Was the Weimar Republic doomed from the start?
By the autumn of 1918 Germany was on its knees.
The people were starving after four years of war and Allied blockade.
The Ludendorff offensive in the spring of 1918 had failed and the army was now facing defeat.
In August and September the German army collapsed.
There were mutinies of sailors in the fleet at Kiel. These spread to the army and to the workers in the cities.
On 9th November the Kaiser fled to Holland, leaving Germany in the hands of the Social Democrats. Their leader,
Ebert, was horrified when he heard from the generals how bad the situation was and called for a cease-fire on
November 11th, 1918.
a) What impact had the First World War had on Germany?
Germany was depressed and felt humiliated. By the end of the war Germany had lost 2 million dead
and six million wounded.
The proud German army had been defeated
There were severe food shortages. People were surviving on turnips and bread, and flour was mixed
with sawdust to make it go further
The war had left 600,000 widows and 2 million children without fathers. 1/3 of the state budget
went on war pensions. Germany’s currency had lost 75% of its value between 1913 and 1918 and
the German economy was close to bankruptcy.
After the “turnip winter” of 1917/18, thousands of people had died as a result of the flu virus. In
1918, 293,000 people died from starvation and hypothermia.
Industrial production had dropped to about 2/3 of 1913 levels
The war had made German society more divided- workers had restrictions on their wages while
factory owners had made vast fortunes
Many people despised the new leaders of the Weimar Republic, believing that the army had been
betrayed by them
Germany found defeat in the First World War difficult to accept:
- Germans were convinced of the rightness of their cause; most of them believed the war was a defensive
one against powers intent on crushing them
- There was a powerful military tradition in Germany inherited from Prussia; the prestige of the army
was well respected
- The country was governed by an efficient bureaucracy which had no sympathy with western liberal
methods of government. To be beaten by them was unimaginable.
- Germans were embittered by losing the “public relations” war; they believed that the idea that the allies
represented freedom was pure propaganda
- Germans did not accept that they had been truly defeated; they thought they had been “stabbed in the
back” by left wing Germans who lacked patriotism.
b) How was the Weimar Republic born?
A naval mutiny at Kiel in north Germany triggered other revolts
Uprisings by workers and soldiers in other German ports were led by the Socialists
An independent socialist republic was declared in Bavaria
On 9th November 1918 the Kaiser abdicated and left Germany
Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Socialists, became the new leader of the Repubcli, and he
immediately signed an Armistice with the allies, and made plans to draw up a new constitution
Challenge Number One: Dealing with defeat, creating a new constitution and signing the Versailles
Ludendorff had claimed that a new offensive could be undertaken in the spring of 1919, if only enough recruits
could be found.
Some units of the German army had seen little action and did not understand why the Armistice was signed.
The German people had been told that the war was defensive and so did not understand why the government
surrendered when Germany had not been invaded.
c) How did German people and politicians react to the new Republic?
Ebert was opposed by right wing politicians, many of whom hoped for a return of the Kaiser
Many of the Kaiser’s former advisers stayed in post in the army, judiciary and civil service, and tried
to restrict what the new government could do
A myth developed that Ebert stabbed Germany in the back by signing the Armistice
Ebert was also opposed on the left by Communists, who argued that Germany needed a Communist
Revolution like the one that had taken place in Russia in 1917
Nevertheless, free elections were held in January 1919- the Socialists won a majority and Ebert
became the first President of the Weimar Republic
The nature of the Weimar Constitution
The Weimar Constitution was based upon proportional representation. This meant that it was very difficult for
one party to gain an overall majority in the Reichstag, the lower house of the German parliament. The Allies
hoped that this would prevent a strong government coming to power. In fact it meant that all German
governments were weak and were unable to take decisions.
Because Berlin was in chaos, the new democratic government met in the small town of Weimar.
The constitution said:
Everyone over 20, male and female, had the vote.
Freedom of speech, religion and association were guaranteed.
There was an elected parliament, called the Reichstag. The Chancellor, (as the Prime Minister was called), had
to have the voting support of the Reichstag.
There was a President, elected every 7 years. It was expected that the President would just be a figurehead, but there
were plans for the President to rule without democratic support in the
Reichstag in a crisis.
Elections were held on the basis of Proportional Representation. This gave numbers of
delegates in the Reichstag in proportion to the numbers of votes cast for their party in
d) What were the main features of the Weimar Constitution?
It was called the Weimar Republic because the new government met to begin with at Weimar, as
Berlin was thought to be too violent and unstable
All Germans over the age of 20 were allowed to vote for members of the Reichstag
The voting system was PR i.e. the number of votes won was directly proportional to the number of
seats in the Reichstag
The Chancellor, who was appointed by the President, was head of the government, but needed the
support of half the Reichstag to get laws passed
The Head of State was the President. He generally stayed out of government, but in times of crisis
could rule directly with emergency powers that allowed him to issue decrees without consulting the
Reichstag; he was also in charge of the armed forces and appointed judges
The Chancellor appointed government ministers
There were also 17 local governments- for Prussia, Bavaria and the various other German regions,
though the constitution limited their power as much as possible
Why did the Constitution of the Weimar Republic create problems?
Germany had no tradition of democracy and of making democratic systems work. The Kaiser
and all his friends had despised democracy. Although he had fled, his generals, diplomats and
civil servants remained.
The Weimar constitution was one of the most democratic in the world, but it created difficulties.
Proportional representation meant that it was worthwhile setting up new parties and the result
was that no one party ever had a majority in the Reichstag. All governments had to be coalitions
and these were frequently changing.
The Weimar politicians who signed the treaty took all the anger of German nationalists. They were called the
‘November Criminals’. They were accused of ‘Stabbing the army in the back’ (because they believed – quite
wrongly – that the army had not been defeated).
The proportional representation meant that it was impossible for any one party to gain a majority in the Reichstag
and for a strong government to emerge. The most important party in the 1920s was the Socialists (SPD), but they
always needed the support of at least two other parties in order to form a government. The Chancellor was
replaced about once a year.
The Weimar Constitution did not create strong government:
Article 48 of the constitution gave the President sole power in ‘times of emergency’ – something he took
The system of proportional voting led to 28 parties. This made it virtually impossible to establish a
majority in the Reichstag, and led to frequent changes in the government. During 1919-33, there were
twenty separate coalition governments and the longest government lasted only two years. This political chaos
caused many to lose faith in the new democratic system.
The German states had too much power and often ignored the government.
The Army, led by the right-wing General Hans von Seeckt, was not fully under the government’s control. It
failed to support government during the Kapp Putsch or the crisis of 1923.
Many government officials – especially judges – were right-wing and wanted to destroy the government.
After the Kapp Putsch, 700 rebels were tried for treason; only 1 went to prison. After the Munich Putsch,
Hitler went to prison for only 9 months.
What was the impact of the Treaty of Versailles on the Republic?
The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919, five years to the day after the assassination of the Arch
Duke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo.
The German delegates had not been allowed to attend any of the meetings at Versailles, but had been shown
the terms of the treaty in May. When they saw the terms, they were horrified. They had expected that the
Treaty would be based upon Wilson's 'Fourteen Points', which recommended 'Self-Determination'.
In fact the Treaty was heavily influenced by Clemenceau's desire to 'make Germany pay'. The German
delegates considered restarting the war, but this was impossible.
The main terms of the Treaty were as follows
Land - Germany lost about 10% of her land, Alsace-Lorraine was given back to France, the Polish Corridor was
created to give the new country of Poland a way out to the Baltic. This cut Germany into two. Germany also lost
land to Belgium, Denmark and Czechoslovakia.
Colonies - all German colonies were taken away and were handed to Britain and France to look after under
League of Nations mandates until they were ready for independence.
Armed forces - the German army was reduced to 100,000 men and conscription was banned, the navy was
reduced to six ships and submarines were banned, the airforce was to be completely destroyed.
The Rhineland - this was to be demilitarised, no soldiers or military equipment were to be kept within thirty
miles of the east bank of the river. The Allies would occupy it for fifteen years.
The Saar - this was to be occupied for fifteen years and France would be able to mine coal in it for those years.
Reparations -In 1919 the Germans were required to pay for all of the civilian damage caused during the First
World War. The final bill was presented on 1 May 1921 and was fixed at £6,600,000,000. To be paid over thirty
1. Germany was to hand over all merchant ships of over 1600 tonnes, half of those between 800 and 1600
tonnes and one quarter of her fishing fleet. She was also to build 200,000 tonnes of shipping for the Allies
in each of the next five years.
2. Large quantities of coal were to be handed over to France, Belgium and Italy for the next ten years.
3. Germany was to pay for the cost of the armies of occupation and had to agree to the sale of German
property in the Allied countries.
War Guilt - Germany was to accept the blame for the war, alone.
e) What effect did the Treaty of Versailles have on Germany?
Germany lost 10% of its land; all overseas colonies; 12.5% of population; 16% of coal mines; 48%
of its iron and steel industry; most of its armed forces
Most Germans were horrified
Supporters of the government felt betrayed by the Allies- they should not have been punished so
harshly now that the Kaiser had gone
Opponents of the government were furious with Ebert and the socialists
The myth of the stab in the back was begun- the German army could have fought on and won, but
had been betrayed by the leaders of the Weimar Republic
Why was the Treaty very unpopular in Germany?
The Germans had expected that they would be treated much more leniently because they had opened peace
negotiations on the basis of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which had explicitly denied that it would be a
The German people had not been told much about the war, they thought they were fighting a defensive war
against aggressive neighbours; they did not know about the scale of Germany’s defeat in autumn, 1918. The
terms therefore came as a huge surprise to many of the German people.
The Reparations were regarded as very severe as they punished the German people for years to come, not the
Kaiser who had fled to Holland.
The German government had not been allowed to take part in the negotiations; it was presented with the final
version and told to sign it or else the war would continue.
The War Guilt Clause was regarded as very unfair. The war had been sparked off by the murder of an Austrian by
a Serb. Germany had only been one of the countries which became involved. Many Germans believed that they
were being used as scapegoats for all of the other countries.
Some of this was justified – the negotiations had been opened on the basis of the 14 Points and Reparations had more
to do with revenge and with French war-debts than with fairness.
However, the losses of territory and resources were not that great. The German economy revived rapidly and
successfully in the later 1920s.
Also, Germany had rejected the 14 Points while they stood a chance of winning the war and their own treatment of
Russia at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918 was very punitive.
Current historians tend to think that at least a large proportion of the blame for the war lay with Germany.
Germany had suffered worse than any of the other major countries, except possibly for Russia. Two million
German soldiers had been killed and the German economy had been ruined by the blockade set up by the
Allies. Conditions in Germany in the winter of 1918/19 were very bad.
The politicians who had signed the Armistice were called the November Criminals by Hitler, who joined a
small extreme party in Bavaria in 1919.The government became very unpopular and from 1919 onwards
there was increasing violence and large numbers of murders.
Many soldiers did not believe that the army had actually been defeated, as Germany had surrendered before it
had been invaded. Some wanted to fight on, but the odds against Germany had been very long indeed, with
Britain, France and the USA all on the other side. When they returned home they were treated like heroes.
Consider this newspaper headline from the “Deutsche Zeitung” of 28th June 1919 as an example of the anger
felt by the German people:
“Vengeance, German Nation! Today in the Hall of Mirrors the disgraceful treaty is being signed. Do
not forget it. The German people will reconquer the place among the nations to which they are
entitled. Then will come vengeance for the shame of 1919”
It is therefore clear that the Weimar Republic had a number of disadvantages that hampered it from the beginning:
o It had accepted the humiliating and unpopular Versailles Treaty
o There was a traditional lack of respect for democratic government
o The parliamentary system introduced in the new Weimar Constitution had weaknesses
o The political parties had very little experience of how to operate a democratic parliamentary
Challenge Number Two: Threats from the Left. The Spartacist Revolt January 1919
Upon the abdication of the Kaiser a republic was declared in Berlin by Ebert, the leader of the Social Democratic
Party, the moderate socialists. In December 1918 a national congress of Councils met in Berlin. Since most of the
delegates were moderate socialists, they supported Ebert’s proposal to hold elections for a National Assembly.
However, the revolutionary socialists, the Spartacus League or Spartacists, disagreed; an election would mean that
the upper and middle class Germans would still run Germany and the workers would lose out.
The Spartacists refused to let their chance of creating a socialist Germany slip away. On the last day of 1918 they
renamed themselves the German Communist Party and, inspired by the example of the Russian Revolution in
1917, made plans to seize power. On January 5th January 1919 Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg led an
armed uprising in Berlin to snatch power away from Ebert:
The struggle for real democracy is not about a national assembly and the vote; it is concerned with the
real enemies of working people: private property, control over the army and justice. We demand the
transfer of power to Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils: the nationalisation of all property and the
reorganisation of the army so that ordinary soldiers have power.
Demands made by the Spartacists on 7th October 1918
Clearly, such ideas frightened many middle and upper class Germans who feared that a communist government
would take away all banks, factories and land and put them under government control and during the revolt itself
the two leaders occupied public buildings, organised a general strike and formed a revolutionary committee.
From Ebert’s point of view, Germany needed law and order more than it needed socialism and the day before the
revolt began he had made arrangements for the preservation of stability. He could not rely on the army, because
desertions had reduced a force of nine divisions that had been moved into Berlin in November to a force of only
800, so instead he used the Freikorps, irregular bands of ex-servicemen who hated socialism in any shape or form
and who numbered about 4000 in Berlin.
What were the Freikorps?
In 1918-19 something like 150 separate Freikorps were formed in Germany. They varied in size from over
10,000 men to fewer than 500. In 1919 total strength was in excess of 25,000 men. Individual Freikorps were
usually named after the officers who raised and commanded them. Motives for joining were varied:
Straightforward mercenary tendencies, attracted by relatively generous rates of pay
Others were motivated principally by anti-communism and for the most part the ethos of the
Freikorps was right wing, anti-socialist and anti-Semitic
Freikorps officers were often strongly pro-monarchist and therefore hostile in principle to the Republic they
fought to defend. They defended it because they saw it as the lesser of two evils- the greater evil being a
The revolt was crushed brutally with more than 1,200 being killed and the two leaders being shot having been
captured on 14th January. The Spartacists were numerically weak and equipped only with light weapons and the
task of the Freikorps was not a demanding one in military terms. The surviving Spartacists saw this as treachery;
the moderate socialists had betrayed the working class.
What was the importance of the Spartacists?
It showed how unstable the new republic was when a mainly socialist government was attacked by
an even more left wing group.
The murders of Liebknecht and Luxemburg had important political consequences. It poisoned
relations between the KPD and the SPD and thus helped to create an atmosphere in which
throughout the Weimar period collaboration of any kind between the two parties was out of the
It forced the new government to seek the support of the Freikorps in defeating the communists, a
sign of the weakness of the new government.
The revolt made it impossible for the government to meet in Berlin. Instead the town of Weimar
was chosen and it was here that the new constitution was accepted.
f) What threats did the Weimar Republic face from the left wing?
The Spartacists 1919. A communist party, led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, similar to
the Russian Bolsheviks. In 1919 they led a communist uprising and set up soviets in various German
towns, but they were suppressed by Ebert with the help of the Freikorps (anti-communist ex
soldiers who had formed paramilitary groups). Liebknecht and Luxemburg were murdered.
The Bavarian Uprising 1919. Bavaria was still an independent socialist state, led by Ebert’s ally Kurt
Eisner. When he was assassinated, the Bavarian Communists seized the chance to declare a soviet
Republic. Again, Ebert used the Freikorps to crush the revolt in May 1919, with about 600
The Red Rising in the Ruhr in 1920. A further Communist agitation, involving clashes of
Communists with police, army and Freikorps
Ebert’s suppression of these communist threats gained him popularity from many Germans but
created lasting bitterness between Socialists and Communists
Challenge Number Three: The Kapp Putsch. March 1919. The threat from the Right.
The Kapp Putsch took place in Weimar Germany in March 1920. Wolfgang Kapp was a right-wing journalist who
opposed all that he believed Friedrich Ebert. Kapp should best be seen as an extreme German nationalist. Such
- Saw democracy as weak
- Saw the new Weimar Republic as a symbol of German defeat in WWI
- Hated the government for signing the Treaty of Versailles
The Kapp Putsch was a direct threat to Weimar’s new government. Kapp was assisted by General Luttwitz who
lead a group of 5,000 Freikorps men. On March 13th, 1920, Luttwitz seized Berlin and proclaimed that a new
right of centre nationalist government was being established with Kapp as chancellor.
Ebert had no immediate response to this in the sense that he could not impose his will on the situation. The army
refused to engage the Freikorps and Ebert’s situation began to look terminal. For the second time, he had to leave
his capital – once again undermining his status and, to some, emphasising his weak position within Germany. The
government reconvened in Dresden and the only card Ebert could play was to call for a general strike to paralyse
the movement of those who supported Kapp and Luttwitz. Kapp received support from one of Germany’s
foremost military officers – General Erich Ludendorff. But the main officer corps of the German Army failed to
follow Ludendorff’s lead. It is possible that they felt some form of support for a president who had given them a
free hand in dealing with the Communists/Spartacists in 1919. Certainly, Ebert could not have been seen as being
anti-military. However, the military did nothing to stop the putsch and give active support to Ebert.
The general strike called for by Ebert ensured that those who supported Kapp could not move around and such
paralysis doomed the putsch to failure. Kapp and Luttwitz fled Berlin on March 17th. Kapp was hunted down and
died before he could be put on trial. The rest of the rebels went unpunished.
The five days of the Kapp Putsch are of importance as they showed that:
The government could not enforce its authority even in its own capital.
The government could not put down a challenge to its authority. Only the mass power of a general strike
could re-establish Ebert’s authority.
The fact that only Kapp faced punishment again demonstrated the weakness of the new government.
However, the success of this strike does indicate that the people of Berlin were willing to support Ebert’s
government rather than a right-wing government lead by Kapp. In this sense, it can be argued that Ebert had the
support of Berliners. A counter-argument to this is that Ebert was irrelevant to the Berliners thinking – they
simply wanted no more trouble in their capital after experiencing the Spartacists/Communist rebellion in 1919.
Peace was more important than political beliefs.
Those who fought for Kapp and Luttwitz were obvious future supporters of the fledgling Nazi Party. Ironically,
the Erhardt Brigade, one of Luttwitz’s main fighting forces, put a sign on their helmets to identify who they were:
In the next two years there were more revolts, by both left and right. In spite of Ebert’s success over the Kapp
Putsch, political violence still remained a clear part of political life in the new Germany:
Nationalist terrorist groups murdered 356 politicians. In August 1921 Matthias Erzberger, the man
who signed the armistice (and therefore a 'November criminal'), was shot. In 1922, they assassinated
Walter Rathenau, the SPD foreign minister, because he made a treaty with Russia.
In 1923 the Kustrin Putsch took place in which Major Buchrucker and his “Black Army” tried to capture
Berlin by marching on it from the fortress of Kustri, but failed.
In November 1923 The Nazi Party attempted to seize power in the Munich Putsch.
g) What threats did the Weimar Republic face from the right wing?
Some people had liked the Kaiser’s dictatorial style of government and wanted a strong army and
expansionist foreign policy.
1920. Kapp Putsch. Dr Wolfgang Kapp led an uprising of 5000 Freikorps in Berlin, which was
thwarted when the workers of Berlin called a general strike and brought the city to a standstill
1922. Foreign minister Walther Rathenau was assassinated by right wing extremists
1923. Hitler attempted a putsch in Munich
The consequences of these outbreaks of disorder were
Increased street violence, often organised by the Frei Korps
A growing lack of respect for the Weimar government, which was seen to be collaborating with the Allies. This
led to rising inflation and unemployment.
The growth of extremist parties, particularly in the south of Germany. Although they were insignificant at first,
the most important of these parties was to be the German Workers Party, which was set up in 1919 by Anton
o Hitler was demobilised in January 1919 and eventually got a job as a spy for the German
army. In September1919, he was ordered to join the German Workers' Party.
o Hitler joined the Party Committee and was appointed to be in charge of propaganda. In
1921 he became the leader. Hitler changed the name of the Party to the 'National Socialist
German Workers' Party'. He wanted to attract as many supporters as possible, National
was intended to entice attract right-wing nationalists, and Socialist to attract workingmen.
o The party soon became nick-named the Nazis by their opponents. But this was a term never
used by Hitler. He always referred to his followers as National Socialists.
o The Nazis were just one of a number of extremist fringe parties in Bavaria in the early
1920s. They had a few thousand supporters, but were unknown in the other parts of
Germany. Their main appeal was through the speeches of Hitler, who soon gained a
reputation as a powerful orator, despite his Austrian accent.
o Hitler set up his own private army, the Sturm Abteilung, led by a violent ex-soldier Ernst
Roehm, and used it to attack his opponents in the streets. He tried to pose as a strong man
who could solve Germany’ problems.
Challenge Number 4- Hyperinflation and Invasion 1923
Weimar Germany had greeted with horror the financial punishment of Versailles. If Germany had paid off the
sum of £6,600,000,000, announced in April 1921, she would have remained in debt to the Allies until 1987.
However, by signing the Treaty of Versailles, she had agreed in principle to the issue of reparations and in 1921,
Germany just about managed to pay its first instalment of 2 billion gold marks. Weimar Germany was allowed to
pay in kind (actual materials) as opposed to just cash. Most of this 2 billion was paid in coal, iron and wood.
In 1922, Weimar Germany simply could not manage to pay another instalment. Ebert attempted to negotiate
concessions, claiming that Germany had nothing to give but this the Allies did not believe - especially France
where anger towards Germany still ran deep - and the German government was accused of trying to get out of
her reparations responsibilities. This apparent refusal was only four years after the end of the war, and the attitude
of the public towards Germany was still very hostile - and not just in France.
The new German government made its first reparations payment in 1922, but in December announced that it
would not be able to make further payments. In January 1923 the Germans stopped coal shipments. The Allied
Reparations Commission declared Germany in default and on January 11th.The French and Belgian governments
retaliated by sending troops into the Ruhr. They intended to force the Germans to hand over coal and iron ore in
place of the payments. The German workers in the Ruhr went on strike and the Weimar government called for
passive resistance to the French and Belgians and paid strike pay to workers by printing paper currency. This led
to hyperinflation in Germany. The French attempted to set up a separatist movement in then Rhineland, but then
cut off the Ruhr from the rest of Germany and brought in their own workers to work in the coalmines. The
French forces brought in their own workers and then cut the Ruhr off from the rest of Germany. Violence broke
out and a number of French soldiers were killed.
In December 1922 the non –delivery of consignments of timber gave the French their excuse to turn the screw
and in January 1923, French and Belgium troops invaded the Ruhr; Germany’s most valuable industrial area.
Under the Treaty of Versailles this was perfectly legal. The French and Belgium troops took over the iron and
steel factories, coal mines and railways. Those Germans who lived in the Ruhr and were considered not to be co-
operating with the Germans were imprisoned. Food was taken. That this action by the French and Belgium broke
the rules of the League of Nations - which both belonged to - was ignored by both countries. France was
considered one of the League's most powerful members and here she was violating its own code of conduct.
The government responded by ordering the workers in the Ruhr to go on strike and it ordered all people in the
Ruhr to passively resist the French and Belgium soldiers. This meant that they were not to openly confront the
French and Belgium soldiers, simply not to help them in any way whatsoever. This lead to violence and over the
next 8 months of the occupation, 132 people were killed and over 150,000 Ruhr Germans were expelled from
The order for workers to go on a general strike may have been patriotic but it had disastrous consequences for
Germany as a whole. The Ruhr was Germany’s richest economic area and produced a great deal of wealth for the
country as a whole, representing about 2/3 of the total German economy. The huge Krupp steelworks was there, for
example. By not producing any goods whatsoever, Germany’s economy started to suffer. The striking workers had to
be paid strike pay and other social benefits and the people expelled from their homes had to be looked after. To do
this, the government did the worst thing possible - it printed money to cover the cost. This signalled to the outside
world that Germany did not have enough money to pay for her day-to-day needs and whatever money may have been
invested in Germany was removed by foreign investors. It also created inflation. From January 1923 inflation in
Germany reached ridiculous proportions as the government printed money to pay the strikers. Eventually 62 factories
were working around the clock to keep up with demand.
The impact of hyperinflation was huge:
By August prices were rising by up to 400% every day. People who had saved money lost everything. The
middle classes were worst hit. War pensioners and anybody on a fixed income were hit very hard. Wages
were paid every hour and then people rushed to spend their money as quickly as possible, buying anything
that they could. Shopkeepers tried to keep their shops closed, but the government forced them to open. A
loaf of bread which cost 29 pfennigs in 1913, cost 1200 marks by summer 1923 and 428,000,000,000 marks
by November 1923.
People were paid by the hour and rushed to pass money to loved ones so that it could be spent before its
value meant it was worthless.
People had to shop with wheel barrows full of money
Bartering became common - exchanging something for something else but not accepting money for it.
Pensioners on fixed incomes suffered as pensions became worthless.
Restaurants did not print menus as by the time food arrive…the price had gone up in the meantime
The poor became even poorer and the winter of 1923 meant that many lived in freezing conditions
burning furniture to get some heat.
The very rich suffered least because they had sufficient contacts to get food etc. Most of the very rich
were land owners and could produce food on their own estates. But some people benefited. Anybody
who had borrowed money could repay the loan very easily, speculators and gamblers did very well and
multi-millionaires appeared overnight. Foreigners flocked into Germany to buy up works of art as
Germans desperately tried to make ends meet.
The group that suffered a great deal - proportional to their income - was the middle class. Their hard
earned savings disappeared overnight. They did not have the wealth or land to fall back on as the rich
had. Many middle class families had to sell family heirlooms to survive. It is not surprising that many of
those middle class who suffered in 1923, were to turn to Hitler and the Nazi Party.
In fact, despite the chaos, the Weimar government became more popular for the first time. Its support for
the strikers began to swing popular opinion behind it. Hyperinflation was seen as something forced upon
Germany from outside.
The control of inflation
Hyperinflation proved that the old mark was of no use. Germany needed a new currency. In August
1923, Germany had a new chancellor, the very able Gustav Stresemann. He immediately called off
passive resistance and ordered the workers in the Ruhr to go back to work. He knew that this was the
only common sense approach to a crisis. In November 1923 he stopped the printing of money The mark
was replaced with the Rentenmark which was backed with American gold. 1 new Reichsmark was
equivalent to 1,000,000,000,000 old marks
In 1924, the Dawes Plan was announced. This plan, created by Charles Dawes, an American, set realistic
targets for German reparation payments. For example, in 1924, the figure was set at £50 million as
opposed to the £2 billion of 1922 with the figure for later years now being £125 million. The American
government also loaned Germany $200 million. This one action stabilised Weimar Germany and over
the next five years, 25 million gold marks was invested in Germany. The economy quickly got back to
strength, new factories were built, employment returned and things appeared to be returning to normal.
Stresemann gave Germany a sense of purpose and the problems associated with hyperinflation seemed to
disappear. There was a problem with all of this, however. In effect, money had been borrowed with
which to pay reparations. The Germans themselves actually contributed very little. The heaviest burden
imposed by the Dawes Plan never exceeded 3.5% of German national income.
In addition, the Finance Minister, Hans Luther, took urgent measures to curb inflation and
balance the budget, which included the sacking of 900,000 civil servants and public employees.
In 1924 the Rentenmark was replaced by the Reichsmark.
It was also clear, however, that the hyperinflation did great political damage to the Weimar government. Right
wing opponents had now plenty of ammunition to use against the government whilst at the same time the
government had lost the support of key elements in German society. The threat from the right was now seen
most drastically in the attempt by the Nazis to seize power in the Beer Hall, or Munich, Putsch of November
The Beer Hall Putsch
Hitler saw the chaos that Hyperinflation caused as an opportunity to try to seize power. He had already tried to stage a
coup in May, but this had been easily broken up by the authorities. This time, therefore, he delayed until members of
his own party demanded action. When he heard of a meeting at the Burgerbraukeller in Munich on 8 November, at
which three Bavarian ministers were due to be present, he decided to act.
Hitler was trying to take advantage of several developments:
1. Weimar weaknesses
Constitutional flaws/ Left Wing opponents (the KPD)/ Right Wing opponents (see page 4) had all made the
government weak and vulnerable.
Invasion and inflation made the government VERY weak in 1923. Everybody was very angry with the
government – there were Communist rebellions in Saxony and Thuringia.
2. The growth of the Nazi Party
In the crises of 1923, the membership of the Nazi Party grew from 6,000 to 55,000.
The Nazi Stormtroopers (SA) grew quickly, and wanted a revolution - in October, an SA leader told Hitler
that, if there was not a rebellion soon, the SA would ‘sneak away’.
Hitler became friends with General Ludendorff (a WWI hero) – he thought that the Army would follow
Ludendorff in a putsch.
3. Stresemann calling off resistance to the Ruhr invasion and subsequent political upheaval
In September 1923, the German Chancellor, Stresemann, called off the general strike in the Ruhr (it was
ruining Germany). This made Germans angry with the government.
There was a right-wing revolt (by the ‘Black Reichswehr’) in Berlin on 1 October 1923, and the Rhineland
declared independence on 21–22 October.
The government had to proclaim a State of Emergency, Sept 1923–Feb 1924.
4. Mussolini’s Example
In 1922, Mussolini had seized control of the government of Italy by marching on Rome. Hitler hoped to copy
5. Bavarian Rebellion being called off
In Bavaria, the right-wing local government wanted to rebel against the Weimar Republic.
Its leaders – Kahr (State Commissioner), Lossow (Local Army Commander) and Seisser (Chief of Police) –
planned a march of 15,000 soldiers on Berlin.
Hitler was going to help them, but on 4 Nov., they postponed the rebellion.
Hitler hoped the Munich Putsch would force them to rebel. The object of the coup was to provoke the
Bavarian government into a separatist rising.
At exactly 8.30 p.m on 8th November, Hitler broke up the meeting, he fired a gun at the ceiling and announced
that he was going to try to take over the government the following morning. Local leaders present agreed to
support him, but in the confusion they escaped and the authorities were warned of the plot.
The night was spent drinking and the owner of the beer hall later claimed that the Nazis had drunk nearly 2,400
pints of beer and caused considerable damage.
The following day Ernst Roehm, the leader of the Sturm Abteilung, the Storm Troopers, seized the Post Office in
Munich at about 8.30 a.m. and waited for Hitler to march to his support.
In the meantime, Hitler had got up late and had a late breakfast. He did not begin the march until about 11.00
Hitler and the war-hero Ludendorff led the march into Munich the next morning. They had about 2,000
supporters. They hoped the police would not fire at them and that the people would rise in support. In fact no
one joined them, the police opened fire and 16 Nazis were killed, including Hitler’s bodyguard who dived on top
of Hitler to protect him.
What happened to Hitler?
In a Nazi biography, Hitler claimed that his shoulder was dislocated when the man next to him was shot. Other
versions of the story suggest that he fell to the ground to avoid being shot.
Hitler fled and was arrested two days later. Hitler was tried for high treason. He was found guilty and sentenced
to just five years in prison by a pro-Nazi judge.
While Hitler was in prison after the Beer Hall Putsch, he wrote ‘Mein Kampf’(My Struggle), which was a cross
between his autobiography and a list of his political ideas. Hitler also decided that he would have to change his
tactics and the way that his party was organised.
After only eleven months in prison Hitler was let out.
h) How did the Weimar Republic survive 1918-1923?
Effective government action e.g. Ebert’s actions against the Communists and Stresemann’s currency
Popular support. Most German people supported the Republic e.g. they responded to the call for
passive resistance in the Ruhr in 1923 and went out on strike to thwart the Kapp Putsch in 1920;
most working class people voted for the Socialists (SPD)
Weakness of opponents. The communists lacked support and never gained more than 15% in
Reichstag elections; right wing groups e.g. the Nazis were seen as extremists and had little support
and no outstanding leaders, and the army was suspicious of them
The actions taken to deal with hyper inflation
The Stresemann Era and the recovery of Weimar Germany 1924-29
In August 1923 Gustav Stresemann came to power. He immediately offered to call off passive resistance and
restart reparations if the French and Belgians would withdraw. Passive resistance was called off in September and
Stresemann then immediately tackled hyperinflation.
a) Who was Stresemann?
German Chancellor for a few months in 1923
A leading member of every German government from 1923-29
A right wing politician with wide support
An extremely gifted and shrewd politician
He slowly built up German prosperity and presided over a period of hope and optimism
He instituted the “policy of fulfilment” i.e. complying with the terms of Versailles in order to gain
readmission to the international community
Stresemann issued a new currency called the Rentenmark, which was based upon German land and not gold. The
old marks could be exchanged for Rentenmarks at the very good rate of 300,000,000 to 1.
He then persuaded the Allies to agree to the Dawes Plan. This was a programme of loans from US bankers to help
German economy to recover. 25 billion marks were invested in Germany in the next five years. The Dawes Plan
also cut the amount of reparations Germany had to pay and extended the time they had to pay it.
With some economic recovery, some reparations were paid. With some reparations paid, the French and
Belgians withdrew their troops from the Ruhr in 1925.
b) What were Stresemann’s economic achievements?
He ended the hyperinflation by calling in the worthless marks and burning them, and replacing them
with a new currency, the Rentenmark
He got industrial production moving again by calling off the passive resistance in the Ruhr
In 1924 the Dawes Plan scaled down German reparations and spread them over a longer period, and
provided for loans of 800 million marks from the USA. Then in 1929 the Young Plan further
reduced the reparations bill
By 1928 industrial production was back to pre-war levels, reparations were being paid and exports
BUT, the loans could be called in at short notice, so economic recovery was precarious
Also, owners of businesses and property in cities, and industrial workers, were better off, but
peasant farmers and small businesses did not fare so well
As relations between Germany and her neighbours improved, Stresemann signed the Locarno Pact.
The Locarno Pacts
The Locarno Pacts were signed in October 1925 by France, Belgium and Germany. They guaranteed the
borders between France and Belgium and Germany. Britain and Italy signed as guarantors of the treaty.
A second set of agreements finalised arbitration treaties between Germany and France, Belgium,
Czechoslovakia and Poland. These were intended to bring an end to the bitterness that had prevailed after the
First World War.
A third section created mutual defence pacts between France and Poland and Czechoslovakia. These were
intended as protection against any future German aggression.
Why were the Locarno Pacts important?
At the time they were seen as important steps in the process of Collective Security. There was talk of the
'spirit of Locarno', which seemed to offer the prospect of a Europe free from war. Locarno marked the re-
emergence of Germany onto the European stage, thanks to the leadership of Stresemann.
In 1926 Germany was admitted to the League of Nations and became one of the Permanent Council
Members. This was a major triumph for Stresemann.
c) What was achieved in German foreign policy in the Stresemann era?
1925. Locarno Pact. Germany agrees to accept her frontiers with France and Belgium
1926. Germany is admitted to the LON
Steady work to reverse some of the harsher terms of Versailles
1928. Kellogg-Briand Pact. Germany, and 64 other nations, agrees to renounce “war as an
instrument of policy”
1929. Dawes Plan. Further renegotiations of the reparations settlement and more US loans
1929.Allies withdraw from the Rhineland
BUT Stresemann was attacked by some nationalists for accepting the terms of Versailles by joining
the LON and signing the Locarno Pact; communists attacked Locarno as a plot against the USSR
The recovery of Germany in the 1920s
Acceptance of the Dawes plan triggered a period of economic recovery. As Germany entered a
period of greater economic stability, resentment against the Republic faded and people became less
interested in extremist politics. Although much of it was used to pay reparations, between 1924
and 1930 the country received 25.5 billion marks in German loans as well as substantial sums in the
form of foreign investments. The inflow of foreign capital allowed the Weimar government to
embark on a programme of public building which saw the construction of new hospitals and
schools. In addition, gas and electricity services were taken into public ownership. Big business and
the country’s industrial giants flourished, with the coals, iron and steel industries attaining
something approaching their pre-war levels of production. German workers benefited as real wage
levels returned to their pre-war levels and hours shortened and social insurance cover improved. As
a result strikes and working days lost fell dramatically.
Stresemann introduced reforms to make life better for the working classes - Labour Exchanges
(1927) and unemployment pay. Also, 3 million new houses were built.
Stresemann arranged a 'Great Coalition' of the moderate pro-democracy parties (based around the
SDP, the Centre party and Stresemann's own 'German people's Party', the DVP). United
together, they were able to resist the criticism from smaller extremist parties, and in this way, he
overcame the effects of proportional representation - the government had enough members of the
Reichstag supporting it to pass the laws it needed. Germany now appeared to have recovered from the
effects of the war and the political unrest that had succeeded it. There was growing support from many
Germans for the Weimar government, however, coalitions continued to come and go regularly and there
was a new chancellor on average every twelve months.
There was increasing support for Democracy, from Germans who wanted their country run on democratic
lines for the first time. Trade unions, worked with the biggest party, the Social Democrats, and were in most
governments. In the later 1920s, under Stresemann’s recovery wages improved.
Germany in the late 1920s
Businesses, which prospered again under the recovery programme. New industries, like cars, radios,
telephones, aircraft as well as shipbuilding all did very well.
Artists enjoyed the new freedom from censorship, which Weimar offered after the heavy hand of the Kaiser.
Film-makers, like Fritz Lang, and architects like Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus school, led the world.
Jazz clubs and cabarets did well as people spent the money they now had. Berlin became one of the most
popular and freest cities in Europe.
Berlin had 120 newspapers and 40 theatres.
d) What were the cultural achievements of the Stresemann era?
Writers, poets and artists flourished, especially in Berlin
The famous Bauhaus style of architecture developed. This rejected traditional styles to create new
and exciting buildings
A golden age for German cinema, with stars like Marlene Dietrich and directors like Fritz Lang
Clubs and nightlife flourished, with 900 dancebands in Berlin in 1927
Censorship was removed e.g. cabaret artists performed songs criticising political leaders that would
have been banned under the Kaiser; also songs about sex that earlier generations would have found
BUT many people in country towns and villages thought that there was a moral decline taking place
in the big cities, made worse by American immigrants and Jewish artists and musicians- the Nazis
were later able to harness these feelings
In 1929 the Young Plan reduced Germany’s reparations still further. The amount payable by Germany was
reduced to 1,707,000,000 marks per year, of which only 660,000,000 had to be paid. The rest could be
postponed for up to two years. Payments would gradually increase for thirty-six years and would end in
Because the payments under the Young Plan were less than Germany was making under the Dawes Plan,
most people expected this to be a final settlement of the reparations problem
How much political stability did Stresemann bring to the Weimar Republic?
Democracy seemed to be working and there were no more rebellions or uprisings
Extremist parties like the Nazis were not very popular- in the 1928 election the Nazis gained less
than 3% of the vote
BUT there were four different Chancellors and about 30% of the electorate voted for parties
opposed to the Republic
In 1926 Hindenburg had been elected President- he was opposed to democracy
Nazis and communists were gradually building up their party organisations
But, there were still clear weaknesses and some historians believe that the strength and success of the Weimar
republic was largely an illusion:
1. It depended on economic success and prosperity, and this in turn was wholly based on
American loans. If anything happened to undermine the American economy, the Weimar Republic
would be in great danger. It is important not to overestimate the extent of the German economic
recovery. Unemployment still stood at nearly 1.5 million and foreign indebtedness had risen to half
2. The new found prosperity did not extend to everyone. Farming recovered slowly after the war
and agricultural wages and living standards lagged behind that of the rest of the community.
With 20% of the agricultural land belonging to less than 1% of the population, land ownership
was a major issue.
3. As soon as economic prosperity returned, the Great Coalition organised by Stresemann
collapsed, and the moderate pro-democracy parties began to argue among themselves
again. Thus they would not be strong enough to resist a challenge from extremist parties if ever
there was one.
4. Extremist politicians were not won over by the good times. Right-wing nationalists still hated
the Republic as the 'November criminals' - they just waited for a situation to arise which would
give them the opportunity to attack the Weimar government.
In this way, the Wall Street collapse of 1929 was to prove a disaster for the Weimar republic
The growth of Nazi Power 1920-33
The Nazis in the Wilderness 1924-29
Hitler had been arrested following the Munich Putsch and was put on trial for sedition. He contrived to
turn his court appearance into a theatrical act in which he turned the tables on his accusers and justified
“The army we have formed is growing day to day….I nourish the proud hope that one day the
hour will come when these rough companies grow to battalions, the battalions to regiments, the
regiments to divisions; that the old cockade will be taken from the mud and that the old flags
will wave again…For it is not you, gentlemen, who pass judgement upon us. The judgement is
spoken by the eternal court of History….the goddess of the eternal court of History will smile
and tear to tatters the sentence of this court. For she acquits us!”
While Hitler was in prison after the Beer Hall Putsch, he wrote ‘Mein Kampf’(My Struggle), which was a cross
between his autobiography and a list of his political ideas:
The German people were a master race, a 'herrenvolk'. All other races (Slavs, Jews, black people) were
Germany should be re-united and seize land to the east
To make Germany great again, a new leader was needed. Democracy was a weak system and should be
replaced by dictatorship. Communism was evil, too.
a) What were Hitler’s ideas in Mein Kampf and other writings?
Nationalism. Intense loyalty to and pride in Germany
Foreign Policy. Expansionism, remilitarisation, lebensraum
Racism. German racial purity; Aryan master race vs slave races, especially the Jews
War. Armed struggle was an essential part of the development of a healthy Aryan race
The Fuhrer. Total loyalty to the leader was better than debate and democracy
Hitler was released from prison in December 1924 and the world he found himself in had undergone
The government had authority, order had been restored and the country had a more stable
monetary system. This gave less scope for a politician with an approach such as Hitler’s.
Some of Hitler’s earlier associates were either dead or living in exile and many of his former
patrons had turned their backs on him.
The SA had lost its fearsome image. To keep within the law, units had to masquerade as sports
and rifle clubs.
The stop-gap leader during Hitler’s imprisonment, Alfred Rosenberg, had allowed the party to
disintegrate into factions which were at loggerheads. For example, the extremist Julius Streicher had
formed a nationalist-racist party in Bavaria whilst in northern Germany Gregor Strasser led a newly
formed National Socialist Freedom Party
Whilst Germany appeared to flourish during the Weimar “golden age”, Hitler was officially banned from
open involvement in political activity, part of his punishment for the Munich Putsch. This ban came to
an end in 1927. (The ban on the Nazi party had been lifted in 1925) The following year came the first
real trial of strength of the Nazi Party in the Reichstag elections of May 1928. The result was a severe
blow to the Nazis- with only 12 seats and under 3% of the vote it was clear to all that the Nazis were
little more than a fringe party. (They had won 32 seats in the 1924 elections) The cause of this was
simple- the prosperity of the Stresemann years, following the Dawes Plan of 1924, and the success of his
foreign policy, left most Germans totally uninterested in extreme politics. The moderate parties seemed
to be handling the recovery well and the Nazis appeared an extremist irrelevance. William Shirer, An
American journalist living in Germany gave this verdict on the Nazis after the elections of 1928:
Nazism appears to be a dying cause. It got support because of the country’s problems such as
hyper inflation and the French invasion of the Ruhr. Now that the country’s outlook is bright it
is dying away. One scarcely hears of Hitler except as the butt of jokes
Indeed, the 1928 elections seemed to suggest that the situation for the Nazis was actually getting worse
in terms of Reichstag seats:
1924 (May): 32
1924 (Dec): 14
However, it would be wrong to see the years 1924-29 just as a time of negativity for the Nazis. Within
the party key structural, organisational and strategic changes were taking place that were to leave them
well placed to take advantage should a dramatic change in the political landscape come about.
Such was the state of the situation that Hitler even considered emigrating to the USA. Gradually,
though, he pulled himself together and in February 1926 he called a meeting of Party leaders at Bamberg
in southern Germany to try to sort matters out. Hitler here took the splinter groups head on and
skilfully brought them together under his leadership. Following this, Hitler began to recover lost ground
and by mid 1926 he was once again in control of the party. Even so, party membership had fallen to only
35,000 and there was no rush of new recruits. The party was dramatically short of money.
What were Hitler’s objectives in changing the party?
The party had to change to an electoral strategy
There must be a proper political party with a national organisation. Up to then, the Nazis had only been well
known in Bavaria. He needed to win as many votes as possible if he was to gain a majority in the Reichstag.
There must be for women and children and for teachers and other professional groups
The propaganda effort must be more carefully organised
Reorganising and rebuilding the Party
Hitler now planned a new framework for the party:
a) The “Gau” system. For reasons of organisation Germany was divided up into “Gaue”, or regions.
Each had a leader, a Gauleiter, chosen for his commitment to the Party and his enthusiasm for
Nazi policies. In 1928 the Gaue were again reorganised to correspond with the established 35
Reichstag electoral districts. Each Gau was subdivided into areas roughly the size of an English
county, with each again given a leader. A further subdivision meant that each city or town was
b) The SA was restructured. It ceased to be a rabble of street hooligans and was given more clearly
defined responsibilities, including spreading propaganda and organising demonstrations against
Communists and Jews. In 1925 it was enlarged.
c) In 1926 the more elite SS was formed but was to remain relatively unimportant until Heinrich
Himmler became the organisation’s leader in 1929.
d) The Hitler Youth was formed in 1926 to rival other long established German youth
e) Professional groups were established for doctors, lawyers and teachers in 1926, as was the
f) In 1926 the first Nazi Party rally was held at Weimar which began the pattern of military style
g) In 1927 a reorganisation of the party took place to make it more efficient. A national
headquarters was created in Munich with Hitler insisting on central control of finance and
h) Before 1928 the Nazis saw their target electoral group as the urban/industrial working class.
1928’s results made it clear that this approach had failed. The great majority of workers
supported the SPD. The Nazis thus changed their focus to groups such as peasant farmers and
the lower middle class, such as shopkeepers and small business owners. The Nazis began to
highlight the importance of the peasants in their plans for Germany, promising to help
agriculture if they came to power. Peasants were praised as racially pure Germans. Nazi
propaganda also contrasted the supposedly clean and simple life of the peasants with that of the
allegedly corrupt, immoral, crime ridden cities. The fact that the Nazis despised Weimar
culture also gained them support among some conservative elements who saw Weimar’s
flourishing art, literature and film achievements as immoral.
i) Joseph Goebbels was appointed to take charge of Nazi propaganda. Goebbels was highly
efficient at spreading the Nazi message. He and Hitler believed that the best way to reach the
masses was by appealing to their feelings rather than by rational argument. Goebbels produced
leaflets, films and radio broadcasts.
By 1927 membership stood at 108,000 compared with 27,000 in 1925.
Why did Hitler decide to make these changes?
He knew that if he tried to use violence again and failed a second time, he would be finished.
At his trial he had gained the attention of a wealthy businessman Alfred Hugenberg. He offered to finance the
Nazis. He also owned 53 newspapers, which he used to publicise the Nazis. In 1929 Hugenberg bought the
largest cinema chain in Germany, Hitler then had access to even more publicity.
The result was that by the end of 1926 the Nazi Party had 50,000 members, but its seats in the Reichstag had fallen
from 32 in 1924 to only won 12 in the general election of 1928.
b) What were the Nazis doing during the Stresemann era 1924-9?
Hitler spent 9 months in prison and wrote Mein Kampf
Hitler came to the conclusion that the Nazis would have to use democratic methods to achieve
power rather than seizing it by force
The Nazis organised recruitment drive to gain more members- rising to 100,000 by 1928
They created a network of local Nazi parties
They set up youth organisations such as the Hitler Youth and the Nazi students’ League
They enlarged the SA in 1925, especially with unemployed exservicemen
They set up the SS- similar to the SA but fanatically loyal to Hitler
They used propaganda to spread their message-posters, leaflets, films, radio, rallies etc under the
control of Joseph Goebbels
They started to put up candidates for Reichstag elections
The Nazi Electoral Breakthrough 1929-33
Why did support for the Nazis increase in the late 1920s?
In 1928 the Nazis won support outside of Bavaria for virtually the first time. They began to win votes in farming
areas of north Germany, as prices fell but their big break came in 1929.
On 3 October 1929 Gustav Stresemann died. He had been responsible, more than any other politician, for
Germany’s recovery in the 1920s.
On 24 October 1929 Wall Street, the American Stock Exchange crashed. US bankers called in their loans to
Germany. German companies had to close down.
o The economic impact of the Wall Street Crash
By 1928 the economies of the world had become thoroughly integrated. The largest economy, that of
the USA, was crucial in ensuring prosperity and jobs in Europe and other parts of the world. Germany
in particular relied heavily on the USA after the Dawes Plan. Huge loans helped restore the crisis-torn
German economy and pay off reparations. While these loans lasted, most Germans had jobs and goods
could be sold abroad. However, by 1928, the US economy was starting to falter; the market for
consumer goods had become saturated and factories were turning out products for which there was no
demand. The Wall Street Crash of October 1929 worsened the situation dramatically; stocks and shares
lost billions of dollars in value. Banks went bust as people drew out their money; companies and
businesses who had lent money during the roaring 20s called in their loans. The loans to Germany had
been short term and were called in quickly. Confidence evaporated overnight as factories shut down and
businesses collapsed. It has been said that “if America sneezes Europe catches a cold”. Germany’s cold
was the worst in Europe. The Great Depressions, which started in the USA, resulted in 6 million
unemployed in Germany by 1933. By 1932 one in three of all workers was out of work.
Rising unemployment in Germany during the Depression
Year Number Unemployed
Such a dramatic rise in unemployment brought with it crushing social problems. Unemployment pay only
lasted six months. After that came real poverty and homelessness. Consider these rather grim calculations
made by an employment exchange during 1931:
The average benefit paid to an unemployed man with a wife and a child was 51 marks a month.
At least 32.5 marks went on rent, electricity, heating and other necessities. 18.5 marks remained
to feed the family. Each person’s daily rations consisted of six potatoes, five slices of bread, a
handful of cabbage, a knob of margarine with a herring thrown in on three occasions during the
It could be argued that the suffering seemed particularly bad since the German people had so recently
experienced a period of prosperity. Many now remembered the hyperinflation of 1923 and felt doubly
bitter towards the Weimar Republic. They were thus more prepared to listen to the promises of
extremist parties such as the Nazis and Communists. The worst effects were felt from 1931 onwards when a
series of banks went bust. This ruined many ordinary Germans and led to them losing their homes and being
forced to live on the streets.
o The political impact of the Great Depression
Together with extreme economic and social problems, the Depression brought about a political crisis
which ultimately led to the downfall of democracy. Above all, the Depression showed up the
weaknesses of the Weimar Constitution. Germany needed a strong government and leader in 1929 to
lead the country through the economic problems. Stresemann, however, died just before the Wall
Street Crash. The two leading parties in the Coalition government, the Centre Party and SPD, fell out
with each other. The leader of the SPD, Hermann Muller, refused to agree to cuts in unemployment
benefit which the Centre Party, under Heinrich Bruning, believed were necessary and so went into
opposition. As they were the largest single party this made it difficult to make coalitions. Governments came and
went. In this situation, President Hindenburg began to allow Chancellor Bruning to use his emergency powers on
a regular basis to by-pass the Reichstag. Democracy in Germany had really ended by 1932.
c) How did the Great Depression help the Nazis?
Inability of the Weimar government to take strong and decisive action. This allowed Hitler to claim
that Germany needed a strong leader like him to solve the economic problems
Continuing reparations- Hitler argued that these were now more intolerable than ever, and that
Versailles must be reversed
Unemployment- the Nazis would create more employment in the army, armaments industry and
Some one for Hitler to blame for the Depression- Allies, Weimar and Jews
Result: in the 1930 Reichstag election the Nazis won 107 seats; November 1932 nearly 200, making
them the largest party in the Reichstag
What was the importance of all this for the Nazis?
Your book by Ben Walsh addresses very clearly the issue of why these events were of such value to the
Nazis. Walsh writes that:
“Hitler’s ideas now had a special relevance:
Is the Weimar government indecisive? Then Germany needs a strong leader!
Are reparations adding to Germany’s problems? Then kick out the Treaty of Versailles!
Is unemployment a problem? Let the unemployed join the army, build Germany’s
armament and be used for public works like road building!
The Nazis’ 25 Points were very attractive to those most vulnerable to the Depression: the
unemployed, the elderly and the middle classes. Hitler offered them culprits to blame for
Germany’s troubles- the Allies, the “November Criminals” and the Jews. None of these messages
was new and they had not won support for the Nazis in the Stresemann years. The difference now
was theta the democratic parties simply could not get Germany back into work”
An analysis of the number of seats illustrates the changing fortunes of the Nazi Party between 1928 and
Party 1928 1930 1932 (Jul) 1932 (Nov)
Nazis 12 107 230 196
German Nationalist 73 41 37 52
German People’s 45 30 7 11
Centre Party 62 68 75 70
German 25 20 4 2
Social Democratic 153 143 133 121
Communists 54 77 89 100
Other 67 91 33 32
Total 491 577 608 584
It is certainly true that growing Nazi popularity stemmed from the combination of the circumstances of
the Depression with the issues promoted in Nazi propaganda. Of great importance was the fact that the
Nazi programme appealed to many different groups in Germany. Hitler was extremely flexible. If he
found an idea was losing support he would change it. For example, the Nazis spoke initially in favour of
nationalisation of industry. When they found that this alarmed industrialists they quickly dropped the
idea. For many groups though, Nazi policy suggestions brought real hope:
By blaming the Jews for Germany’s problems Hitler provided people with a scapegoat and united
Germans against outsiders. Hitler told the German people that the problems of the Depression were not
their fault. He blamed the Jews and the Weimar democrats for Germany’s problems. He used them as a
To the depressed Germans Hitler offered the possibility of a powerful Germany both at home
Hitler said that he would be able to solve the problems. He offered strong leadership and easy solutions.
To the unemployed Hitler offered work
To the employers he offered the prospect of restored profits.
The Nazis thus offered enticing prospects for the future; national unity, prosperity and full employment
by ridding Germany of what they claimed were the real causes of the troubles and overthrowing the
Versailles Settlement. This made for a striking contrast with the Weimer government. The latter
appeared respectable, dull and unable to maintain law and order. The Nazis promised strong, decisive
government and the restoration of national pride.
That said, an analysis of the nature of the Nazi message is not enough to explain fully the
dramatic growth in their popularity. After all, the Communist party was also offering radical
and extreme solutions to Germany’s problems and in terms of Reichstag seats clearly had a head
start over the Nazis in 1928 and yet the Nazis were able to overtake them. It is also necessary to
consider Hitler as a politician and the strength of Nazi political organization.
From 1929 support for the Nazis rose steadily.
Numbers of Nazi members in the Reichstag
1932 July 230
d) Who voted for the Nazis 1924-9?
Some peasant farmers, especially in northern Germany- Nazis promised to help agriculture and
praised peasants as racially pure
Some lower middle class shopkeepers and small businessmen who were struggling to make ends
meet under the Weimar Republic and had been badly hit by the hyperinflation
Some conservative middle class people in towns who liked the Nazi condemnation of Weimar
culture as immoral
BUT not much support from workers who either voted communist or, especially, Socialist
In 1928 the Nazis won only 12 Reichstag seats. They were a fringe party with only 3% of the vote.
Hitler undoubtedly had extraordinary political abilities. He possessed tremendous energy and will
power and a remarkable gift for public speaking which enabled him to put forward his ideas with
tremendous force. Hitler himself did much to win support for the Nazi party. Posters and rallies built
him up as a superman. Hitler developed his speech-making skills still further. He wore spectacles to read
but refused to be seen wearing them in public so his speeches were typed in large print. Campaigns
focused around his personality and his skills.
Otto Strasser, A Nazi who disliked Hitler as a person, wrote about his qualities as a speaker:
As the spirit moves him, he is promptly transformed into one of the greatest speakers of the
century. Adolf Hitler a hall. He sniffs the air. For a minute he gropes, feels his way, senses the
atmosphere. Suddenly he bursts forth. His words go like an arrow in their target. He touches
each private world in the raw, telling each person what they most want to hear.
The power of Hitler as a campaigner was seen best during the 1932 Presidential election when he
challenged Hindenburg. Although defeated by 19 million votes to 13 million, Hitler showed himself to
be a dynamic and compelling politician.
The Nazi Organisation
As you have already seen, the Nazi party had undergone key organisational and structural changes in the
five years before 1929. This allowed them to take advantage effectively of the new situation. Nazi
propaganda was particularly effective. Josef Goebbels was in charge and he used every possible method
to get across the Nazi message and carefully trained local groups in propaganda skills. The Nazis used:
- Posters and pamphlets everywhere
- Eight Nazi-owned newspapers
- Mobile units to organise entertainment and speeches in different areas
- Stirring mass rallies using music, lighting and banners as a back-drop for Hitler’s speech making
skills. During the 1932 Presidential campaign Goebbels chartered planes to fly Hitler all over
Germany in order to speak to four or five rallies a day
- Radio was used for the first time.
Added to this must be an appreciation of the work of the SA. By 1932 the SA numbered 600,000. The
SA’s violent attacks on rival politicians and political meetings helped the Nazis by:
- Disrupting their opponents’ meetings
- Attracting many unemployed and unhappy young people who admired the discipline and
fighting qualities of the SA. The SA also gave them a small wage and a uniform
- The appearance of discipline and order given by the SA and SS at rallies and marches had a huge
impact on many people. At a time of uncertainty and instability, when large groups of the
unemployed were often to be seen gathered on street corners in a threatening manner, this
impression of order was compelling.
Hitler persuaded powerful industrialists that he would prevent the Communists from taking power and
would restore the German economy. As early as 1929 Alfred Hugenburg, leader of the German
Nationalist Party and a wealthy newspaper owner, worked with Hitler in attacking the Young Plan. He
gave the Nazis access to his media empire, particularly his cinemas.
Other supporters were:
Many industrialists bankrolled the Nazis, including allegedly:
Hjalmar Schacht, Head of the Reichsbank, organised fund-raising parties for Hitler.
Fritz von Thyssen, the German steel businessman
Alfred Krupp, the owner of Krupp steel firm
Emil Kirdorf, the coal businessman
IG Faben, the German chemicals firm, gave half the funds for the 1933 elections
The German car firm Opel (a subsidiary of General Motors)
Schroeder Bank – on Jan. 3, 1933, Reinhard Schroeder met Hitler and asked him to form a
Fritz Thyssen wrote:
I have personally given altogether one million marks to the Nazi Party. It was in the period
1929-32 that the big industrial corporations began to make their contributions. In all, the
amounts given by heavy industry to the Nazis may be estimated at two million marks a year.
Negative cohesion. The idea that people supported the Nazis not because they passionately
bought into the Nazi message but because they shared the Nazi dislike of certain groups and
developments in German society.
e) Why did the Nazis do well in elections?
Electoral tactics. Catchy generalised slogans rather than specific policies, making it harder for
opponents specifically to criticise them; talk about uniting behind one leader; emphasis on
traditional values; identifying scapegoats (allies, Jews, Communists, Weimar politicians); contempt
for Weimar democracy as unable to solve Germany’s problems; posters and pamphlets; impressively
large and enthusiastic rallies; impressive discipline and order shown by SA and SS; soup kitchens and
hostels for unemployed people
The impact of the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression
Hitler. The Nazis’ greatest asset; a powerful orator; a dynamic man with modern ideas; also a man
of the people who understood ordinary Germans; increased his profile by winning 13 million votes
in the 1932 Presidential Election (to Hindenburg’s 19 million)
“Negative cohesion”. People who didn’t like the Nazis’ views sometimes still supported them
because they shared some of their fears and dislikes i.e. voting for negative rather than positive
Disillusionment with democracy. The inability of Weimar politicians to tackle the Depression e.g.
breakdown of Centre/Socialist coalition of 1930, forcing Chancellor Heinrich Bruning to rely on
Hindenburg’s emergency powers of presidential decree; thus politicians appeared to be squabbling
about coalitions and cabinet jobs instead of sorting out economic problems
The threat of communism. Communist support was growing and middle class businessmen and big
industry were afraid that if a communist government got into power they would introduce state
control of business; farmers feared a communist government would collectivise land; a growing
feeling that the Nazis could combat these threats
Decadence. Nazis promised to restore old fashioned values and end decadent Weimar culture
How did Hitler become Chancellor in January 1933?
The bare bones:
In 1932 Hitler stood in the presidential elections against Hindenburg. Hindenburg won 17 million votes, Hitler
won 11 million.
In the July 1932 general election the Nazis became the biggest party in Reichstag, but Hindenburg refused to
appoint Hitler Chancellor. Franz von Papen became chancellor.
In the November 1932 the Nazis lost some support, but were still the biggest party in the Reichstag. Franz von
Papen was replaced as chancellor by General Kurt von Schleicher.
Von Papen was furious that von Schleicher had taken his place and was determined to get rid of him. In January
1933.he suggested that Hindenburg appoint Hitler as chancellor, with von Papen as vice-chancellor in a coalition
government. Von Papen thought he could control Hitler.
Hindenburg against his better judgement agreed. On 31 January 1933 Hitler became chancellor of Germany. He
led a coalition government, which included four Nazis.
Why did Hitler finally become Chancellor in 1933? The importance of political scheming.
It is clear that the period 1930-33 was one of great electoral success for the Nazi Party and it would be
tempting to see this as the explanation for Hindenburg’s appointment of Hitler as Chancellor on 30th
January 1933. The truth, however, is more complicated.
During the period 1930-33, other than the rise in Nazi fortunes, two important developments took
Parliamentary government broke down and President Hindenburg increasingly ruled by
emergency decree, appointing and dismissing chancellors as he wished. Hindenburg appointed
Heinrich Bruning as Chancellor in 1930. He did not need Reichstag support for his legislation,
he simply needed Hindenburg to sign it. However, this system of rule by “presidential cabinets”
was always fragile, depending as it did on the goodwill of Hindenburg and his advisers.
Bruning’s measures to try to deal with the effect of the Depression were unpopular and he
resigned on 30th May 1932. Then Chancellor was Franz von Papen, a member of the Centre
Party. Once again, unpopular laws were passed to cut back on welfare and von Papen too
Elite groups such as army officers, owners of big business, the civil service and the big
landowners considered that their interests would be best served by a strong, authoritarian
government rather than unstable coalition governments. In 1930 and beyond, with the
Depression deepening and the President acting alone, they were able to influence political
decisions ways that had not been possible before. As the difficulty in governing Germany grew,
so such people began to see Hitler as a potential candidate for the job of Chancellor.
On 2nd December 1932 von Schleicher became Chancellor. He tried to create some support for
his government but upset many groups by his discussions with trade union leaders. At this von
Papen did a deal with Hitler: The Nazi leader would offer strong government with popular
support and, in return, von Papen and his colleagues would form a majority of non-Nazis in the
cabinet. Only Hindenburg now needed to be convinced. Hindenburg had for a long time been
hesitant about appointing Hitler as Chancellor. He had refused to appoint Hitler in August 1932
and again in November 1932, but he now changed his mind only a few weeks later, the
consequence of the extreme pressure he was now subjected o. In November 1932 Hjalmar
Schacht, a business leader, signed a petition to Hindenburg requesting the appointment of Hitler
as Chancellor. Hindenburg refused but over the next few weeks a series of blunder by von
Schleicher worried big business. Von Papen now stepped in and liaised between big business,
Schacht, the Nazi leadership and the group of advisers surrounding Hindenburg. The President
finally agreed to appoint Hitler on the understanding that the government would be a
conservative and not a Nazi one.
Hitler had come to power as the result of a back-room deal. Von Papen should be seen as the main
figure in all of this, hoping to use Hitler’s popular support and voting power in the Reichstag for his own
political purposes and mistakenly assuming that Hitler could be controlled once he had his hands on the
levers of power.
You should consider once again the table for Reichstag seats won by the main parties in elections
between 1928 and 1933. You will notice that the Nazis fell from 230 seats in July 1932 to 196 in
November. Certain historians have suggested that this shows that the highpoint of popular support for
the Nazis had already passed and that the Nazis were on their way down by the time Von Papen’s
scheming catapulted Hitler into the job of Chancellor. Popular support was not enough.
On 1st February 1933 Erich Ludendorff wrote to Hindenburg:
"By appointing Hitler Chancellor of the Reich you have handed over our sacred German
Fatherland to one of the greatest demagogues of all time. I prophesy to you that this evil man
will plunge our Reich into the abyss and will inflict immeasurable woe on our nation. Future
generations will curse you in your grave for what you have done."
Checklist of factors explaining Hitler’s rise to power:
The nature of the Nazi message in the particular circumstances of the period after the Wall
Hitler’s political skills
The Nazi electoral machine
The financial support of big business
Political scheming by von Papen
f) How did Hitler become Chancellor in 1933?
The Nazis had the most seats in the Reichstag (230 in July 1932, 192 in November 1932)
Hindenburg, however, would not appoint Hitler Chancellor and preferred his friend Franz von
When Papen had virtually no support in the Reichstag, Hindenburg appointed Kurt von Schleicher,
who also had very little support. Both could only govern by means of Hindenburg’s emergency
Needing a Chancellor who had the support of the Reichstag, Hindenburg was forced to appoint
Hitler in January 1933 with von Papen as Vice-Chancellor
Papen and Hindenburg believed they could resist Hitler’s influence and extremist demands, and at
the same time use Hitler to get the support of the Reichstag for their ideas; they were very wrong
The Nazis in power: How did Hitler consolidate his power?
Hitler had no intention of being controlled by von Papen. He immediately called for a general election on 5 March
and was determined to gain the overall majority that he needed to make himself dictator legally.
The Key Steps in the Nazi Consolidation of Power
When Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933 he was by no means in total control of Germany. He
did not have a majority in the Reichstag and there were only three Nazis in the cabinet. Over the next
eighteen months he removed to main external opposition to his government whilst also removing any
potential threat from within the Nazi party itself.
1) 30th January 1933
Hitler appointed Chancellor. There were only three Nazis in the Cabinet (Hitler, Goering and
Frick) with Papen as vice chancellor. Much is often made of the fact that Hitler had little apparent
support in the Cabinet at the start and in numerical terms this is true. However, certain factors
worked together to strengthen Hitler’s initial position:
- One of the other Nazis in the Cabinet, Goering, held the key position of minister of the Interior
for Prussia. As such, he was in control of the police in Germany’s biggest and most important
- Hitler’s position was further strengthened because Cabinet colleagues shared his desire to
destroy left wing influences and end parliamentary government.
- The SA was now 2.5 million strong and was eager to be unleashed on political opponents.
Hindenburg agreed to dissolve the Reichstag on 1st February and hold new elections. Hitler hoped to
gain a 2/3 majority so that he could introduce constitutional reform. In the weeks leading up to the
election, action was taken to destroy the left wing parties. On 4th February a decree banned
newspapers and public meetings from criticising Hitler’s government. In the middle of the month
Goering let loose 50,000 SA in Prussia: an orgy of violence against Socialists and Communists took
2) 27th February
A week before the elections the Reichstag building was set on fire. The fire was almost certainly started
by the Nazis themselves. The fire was blamed on the communists, because a Dutch member of the
Communist Party was arrested inside the Reichstag building. 4,000 Communists were arrested. Van
der Lubbe appeared to be guilty because:
- He confessed to the crime after his arrest and at his trial
- He was arrested at the scene of the crime
- The Communists were, clearly, the arch enemies of the Nazis.
There is, however, also evidence to suggest he was not guilty:
- It could well have been the Nazis who set fire to the building and then framed van der
Lubbe in order to provide an excuse to persecute the communists
- The fire was clearly at a very convenient time for Hitler
- The Nazis hate the Reichstag
- Van der Lubbe may have been tortured
- In 1942 Goering admitted that he was responsible during a lunch in honour of Hitler’s
- The probable culprits, however, were members of the Berlin SA, led by Karl Ernst, who were
acting on the orders of Hermann Goering. The Storm-troopers were later shot by the SS to avoid
the truth coming out.
In March 1933, before the election, Goering, the Minister for the Interior in Prussia, enrolled SA members as
special constables. Other parties attacked, arrested, beaten up. In the election the Nazis won 17.3 million votes,
233 seats, the biggest party, but still not a majority in Reichstag. 22 million vote for other parties. But with the
support of Hugenberg’s National Party the Nazis now controlled the Reichstag. When the Reichstag met on 17
March, the Socialists and Communists stayed away. Hitler could now do as he liked.
The fire was exploited by Nazis to show danger of communist threat. On the night of the fire itself
4,000 leading communists were arrested and imprisoned.
Hitler used the fire as evidence that the communists were plotting against his government whilst Goring
used it to justify the violent actions of the SA against political opponents. Concentration camps sprang
up all over Germany.
3) 28th February
On the day after the fire Hitler persuaded Hindenburg to pass an emergency decree suspending all
the articles of the constitution which guaranteed personal liberty e.g. freedom of speech and freedom of
assembly. This “Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the Nation and the State”:
Was issued by Hindenburg under article 48 of the constitution
Suspended constitutional civil rights
Gave secret police the power to hold people indefinitely in protective custody without having to
appear in court
Was used to repress KPD
By April 25,000 people were in custody in Prussia alone
Remained in force throughout the Third Reich. It is worth pointing out that most Germans took
the threat of a Communist uprising very seriously and accepted Hitler’s drastic actions.
4) 5th March: Elections
Government used control of radio, police and unofficial pressure to intimidate opponents
Highest ever turnout at 88%
Nazi election slogan “The battle against Communism”
Nazis get 44% of votes,288 seats, their allies the Nationalists 8%
Although the Nazis had increased their share of the vote, they had still not got a majority of seats. In
order to change the constitution legally Hitler needed a 2/3 majority. He now managed to do this by:
- Using the emergency decree to prevent the Communists from taking up the 81 seats they
- Retaining the support of the National Party which had 52 seats
- Gaining the support of the Centre Party (81 seats) by promising to defend the interests of
the Catholic Church
5) 13th March: New Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda
Goebbels appointed head
Exercised control of all media
6) 24th March Enabling Act
With his 2/3 majority Hitler was now able to bring about the first change in the constitution. This
was officially called the “Law for Terminating the Suffering of the People and the Nation” but is
most commonly known by the title “Enabling Act”. On 23 March the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act,
1933. This gave Hitler the power to by-pass the Reichstag and make laws without its consent for four years.
It was passed by 441 votes to 83 with the help of the Nationalists, and with the Reichstag building surrounded
by armed SA members. Renewed in 1938
7) 1st April. One day boycott of Jewish shops
8) 7th April. Law for Restoration of Professional Civil Service
Administration, courts, schools and universities purged of “alien” elements- Jews, political
9) 1st May. May-day holiday
International Labour Day turned into “Day of National Labour”
2nd May: Trade Union offices broken into and seized all over the country. Thousands of trade
union officials were arrested; all unions incorporated into new German Labour Front (DAF).
The Nazis could not now be challenged by strikes or other union activities.
10) 14th July. Law against the Formation of New Parties
SPD and KPD already banned. The SPD offices had been occupied on 10th May. Two weeks
later the same had happened to the KPD
Other parties had dissolved themselves under pressure from the Nazis
No new parties allowed under the terms of the new law.
11) Concordat between state and Vatican
Church banned from political activity
Government to protect religious freedom
12) 14th October Reichstag dissolved. New elections held on 12th November
Nazis win 92% of the votes
13) 30th January 1934 “Law for the Reconstruction of the State”
From March 1933 many state (local) governments had been overthrown by SA violence
allowing the government to appoint commissioners. On 31st March 1933 the state parliaments
had been closed down. They were then reorganised so that the Nazis had a majority in each state
parliament. In the following month Hitler appointed state governors who were all Nazis and in
January 1934 state parliaments were abolished. New laws now formalised the situation
Reich governors created to run states
14) 30th June 1934. “Night of the Long Knives”
The Night of the Long Knives
Why did Hitler order the Night of the Long Knives?
Ernst Rohm and other SA leaders and members of the conservative opposition were arrested and shot
without trial as Hitler moved to deal with a perceived threat from within his own party. Rohm and the
SA were seen as a threat for several reasons:
- Rohm wanted to merge the SA with the army and take control of the resulting “Peoples’ Militia”.
Hitler, clearly, needed the support of the army if he was to gain full control of Germany and
Rohm’s ideas led to huge discontent in the military.
- The SA was growing rapidly. Rohm put the membership at 3,000,000, although it was probably
- Rohm was wanted a “second revolution” to put Socialist policies into practice and had openly
criticised Hitler for moving fast enough to initiate change. There were two million members of the
SA who expected Hitler to take wealth from the rich in an effort o put into place the more left wing
items in the 25 Point Programme. Many leading industrialists feared that the SA programme looked
too much like Communism and Hitler could not afford to upset them.
- The continued violence of the SA had become an embarrassment as had Rohm’s drunkenness and
- Hitler was encouraged to remove Rohm by two other leading Nazis who were jealous of Rohm’s
power- Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and Herman Goering, Minister of the Interior
Rohm had ordered all members of the SA to go on holiday for the month of July 1934 and summoned the
leaders to Munich for a conference. In the early hours of 30th June 1934, Hitler arrived at a hotel in the
Bavarian resort of Bad Wiessee together with Rohm and other leading members of the SA. Using his
heavily armed SS, Hitler informed Rohm and the other leaders that they were under arrest. They
were taken to Munich where they were shot. Over the next few days other leading members of the
SA, such as Gregor Strasser, were also arrested and shot. Up to 200 people were killed, including
politicians such as von Schleicher.
There were several results of the purge:
- Hitler’s position was now stronger in that he had removed possible rivals to his position-
Rohm and Strasser.
- The action showed would-be opponents that the regime was absolutely ruthless in its use of
force whenever it was threatened.
- In a strange way, Hitler’s actions impressed many Germans. Hitler publicly justified the
“Night of the Long Knives” on the grounds that Rohm was plotting to overthrow the
government. Hindenburg publicly said that Hitler had “saved the nation”.
- The SS was now established as a separate organisation from the SA. Himmler now took
orders only from Hitler.
- In August 1934 the army swore an oath of loyalty to Hitler personally. This should be seen
as a reward for Hitler from the army for dealing with Rohm.
15) 2nd August 1934. Hindenburg dies
Hitler becomes undisputed Head of State, combining the offices of President and Chancellor.
He would now be known as “Fuhrer” (leader)
“Law Concerning the Head of State of the German Reich” merges the offices of the President
and the Chancellor in the new position of “Fuhrer and Chancellor”.
Following death of Hindenburg army takes path of personal loyalty to Hitler.
g) How did Hitler transform himself from Chancellor to Dictator?
February 1933. The Reichstag Fire. Hitler claimed this was the work of the Communists and was
the prelude to an attempted Communist takeover; he was given emergency powers by Hindenburg
to arrest Communist leaders and break up meetings; voters were scared by threats of a possible
March 1933. The Reichstag Elections. The Nazis now won 288 seats and with the support of the
smaller Nationalist Party, Hitler now had an overall majority
March 1933. The Enabling Act. Using the SA and SS Hitler intimidated the Reichstag into passing
this act which gave him power t pass laws without consulting the Reichstag; only the Socialists (SPD)
voted against this (Communists were banned after the Reichstag fire). The Catholic Centre Party
supported Hitler in return for retaining control of Catholic schools
1933-4. The Nazi “Revolution”. Hitler now used his dictatorial powers to strengthen his position:
civil service, courts and education purged of Jews and opponents of the Nazis (April 19330; trade
unions banned and workers forced to join the German Labour Front (May 1933); all political parties
other than the Nazis were banned, making Germany a one party state (July 1933); all other state
governments taken over by central government (January 1934); opponents of the Nazis leave
Germany or are moved to concentration camps run by SS
June 1934. The Night of the Long Knives. Hitler eliminated Ernst Rohm and other SA leaders, and
also unconnected political enemies such as Schleicher, many SA members were absorbed into the
army or subordinated under the SS; in return the army pledged its full allegiance to Hitler
August 1934. The Death of Hindenburg. Hitler combined the offices of Chancellor and President
and became Supreme Leader (Fuhrer) of Germany. The army agreed to serve him and in return
Hitler began rearmament and brought back conscription and made plans for an expansionist foreign
How did the Nazis deal with opposition?
How did the Nazis deal with their opponents?
It has to be said that there was little open opposition because there were very good reason not to oppose the regime:
a) Why wasn’t there much opposition to the Nazis?
Terror. Opponents were killed or imprisoned; others were scared into submission. But also.........
Nazis successes. Many Germans admired and trusted Hitler for restoring the German economy,
reinforcing traditional values, clamping down on communism, giving Germany something to be
proud of in foreign policy, reversing Versailles
Economic fear. Fears that workers would lose their jobs if they expressed opposition; possibilities of
companies losing business and going bankrupt if they did not contribute to Nazi Party funds
Propaganda. Many did not find out about bad things that were happening, or heard about then only
with a pro-Nazi slant; propaganda was especially good for maintaining a positive image of Hitler
How were the Nazi Police State organised?
Until 1933 each state in Germany had its own police force. By 1936 they had been centralised under
Himmler as Chief of Police. The Nazis developed a typically confusing variety of repressive agencies that
overlapped and developed over time. The key points were:
- After the Night of the Long Knives the SA was disarmed and restructured, and many members
were purged. Its power broken, it became a subservient body. However, it remained an
intimidatory force against potential opposition. It retained a visible presence on the streets,
periodically beating up alleged opponents.
- The SS developed into the main terror instrument of the regime. From an elite bodyguard it
became a mass organisation, with a wide variety of roles. The SS had emerged as the chief
police arm of the Nazi Party. It directed its energies against all enemies of Nazism, whether
racial or political, later taking over the running of the concentration and death camps. By
1939 there were 240,000 members.
- The Gestapo, originally the Prussian secret police, eventually covered all German states. In
1933 SS leader Himmler was appointed as the head of the Gestapo, so that it came under SS
control. From 1936 it became the most important security agency of the state, able to decide
for itself what the law was. Its purpose was to discover the enemies of the state by whatever
means were necessary. People were arrested and imprisoned without trial. Evidence from informers
was used – people were encouraged to inform on neighbours, colleagues, even their own family
- The SD, or security police, was the internal security/intelligence service of the SS, headed by
Heydrich; in some ways it was the elite of the elite.
- Every block or street had an informer who reported on any behaviour that might suggest non-Nazi views
e.g. not giving the Hitler salute.
- Nazi 'People’s Courts' tried people, often in secret. The judges were all Nazis. By 1939 more than
160,000 political prisoners in Germany.
- The first concentration camps had been opened in 1933 at Dachau. They were deliberately made as hard
as possible to act as a deterrent. Political opponents, gypsies, or anybody else that the Nazis regarded
as 'untermensch', were simply locked awa
b) What organisations did the Nazis use to control the German people?
The SS. Led by Heinrich Himmler, formed in 1925; grew up into a large organisation with many
sub divisions including Waffen SS (elite armoured regiments), Death’s Head Units (concentration
camps and Jews), Office for the Strengthening of Germanhood (for racial policy), Race and
Resettlement Office and RHSA (Security Head Office)
The Gestapo(Secret State Police). Led by Reinhard Heydrich; powers to arrest people and send
them to concentration camps without trial or explanation
The Police and the Courts. Top police jobs were given to high ranking Nazis, reporting to Himmler;
instructions given to ignore crimes committed by Nazi agents; Nazis controlled magistrates and
judges, so opponents of Nazism could not receive fair trials
Concentration camps. For Jews, Socialists, Communists, trade-unionists, churchmen and critics of
the Nazis; usually in isolated rural areas; run by Death’s Head Units; hard labour, limited food,
harsh discipline, beatings, random executions, deaths increasingly common from the late 1930s
Life in Nazi Germany
How did the Nazis use culture and mass media to control the people?
Nazi propaganda had three main aims:
- To keep the population contented
- To win support for particular policies
- To indoctrinate the people with the Nazi world view, seeking to turn them into
committed members of the volksgemeinschaft
The organisation of propaganda
Early in 1933 Hitler set up the Propaganda ministry under Goebbels who supervised a vast
machinery for control of all aspects of the media. The Nazis exercised this through direct
ownership of some forms, by controlling those working in the media, by directing the media as
to what to produce and by prosecuting non-conformist activities.
a) The Press
The regime exercised three main methods of control:
- It rigorously controlled all those involved through membership of co-ordinating bodies, for
example the Reich Press Chamber. In October 1933 a law made editors responsible for
infringements of government directives.
- The RMVP controlled the content of the press through the state controlled Press Agency
which provided roughly half the content of newspapers. The RMVP held daily press
conferences and issued detailed directives on content.
- Nazi ownership of the press was extended. The Nazi Party’s publishing house gradually took
over, directly or indirectly, most of the press. Nazi ownership of the media grew from 3%
of circulation in 1933 to 69% in 1939 and 82% in 1944
In 1933 51% of Radio had been owned by the government Ministry of Posts and 40% by nine
regional broadcast companies. These controlled the content and in 1933 they were taken over
by the Nazis. In April 1934 the Nazis established a unified radio system and purged it of hostile
The government subsidised the mass production of radio sets. In 1935 there were 7 million sets
and 16 million in 1945. By 1939 70% of households had one. Radio was used for light
entertainment and also to transmit Hitler’s key speeches. In 1935 the estimated audiuence for
his speeches reached 56 million.
Film was seen more as a means of relaxation than directly for explicit propaganda purposes. In
1933 the four major film companies were allowed to remain as private companies but gradually
the RMVP bought up shares and in 1942 they were nationalised.
The Reich Film Chamber regulated the content of both German made and imported films.
Films were probably more effective in keeping support for the regime than in indoctrinating
people with Nazism. The need for entertainment took priority. During the regime over 1,000
feature films were produced with only 1/6 being overtly propagandist.
d) Photographs and posters.
Considerable use was made of photographs. Hitler had an official photographer. Key images
were carefully stage managed and Hitler practised expressions and poses before the camera.
Posters were also widely used and after 1933 the Nazis had a monopoly which was used to
e) Meetings and rallies
One of the most effective ways of gaining support was through mass rallies. Whilst most
participants were committed Nazis, the rallies would strengthen their engagement with the
party. They also attracted bystanders who might be won over. Lastly, films were made of rallies
and these might make non-participants feel they wanted to become part of such an impressive
Rallies were carefully organised. Speer specialised in choreographing such displays, suing the
architecture of light to create an effect similar to large concerts today. The combination of
uniforms, disciplined mass movements, stirring music, flags and symbols, often at night, created
a powerful feeling of wishing to belong. Then would come the address from Hitler, a master at
manipulating mass emotions.
The government co-ordinated the various sporting bodies under a Reichsportsfuhrer. The Hitler
Youth and DAF organised sporting activities, especially gymnastics, for the masses. Such
activities would help develop the fit bodies that soldiers and child bearers required. They also
encouraged sport as a spectator activity.
The government made great efforts to ensure that the 1936 Olympic games were a propaganda
success. The games had originally been scheduled for 1916 and in 1930 they were rescheduled
for Berlin in 1936. Hitler saw the games as an opportunity to display the physical superiority of
Germans as the master race, their organisational ability and to enhance the country’s
international status. The new Germany was on show; anti-semitic propaganda was reduced. The
emphasis was placed on international rather than individual competition. Germany headed the
g) The autobahns
Once in power the government began an construction programme of motorways. The actual
impact of them, however, was much exaggerated. Although they did provide much needed
employment during the Depression, at the peak of construction in 1936 only 125,000 people
were directly employed in construction with a similar number in supporting industries. When
the programme was stopped in 1942 3,870 km had been completed. The success of the
programme was far more propagandist than real. Photographers, newsreel makers abd even
painters sold the message of a revived German nation working together for the common good.
The Nazis were determined, through the Reich Chamber of Culture, to exercise control of all
aspects of culture, to utilise it to reinforce their power and inculcate their values. After 1933
the arts were compelled to serve as vehicles for the transmission of Nazi ideology, and to help
forge the people’s collective mind. Painting, sculpture, architecture and literature were all
treated in this way
c) How did the Nazis manipulate culture and the mass media?
Joseph Goebbels- Minister for Enlightenment and Propagada. Among his main “achievements” were:
The Nuremberg Rallies. Bands, marching, flying displays, brilliant speeches by Hitler; people liked
the colour and excitement and the sense of belonging to a great movement; they demonstrated the
power of the state and emphasised the Nazi achievement of creating order out of chaos
1936 Berlin Olympics. New stadium, TV cameras, largest stop watch ever, amazing facilities,
efficient organisation, Germany won the medals table. Anti Jewish propaganda toned down for the
duration. This impressed Germans but many foreign visitors saw it as blatant propaganda and were
shocked by the overt presence of army and SS.
Books. Could not be published without Goebbels’ permission; Germany’s best seller was Mein
Kampf; book burnings were organised
Art. Only Nazi approved painters could exhibit; lots of paintings and sculptures of heroic Aryans,
military figures or ideal Aryan families
Newspapers. No anti Nazi ideas allowed; Jewish editors and journalists removed; anti Nazi
newspapers closed down
Cinema. All films had to have a pro Nazi message; often preceded by newsreels about Hitler’s
greatness and Germany’s achievements; all foreign films censored
Music. Jazz banned because it was “black” music
Posters. Plastered everywhere, proclaiming Hitler’s successes and attacking opponents
Radio. Cheap radios made available for all; radio stations controlled by Nazis; listening to foreign
stations punishable by death; loudspeakers in streets and bars; repetition of Hitler’s speeches so
often that they came to be believed
The Nazis and Religion
In the early 1930s the Catholic and Protestant Churches had cooperated with the Nazi state. Hitler had
signed an agreement known as a Concordat with the Catholic Church in July 1933. This promised full
religious freedom to Catholics in return for loyalty to the Nazi state. The Nazis had claimed to approve
of Christianity and the churches had appeared to be rather pro-Nazi given that many felt that Weimar
Germany represented immorality and also feared the impact of possible communist rule on organised
However, the Nazis broke the agreement and responded to Catholic protests about Nazi interference in
the life of the church and violations of human rights by sending hundreds of clergy to concentration
camps. The Catholic Church was seen as representing a particular threat:
o The large Catholic population in Germany and the centralised nature of Church
control. The Nazis feared the extent to which the priests influenced their
congregations. It would be hard for Nazi ideas to permeate such groups.
o The Nazis disliked the Catholic youth organisation because many Catholic children
joined this rather than the Hitler Youth. In 1937 the Catholic Youth was made
o The Catholics ran a great number of schools where the children would not hear
Nazi ideas. These schools were taken out of church control.
The Nazi regime also persecuted Protestants who resisted state interference in church matters. The
Protestants were divided and this in a sense made them easier to gain control over. In 1933 Hitler tried
to gain control over them by setting up a single “Reich Church” under a Nazi bishop. This church was
anti-Christian and promoted Nazi ideas. Over three quarters of Protestant pastors, led by Pastor Martin
Niemoller, opposed this church and Nazi persecution of the Jews. They formed the “Confessional
Church”. As a result, many pastors were sent to the concentration camps. In 1937 800 pastors were
arrested for example. Niemoller himself was arrested and put in a camp for seven years. Dietrich
Bonhoeffer was another protestant figure who opposed the Nazis. From 1938-45 he was imprisoned in a
concentration camp. Bonhoeffer preached against the Nazis until stopped by the Gestapo in 1937. He
was finally hanged shortly before the end of the war.
d) How did the Nazis deal with the Churches?
Hitler’s concordat with the Catholic Church in 1933. Church stays out of politics and Hitler will
leave them alone and allow them to run church schools
The Official Reich Church- an attempt to get all Protestant Churches to come together in one
Church, headed by Bishop Ludwig Muller
Many churchgoers supported the Nazis or didn’t oppose them BUT
Bishop Galen (R.Catholic) criticised the Nazis throughout the 1930s and led a protest in 1941
against the killing of mentally ill and disabled people- forcing them to stop temporarily. He himself
wasn’t killed because he had too much popular support
Pastor Martin Niemoller formed an alternative Protestant Church to the Official Reich Church and
spent 1938-45 in concentration camps
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran Pastor, helped Niemoller and was stopped by the Gestapo from
preaching against the Nazis. He helped Jews escape from Germany and was involved with army
intelligence services who secretly opposed Hitler. In 1942 he contacted Allied commanders to ask
about peace terms in the event of Hitler being overthrown. Arrested in 1942 and hanged in 1945
Nazi policy towards young people
Nazi aims towards boys and girls could be divided into these elements:
- Idolise the Fuhrer
- Physical fitness
- Willingness to sacrifice everything to the national good
- Willingness to do everything possible to strengthen the health and racial purity of the German
Boys meanwhile were meant to be good fighters whilst girls were meant to bear many children.
Bernard Rust, the Nazi Minister of Education, said:
“The whole purpose of education is to create Nazis”
The Nazis used two main institutions to achieve their aims:
a) The school system.
Nazi strategy on education had a number of strands:
o They were initially concerned to exercise greater control over schools. Regulations
were issued, co-ordinating teachers and encouraging local Nazi officials to interfere
in schools. Many teachers were already sympathetic to the Nazis and by 1936 over
50% of teachers had voluntarily joined the party. To ensure that all teachers
followed the party line, they were pressurised into joining the National Socialist
Teachers League. By 1937 97% had done so. Members had to attend a one month
training course and by 1937 2/3 had attended.
o The Nazis changed the curriculum dramatically. Greater stress was put on physical
exercise which, by 1936, took up at least two hours a day. Nazi ideas were
incorporated into subjects, particularly biology and history, religious education was
downgraded and eventually replaced. By 1935 all textbooks had to be approved.
There was also a move away from co-educational schools to ensure the different
sexes received the appropriate education. Subjects concentrated upon German history
and nationalism. Girls were prevented from studying science and could only learn the
mathematics necessary to be a housewife. In History: pupils were taught about great
events of German history, from a pro-German point of view. The Nazis view of the First
World War, the ‘stab in the back’ was included as ‘the truth’. In Biology: Pupils were
taught the phoney “race science”, which was designed to “prove” the superiority of the
German race. In PE: pupils got much more PE; boxing was compulsory for boys; girls
were taught to cook and care for the home.
- There was little structural reorganisation. Some new schools were created:
o NAPOLAs for boys aged 10-18 to develop future leaders. I 1936 they were taken
over by the SS and there were 39 by 1945. They were military style boarding
o Adolf Hitler schools. Established in 1937 and only 11 were created. They were for
12-18 year olds and were a rival to the NAPOLAs
o Castles of Order. Partly modelled on medieval chivalric orders where boys were
trained as future political and military leaders. They were housed in vast castles
which held 1000 students aged 25-30
b) Youth Movements
The most famous of these was the Hitler Youth. Created in 1926, it expanded rapidly after 1933
with the support of the government. It organised a variety of activities such as camps, sport and
military training and catered for boys aged 14-18.
In 1936 all other youth groups, except catholic ones protected by the Concordat, were taken
over by the Hitler Youth. After 1936 all other youth organisations were banned and
membership of the HJ became compulsory and by 1936 had over 6 million members.
Children joined at the age of five and stayed until eighteen. Membership was virtually compulsory. Boys
joined the Pimpfen, then the German Youth and then the Hitler Youth. Girls joined the League of German
Children took part in ‘fun’ activities, camping, sports, outings. These helped make the Youth movements
popular at first.
They also had lectures about Nazi ideas, like racism. The girls were taught about child-rearing. The boys did
activities which prepared them for the army: cleaning rifles, reading maps, throwing hand grenades, doing
mock parachute jumps, going on long marches.
The meetings were in the evenings and at weekends. Girls found that they had little time for homework.
This was to prevent them having a career.
Children were encouraged to spy on their parents and report what they did and said.
In 1933 30% of young people in Germany were in the Nazi Youth movements; by 1938 it was 82%. So
compulsory was it that the 18% who did not join is surprising.
By the later 1930s some young people were getting resentful of the time the Hitler Youth took up, and the
boring lectures they had all heard before at school.
Nazi Youth Organisations
DJV (German Young People)
Boys aged 10-14
Nazi songs, athletics, hiking and camping
JM (League of Young Girls)
Girls aged 10-14
Same activities as boys
Boys aged 14-18
Learning Nazi ideas, athletics, marching, camping. Map reading and military skills
League of German Maidens
Girls aged 14-18
Learning Nazi ideas, athletics, marching, camping and learning domestic skills. Preparation for
How successfully did the Nazis influence young people in Germany?
1) For the vast majority of young people it is clear that there was a broad range of reactions
and motives. Consider the following two quotes from Hitler Youth members:
What I liked about the Hitler Youth was the comradeship. I can still remember how deeply moved I was when we
learned the club mottoes: ‘Jungvolk boys are hard, they can keep a secret, they are loyal. Jungvolk boys are comrades’.
And then the trips. Is there anything nicer than enjoying the splendours of the homeland in the company of one’s
I was not thinking of the Fuhrer when I gave the Nazi salute, but of games, sports, hiking, singing, camping and
other exciting activities. Many young people like me had a thrist for action and found it in the Hitler Youth.
In our troop the Jungvolk activities consisted almost entirely of military drill. Even if sport or shooting was scheduled,
we always ha drill first. Endless marching with twelve year olds bawling out ten year olds and marching them all over
the school ground
It would thus appear that there was a range of responses to the Nazi regime from young people. During
the later 1930s in particular, when membership became compulsory, the attractions of the Hitler Youth
began to wane. When everyone was forced to join there were some who did not care and were not
interested. Discipline was tightened and there was a greater emphasis on drill. This upset many
members. During the war years the number of leisure activities was cut. Playing field and youth club
buildings were combed and many Youth leaders called up for the war
2) From the mid to late 1930s there was signs that some young people rejected the Nazi ways
in a more assertive and formal manner
a) The Edelweiss Pirates
The Pirates got together in parks or on street corners. Each group had about a dozen boys and a few
girls. At weekends they would go on trips to the countryside and meet up with other pirates. Hitler
Youth Patrols were often taunted and sometimes beaten up by the Pirates. Such incidents attracted the
attention of the authorities; some members were warned first and the next time they were rounded up.
Barthel Schink, a 16 year old leader of the Cologne Pirates, was hanged in November 1944.
b) The Meuten
The Meuten were similar to the pirates, mostly working class and based in Leipzig. There were about
1,500 of them in various gangs.
c) The Swing Movement
The Swing Movement was founded by young middle class Germans who shunned German nationalist
music and preferred instead to listen to jazz and swing. Swing clubs sprang up in Hamburg, Kiel, Berlin,
Frankfurt and Dresden. Their dancing appalled the authorities, who banned live performances.
e) How did the Nazis deal with young people?
Schools. Reorganisation of school curriculum e.g. History was about former greatness of Germany,
the stab in the back, wickedness of Jews etc; Biology was about superiority of the Aryan race
Youth Organisations. E.g. Hitler Youth or League of German Maidens; exciting parades, loud
bands, emphasis on physical fitness, map reading, camping (i.e. potential military skills); many
people attracted because of leisure opportunities, especially as all other youth organisations were
eventually banned or absorbed
Parents vs Hitler. Encouragement to feel first loyalty to Hitler, not your family
BUT some young people opposed the Nazis e.g. the “Swing Movement” (middle class teenagers who
liked English and American music e.g. jitterbug and jazz; talked about and enjoyed sex; deliberately
scruffy; accepted Jews) and the Edelweiss Pirates (working class teenagers aged 14-17; sand anti
Nazi songs , fought the Hitler Youth and had a free attitude to sex)
Changing the role of women and the family.
Nazi Aims: “The mission of women is to be beautiful and to bring children into the world” Josef
Nazi policy towards women was largely reactionary. They wanted to reverse many of the recent trends
that had increased opportunities for women throughout Europe, such as increased female employment
in the non-agricultural sector and a declining birth rate that was partly due to wider access to
The Nazis wanted to raise the birth rate, given the importance to them of the notion of lebensraum.
They were also concerned about the “racial quality” of the population. They thus had to focus their
policies on women.
The Nazis had a clear vision of women performing what they considered to be their traditional role as
homemakers and childbearers. In the national struggle for survival, women had a vital, if different, role
to play from the warrior men; to breed genetically pure Germans to ensure German supremacy. The
role of the woman was to:
- Raise many children
- Look after her family
- Be a good homemaker
A man, meanwhile, was to be part of the bigger world of politics, war and work.
This was not to say that women were seen as inferior to men. Both men and women were equally vital
members of the volksgemeinschaft and must also be selfless, healthy, of pure blood and fanatical
followers of Hitler.
During the period 1933-45 the Nazis attempted to change, in particular, the role of women in society in
accordance with their views. The Nazis had very traditional views on the position of women:
o Women and men inhabited “separate spheres” in terms of their role. Women were
not inferior but their reproductive capability made them different. Men were the
productive and creative sex in the big world of politics and war. Women were
reproductive and essentially passive in the smaller world of the family
o The job of women was to raise children and to run the household. Instead of going
to work women were to stick to the ‘three Ks’- Kinder, Kirche und Kuche which
means “Children, Church and Kitchen”. Women should therefore be removed from
the world of work as much as possible.
o In 1933 the Nazis passed the “Law for Reduction of Unemployment”. This aimed to
increase Germany’s falling birth rate by providing interest free loans off up to 1,000
Reichsmarks to help young couples to marry provided the wife left her job.
Couples were allowed to keep one quarter of the loan for each child born up to
o Educational opportunities for women were restricted.
o There were restrictions on the employment of women as civil servants and in the
o The Mother’s Cross was awarded from 1938. On Hitler’s mother’s birthday (12 th
August) medals were awarded to women with large families; bronze for four
children, silver for six and gold for eight or more.
o A new national organisation, the German Women’s Enterprise, organised classes
and radio talks on household topics and the skills of motherhood. Between the ages
of 18-21 women could join the “Faith and Beauty” organisation and thereafter the
National Socialist Organisation of Women.
o Some local authorities introduced rent, water or electricity rebates for large
o The divorce laws were amended to make it easier to end “unproductive” marriages.
o Women who were socialists, pacifists, Sinti, Roma or Jewish were often sterilised,
as were men. 320,000 people suffered in this way between 1934 and 1939, mean
and women in equal numbers. In the period 1934-37, 80 men and 400 women
actually died during these operations.
o Women were not allowed to be members of the Reichstag
o Women with hereditary diseases or metal illness were sterilised so as to keep the German race
'pure'. Unmarried women could volunteer to have a child by a 'pure Aryan' SS member.
o Nazi propaganda discouraged wearing make-up, high heels, perfume, smoking in public.
How successful were these policies?
Year Marriages Live Births Deaths
1931 1,047,775 734,165
1932 516,793 993,126 707,642
1933 638,573 971,174 737,877
1934 740,165 1,198,350, 724,758
1935 651,435 1,263,976 792,018
1936 609,631 1,277,052 795,203
1937 620,265 1,277,046 794,367
1938 645,602 1,348,534 799,220
1939 772,106 1,407,490 853,410
Did the Nazis actually raise the birth rate and lower the death rate?
You should note the fact that these statistics include Austria from 1938 and the Sudetenland in 1939.
Think too about the impact of the improvement of the German economy.
Agriculture and forestry 4.6 mil 4.9
Industry and crafts 2.7 3.3
Trade and transport 1.9 2.1
Non-domestic services 0.9 1.1
Domestic service 1.2 1.3
It is worth pointing out here that within months of Hitler coming to power many women doctors and
civil servants were sacked from their jobs. Women lawyers and teachers were then dismissed. By 1939
there were few women left in professional jobs. Nevertheless, the table quite clearly shows that by
1939, in general terms, Nazi policy towards women in work had failed.
Once war preparations began, in 1937, the Nazis actually reversed their policies. Conscription and
rearmament were gaining momentum and as they did so a labour shortage began. Having praised the
virtues of motherhood and domesticity for so long, the Nazis now had to find ways to lure women back
into jobs. Many women were unimpressed. Dead end, low paid factory jobs were not attractive.
Kindergarten provision and maternity leave made little impact. The number of women in paid
employment only rose from 14.6 million in 1939 to 14.9 million in 1944. This was not nearly enough to
meet the demands of the wartime economy.
You should also think about the more general price paid by women for these changes. Women were
deprived of many rights by the Nazi government- educational, political, employment etc.
o Some local authorities introduced rent, water or electricity rebates for large
o The “Mother’s Cross” was awarded from 1938: gold for those with eight children,
silver for those with six, bronze for those with four.
o The Law for the Reduction of Unemployment (June 1933) introduced interest free
loans of up to 1,000 Reichmarks for young married couples on condition that the
wife gave up work.
o The divorce laws were amended in 1938 to make it easier to end “unproductive”
(i.e. childless) marriages
o A vast expansion of health offices was begun as part of an effort to lower infant
f) What was the Nazi attitude to women?
Reinforcement of their traditional role- as wife, mother, support for husband; resentment against
Mothers- financial incentives for couples to have four or more children (e.g. Gold Cross for 8
children). Birth rate increased from 15 per 1000 in 1933 to 20 per 1000 in 1939
Work- some prominent Nazi women e.g. Leni Riefenstahl (film producer); Gertrude Scholzklink
(Head of the Nazi Women’s Bureau). But, opportunities were limited and discrimination against
female applicants for jobs was encouraged
BUT from the late 1930 the Nazis needed more female workers as the supply of unemployed men
was drying up and many women had to go to work as well as look after their families
In 1933 nearly 6 million people were unemployed. When Hitler came to power he promised the
German people economic prosperity and it was vital for his political survival that he reduced
The economic life of the country was closely organised with the Nazis having three main aims; -
* to remove unemployment and thus build up support
* to build up Germany’s military might
* to make Germany self sufficient by boosting exports and reducing imports.
Industry and Employment
- Telling industrialists what to produce, depending on what the country needed at that
moment; closing factories if their products were not needed.
- The German Labour Front was set up to organise workers and direct them to jobs that
needed doing. Moving workers around the country to places where jobs existed. It is
worth pointing out that the Labour Front itself employed 44,500 officials by 1939.
- Businesses were paid subsidies to hire more workers
- The RAD (National Labour Service) sent men on public works; eg the autobahns. All
men had to spend six months in the Labour Service from the age of eighteen. That is, after they
left the Hitler Youth. Their wages were only about 50p per week, but everything was provided
for them. They wore uniforms and marched like soldiers to work everyday.
- Hitler wanted the German economy to be self-sufficient so that it would be able to operate
even in a war. Foreign imports were restricted and research put into finding substitutes for
rubber, petrol, coffee and cotton. This policy was known as Autarky
- Government spending rose, 1932–38 from about 5 billion to 30 billion marks.
- Controlling food prices and rents
- Manipulating foreign exchange rates to avoid inflation.
- Introducing vast schemes of public work- slum clearance, land drainage and autobahn
building. Thousands of Germans were employed on these schemes. Government
spending rose, 1932–38 from about 5 billion to 30 billion marks
- In 1936, Goering was put in charge. His “Four Year Plan” proposed to get the army
and industry ready for war in four years. The aim at this stage was economic
independence (autarky) by developing the German economy, avoiding waste and
cutting back on imports. This involved systematic salvage campaigns and the use of
ersatz materials, like coffee made from acorns or dandelion roots, oil and petrol from
coals and a tough sort of synthetic rubber used for vehicle tyrs.
Rearmament was the key policy in getting Germany back to work: German re-armament gave a huge
boost to industry, which soon had millions of new jobs:
From 1935, at first secretly, then quite openly, Hitler ordered the building of
submarines, aircraft and tanks. This was quite contrary to the terms of the Treaty of
The production of arms and armaments was significantly increased
The German army, air force and navy were enlarged despite the Versailles
restrictions. Compulsory military service was introduced in March 1935. The
number of troops in the German army rose from 100,000 in 1933 to 1.4
million in 1939. See the figures on government spending. Most went on the
military. Every man did two years military training after the Labour Service.
Iron, steel and coal production rose rapidly as a result. In 1938-39 the
Siegfried line was built to protect Germany’s western frontier, a project
that saw huge amounts of money injected into the economy
- Unemployment fell from nearly 6 million to virtually nothing.
Farmers had been an important factor in the Nazi rise to power and Hitler was determined to repay
them for their loyalty.
• By the 1933 “Farm Law”, farmers were assured of sales and given subsidies. Banks could no
longer seize peasant land if they could not pay their mortgages or loans.
• The government kept food prices at the 1928 level.
BUT farmers were organised into the Reich Food Estate and strictly controlled (e.g., one rule stated
that hens must lay 65 eggs a year).
• The Nazis tried to make people proud (e.g. the film The Beauty of Work in 1934). Workers were
constantly praised through propaganda. Many thousands of workers saved 5 marks a week in the
state scheme to buy the Volkswagen Beetle. In fact not a single worker received a car because
production was halted in 1939. The “Beauty of Labour” scheme improved working conditions in
factories. It introduced features not seen in many workplaces before such as washing facilities
and low-cost canteens
• BUT trade unions were banned and all workers had to join the German Labour Front. They lost
their right to strike for better pay and conditions.
• Wages actually fell.
• People who refused to work were imprisoned.
• Wages and conditions on the RAD schemes were very poor.
Strength through Joy (KdF) Movement
• Workers were offered cut-price holidays, theatre trips and concerts. In Berlin, 1933–38, the
KdF sponsored 134,000 events for 32 million people (2 million went on cruises & weekend
trips, and 11 million on theatre trips).
• The KdF designed the Volkswagen (or ‘People’s Car’) ‘Beetle’, which it was planned to be able
to buy for 5 marks a week.
• The government made sure that everybody could get a cheap radio.
How successful were the Nazi economic policies?
The effects of Nazis measures were superficially dramatic:
o Unemployment fell from 6 million to about 250,000 in 1939
o By 1938 Germany was the wealthiest country in Europe and per capita incomes
of Germans equalled those of Britain
However, Germany’s economic recovery was fragile:
The Nazis spent a large proportion of the country’s wealth on maintaining
huge numbers of people in the armed forces. Such people can be seen as
being “non-productive” economically in that they did not contribute to
The German balance of payments throughout the 1930s gave cause for
Germany’s worsening relations with its neighbours caused its share of
world trade to fall from 10% in 1929 to 8% in 1938
The German economy was based on the need to prepare for war and
The figures were to some extent flawed. Many people were removed from the list
of unemployed: Jews, many women, young men in the National Labour Front.
It should also be pointed out that the apparent success of Nazi economic policy was of enormous
political value to the Nazis. That said, as you have just seen, certain groups paid a very high
price for the supposed benefits of Nazi rule.
g) How did the Nazis bring about economic recovery?
Hitler was lucky that the worst of the Depression as over by 1933. Nevertheless the Nazis presided
over a large reduction in unemployment by various methods
Dr Hjalmar Schacht reorganised finances to fund a work creation scheme
The National Labour Service employed men on public works e.g. autobahns, houses, railways
Hitler reintroduced conscription to the army in 1935
Jobs were created by the rearmament programme
h) How did German workers fare under the Nazis?
Hitler won the loyalty of industrial workers by a variety of methods
Promising and delivering lower unemployment
Propaganda- praised the workers and associated them with Hitler
Schemes to provide cheap theatre and cinema tickets, courses, trips and sports events; cut price
cruises on luxury liners organised by the “Strength through Joy” office (KDF)
Beauty of Labour Movement- improved working conditions in factories e.g. washing facilities and
BUT there was also a price to pay for the workers
Their main political party (SPD) was banned
Trade Unions were banned and strikes were not allowed
All workers were forced to join the German Labour Front (DAF) run by Dr Robert Ley, which kept
strict control of workers
Wages remained low
Standard of living remained similar to what it had been during the Depression
i) How did farming communities fare under the Nazis?
Farmers had helped Hitler come to power and he rewarded them with a number of measures
The Reich Food Estate (1933), run by Richard Darre. Created central boards to buy agricultural
produce from farmers and distribute it to markets, giving peasants a guaranteed income
The Reich Entailed Farm Law- banks were no longer allowed to seize farmers’ lands if they could
not repay loans or mortgages
BUT there was a price to pay for farmers
The Reich Food Estate held back efficient farmers
Banks were unwilling to lend farmers money because of the Reich Entailed Farm Law
Many farmers’ children left the countryside to find better paid work in industry, resulting in rural
depopulation of about 3% per year in the 1930s
The Persecution of minorities
The Nazis began the persecution of minorities soon after they took power in 1933. Jews
suffered the most and endured the greatest losses: over 6 million were systematically killed in
the Holocaust. Other groups also suffered greatly:
- Mentally and physically disabled people
- Tramps and beggars
Why did the Nazis do this?
In general terms, the answer to this question can be found in the racialist philosophy of the Nazis. Hitler
believed that humanity could be divided into distinct “races”. The Aryans were superior to all other races
in terms of physical strength, intelligence and cultural achievements with the Jews being at the bottom
of the racial list. Hitler envisaged an unrelenting struggle for survival between the races, based on the
belief in a shortage of resources. It was thus vital that Aryans must both increase their numbers in real
terms but, also, prevent interbreeding and reducing the number of people of “inferior stock”. The
penalty should they fail in these goals was extinction.
This set of beliefs represented a horrifying combination of old fashioned anti-Semitism, based on cultural
and religious grounds together with social Darwinism.
It is important to appreciate that these ideas, supported as they were by the findings of Darwinian
pseudo science, had practical political advantages for the Nazis:
- The much stated desire for lebensraum could be justified on racial grounds. The point
was made by the Nazis that these “empty lands” in the east were peopled only by
inferior slavs. The racially superior Aryans would be able to make better use of this
territory. Territorial expansion in general could be justified on the grounds of race.
- The Nazis undoubtedly derived much political advantage from the manner in which
they presented the Jews to the German people as being responsible for most of the
o They were bourgeois blood-suckers who were holding the country to ransom
o They inspired liberal lazy thinking and were also the dominant force behind the
o They had treacherously stabbed the Kaiser’s government in the back in 1918
o They were largely responsible for the fiasco of the Weimar government.
In the context of ideas such as these, the physical persecution of minorities served to give a physical
reality to the threat supposedly posed by these groups. There was a also a clear political advantage to be
gained from scapegoating minority groups. That said, you should remember that the Nazis were rather
more subtle in their use of anti-Semitism as a political weapon than might at first appear. It tended to be
stressed more in rural areas than in the more culturally sophisticated urban areas.
- The Persecution of the Jews
In the period 1933-39 the aim of the Nazis towards the Jews can best be summed up as an attempt firstly
to exclude Jews from public and business life and, secondly, to encourage them to emigrate. There was
at this stage no policy of extermination.
The key events of this period are:
March 1933: Department of Racial Hygiene established
April 1933: Nationwide boycott of Jewish shops and businesses; shops were marked with
the word “jude” and the start of David. Laws passed to dismiss non-Aryans from
public service and the professions. In education, Jewish children started to
encounter intimidation at school.
1935: The Nuremberg Laws. Jews lost their rights as German citizens. It became
illegal for Jews to marry, or to have any relations with, Aryans. Jews were
encouraged to leave Germany. All kinds of civil rights were removed: voting, going
to university, travelling, attending a theatre, cinema or sporting event
1938: Kristallnacht. In November, a Polish Jew, Herschel Grynszpan, shot a German
diplomat in Paris. This led, between 9-10 November to an enormous attack on
Jews and their property throughout Germany that was at the very least
encouraged by the government, if not specifically ordered. Thousands of Jewish
businesses were attacked and 200 synagogues burnt down. 91 Jews killed; 20,000
arrested. In the aftermath of Kristallnacht the Jewish community in Germany had to
pay a ‘fine’ of 1 billion marks. Furthermore, from early 1939 Jews were banned from
owning businesses; all men to add the name 'Israel' and all women the name 'Sara' to
their own. The government now attempted to introduce a more coherent policy
aimed at facilitating Jewish emigration with Adolf Eichmann being the key
figure in this process.
- The Persecution of the mentally and physically handicapped
In January 1934 the Nazis introduced the “Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Children”.
This law allowed sterilisation of diseased children. Over 360,000 sterilisations had been carried out by
In October 1939 the “Euthanasia Order” was introduced. The aim was the killing of German mental
patients. Special hospitals were established where disabled children were murdered, usually by poison or
starvation. Later, children who had malformed ears or who wet the bed were included. The killing of
disabled adults soon followed.
- The persecution of the Sinti and Roma (gypsies)
When the Nazis came to power they inherited Lander laws which discriminated against the Sinti and
Roma, The Bavarian authorities had kept a register of them from 1899 and from 1911 added fingerprints
to it. In 1926 a new law enabled the police to send Sinti and Roma to workhouses for two years if they
did not have regular work.
Under the Nazis the Sinti and Roma were confined to designated sites after 1939. Those who tried to
leave were sent to concentration camps where they were very badly treated.
- The persecution of homosexuals and black people
Homosexuals and black people were persecuted by the Nazis because they endangered the development
of the Jews in the Nazi view of the human races.
Large numbers of homosexuals were arrested towards the end of 1934 and in 1936 a law was passed to
have all homosexuals sterilised.
In the 1920s many black soldiers came to the Rhineland as part of the French army of occupation under
the terms of Versailles. Many formed relationship with local women. The Nazis referred to the children
of these relationships as “Rhineland bastards” and in 1937 used information on these children that had
been collected by the Weimar regime to track down and sterilise 385 children without them or their
parents knowing what was going on.
j) What happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany?
Why were they persecuted? Partly because they were blamed for the death of Christ and partly
because many Jews were well educated and successful professionals; also because they were blamed
for Germany’s defeat in 1918; above all because they offended Hitler’s notions of the Aryan race
and acted as politically convenient scapegoats
Note the developing radicalisation of Nazi anti-semitic policy:
From 1933 Jews were banned from the Civil Service and a variety of public services e.g.
broadcasting and teaching
SA and SS organised boycotts of Jewish shops and businesses, marked with the Star of David
Nuremberg Laws 1935- removed German citizenship from Jews; forbade Jews to marry or have sex
with pure-blooded Germans
Propaganda pumped out anti-Jewish messages and encouraged ordinary Germans to be anti-semitic
Popular anti-semitism. Jews were refused jobs, couldn’t get served in shops; Jewish children were
humiliated and then segregated at school
Kristallnacht (the Nigh of Broken Glass) November 1938. The murder of a German diplomat by a
Jew in Paris was used as an excuse to take violent revenge; SS smashed up Jewish shops and
businesses, burned synagogues, murdered 91 Jews and sent 20,000 to the concentration camps;
thousands of Jews left Germany; a few Germans protested but were murdered
k) Which other minorities were persecuted by the Nazis?
Gypsies. Thought to be racially inferior. 5/6 German gypsies were killed
Homosexuals. Seen as threatening Nazi ideas about family life
Other “asocial” people- alcoholics, homeless people, prostitutes, habitual criminals, beggars
Mentally handicapped people. A threat to Nazi ideas about the perfect Aryan race; 5,000 babies and
children were killed between 1939-1945 by injection or starvation i.e. euthanasia
Mentally ill people. Sterilisation of people with a history of mental illness in their family (300,000
sterilisations from 1934-45); 72,000 mentally ill patients gassed 1939-41 (until a public outcry
stopped the policy)
How successfully did the Nazis control Germany?
When one looks at the issue of opposition to the Nazis in Germany from 1933-45, it is striking that
there was little open resistance on any sort of scale. The general impression is thus of little opposition
and there is much evidence of Hitler’s genuine poularity. Many Germans gained greatly from Hitler’s
domestic policies and so had good reason not to oppose the regime. Hitler’s undoubted foreign policy
success until 1941 reinforced this support. It was not until 1943 that many Germans wavered in their
loyalty to the regime. Added to this, there was a fierce repressive machinery, reinforced by widespread
denunciations, that made open criticiscm a brave, and perhaps foolhardy, thing to do
Factors making opposition difficult
A powerful secret police
Government control of the media
Tradition of respect for authority
No independent trade unions
Network of government informers.
The lack of overt opposition, however, should not blind you to other more subtle and passive forms of
It would thus seem that a number of different reactions to the Nazi regime can be identified :
It was difficult - and dangerous - to oppose Hitler. However, some brave people did try. Opposition
ranged from non-compliance with Nazi regulations to attempts to assassinate Hitler.
Examples of opposition :
1. The Catholic Archbishop of Munster, von Galen, led a successful campaign to end euthanasia
of mentally-disabled people.
2. Some Catholic priests opposed Hitler. In 1937, the Pope's message 'With Burning Concern'
attacked Hitler as 'a mad prophet with repulsive arrogance' and was read in every Catholic church.
3. Many Protestant pastors, led by Martin Niemöller, formed the Confessional Church in
opposition to Hitler's Reich Church. Niemöller was held in a concentration camp during the period
1937-1945. Another Protestant pastor, Dietrich Bonhöffer, took part in the 1944 bomb plot and
The White Rose group was formed by students at Munich University in 1942. Its leaders, Hans
Scholl, his sister Sophie Scholl, and professor Kurt Huber were arrested and executed in 1943 for the
distribution of anti-Nazi leaflets.
- Most young people in Nazi Germany were loyal members of the HJ or BDM (German
- Youth organizations = attempt to control every aspect of the leisure time of German
youth and encouraged unhesitating support of the regime
- 1936 = compulsory for all young people to join
- wrong to assume that all youngsters were won over. Some strongly objected and
preferred to set up non-comformist youth groups and gangs and engaged in acts of
protest and defiance
2 most significant were the:
a) Eidelweiss Pirates
b) Swing Youth
- Emerged in the late 1930s
- Working class districts of Cologne, Dusseldorf and Essen
- 12-18 year old boys with no distinctive political ideology but great opposition to the
Hitler Youth and the general lack of freedom in Germany
- Stressed their free-spirited individuality and desire for youthful rebellion by wearing
distinctive checked shirts and a metal badge with an eidelweiss flower on it and also
white flashy socks
- Gestapo compiled lists of fashions worn by EP in order to identify and arrest them
- EP similar to other subversive youth gangs:
a) Raving Dudes in Essen
b) Navajos who operated in Cologne
EP grew spontaneously as youthful rebellion against the rigid control of the HJ over
- Meeting on street corners and in local parks in the inner city areas
- Writing slogans and graffiti on walls ETERNAL WAR ON THE HJ
- Went on long hikes carrying rucksacks and sing extremely funny parodies of HJ
songs and tell each other rude jokes
- Gestapo claimed that the EP engaged in under age sexual orgies on these trips but
there is no evidence to suggest that their activities were any different to similar
14-18 year olds in Nazi Germany
The war years 1939-45
Activities of the EP grew markedly:
- less parental supervision
- increased bombing raids affected local leisure facilities
- In the cities they took parts in pitched battles with the HJ
- Dubbed slogans and graffiti on subways, such as:
o DOWN WITH HITLER
o WE WANT FREEDOM
o MEDALS FOR MURDER
o DOWN WITH NAZI BRUTALITY
- Also posted the anti-Nazi leaflets dropped by American and British bombers
through the letter boxes of local people
- Towards the end of WW2 they also shielded army deserters and teamed up with
communist and resistance fighters with acts of industrial sabotage
- Attitude of the Nazi authorities towards the EP activities changed dramatically during
- Prior to the war = dismissed as childish pranks
- Wartime = Gestapo defined their acts as opposition and placed EP leaders under strict
Supervision. In November 1944 the leaders of the Cologne EP were publicly hanged in
order to deter other. In 1944, the Cologne Pirates (the Edelweiss Pirates were based in
Cologne) had killed the Gestapo chief
Swing Youth and Jazz Youth
Other non-conformist youth groups engaged in opposition were known as SWING
YOUTH and JAZZ YOUTH
- Powerful desire to listen to banned American music such as the Glenn Miller
- Orchestra and the American Jazz music of the 1930s such as Louis Armstrong
- Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS suggested that all young people who listened to jazz
music should be beaten, given the severest exercise and then put to hard labour
- Largely comprised of teenagers from the big cities such as Berlin, Stuttgart, Hamburg,
Frankfurt and Dresden
- Organized illegal dances attended by up to 6,000 youngsters dancing to American
- Members of the Jazz Youth established illegal clubs where “hot” jazz was played
- Gestapo closed down one jazz club which was called The Harlem Club
- Gestapo compiled reports on the activities of the SWING/JAZZ clubs, describing
energetic dancing by youths with long hair down to the collar
- 1940 Nazi regime imposed a ban on public dances
- However, members of the SWING youth were not deterred and set up private parties
- Jazz Youth set up similar clubs in private houses
- Similar to the EP, the SWING/JAZZ youth were not motivated by a burning desire to
offer political resistance. Again a natural youthful desire to have a good time was at the
heart of events
- One SW member later recalled, “We were not against the Nazis, but they were against
In 1944, a group of army officers and intellectuals called the Kreisau Circle tried to bomb Hitler. The
bomb was planted by Colonel Stauffenberg. It exploded, but Hitler survived.
The plot centred around a group that included conservative military officers and diplomats hwo believed
that Hitler's violent death would signal a general anti-Nazi revolt. Military officers attempted to
assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944, in his East Prussian headquarters at Rastenburg. Colonel Claus
Schenk von Stauffenberg left a bomb in a briefcase near Hitler during a military briefing about the
eastern front. In this plot, Karl Goerdeler, a traditional right-wing conservative politician, was to
replace Hitler as chancellor. The group even included on its fringes some disillusioned Nazis such as
Berlin police president Wolf Heinrich Count von Helldorf and Criminal Police (Kripo) chief Arthur
Nebe. Hitler survived the blast, the coup attempt failed, and Roland Freisler, chief justice of the
People's Court in Berlin, presided over the trial of those implicated in the plot. Invariably, Freisler
convicted the defendants. Most were executed at Berlin's Ploetzensee prison.
Numerous examples and various forms:
- Absenteeism from work
- Sabotage of industrial machinery
- Refusal to serve in the German army
- Refusal to give the Hitler salute
- Deliberate slow working in armaments factories
- Also evidence of strikes and protests over rises in food prices in 1935, an
estimated 400 between 1933-35. Richard Overy suggested there were some no-go
areas for Nazi officials in some working class areas of industrial cities
The most remarkable show of opposition by an industrial worker was that of George
Elser, a joiner from Wurtemberg and a KPD member who was unhappy that the Nazi regime
had undermined workers rights. In November 1939 he planted a bomb in a beer hall where
Hitler was due to give a speech. A combination of bad luck and bad weather meant that Hitler’s
plane to Munich was delayed. Elser was arrested, tried and executed for attempting to
assassinate the Nazi leader.
Who benefited under the Nazis?
1) The Party
Perhaps the most obvious group that prospered during the Third Reich was the Nazi Party itself.
From regional leaders at the top of the party hierarchy down to lowly block wardens and their
helpers, a group that in itself was 2 million strong by the end of 1939, there was plenty of
opportunity for wielding power, accumulating wealth and developing a sense of self
importance. Jobs were given to unemployed Nazis and party membership increased chances of
promotion for those who already had jobs.
Corruption was rife at all levels of leadership of the Labour Front, the Hitler Youth and
numerous other party organisations. Brownshirts could plunder the property of Communists
and Jews they arrested or attacked. Concentration camp officials enriched themselves at the
expense of their inmates.
2) The Armed Forces
There can be no doubt that the armed forces benefited greatly under the Nazis:
The Night of the Long Knives
The introduction of conscription in March 1935
The acceleration of rearmament
The development of the Luftwaffe
The remilitarisation of the Rhineland
Military expenditure rose significantly from 1935 onwards. The original 108 army battalions in
193 became 738 by 1938. It is also worth pointing out that until 1938 the Wehrmacht also
maintained command and control independence from the Nazi Party.
3) Young People
For many young people, particularly in the early years, the benefits of Nazi rule were
enormous. Young people from poor backgrounds had access to facilities and even holidays that
they could never previously have afforded. The HJ provided many with self confidence and a
sense of purpose and belonging (SOPADE)reported secretly that young people were
“increasingly irritated by the lack of freedom and the mindless drilling”. You should think too
about the more structured youth opposition groups.
4) The Mittelstand (the lower middle class)
This group disproportionately supported the Nazis, resenting the ass production of factories and
unfair competition from the big department stores. At first, measures were put in place to help
Department stores faced increasing restrictions such as the Law to Protect Retail Trade
(1933) which placed extra taxes on them and banned the opening of new stores
Guilds became compulsory for all artisans, with exams to be passed, preventing competition
from low priced but lower quality work
Skilled craftsmen found much work because of government subsidies for reconstruction
programmes. State and party contracts for uniforms and equipment went to small
businesses where possible.
That said, as the rearmament programme increasingly dominated the economy from 1935/6,
only large businesses could fulfil the massive orders. Shortages of labour and raw materials and
strict price controls meant that smaller businesses could not compete.
A number even went out of business because of the long delays of government agencies in
paying bills. The number of artisan enterprises decreased by 14% between 1936 and 1939 and a
quarter of a million small shops had gone out of business by 1943.
Peasants received some protection from creditors; tariffs were increased on imported food and
the regime used the 1933 Reich Entailed Farm Law to prevent smaller farms being sold or
mortgaged. As a result of the Farm Law and the wider economic improvement, farmers paid
less mortgage interest and less tax and those in danger of losing their farms due to debt were
However, more prosperous farmers now found that they could no longer remortgage their
farms and borrow money to invest in machinery and expansion. Farming income recovered but
fell away again after 1937. Farmers complained of the price controls, wage limits and
production targets set by the Reich Food Estate, as well as the labour shortages
6) Big business
Big business had provided significant support to the Nazi Party in the early 1930s and was well
rewarded by the destruction of the Social Democrats and the Communists as well as the trade
unions within the first six months of Nazi rule.
Many large businesses involved in rearmament did very well indeed and many went on to
increase their profits during the war as they employed slave labour from the ghettoes and
concentration camps. For example, I.G.Farben, the giant chemical company, built a factory at
Auschwitz to exploit this cheap labour.
The Aryanisation of business created opportunities for big companies to take over Jewish
Nazi rule saw the return to full employment, a clear benefit for the working age population.
Conscription, compulsory labour service, the removal of women from the workplace and large
projects such as the autobahn caused a fall in unemployment from 6 million in 1933 to 300,000
Those who ‘benefited’ from the public works schemes had to suffer a regimented existence,
separated from families from months at a time. They lived in poor accommodation,
receiving low wages for long hours working in dangerous conditions. The “Beauty of
Labour” scheme was set up to improve working conditions but the number of industrial
accidents still increased by 150%.
Whilst wages went up steadily from 1933, so did the cost of living. It was not until 1941
that real wages reached the pre-Depression level and much of that increased income had
been achieved through working longer hours, up from 44 a week in 1930 to 60 in 1944. All
workers faced deductions in the pay because of their compulsory membership fees for the
Labour Front and “Strength Through Joy”
There was a significant decline in the quantity and quality of consumer goods the workers
could spend their money on. There were food shortages in 1935-6 and during the latter part
of the war.
Michael Burleigh in “The Third Reich: A New History” writes that:
Economic recovery was regionally and sectorally patchy, with unemployment in consumer
industries and mining lingering for several years. Wages in emergency employment
schemes were indistinguishable from welfare while average real wages did not recover
their 1929 level until 1941. Hours of grinding work increased, while the range of
consumption good diminished. However, there were enough compensations, including
Nazi foreign policy, for working class resistance to remain sufficiently chimerical”
8) Strength through Joy
Leisure possibilities increased dramatically during the Third Reich, especially for the poorest
workers. Within the home, subsidised radios provided cheap entertainment to 70% of German
homes by 1939. Car ownership doubled by 1936 through it remained at half the level of Britain
and France. Over 330,000 people saved 5 marks a week for a Volkswagen but none of them
had received the car before the outbreak of war.
Strength through Joy organised a myriad of entertainments, from sports coaching to opera and
from art exhibitions to holiday cruises. Dancehalls were full again and cinema attendance
doubled by 1938. KdF never missed an opportunity to mix propaganda with its entertainment,
but it was a genuinely popular organisation, especially for the millions who travelled outside
their local region for the first time, particularly women.
The impact of war upon life in Nazi Germany
From 1939 to 1941 the German armed forces were victorious. Life in Germany was hardly affected. There
were air-raids by the RAF, but these were light compared to the raids on Britain.
From June 1941, the invasion of the Soviet Union, the situation in Germany began to change. The German
army was caught unprepared by the severe winter and 200,000 Germans soldiers died.
The declaration of war by the USA also made a significant difference. Air-raids became much heavier and
from 1943 Germany was bombed around the clock.
From 1942 Germans began to suffer from real shortages. The Nazis tried to produce substitute good, called
ersatz, to replace petrol, coffee, leather all of which became virtually unobtainable.
l) What impact did the Second World War have on Germany?
High public morale 1939-41 because of German victories
Rationing- food and clothed from 1939 but offset by luxury goods from captured countries
Increasing problems after German invasion of USSR in 1941- workers have to cut back on heating,
work longer hours, recycle rubbish; stricter censorship; increasing sacrifices e.g. donation of fur
The war economy- directed by Albert Speer from 1942; postal services suspended, places of
entertainment closed, except cinemas for propaganda, women drafter into labour force, evacuees
from cities sent to country areas, refugees from eastern Europe
Bombing – from 1942 Arthur “Bomber” Harris (RAF) began an all out assault on industrial and
residential targets e.g. Dresden; aiming to cripple industry and destroy morals
As defeat loomed support for the Nazi regime ebbed away. People stayed away from rallies, refused
to do the “Heil Hitler “ salute etc
But the most significant change was in the treatment of the Jews.
Until 1939 the Nazis tried to force Jews to leave Germany. After war broke out this became much more difficult.
Instead the Nazis forced Jews to live in Ghettos, restricted areas in cities. These could be small houses, or large
walled areas, as in Warsaw. There were curfews imposed that Jews had to obey.
After the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis found millions more Jews in eastern Europe.
At first the Nazis set up Einsatzgruppen, murder squads, which shot Jews on sight. But this policy was
ineffective and costly.
The Final Solution
In January 1942 the Nazis held a conference at the Wannsee Villa in Berlin. On January 20 they decided on
the Final Solution. All Jews would be exterminated.
The decision led to the setting up of extermination camps, such as Treblinka and Auschwitz, where Jews
were taken to be killed. All of these camps were set up outside Germany and were run by special units of the
SS, the Death's Head SS. The Nazis wanted to hide the true facts from the German people.
Jews were told that they were going to be resettled. They were allowed to take one suitcase each. The able-
bodied were sent to work camps, women, children, the old and the sick were exterminated in gas-chambers,
which were disguised as shower blocks.
The dead bodies were ransacked for anything of value
From 1942 to 1945 at least 4,000,000 Jews died in the camps; many were gassed, others were shot and then
buried in mass graves.
m) Was the Final Solution planned from the start?
Some historians (intentionalists) say yes- it was always part of Hitler’s masterplan
Other historians (structuralists) say the policy evolved gradually.
It is hard to say whether it was planned because Hitler did talk about extermination but did not give
written orders. Also, the killing programme in general was kept as secret as possible therefore there
are few surviving documents
n) Who, apart from Hitler, was to blame for the genocide?
Civil service bureaucracy. Collected and stored information on the Jews
Police. Many Jewish victims were arrested by police rather than Gestapo or SS
The SS. Death’s Head Units and Einsatzgruppen carried out many of the killings
The Wehrmacht. Army leaders knew what was going on
Industry. Companies like VW and Mercedes had their own slave labour camps; chemicals companies
competed for the contract to produce the Zyclon B gas use din death camps
The German people. Many were anti-semitic, even if they didn’t believe in mass murder; many
closed their eyes to the reality of what was happening
o) Was there any resistance against the persecution of the Jews?
Gad Beck. Leader of Jewish resistance in Berlin, captured in 1945, rescued by the Red Army
Jewish members of resistance organisations in occupied territories
Jewish uprisings in the Warsaw ghetto in 1945 lasted four weeks
Armed uprising in some concentration camps
Many non-Jews helped to hide Jews and smuggle them out of Germany e.g. the German industrialist
Oskar Schindler and the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg