Russia

The Nazi Party still shared authority with a number of significant power groups that survived,

it had no monopoly of power

The Nazi movement relied on a degree of popular appeal, deliberately promoted by the Propaganda Ministry

Historians like Hans Mommsen suggest that Hitler was a “weak dictator” who presided over

a state of “unparalleled institutional anarchy”

Terror existed in the Nazi state, but research suggests that the Gestapo was not efficient or well organised, and was incapable of carrying out a comprehensive surveillance of the people. In fact, it relied on the cooperation and contribution of ordinary Germans

Research suggests that Hitler’s regime had a significant level of popular support, and most Germans accepted and were willing to cooperate with the government

Even with the terror and coercion, research suggests that there was a very significant amount of popular support in Nazi Germany, therefore better qualifying as a “dictatorship by consent”