HS-102 Readings

Nazi Germany

HOW AND WHERE DID THE NAZI MOVEMENT ORIGINATE?
WHAT WAS THE EFFECT OF THE DEPRESSION UPON THE NAZI PARTY?
WHAT WAS GERMAN FOREIGN POLICY IN THE 1930,s?
WHAT WAS INVOLVED IN THE HOLOCAUST?
WHAT WAS THE EFFECT OF WORLD WAR II UPON THE NAZIS AND UPON GERMANY?

    The city of Munich in the province of Bavaria was the locale for the formation of the National Socialist Workers Party, commonly referred to as the Nazi Party. It
was formed after World War I and its membership, at first, consisted of a handful of people, many former soldiers of the German army, who shared beliefs that the war had been lost because of traitors (Jews and Marxists) who had rebelled in October, 1918, and that the Versailles "Diktat" must be rejected.

WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES ENCOURAGED THE GROWTH OF THE NAZI PARTY
AFTER WORLD WAR I?

    The traumatic shock of defeat in World War I, which millions of Germans could not accept; the terms of the Versailles Treaty, universally condemned by Germans; and the economic collapse, involving hyper-inflation by 1923 and the massive depression beginning in 1929 were the conditions which rendered the German people, particularly, the middle class, vulnerable to the appeal of the Nazis.

WHAT WAS THE ROLE OF ADOLF HITLER IN THE NAZI PARTY?

    Adolf Hitler was a frustrated, driven Austrian loner, who came from a family background in which his mother, the only person with whom he had been close in his early years, was dominated by an abusive, authoritarian husband and father. Intelligent, but aggressive, egotistical, and undisciplined, Hitler succeeded in school only when he pursued his own particular interests. He conceived himself to be a great artist and
architect, but failed to be accepted into the School of Architecture in Vienna.

     It was in Vienna, that he read widely the racist literature which helped to form his own racist and anti-semitic world-view. When the war broke out, although he was Austrian, he was able to enlist in the German Army. During the war, on the western front, he proved
himself to be a courageous somewhat fanatical soldier.

     After the war, he was assigned to an intelligence unit in Munich where he attended the meetings of the then tiny Nazi Party, found himself among others who agreed with his ideas, and discovered the magnetic appeal his speeches had. His charismatic speaking attracted new members, and he became valued as being essential to the growth of the movement. He used that to manuever himself into a position of leadership in which he demanded and received the complete subservience of the other members of the party to
his rule.

WHAT PROBLEMS DID THE NAZIS HAVE DURING THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE WEIMAR REPUBLIC?

    The Nazis were one of a number of political movements in Munich during the initial chaotic period (1919-1923) of the Weimar Republic. For a short time, Bavaria was ruled by a Communist faction inspired by the success of the Bolsheviks in Russia. However, Bavaria as well as the rest of Germany, was fertile ground for fascism. Many paramilitary groups (Freikorps) flourished amid an atmosphere congenial to reactionary, right-wing thinking. The economic privation, fed by an increasing inflation, discredited the Weimar government and added to the accumulating despair and dissent. However, a Nazi attempt at a seizure of the Munich and Bavarian government in 1923 was thwarted. Hitler was arrested, tried and imprisoned for 11 months.

HOW DID THE NAZI PARTY GROW DURING THE WEIMAR YEARS?

    Hitler remained in control of the Nazi Party despite his imprisonment, and used that time to write "Mein Kampf" (My Struggle) in which he laid out his world-view and wrote of his dreams for Germany and for the "master race of Aryans".

      During the recovery period of the Weimar Republic (1924-1929), the Social Democratic Party was the leading party in a liberal, constitutional regime, which had considerable success in restoring Germany to an equal place among the community of nations. They became parties to the Locarno peace agreement and the League of Nations. All of this was lost upon the Nazis, who were a minority party in the Reichstag, consumed by their obsession with the Versailles "Diktat", but also organizing on a
nationwide basis.

WHAT EFFECT DID THE GREAT DEPRESSION HAVE UPON THE FORTUNES OF THE NAZI PARTY?

    The Great Depression, begun in the United States, and spreading to Europe because of the economic dependence of Europe upon the United States, brought a return of the economic hardship which had prevailed at the beginning of the decade. The inability of the centrist parties, who were committed to following Constitutional procedures, to solve the economic problems, led to the rising popularity of extremist parties, particularly
the Nazi Party.

WHAT POLITICAL CIRCUMSTANCES DID HITLER TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TO
COME TO POWER?

    The Weimar Constitution provided for a Parliamentary democracy in which the leader of the majority party became the chancellor. Because there were several parties, it was rare for one party to achieve a majority. It was usually necessary for the leader of the party with a plurality to negotiate an agreement with another party to form a majority coalition. The President was elected by the people for a six-year term. He was
responsible for appointing the Chancellor from among the party leaders. However, in circumstances in which the Chancellor failed to form a majority, the President could rule by decree.

      The Nazi Party never obtained a majority, but they did obtain a plurality (the single largest party in the Reichstag) during the Depression years. Hitler used this position to demand that he be appointed Chancellor, and by refusing to accept a coalition with any other party, he assured paralysis of the democratic process. He contested for election as
President when he was at the peak of his popularity in July, 1932, but lost to the aging war hero, Hindenberg.

      Hindenburg, long opposed to the appointment of "the corporal", but frustrated by his inability to appoint anyone else who could form a majority capable of dealing with the economic crisis, finally gave in to pressures to appoint Hitler.

ONCE IN POWER, WHAT WERE THE ROLES OF POLICE TERROR AND
PROPAGANDA IN MAINTAINING POWER?

    Police terror was essential to the intimidation of the political opposition to the Nazis. Control of the press and a skillful campaign of propaganda kept news of negative developments away from the public, while every success, real or imagined, was exagerrated and brought to public attention. Communists were fictitiously identified as planning a rebellion and used as an excuse to give Hitler's government special powers. Members of the Reichstag were pressured into giving Hitler an Enabling Act which
allowed him to rule by decree for 4 years. Opponents were rounded up and
sent to concentration camps.

HOW DID HITLER CONSOLIDATE HIS POWER OVER GERMANY IN THE 1930,s? HOW WAS NATIONALISM INVOLVED?

    On the occasion of the anniversary of the Battle of Tannenberg, Hitler identified his government, the Third Reich, with the second empire created by Bismarck, thereby establishing a link with a past which Germans remembered with pride, while at the same time,  denouncing the "disgraceful" Weimar period.

      In 1934, he purged the Nazi Party of all potential dissenters, including some of the original party members, in a "night of the long knives" during which about a thousand party members were executed. He sharply reduced the numbers of the Nazi paramilitary movement, the Sturm Abteilung, or brown shirts. This re-assured the German Army which had viewed the S.A. as a rival military force. Hitler then organized a massive party rally at Nuremberg which helped to restore the confidence of party members
shattered by the purge.

      By 1936, Hitler had organized a new paramilitary movement, the S.S., which was personally sworn to a dedicated allegiance to him, under the command of his loyal follower Himmler. Hitler also required, by that time, a personal oath of allegiance to him by all members of the armed forces.

      Hitler identified himself with the German nation and required all Germans to consider their national loyalty as synonymous to loyalty to him as the leader. The constant, ostentatious display of national flags and Nazi banners, coupled with patriotic music, helped to enlist national feeling behind support for his regime.

HOW WAS ANTI-SEMITISM EXPRESSED BY THE NAZIS IN THE 1930,s?

    As soon as the Nazi government could act, Jews were systemically denied prestigious occupations in the professions and in the schools, and Jewish-owned stores were boycotted and often attacked. By 1935, the Nuremberg Laws (decrees) were imposed, defining Jews as a separate, inferior race, requiring them to wear the yellow, Star of David, armband and discriminating aginst them in a variety of ways. In 1938, after the
assassination of a Nazi official in Paris by a Jew, the Nazis carried out a campaign of systematic destruction of Jewish shops and synagogues throughout Germany in the night known as Kristallnacht.

WHAT WAS HITLER'S FOREIGN POLICY IN THE 1930,s? HOW DID THAT POLICY LEAD TO WORLD WAR II?

    Hitler took Germany out of the League of Nations and began an armaments buildup in violation of the Versailles Treaty. In 1935, he signed the Anglo-German naval agreement which allowed Germany to build up to 50 submarines. He supported an abortive Nazi uprising in neighboring Austria in 1934, but was not prepared to intervene in the face of opposition from Mussolini's Italy.

       In 1936, he sent the German army into the west bank of the Rhine also in violation of the Versailles Treaty. In the same year, he signed the Axis anti-Comintern Pact with Italy and Japan.

       In 1938, he demanded that the Austrian government allow Austrian Nazis a dominant position in the government. When the Austrian Chancellor arranged for the people of Austria to express in a referendum their wishes concerning unification with Germany, Hitler ordered the occupation of Austria. (the Anschluss).

        Later that year, he threatened Czechoslovakia, claiming that the Czech government was oppressing Germans in the Sudetenland. England's prime minister Chamberlain met Hitler several times in order to avoid a wider war. At Munich, in September, 1938, Germany, Italy, England and France agreed that German troops could occupy the Sudetenland and Hitler pledged to hold a plebiscite to allow the people of the area to express their preference. The plebiscite was never held and German troops marched into a then defenseless Czechoslovakia in the Spring of 1939. Hitler had moved on from a position as nationalist leader to that of an imperialist conqueror.

    Hitler's next objective was the conquest of Poland. His excuse was to "liberate" the German people living in the Polish corridor. Recognizing that an invasion of Poland might lead to a front-war with both England and France in the west and Russia in the east, he sought to negotiate an agreement with Russia. The Munich Agreement of the previous year had persuaded the Russians, who had not been invited to that conference, that the western powers were encouraging the Germans to move eastward. Stalin , the Russian dictator, sought security for Russia through an agreement with Germany.

       This set the stage for the German-Soviet 10-year non-aggression pact signed in August, 1939. A secret protocol  provided for the partition of Poland, and assigning of spheres of influence; Russians in the Baltic and Germans in the Balkans.

       Though England and France were now determined not to be further manipulated by Hitler, the Germans were now assured that they need not fear a two-front war.

    Hitler threatened Poland in the Spring of 1939, claiming persecution of Germans in the Polish corridor and demanding an autobon link to East Prussia. This was the prelude to the German invasion on Sept 1, 1939. England and France declared war within a day or two and World War II began.

HOW DID THE NAZI TREATMENT OF JEWS CHANGE DURING WORLD WAR II?

    In the late 1930's, the Nazis encouraged Jewish emigration, but the potential receiving countries barred entrance. This was caused by anti-semitism in those countries as well as a failure to understand what a terrible fate awaited the Jews.

    When German armies conquered large areas of Europe, many millions of Jewish people fell under their rule; far more than could ever emigrate to other areas. It was then that Nazi policy changed to that of the extermination of the Jewish people. At the Wamsee conference in February, 1942, Nazi officials planned the systematic shipment of Jews to death camps. The holocaust led to the deaths of at least 6 million Jews as well as, perhaps, 3 million non-Jewish "enemies" of the Nazi regime.

WHAT WAS THE EFFECT OF WORLD WAR II UPON HITLER AND THE NAZIS?
WHY?

    When Hitler failed to reduce the English by aerial bombing, and then invaded Russia in June, 1941, he began an undertaking which was beyond the capacity of Germany to fulfill.  After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on the United States. That would seal his fate, as the combined  resources of the United States and Russia would overwhelm Germany.

    Blitzkrieg (lightning war) and aerial bombardment of cities made this war the most destructive in history, and brought utter ruin to Germany.

    Hitler's uncompromising and destructive nature led to the Allied demand
for unconditional surrender, the death of Hitler by suicide in his Berlin bunker, and the destruction of the Nazi Party.