National Socialism, also known as Nazism, was a political ideology that emerged in Germany in the early 20th century. Led by Adolf Hitler, the Nazi party came to power in 1933 and ruled Germany until 1945. The ideology of National Socialism was characterized by extreme nationalism, militarism, and anti-Semitism. The Nazi party promoted the concept of a superior Aryan race and sought to create a racially pure German society. Under Hitler's leadership, Germany rapidly re-armed and pursued aggressive territorial expansion, leading to the outbreak of World War II. The war ended in 1945 with Germany's defeat and the fall of the Nazi regime. The atrocities committed by the Nazis during their rule, including the Holocaust, remain among the most heinous crimes in human history.
One Nation, One Leader, and One "Yes"
On January 30th, 1933, Paul von Hindenburg, the President of the Reich, appointed Adolf Hitler as Reich Chancellor. Although Hitler's party, the NSDAP, was the strongest in parliament, they did not win an outright majority, making their starting position precarious. Instable parliaments were at risk of being dissolved by the President, which had happened several times before.
To form a stable government after the chaotic years between 1930 and 1933, during which the Weimar Republic had been governed with emergency decrees, Hitler called for new elections, which were scheduled for March 5th. For the National Socialist movement, Hitler's legal inauguration on January 30th was the key to a takeover, which was celebrated on the same evening with a torchlight procession. Germany's heavy manufacturing was their main supporter.
A few days later, on February the 3rd, Hitler announced his long-term goals to a group of generals, namely "strict authoritarian rule that would rid Germany of the 'cancer' of democracy and 'exterminate' Marxism." (Kitchen, pp.234)
The German political parties were campaigning for the upcoming election, with support from various industries such as steelmakers, the coal industry, insurance companies, and the chemical industry. On February 20th, Hitler presented his plan to leading industry representatives, stating that the upcoming election would be the last and that he intended to transform Germany into a strong state, regardless of the results. The industrialists readily wrote checks to support his campaign.
On February 27th, the Reichstag building caught fire. Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutchman, immediately confessed to committing arson. While some argue that the Nazis orchestrated the fire to implement stricter legislation, most historians agree that van der Lubbe acted alone. Perhaps the nationalistic climate at the time had triggered him to commit the crime. The following day, the "Degree for the Protection of the People and the State" was passed, suspending all constitutional rights and placing restrictions on press freedom and the right to assemble. Although the election results on March 5th could have been used to form a government, Hitler's National Socialists did not win an outright majority, obtaining only 43.9% of the popular vote. The Weimar Republic's constitution allowed for the formation of a government with another party to achieve a majority, but such a compromise seemed unacceptable. It was all or nothing, leaving supporters disappointed:
"The ballots were hardly counted when the National Socialists set about the demolition of the republics federal structure. A two-pronged attack on local government was launched. SA thugs and party activists stormed town halls and local government offices, hoisted swastika flags, and chased terrified officials away." (Kitchen, pp.236)
Hitler requested a law that would allow him to rule without interference from other German organs for the next four years. To achieve this, he needed a two-thirds majority in parliament and the goodwill of the Center Party. However, the conservative party members were concerned about further religious restrictions and their supporters. Despite their concerns, most delegates voted in favor of the law, and only the Social Democrats spoke out against it. The Enabling Act of 1933 disabled the people's house of Germany and served as a fundamental pillar for the National Socialist movement.
On March 31st, Hitler and his party used their powers to proclaim further actions, including forcible coordination. They dissolved all state parliaments and replaced them with Reich Governors, many of whom also held the position of Gauleiter, leader of a party district. The boundaries of the state and the Gauleiters' party district were different, causing confusion when determining whether someone was speaking as a Governor or as a Gauleiter. The functions fused, marking the beginning of the coordination of every aspect of German life:
■ German Labor Front
■ National Socialist Motor Corps
■ National Socialist Women's League
■ HJ group (1926)
■ National Socialist University Teachers' League
■ National Socialist German Students' League
■ National Socialist German Doctors' League
By law, other parties were made illegal. On December 1, 1933, the unity between the country and the party was enshrined by statute. The National Socialist revolution was complete, and the German Empire changed its political system once again, becoming known as the Third Reich.
The whole process took only a few months and became a model for authoritarian takeovers.
"Hitler traveled tirelessly the length and breadth of Germany preaching his simple message
of national redemption to vast and enthusiastic crowds."
(Kitchen, pp. 235)
Most Germans supported the party line due to Hitler's successful economic policies. His rearmament measures provided new employment opportunities, while his unwavering dedication and charisma secured support from influential friends in both bureaucracy and the military.(Thamer)
The average person found themselves in an appealing atmosphere with newfound opportunities, regardless of their social class. In addition, special leisure activities were offered to reward workers and strengthen the community. Hitler emphasized family values and Christian morality in his speeches:
"He made no concrete proposals, but he spoke with such utter conviction and passion that the crowds believed that he could
be trusted." (Kitchen, pp.235)
The nation was everything!
"For those safely within the racial community life was indeed better than it had been under the Weimar
Republic." (Kitchen, pp.272)
Democracy and the rule of law had no place in Nazi Germany. Instead, the Führerprinzip was implemented, replacing the system of checks and balances with one person in charge, whose will became law. This principle was also applied in other groups, where leaders were not elected, but selected based on the survival of the fittest principle, resulting in questionable moral leadership. Ultimately, Adolf Hitler had the final say in all matters. Ernst Julius Röhm, the leader of the Storm Troopers, was arrested and killed on Hitler's orders, as Hitler feared Röhm might attempt a putsch with his powerful troop, despite there being no evidence. The Storm Troopers were eventually absorbed into the Social Secret Service (SS), which rose to power in 1934 and can be seen as representing the purest form of National Socialism. The SS originated in the Weimar Republic, where they provided security during speeches and rallies.
MAKE GERMANY GREAT AGAIN!
Life under the Swastika was heavily structured by the Nazi regime's national calendar. The winter season saw National Socialists celebrating their takeover on January 30th each year, as well as observing a holiday named "midwinter" on December 21st. During the springtime, a few holidays were celebrated to further unify the community. One of them was a special Memorial Day held on March 16th (similar in nature to the American Memorial Day in May). Hitler's birthday on April 20th was considered a sacred day and was followed by the Day of National Labor on May 1st. With the arrival of summer on June 21st, the regime marked the occasion with a special celebration. The fall season saw citizens turning on their radios to listen to the Nuremberg rallies in September and celebrating the Reich's Thanksgiving on the first Sunday of November. (BIGE)
Life was bleak for those considered enemies of the Reich. Jews, Romany people (downgraded as "gypsies"), those labeled as antisocial, homosexuals, and people with disabilities experienced exclusion, humiliation, and often death. The National Socialist ideology deemed Jews and Romany people to be inferior and racially unacceptable. The Nuremberg Laws of September 15, 1935, set the course for intensified policies targeting non-Aryans. However, not every white person was automatically an Aryan; individuals had to undergo unique measurements and provide a well-documented genealogy.
Some famous Germans resisted the ideology or were considered enemies because of their heritage and left the country. Prominent Jews, such as the physicists Albert Einstein and Max Born, were able to continue their careers abroad. Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann were two German writers who fled National Socialism. Walter Gropius, a famous German architect and founder of the Bauhaus movement, became a professor at Harvard University.
Interestingly, charity also played a role in National Socialist ideology. While beggars were considered vermin to a healthy environment, several initiatives such as the Winter Help Aid and the National Socialist Public Welfare fought against hunger for fellow citizens. These organizations attracted millions of donors and served as a commitment to the values of the national community (Volksgemeinschaft), inspiring unity throughout society. It was an excellent way to build up a social network. However, the focus was not on the poor but rather the donors, who could present themselves as participating in poor relief.
Hitler declared his foreign policy objectives to a group of generals on February 3, 1933, which included the revision of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany's rearmament, and the Germanization of the East to create "living space" (Lebensraum). The "blood and soil" ideology played a critical role in this expansionist agenda, with German farmers viewed as the pioneers in the eastward expansion, much like American farmers in the westward expansion. This would have been a more radical German version of Manifest Destiny. The introduction of universal military service aimed to prepare the country for war.
On May 17, 1933, Hitler addressed his foreign policy in the Reichstag, promising to respect all international agreements and calling for a peaceful revision of the Treaty of Versailles. Most Germans agreed with his demands as they rejected the unjust treaty. Hitler's non-aggression pact with Poland in 1934 surprised many in Europe and was viewed positively. The reconquest and enlargement of German territory further strengthened Hitler's popularity as a politician in the eyes of the public:
■ In January 1935, the Saar region, which was previously placed under the control of the League of Nations, voted to reunite with Germany.
Hitler's aggressive foreign policy was facilitated by the severe economic downturn of the Great Depression, which had weakened European powers. While the French sought to resist and contain Hitler's territorial ambitions, the British pursued a policy of appeasement.
The occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938 marked a turning point for other European powers, as they realized that Hitler's territorial ambitions could no longer be appeased. In 1939, Germany formed an alliance with Italy known as "The Pact of Steel."
One of the most important tools, if not the most important, was German propaganda techniques. Recurring catchwords, slogans, rhetoric, posters, and music played a significant role in shaping public opinion. Different demographic groups were targeted in a variety of ways. The young, the old, the rich, and the poor received different forms of propaganda. The regime ensured that new technological devices, such as radios, were affordable for everyone. Every German could listen to speeches by Hitler and his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Hitler's election campaign was characterized by speeches held in different German cities on the same day. He was portrayed as a man who stood for modernity and technical progress. The airplane made it possible to showcase him above Germany. One nationalistic newspaper, "Hitler über Deutschland," depicted the leader of the Reich as an ever-present savior of a nation in crisis.
"Kalender symbolträchtiger rechtsextremistischer Daten" Bayerische Informationsstelle gegen Extremismus, BIGE.
Kitchen, Martin. A History of Modern Germany. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
Rall, John William. Nazi Charity: Giving, Belonging, and Morality in the Third Reich. University of Tennessee, 2018, Phd. diss.
Scriba, Arnulf. "Die NS-Propaganda."LeMO, 14 Juli 2015.
Thamer, Hans-Ulrich. "Nationalsozialismus"
Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. https://www.bpb.de/nachschlagen/lexika/handwoerterbuch-politisches-system/202075/nationalsozialismus
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