NAZISM-GERMANY

NAZI COUNTER-REVOLUTION: GERMANY

The Weimar Republic

  • After Germany lost the First World War, the German Emperor Kaiser fled and a new democratic government of Germany was declared in February 1919 at the small town of Weimar.
  • It was too dangerous to make a declaration in Berlin where there had just been a revolt by a Communist group called the Spartacists so it was made in Weimar.
  • The Weimar Republic was a genuine attempt to create a perfect democratic country.

The following features of the Republic served to ensure democracy:

  • A Bill of Rights guaranteed every German citizen freedom of speech and religion, and equality under the law.
  • All men and women over the age of 20 were given the vote. This was even better than Britain where only women over 30 could vote.
  • There was an elected president and an elected Reichstag (parliament).
  • The Reichstag made the laws and appointed the government, which had to do what the Reichstag wanted.

 

WHY DID THE WEIMAR REPUBLIC FAIL?

(1) It began with serious disadvantages

  • It was related to Versailles treaty:
    • It had accepted the humiliating and unpopular Versailles Treaty therefore always associated with defeat and dishonour.
  • Lack of respect for democracy:
    • There was a traditional lack of respect for democratic government and a great admiration for the army and the ‘officer class’ as the rightful leaders of Germany.
  • Weakness in new Weimar constitution:
    • Proportional representation :
      • The parliamentary system introduced in the new Weimar constitution had weaknesses, the most serious of which was that it was based on a system of proportional representation, so that all political groups would be fairly represented.
      • It was a disaster it resulted in dozens of tiny parties, with no party strong enough to get a majority, and, therefore, no government to get its laws passed in the Reichstag.
      • A succession of coalition governments was inevitable which led to political instability and indecisiveness.

 

 

    • Article 48 :
      • This said that, in an emergency, the president did not need the agreement of the Reichstag, but could issue decrees.
      • The problem with this was that it did not say what an emergency was, and in the end, it turned out to be a back door that Hitler used to take power legally.
    • Lack of experience of political parties :
      • The political parties had very little experience of how to operate a democratic parliamentary system, because before 1919 the Reichstag had not controlled policy; the Chancellor had the final authority and was the one who really ruled the country.
      • Under the Weimar constitution it was the other way round – the Chancellor was responsible to the Reichstag, which had the final say.
      • However, the Reichstag usually failed to give a clear lead because the parties had not learned the art of compromise.
      • The communists and nationalists did not believe in democracy anyway, and refused to support the Social Democrats.
    • Disagreements became so bitter that some of the parties organized their own private armies, for self-defence to begin with, but this increased the threat of civil war.
    • The combination of these weaknesses led to more outbreaks of violence and attempts to overthrow the republic.

(2) Economic problems

  • Probably the crucial cause of the failure of the republic was the economic problems which plagued it constantly and which it proved incapable of solving permanently.
  • In 1919 Germany was close to bankruptcy because of the enormous expense of the war, which had lasted much longer than most people expected.
  • Attempts to pay reparations installments made matters worse.
    • In August 1921, after paying the £50 million due, Germany requested permission to suspend payments until her economy recovered.
    • France refused, and in 1922 the Germans claimed they were unable to make the full annual payment.
    • In January 1923 French troops occupied the Ruhr (an important German industrial area) in an attempt to seize goods from factories and mines.

 

 

    • The German government ordered the workers to follow a policy of passive resistance, and German industry in the Ruhr was paralysed.
    • The French had failed in their aim, but the effect on the German economy was catastrophic – galloping inflation and the collapse of the mark (currency of Germany).
    • It was only when the new Chancellor, Gustav Stresemann, introduced a new currency known as the Rentenmark, in 1924, that the financial situation finally stabilized.
  • This financial disaster had profound effects on German society:
    • The working classes were badly hit- wages failed to keep pace with inflation and trade union funds were wiped out.
    • Worst affected were the middle classes and small capitalists, who lost their savings; many began to look towards the Nazis for improvement.
  • The economic situation improved dramatically in the years after 1924:
    • It was largely due to the Dawes Plan in 1924, which provided an immediate loan from the USA equivalent to £40 million, relaxed the fixed reparations payments and in effect allowed the Germans to pay what they could afford.

 

 

    • French troops withdrew from the Ruhr.
    • The currency was stabilized, there was a boom in such industries as iron, steel, coal, chemicals and electrical, and wealthy landowners and industrialists were happy to tolerate the republic, since they were doing well out of it.
    • During these relatively prosperous years, Gustav Stresemann was the dominant political figure. Although he was Chancellor only from August until November 1923, he remained as foreign minister Until his death in October 1929, thus providing vital continuity and a steadying hand.
    • The work of the Dawes Plan was carried a stage further by the Young Plan
      • This reduced the reparations total from £6600 million to £2000 million

 

 

  • Depression of 1929:
    • There were other successes for the republic in foreign affairs, thanks to the work of Stresemann, and it seemed stable and well established. But behind this success there remained some fatal weaknesses which were soon to bring disaster.
    • The prosperity was much more dependent on the American loans than most people realized.
    • If the USA were to find itself in financial difficulties so that it was forced to stop the loans, or worse still, demand that they be paid back quickly, the German economy would be shaken again. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened in 1929.
      • Following the Wall Street Crash (October 1929), a world economic crisis developed.
      • The USA stopped any further loans and began to call in many of the short-term loans already made to Germany.
      • This caused a crisis of confidence in the currency and led to a run on the banks, many of which had to close.
      • Factories had to close, and by the middle of 1931 unemployment was approaching 4 million.

(3) The alternative – Hitler and the Nazis

 

 

  • Hitler and the Nazi Party offered what seemed to be an attractive alternative just when the republic was at its most ineffective.
  • The fortunes of the Nazi Party were linked closely to the economic situation: the more unstable the economy, the more seats the Nazis won in the Reichstag.
    • In the election of July 1932, with unemployment standing at over 6 million, the Nazis became the largest single party, winning 230 seats out of 608.
  • The rise of Hitler and the Nazis, fostered by the economic crisis, was one of the most important causes of the downfall of the republic.

 

  • They offered national unity, prosperity and full employment
  • They promised to overthrow the Versailles settlement,
  • The Nazi private army, the SA (Sturmabteilung – Storm Troopers):
    • It was attractive to young people out of work;
    • It gave them a small wage and a uniform.
  • Fear of communism:
    • Wealthy landowners and industrialists encouraged the Nazis because they feared a communist revolution and they approved of the Nazi policy of hostility to communists.
  • Hitler himself had extraordinary political abilities:
    • He possessed tremendous energy and willpower and a remarkable gift for public speaking, which enabled him to put forward his ideas with great emotional force.
    • He used the latest modern communication techniques – mass rallies, parades, radio and film; he travelled all over Germany by air.
  • The striking contrast between the governments of the Weimar Republic and the Nazi Party impressed people:
    • The former were respectable, dull and unable to maintain law and order; the latter promised strong, decisive government and the restoration of national pride.
  • Economic crisis:
    • Without the economic crisis, however, it is doubtful whether Hitler would have had much chance of attaining power.
    • It was the widespread unemployment and social misery, together with the fear of communism and socialism, that gained the Nazis mass support, not only among the working class, but also among the lower middle classes – office-workers, shopkeepers, civil servants, teachers and small-scale farmers.

 

 

 

HITLER CAME TO THE POWER AND BECAME CHANCELLOR IN JANUARY 1933)

  • In July 1932, the Nazis were the largest single party, but Hitler failed to become Chancellor, partly:
    • because the Nazis still lacked an overall majority (they had 230 seats out of 608 in the Reichstag), and
    • because he was not yet quite ‘respectable’ – the conservative President Hindenburg viewed him as an upstart and refused to have him as Chancellor.
  • Political intrigue brought Hitler to power:
    • A small clique of rightwing politicians with support from the Reichswehr decided to bring Hitler into a coalition government with the Nationalists.
    • The main conspirators were Papen and General Schleicher. Their reasons for this momentous decision were:
      • They were afraid of the Nazis attempting to seize power by a Putsch.
      • They believed they could control Hitler better inside the government than if he remained outside it, and that a taste of power would make the Nazis modify their extremism.
      • The Nationalists had only 37 seats in the Reichstag following the elections of July 1932. An alliance with the Nazis, who had 230 seats, would go a long way towards giving them a majority.
      • The Nationalists did not believe in genuine democracy: they hoped that, with Nazi co-operation, they would be able to restore the monarchy and return to the system that had existed under Bismarck, in which the Reichstag had much less power.
      • Though this would destroy the Weimar Republic, these right-wing politicians were prepared to go ahead because it would give them a better chance of controlling the communists, who had just had their best result so far in the July election, winning 89 seats.
    • There was some complicated manoeuvring involving Papen and a group of wealthy businessmen; President Hindenburg was persuaded to dismiss Bruning and appoint Papen as Chancellor.
      • They hoped to bring Hitler in as Vice-Chancellor, but he would settle for nothing less than being Chancellor himself.
      • In January 1933 therefore, they persuaded Hindenburg to invite Hitler to become Chancellor with Papen as Vice-Chancellor, even though the Nazis had by then lost ground in the elections of November 1932.
      • Papen still believed Hitler could be controlled.
    • Hitler was able to come to power legally.

 

WHAT DID NATIONAL SOCIALISM STAND FOR?

  • In 1919, Adolf Hitler joined a small right-wing group called the German Workers’ Party. He took over as its leader and changed its name to the National Socialists (Nazis).
  • The party developed a 25-Point Programme, which – after the failure of the Munich Putsch in 1924 – Hitler explained further in his book ‘Mein Kampf‘.
  • What National Socialism did not mean was nationalization and the redistribution of wealth.
  • The word ‘socialism’ was included only to attract the support of the German workers, though it has to be admitted that Hitler did promise a better deal for workers.
  • The movement’s general principles:
    • All the various facets and details of the Nazi system sprang from these four basic concepts.
      • It was a way of life dedicated to the rebirth of the nation:
        • It was more than just one political party.
        • All classes in society must be united into a ‘national community’ to make Germany a great nation again and restore national pride.
        • Since the Nazis had claimed to have the only correct way to achieve this, it followed that all other parties, especially communists, must be eliminated.
      • Totalitarian and efficient state:
        • Great emphasis was laid on theruthlessly efficient organization of all aspects of the lives of the masses under the central government, in order to achieve greatness, with violence and terror if necessary.
        • The state was supreme; the interests of the individual always came second to the interests of the state, that is, a totalitarian state in which propaganda had a vital role to play.
      • Militarisation:
        • Since it was likely that greatness could only be achieved by war, the entire state must be organized on a military footing.
      • Racial theory:
        • The race theory was vitally important – mankind was supposed to be divided into two groups, Aryans and non-Aryans.
        • The Aryans were the Germans, ideally tall, blond, blue eyed and handsome; they were considered as the master race, destined to rule the world.
        • All the rest, such as Slavs, coloured peoples and particularly Jews, were considered inferior.
          • They were to be excluded from the ‘national community’, along with other groups who were considered unfit to belong, including gypsies and homosexuals.
          • The Slavs were destined to become the slave race of the Germans.
      • Other Nazi Ideologies:
        • Lebensraum – the need for ‘living space’ for the German nation to expand.

 

 

        • Führer – the idea that there should be a single leader with complete power rather than a democracy.
        • Social Darwinism – The doctrine of survival of the fittest and the necessity of struggle for life is applied by Nazis to the life of a nation-state. It included Nazi’s racial doctrine.

 

HITLER CONSOLIDATES HIS POWER

  • In January 1933, he was Chancellor of a coalition government of National Socialists and nationalists, but he was not yet satisfied with the amount of power he possessed. He therefore insisted on a general election in the hope of winning an overall majority for the Nazis.
  • The election of 5 March 1933:
    • The election campaign was an extremely violent one. Since they were now in government, the Nazis were able to use all the apparatus of state, including the press and radio, to try and whip up a majority.
    • Meetings of Nazis and nationalists were allowed to go ahead without interference, but communist and socialist political meetings were wrecked.
    • The Reichstag fire:
      • The climax of the election campaign came on the night of 27 February when the Reichstag was badly damaged by a fire and blame was put on the communists.
      • Hitler used the fire to his advantage in two ways:
        • It gave him an opportunity to imprison many communist leaders, which stopped them campaigning during the election.
        • It allowed the Nazis to say that the country was in danger from the communists during its election campaign.
      • Both these actions helped the Nazis to win more seats in the election.
    • However, in spite of all their efforts, the Nazis still failed to win an overall majority. They won 288 out of the 647 seats.
      • The nationalists again won 52 seats. Hitler was still dependent on the support of Papen and Hugenberg (leader of the nationalists).
  • The Enabling Law, 23 March 1933
    • Hitler was not satisfied with the election result. He was determined that he must be dependent on nobody except his Nazi party.
    • While President Hindenburg was still in shock after the Reichstag fire, Hitler apparently persuaded him that emergency legislation was vital to prevent a communist uprising.
      • Known as the Enabling Law, this legislation was forced through the Reichstag on 23 March 1933, and it was this that provided the legal basis of Hitler’s power.
      • It stated that:
        • the government could introduce laws without the approval of the Reichstag for the next four years,
        • could ignore the constitution and
        • could sign agreements with foreign countries.
      • This meant that Hitler was to be the complete dictator for the next four years, but since his will was now law, he would be able to extend the four-year period indefinitely.
    • When Hindenburg died, Hitler declares himself jointly president, chancellor and head of the army. This formally made Hitler the absolute ruler of Germany. He was called Führer.

 

GLEICHSCHALTUNG (FORCIBLE CO-ORDINATION)

  • Having effectively muzzled the Reichstag, Hitler immediately set about controlling everything.
  • This was achieved by a policy known as Gleichschaltung (forcible co-ordination), which turned Germany into a totalitarian or fascist state.
  • It maintained control through a mixture of propaganda and intimidation.
  • The government tried to control as many aspects of life as possible, using a huge police force and the notorious State Secret Police, the Gestapo.
  • Terror (method of control)
    • The Nazi state intimidated and terrorised those who were opposed to it, using:
      • SS and Gestapo.
      • Arresting of thousands of people which terrified opponents.
      • Setting up Nazi people’s courts.
      • Concentration camps.
  • The main features of the Nazi totalitarian state were:
    • Control over Government (political)
      • The way Hitler consolidated power in 1933-1934 meant that the Nazis had absolute control of national and local government.
      • The following points allowed Hitler to gain control of the government:
        • Enabling Act
        • Local government reorganised
        • One party system:
          • All political parties except the National Socialists were banned, so that Germany became a one-party state.
          • There were no more state, provincial or municipal elections.
    • Control over workers:
      • The following points are examples of how the Nazis took control of workers lives:
        • The RAD (National Labour Service) sent young men on public works.
        • Hitler introduced conscription in 1936; most men went into the army after the RAD.
        • The KdF (Strength through Joy) movement regulated their leisure time.
      • Trade unions abolished:
        • Trade unions, a likely source of resistance, were abolished:
        • Their funds confiscated and their leaders arrested.
        • They were replaced by the DAF (German Labour Front), to which all workers had to belong. It controlled workers’ conditions at work.
        • The government dealt with all grievances, and strikes were not allowed.
    • Control over education and youth:
      • The lives of young people were controlled both in and out of school to turn them into fanatical Nazis.
      • Measures were imposed to make sure that schools and youth associations became Nazified:
        • Non-Nazi teachers and university professors were sacked; teachers had to join the National Socialist Teachers’ League.
        • School textbooks were often rewritten to fit in with Nazi theory.
        • History was distorted to fit with Hitler’s view that great things could only be achieved by force.
        • Human biology was dominated by the Nazi race theory.
        • There was a concentration on physical fitness.
        • Indoctrination through Youth organisations:
          • The Hitler Youth was compulsory; it indoctrinated boys and prepared them for war.
        • Children were taught that their first duty was to obey Hitler, who took on the title Fuhrer (leader, or guide).
    • Encouraging population:
      • There was a special policy concerned with the family.
      • The Nazis were worried that the birth rate was declining, and therefore ‘racially pure’ and healthy families were encouraged to have more children.
      • Family planning centres were closed down and contraceptives banned.
      • Mothers who gave birth to more children were awarded medals.
      • On the other hand, people who were considered ‘undesirable’ were discouraged from having children.
        • These included Jews, gypsies, and people deemed to be physically or mentally unfit.
    • Propaganda:
      • Josef Goebbels controlled the Propaganda Ministry, which aimed to brainwash people into obeying the Nazis and idolising Hitler.
      • The Propaganda Ministry worked hard to ensure that people were persuaded to adopt the Nazi point of view:
        • Mass rallies.
        • Radio, newspapers, magazines, books, theatre, music and art were all supervised.
        • Films were controlled to make films that glorified war and pilloried the Jews.
        • Cult of personality – Hitler’s picture was everywhere, and he was portrayed as Germany’s saviour.
    • Culture (social)
      • Hitler ordered Nazification – the imposition of Nazi values – on all aspects of German life.
      • The Nazis dictated what people were allowed to do in their social and private lives:
        • Artists had to produce acceptable paintings that portrayed Nazi values.
        • Hitler wanted a new type of art – German art which would be free from the influence of Jewish, left-wing, modernist and foreign artists.
        • Homosexuals were persecuted; they did not fit the Nazi image of the ideal family.
      • Women were expected to stay at home, give birth and look after the family. Women doctors, teachers and civil servants were forced to give up their careers.
    • Economic policy:
      • The economic life of the country was closely organized.
      • Although the Nazis (unlike the communists) had no special ideas about the economy, they did have some basic aims:
        • to eliminate unemployment and to make Germany self-sufficient by boosting exports and reducing imports, a policy known as autarky‘.
      • The idea was to put the economy onto a war footing, so that all the materials necessary for waging war could be produced, as far as possible, in Germany itself.
      • This would ensure that Germany would never again be hamstrung by a trade blockade like the one imposed by the Allies during the First World War.
    • Religious policy:
      • Hitler believed that religion was a threat to the Nazis’ control over people’s minds and churches were a possible source of opposition, so he tried to reduce the power of the church over people.
      • Religion was brought under state control, since the churches were a possible source of opposition.
      • Since a majority of Germans belonged to one or other of the various Protestant groups, Hitler tried to organize them into a ‘Reich Church‘ with a Nazi as the first Reich bishop.
      • But many pastors protested to Hitler about government interference and about his treatment of the Jews.
      • Once again the Nazis were completely ruthless – several pastors were sent to concentration camps and many were forced to swear an oath of obedience to the Fuhrer.
    • Police State:
      • The police, helped by the SS and the Gestapo, tried to prevent all open opposition to the regime.
      • The law courts were not impartial: ‘enemies of the state’ rarely received a fair trial.
      • The concentration camps introduced by Hitler in 1933 were full.
        • They contained ‘political’ prisoners – communists, Social Democrats, Catholic priests, Protestant pastors.
        • Other persecuted groups were homosexuals and above all, Jews.
    • Anti-Semitic:
      • The worst aspect of the Nazi system was Hitler’s anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish) policy.
      • It is believed that by 1945, out of a total of 9 million Jews living in Europe at the outbreak of the Second World War, about 5.7 million had been murdered, most of them in the gas chambers of the Nazi extermination camps.
      • The Holocaust, as it became known, was the worst and most shocking of the many crimes against humanity committed by the Nazi regime.

 

 

 

VIDEO’S TO WATCH FOR

1. Hitler’s Rise to Power

 

 

2. The Holocaust

 

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