A History of Nazi Germany

By Tim Lambert

The Rise of the Nazis

The Depression of the early 1930s was a disaster for Germany. While unemployment was 1.4 million in 1928 it rose to 4.8 million in 1931. By 1932 it was 6 million. About one man in three was out of work. One effect of the depression was that the Democratic parties lost support. Instead, people turned to radical parties like the communists or the Nazis who promised seemingly easy solutions to Germany’s problems. In 1928 the Nazis only gained 2.6% of the vote. By September 1930 they gained 18.3% of the vote. By 1932 they were the largest party in the Reichstag. (Although they never obtained a majority of the vote).

However, in November 1932 votes for the Nazi party fell and the economic situation seemed to be getting better. Yet on January 30, 1933, President Hindenburg asked Hitler to become Chancellor and to lead a coalition government.

On 27 February the Reichstag burned down. A Dutchman called Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested and confessed to the crime. Hitler claimed that van der Lubbe did not act alone and that it was a communist plot. The next day President Hindenburg was persuaded to sign a ‘Presidential Decree for the Protection of the People and the State’, which allowed arbitrary arrest. As a result, all the leading Communists were arrested.

The last election in Weimar Germany was held on 5 March 1933. The Nazis still failed to gain a majority of the vote. Then on 23 March 1933, Hitler persuaded the Reichstag to pass the enabling law. This would give Hitler the power to pass new laws without the consent of the Reichstag. The new law meant changing Germany’s constitution and that would require votes by two-thirds of the Reichstag’s members. Some 80% of the Reichstag voted in favor of the law, and only the Social Democrats voted against it.

Hitler wasted no time in introducing a tyrannical regime in Germany. After 1871 Germany was a federal state. It was made up of units called Lander, which had once been independent countries. A governor ruled each. However, in April 1933 Hitler replace them with Reich governors, all of who were loyal Nazis. This helped to bring the country even more under Hitler’s control.

In May Hitler banned trade unions. To replace them he created the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front) under Robert Ley. It set levels of pay and hours of work. The Social Democratic Party was banned in June 1933. Later that summer other parties dissolved themselves, under pressure from the Nazis. On 14 July 1933, Hitler banned all parties except the Nazi party.

Hitler consolidated his grip on power with a purge called the Night of the Long Knives on 30 June 1934. The SA or brownshirts wanted to take over the army. The army was appalled by this idea and Hitler needed the army’s support. The SA had other enemies. In 1925 Hitler created the Schutzstaffel (protection squad) or SS as his bodyguard. Heinrich Himmler the head of the SS resented the fact that the SS was officially part of the SA. He wanted the SS to be a separate organization. He also wanted more power for himself. Himmler told Hitler that the SA was planning to overthrow him. Hitler himself arrested Rohm the leader of the SA. The SS arrested other important figures in the SA and other prominent critics of the regime. All of them were shot.

On 2 August 1934, President Hindenburg died. Hitler, the Chancellor took over the President’s powers and called himself Fuhrer (leader). The army was made to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler. (Previously they swore an oath of loyalty to Germany).

Furthermore, any opponents of the regime (mostly communists and socialists) could be arrested and sent to a concentration camp without trial. (At first, although prisoners were beaten and tortured concentration camps were designed as prisons rather than extermination camps). Vagrants, beggars, and the ‘work-shy’ were also sent to concentration camps.

The German Economy

The Nazis managed to eliminate unemployment in Germany. Partly they did this by rearming (even though this meant breaking the Versailles Treaty). In 1935 Hitler announced that Germany had an air force. He also introduced conscription. In 1936 German troops entered the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. Britain and France did nothing.

Hitler also built roads called autobahns across Germany and he built great public buildings such as the Olympic Stadium for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. All this helped to reduce unemployment. However, although there was full employment workers were paid low wages (to keep the German industrialists happy). They also worked long hours. In the 1930s they worked an average of 49 hours a week. During the Second World War, this was increased to 60 hours a week or more. To try and keep the workers happy an organization was formed called (Strength Through Joy). Some workers went on cheap holidays to places like Norway and Italy. However, more often they organized cheap concerts and trips to the theater.

Hitler’s attitude to women was simple. They were to be mothers and housewives. Their role was summed up in the phrase kinder, kuche, and kirche (children, khen, and church). In Nazi Germany, married women were encouraged to give up their jobs and they were encouraged to have children. Women who had four children were given a bronze medal. Women who had six were given a silver medal and women who had eight were given a gold medal. During the Second World War, other nations conscripted women to work in industry but Hitler refused to do that.

Barbed wire