The rise of the NAZIs is a frightening enough event, but perhaps even more frightening is how Hitler and the NAZIs so easily bent the German nation to their evil purposes. Every country has evil people, but how could a small group of evil thugs so easily cow a great nation into participating or at least acquiese in what were some of the most evil actions of the 20th century. Thus the NAZI years are a case study in modern totalitarianism. A key factor here was the considerable political skills of Adolf Hitler. Another factor was the political ferment in Germany and the tenous acceptance of democracy. Hitler gave the Germans what many wanted (jobs, order, and prestige) while laying the foundation for what he wanted (war, conquest, and genocide). Hitler had convinced conservative elements and the middle-class that he and the NAZIs were a force for stability and conservative social values. In fact, the NAZI Govrnment in the years before the War would launch a revolution transforming German society. And here a major effort was made to win over youth. The NAZI revolution was well underway, but not fully implemented at the time Hitler launched World war II.
Germany in 1933 was not a NAZI nation bent on conquest. But in 6 years Hitler and the NAZIs transformed Germany. The German people still did not want war, but their leadership had prepared them and their children for the most terrible war in world history. Perhaps the greatest irony of the Third Reich was that Hitler while a political mastermind, heated politicans and politics. What he wanted (as the Kaiser wanted) was to be a great war leader. Fortunately for the world, Germany did not have the resources for a world war and Hitler was not a military genius.
The NAZI's after the July 1932 election were the largest German political party, but did not have a majority in the Reichstag. Hidenburg dismissed Brüning and the result was political instability in the Reichstag. President Hindenburg refused to appoint Hitler Chancellor and instead turned to Papen. The political situatation remained unstable. The newly elected Reichstag in September voted no confidence in the Papen government. The November 1932 Reichstag election results were: NAZI Party 196 seats, Social Democrats 121 seats, The Communist Party 100 seats, and the Centre Party 70 seats. The NAZIs lost a few seats, but continued to be the largest party in the Reichstag. Hitler continued to demand to be appointed Chancellor, Hindenburg refused saying that he said he did not trust Hitler to rule democratically. Hindenburg preferred Papen, but the Army objected. Hindenburg turned to General Kurt von Schleicher who lasted 57 days. Finally Hidenberg, running out of options, turned to Hitler whom he appointed January 30, 1933. Hidenberg attempted to control Hitler by placing Papen as vice-chancellor and surrounding Hitler with moderate ministers who supported Papen. Hitler by carefully selecting his cabinent posts was within days gaining control. To be sure of success, however, he needed a mahority in the Reichstag. He insisted on a new election. In the middle of the elections the Reichstag went up in flames on Februarry 27, 1933. A Dutch Communist was blamed. Historins still debate who was responsible. Many blamed the NAZIs, but it appears that neither they or the Communist Party was responsible. Hitler took full advantage of the situation and claimed that the fire was a Communist plot, and persuaded Hindenburg to sign an emergency Law for the Protection of the People and State. The law suspended people's rights and allowed the Nazis to arrest many Communists and others. This was the key legal document allowing Hitler and the NAZIs to seize power. Historians use different terms to describe the NAZI victory. Some suggest that Hitler was elected. In fact the NAZIs never gained a majority in as German election, even the tainted 1933 election. The description of seizing power seems more correct.
Concentration camps were an integral part of the NAZI regime. The first camp, Dachau, near Munich was established within days of Hitler's appointments as Chancellor. Hitler had secured only a few ministerial post for his NAZI associates, but they included the Ministry of Interior giving him control over the police. The NAZIs began arresting Communists and other opponents and there just was not room for them in German jails and prisons. In addition, prisons when the NAZIs first seized power were much too open an enviroment for what Hitler and his close associates wanted to do. Dachau was only the first camp, but it became the blue print for subsequent camps of an enormous system that would eventually extend over much of Europe. Dachau was run by both the SA and SS, but the SS soon took over control of the camps. The camps at first were an instrument of political repression. Germany in 1933 had a wide range of political parties and a free and very vocal press. Within weeks the NAZIs effectively silenced both the political opposition and free press. Recalcitant critics were arrested and interned in the camps where there was no limits on what the SA and SS could do to the prisoners. The camps were also a conventient place to dispose of political enemies without fear of embarassing questions being asked. As the NAZI concentration camp system developed it came to serve other purposes as well. There were work camps which made valuable contributions to the war effort. The slave labor in these camps made everything from uniforms and pots and panrs to V-2 balistic missles--one of the most complex weapons system of the War. Other camps once the War began were constructed as death camps. The death camps were intended primarily for the Jews, but many other people besides Jews were killed there. It is likely that these camps would have been used for killing Slavs and others who the NAZIs considered undesirable, but when the War turned against the NAZIs, the retreating NAZIs tried to disdmantle the camps and destroy evidence of the killing. Some of the lrger camps like Auschwitz had units with different purposes, both labor camps and death camps. There were also POW camps, but many of these camps were tin by the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe rather than the SS. There were even camps for Germans. Hitler ordered the Baltic Germans "Home to the Reich" in 1939. The NAZIs intended to use these ethnic Germans to colonize areas of Poland from which the Poles were being expelled. Many of the Baltic Germans spent long periods in rough camps with inadequate food and medical supplies. [Overy, p. 595.]
The Depression played an important role in the NAZI sizure of power and in the image that Hitler built in Germany once he seized power. Tragically for Germany, the most serious period of the depression followed the New York Stock Market crash (1929) through Hitler's seizure of power (1933). The impact that the Depression had on Germany folded neatly into Hitler's political drive for power. Apparent economic improvements in Germany were an important element in Hitler's real popularity after seizing power. The view of the Hitler and the NAZIs in Europe was substantially different in Europe during the 1930s before Hitler launched World War II than it is today. It should be remembered that until Kristallnacht (November 1938) that NAZI actions against the Jews were not greatly different fom how Blacks were treated in the American South. In fact many NAZI racial laws were based on laws enacted against Blacks by Southern state legislatures. There were prominent Americans (Lindberg, Ford, and others) before World War II who were impressed with the NAZIs. Hitler was seen by many as the most dynamic leader in Europe. One reason for this was that NAZI policies essentially ended the depression by 1935. Many Germans had turned to the NAZIs in the earlt 1930s because of the Depression. The NAZIs expanded German labor programs, creating a National Labor Service must like the American CCC. The NAZIs seized control of the economy. German industrialists benefitted and soon learned that it was very dangerous to defy the Government. It might be argued that Germany under the NAZIs had the most controlled economy in Europe. Their major project was the construction of the Autobauns. The massive new armaments program was a major factor in putting Germans back to work. The German GNP was back to pre-Depression levels by 1935. NAZI policies made sure there was no longer wide-spread unemployment and destitution in Germany. The German people, however, were not better off. The benefits of the expanding economy was not brought to them in terms of more consumer goods, but rather a rearmed military. Many Germans, however, were convinced that they were better off. This was in part due to declinging product standards. It was also a result if the effectiveness of NAZI propaganda which emphasized the increased international respect with which Germany had achieved. [Hanby]
There was a brief period in Germany after Hitler was appointed Chancellor (January 1933) in which he was not in complete control of Germany. This was not because of the political opposition. The the DKP was sipprssed and the SPD was silenced. Hitler was able to do this because he through the ministers the NAZIs were allocated achieved control of the German police. Police officers quickly learned not to question the NAZIS. They also engaged in extra-legal actions in the concentations the SS quickly set up. The judiciary was not at first controlled by the NAZIs. The concentration camps, however, allowed the NAZIs to move against the political opposition even without the judicary. The NAZIs also gained control over the media which ensured that their extra-legal actions were not questioned pubically. While the political opposition was cowed, Hitler still was not in complete control of Germany. There was one force not unnder NAZI control--the Army. The Army was not particularly dusturbed with NAZI actions against Communists, Socialists, and Jews--legal or not. The Army was not strongly committed to the Weimar Republic. Many officers objected to the Socialist who had dominated the Repubic. Others were monarchists. And many were ardent nationalists, sympathetic to nationlist parties, including the NAZIs. he Army was, however, committed to its own institutional existence. The NAZIs posed a major problem to the Army because of the SA. Despite the NAZI natonalist appeal, the Army would not accept Hitler and the NAZIs as long as the SA posed the threat of replaving uit as the core of a new army. Thus while Hindenburg still lived and the SA threatened the Army, the Army posed aserious threat to Hitler's control of Germany. Other institutions were at first beyond the immediate control of the NAZIs. One of these was the educatiojal system. Thre were NAZI teachers and administrators. There were also many who distrusted or opposed the NAZIs. It would take some time to throughly NAZIfy the educational system and other German institutions.
After Hitler became chancellor (January 1933), the NAZIs quickly seized control of local government and offices throughout Germany. NAZI SA storm troopers without any legal authority and perhaps a rifle or pistol, simply marched into government offices and threw the both the elected and appointed officials out. Rank and file employees were allowed to remain at their posts. Most of the officials left their offices meekly. There was no real resistance. The police did not intervene. Germany as a result of the unification of formerly independent states into the German Empire (1871) was a federal state in which the Landen had coniderable authority, This posed a problem for Hitler and the NAZIs who wanted a dictatorship and a centralized state withouit constitutional complications. Instead of complicated constitutional changes, Hitler simply created new politiucal dividions. The NAZIs divided the Reich into 42 districts which were called 'Gaue', esentially new Landen (states). Each Gau was overseen by a District Leader (Gauleiter). They were essentially govenors, but without any real constitutional constraints. They were appointed by Hitler and reported directly to him. While a Gauleiter was essentially a NAZI Party post, they essentially ran local government. The Gauleiter for Berlin was Dr Joseph Geobbels who was also the Propaganda Minister. Each Gau was organized on a military basis. They were subdivided into circuits (Kreise) led by a Kreisleiter (Circuit Leader). Berlin had, for example, 10 Kreise and each Kreise was in turn divided into Local Groups (Ortsgruppe) headed by an Ortsgruppenleiter of which Berlin had 269. Each Ortsgruppe was further subdivided into Street Cells (Zellen) overseen by Zellenleiter who were assigned among orher functions to report on any anti-NAZI government activities among the families on that street. German civilians living abroad were included in the system and assigned to a 43rd Gau.
When the NAZIS seized power in Germany a new feature was added to appropriate manners--the Heil Hitler salute (1933). Instead of saying "Good morning" or "Good day", people were instructed to say "Heil Hitler!" and give a NAZI salute. We note NAZI news reels beginning in 1933 instructing Germans as to the social refinements. We note a scene with children playing in a park. A lady and a child walk by. Two boys are playing football. A girl is roller skating. A boy is playing with a hoop. The girl and boy accidentally collide. They untangle themselves and then give each other the Nazi salute. Presumably they say "Heil Hitler!" Then they shake hands and continue playing. It seems to be presented as a way of saying sorry I bumped into you. Interesting games they are playing in the Park. Also shows the fashions of the period too. This surely was a staged NAZI film to show Germans how to use the NAZI salute. I was surprised a little that the children shook hands after the salute. I don't think that this was just for children. Especially the shaking hands is not what one would expect with children. Did adults shake hands after giving the NAZI salute. Here we are not sure and this would have been for men. Women I do not think normally shook hands. Just how common the NAZI salute became in Germany we are not sure. Did children commonly give the NAZI salute to each other? Was it commonly used among neigbors and in school or was it more reserved for formal situations> We just are not sure. We suspect it may have been more common among men than women. Of course one's political attitudes were surely a factor.
Hitler in 1934 had a basic problem. The SA had been useful in his rize to power, but now constituted a threat. The Army saw the SA as a mortal threat to their position as the principal military force of the German state. Not only was it a threat, but the unrestrained thugery and disorder fomented by the SA as well as the social status and lack of education of the SA was disturbing to many officers. Hitler reasoned that as long as the NAZI Party maintained a military force that threatened the Army that he and the Party would never be accepted. Another probem that Hitler saw is that he and Roehm disagreed as to the future direction of the NAZI Party. Hitler saw the revolution as essentially achieved. Roehm now that the NAZIs had won power, wanted to conduct a second revolution and turn the SA into a new German Army. Roehm was a threat to Hitler's personal control of the Party, a dangerous threat because of the size of the SA and the fact that many members were personally loyal to him. Hitler's the master politican had a simple, but effective solution--the same one he constantly used. He turned his enemies against each other. He had no desire to attack the Army and besides it would have been exceedingly dangerous to do so. The army had the means to destroy him. Many Army officers disliked Hitler but were never committed to the weimar Republic. Roem on the other hand had become increasingly open in his criticisms of Hitler. Because of the strength of the SA did not fear for his personal security. Hitler used Himmler's SS to decapitate the SA as well as several other political enenies. The strike was enginered by Himler's deputy, Reinhard Heydrich. Here the actual sequence of events that lead to the decession is not precisely know, We know Himmler admired Roehm because of his war record. In addition Roehm and Hitler had been close in the NAZI rise to power. Heydrich collected evidence on Roehm and others. This information was presented to Hitler. To what extent it influenced Hitler or was used by him what he wanted to do anyway, I do not know. Heydrich organized thed the actual arrests and executions which became known as the Night of the Long Knives. Once Roehm was disposed up, the Army swore a personal oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler. The Night of the Long Time was a critical turning point in German history. This oath was more important than it might appear to modern readers. Countless individuals who served the German Reich in statements afyter the War refer to the oaths they took and loyalty to justify the most unbelievably heinous actions. That oath placed the Army firmly in Hitler's camp. In addition, The arrests and executioins were done entirely outside German law. There was not even a pretext of legality. It was the beginning of the horific NAZI attrocities that would be inflicted on all of Europe.
Adolf Hitler is often seen as a conservative bulwark to revolution in Germany. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is certainly true that Communists in the chaos of post-World War I Germany struggled to seize power. While they failed, they had strong support among working-class Germans. The Communist Party (KPD) was an important party and the Socialist Party (SPD) was the strongest political party in the Weimar Republic until the Depression and rise of the NAZIs. Left-wing revolution was a spector that many conservative Germansd saw as hanging over Germany. Hitler and the NAZIs as they struggled for power garnered support from conservative industrialists and the middle class concerned about Communism and the threat to both capitalism and traditional values such as religion. There were left-wing elements in the NAZI Party which is one reason why 'socialist' became part of the party name. The leading spokesman for the left wing elementb in the NAZI Party were the Strasser brothers, especially Gregor Strasser. Hitler moved against Strasser and what he called 'National Bolshevists' at the Bamberg Conference (February 1926). Considerable support for a social revolution targeting capitalists still existed in the Party, especially the SA. And Hitler relied heavily on the SA in his rise to power. Once in power, Hitler moved against the SA in a deal with the Army--the Night of the Long Knives (June 1934). Hitler ordered the SS to execute Strasser. Röhm and other oppoents were also eliminated or interned. This permanetly ended left-wing influences in the NAZI Party. What conservastives, the middle-class, and the military did not anticipate was that while Hitler was indeed an anti-Communist, he was no conservastive. Hitler had very defenite ideas about a revolution of his own to remake Germany and they include an assault on traditional German values, just what many of the people who supported him wanted to prevent. And many of those ideas were very similar to what the Communists wanted to do. There were several elements to Hitler's NAZI revolution. First, Hitler wanted control over young people which meant replacing the family as the major formitive force in a child's life. Second, Hitler looked down on Christian values such as humility and compasion for the meek and week. The NAZIs proceeded to undercut religion in many ways and were developing tgheir own religion. Hitler delayed a complete break with established churches until after the War was won. Christiasn values were to be replaced with a new ethic in which racial purity became the primary value. Third, Hitler did not want to take over German industry, but he waanted to control it. He was quite willing to have the Krupps and other industrialists operate the factories, but he wanted to control the compasnies to further his rearmanent campaign. Fourth, ,he wanted control over the labor movement. This would help ensure that workers would support the regime and not impede rearmanent. This was part of a larger effort to control professional groups as well. Fifth, he wanted to break down class barriers as part of his effort to create Ein Volk. He pursued this effort in many ways, including the Hitler Youth, schools, Reich Labor Service (RAD), and the conscription needed for an expanded military.
Hitler as he orcestrated his seizure of power had not focuded on children. He did not miss, however, the role that youth, mostly teenagers played in his rise to power. They helped genrrate enthusiasm for Hitler and the NAZI Party in a way his SA Strorm Trooper bully boys could have never done. As a result as Chancellor and head of the German state, he gave considerable attention to children and not just teenagers. The principal NAZI effort was the Hitler Youth Movement (HJ) which Hitler turmned into one of a a wide range of competing youth groups into a mass movement that virtually all German children had to join. As the HJ became the primary NAZI connction with youth, the NAZIs setout to demphasize the education system. Germany before Hitler seized power had one of the finest if not the finest educational system in the world. This was not what Hitler wanted, especially because many German eduicators were anti-NAZI or apolitical. He wanted a school system that would not educate, but indoctrinate. Thus upon seizing power, his emphasis was on the Hitler Youth which was used to undermine the influence of parents, school, and church. He also set about to NAZIify Germn edication. Here he suceeded, but he never trusted the schools in the sam ay he trusted the Hitler youth. Despite this, the HJ is only part of the story of Hitler and children. It is perhaps the most important part of the story, but scarecly all of the story. The HJ included the Aryan majority that Hitler was grooming to seize and rule the future NAZI world. A wide range of NAZI programs affected children. The Jewish and other non-Aryan children of course were the most adversely affected, but they were hardly the only children who suffered and disappeard during the NAZI era. There were also Aryan German children who were affected. This is an underreported story.
The Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth), the NAZI party's youth movement, indoctrinated German youth to perpetuate the "1,000 year Reich." The Hitler Youth movement emphasized activism, physical training, NAZI ideology, especially nationalism and racial concepts, and absolute obedience to Hitler and the NAZI Party. Indoctrinating children in National Socialist idelogy was a key goal of the NAZI Party. Once Hitler assumed control over the German state, he used the Goverment to make the Hitler Youth the country's all encompasing youth movement. Hitler and other NAZIs leaders saw the indoctrination of young Germans as of critical importance. In the same year that they took power, the NAZIs organized German youth organizations into two branches of the Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugen), one branch for boys and one for girls. Membership was eventually made compulsory and all boys had to report to a neigborhood office to have his racial background checked and be registered for membership. There was then a typically elaborate introduction ceremony on the Füherer's birthday. The Hitler Youth was not just a German version of the Boy Scouts. The Hitler Youth were more similar to the Soviet Young Pioneers, but even with the Pioneers there were major differences. Hitler from the beginning saw the Hitler Youth movement as a tool to hardening boys for their future role of soldiers. He wanted a generation of "victorious active, daring youth, imune to pain." There was to be no "intelectual" training for the boys of the New Order, he saw intelectual pursuits as damaging to German youth. The NAZIs used the Hitler Jugend to educate German Youth " in the spirit of National Socialism " and subjected them to an intensive programme of Nazi propaganda. The NAZIs established the Hitler Jugend as a source of replacements for the Nazi Party formations. The Hitler Youth leadership in October, 1938 entered into an agreement with Himmler under which members of the Hitler Jugend who met SS standards would be considered as the primary source of recruitment for the SS. The NAZIs also used the Hitler Jugend for pre-military training. Special units were set up whose primary purpose was training specialists for the various military branches. HNC has compiled the following information on the Hitler Youth movement and the uniforms the boys wore.
The high command made a pact with Adolf Hitler (1934). Hitler agreed to eliminate the SA as a threat to the Wehrmact and ordered the execultion of Roehm and other close associates. The Wehrmact swore a loyalty oath to Hitler--not to the German nation but to Hitler. In return for their loyalyty they were the bebeficiaries of a hige reaemament ptogram in contravention of the Versailles Treaty. The dimensions of the rearmament progrram far outweiged any level of armament needed for defense. It was patently clear to the Wehrmact general staff that Hitler mean to wage aggressive war. This essentially made the Wehrmacht a criminal enterprise committed to waging aggressive war. In addition, there is a tendency in Germany today to draw a destinct line between the Wehrmacht and the SD SS wjhich carried out the most horrendous attrocities. In the field, especially in the East, this line was much less well defined. Wehrmact units were involved in major attrocities and carried out orders from the high command concerning the execution of Jews and Communist Party members. The Wehrmact was also involved in many reprisal actions against civilians. The ordinary German soldiers were not all or even mostly war criminals. The Wehrmact was a conscript army. And with any conscript army had the same level and range of behavior as the population in general. That said, many of the conscript soldiers had been members of the Hitler Youth and NAZI educatin system which prepared the ground work for jusifying horendous acts against whole classes of people,
Hitler and the NAZIs planned from the beginning a massive rearmament program. NAZI propaganda promoted the idea that Germany must rearm. [Riegler] The NAZIs did not, however, begin a massive rearmament program immediately upon seizing power in 1933. The Weimar Republic Goverment itself has spomsored secret armanents programs in violation of the Versailles Treaty. The NAZIs did sharply expand weapon reseearch. The German military expanded in secret during 1933-34. Hitler by March 1935, felt suffucently secure to publicize his military. The NAZIs announced that they expansion - which broke the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Europe learned that the Nazis had a modern 2,500 plane Luftwaffe and a Wehrmacht with 300,000 men. Hitler publicly announced that he was insituting a compulsory military conscription and planned to expand the Wehrmacht to 550,000 men. Actual araments production began in earnest in 1936. The NAZIs in 1936 doubled armamets spending over 1935 levels. It was in 1936 that NAZI arms spending first exceeeded the combined total for transportation and construction spending. The nature of arms spending also increased. NAZI arms spending initially focused on research, development, and capital investment. The NAZIs in 1936 began concentrating on producing actual military equipment. This is one of the least economically beneficial types of government spending.
The Germans during World War I created an air arm during World War I (1914-18). The airplane was first used in any significant way in World war I. It played a useful, but marginal role. The Allies were able to outproduce the Germans, but both side made important technological strides. The German air ace the Red Baron (von Rictoff) was the most famous pilot of the War. When he was killed, Herman Goering took over command of the the Flying Circus. The German air forces were dissolved after the War, as required by the Treaty of Versailles. Even so the German military continued to develop technology through secret arrangements with foreign countries. German companies built planes in other countries, especially the Netherlands. Glider clubs throughout Germany provided training for future pilots. The operations were expanded when the NAZIs seized control (1933). Soviets and Japanese. Adolt Hiter ordered Göring to formally establish the Luftwaffe (February 26, 1935). The Versailles Treaty was still in force.
Adolf Hitler like all dictators did not believe in elections, but he did hold several carefully calculated referendums or plebecitesrefenda. While he abhored liberal democracy and elections, after the failure if the Beer Hall Putch (1933), he realized that he would have to seize power constitutiinally. This meant participating in Weimar Republic elections. Ironically, for a man who hated democratic politics, he was very good at it, thanks in part to the Great Depression.Hitler never won a majority, for himself in the preidentil election (1932) or for the NAZI Party in a series of parlimentary elections. Electiral sucess was minimal until the Depression resulted in widespread unemoloyment. The NAZIs quickly became the largest Party in the Reichstag (199-32). While not a majority Party, the fact that Stalin ordered the German Communists not to cooperate with the Socilists, meant that parties opposed to the Weimar Republic were able to bring Germny to a stndstill politically and evntuall convince President Hindenberg to accept Hitler as Chancellor (January 1933). Hitler used his powers as Chamcellor and the nabling Act to establish a personal ductatorship and police state. As a result there were no furthr elections, but there were four referenda, the first of which my hve involved a relatively free vote. Hitler acceptd refenda because he could control the outcome, in part by detemining the question posed. And they had propaganda value becase they provied the aura of popular support. After the First Rferendum, the outcome was totally controlled by the NAZI Party. It should be stressed that the referenda posed questions that much of the popultion supported. There was neveer a vote on questions like going to war or murdering millions of Jews ans Slavs.
Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p
Hanby, Alonzo. For the Survival of Democracy.
Liu, Henry C. K. "Nazism and the German Economic Miracle," Asia Times Online (May 24 2005).
Overy, Richard. The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin';s Russia (W.W. Norton: Newy York, 2004), 849p.
Suksi, Markku. Brining in the People: A Comparison of Constitutional Forms and Practices (Nijhoff).
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