The chapter notes cover Hitler's rise to power and Nazi politics. Additionally, we comprehend the plight of children and women in Nazi Germany. You'll learn how schools were used to teach Nazi youngsters and how concentration camps were utilised against Jews throughout the chapter. Additionally, it shows facts about Nazism and how they denied numerous minorities the right to life, instilled anti-Jewish sentiments, and waged war against democracy and socialism.
Nazism and Rise of Hitler
When was World War 2 fought? Who were the winning and losing sides?
World War II also known as Second World War was fought between 1939 to 1945 between the two opposing military alliances called the Allied and Axis Powers.
At the end of the war, the Axis powers consisting of Germany, Italy and Japan were on the losing side.
The Soviet Union (USSR) had initially been a part of axis powers but switched sides to Allied powers when it was attacked by Germany.
The USA joined the Allied powers after Japan attacked Pearl Harbour.
In May 1945, Germany surrendered to the Allies after Hitler, his propaganda minister Goebbels and his entire family committed suicide collectively in his Berlin bunker in April.
Not only the Nazi leaders but many Nazi sympathisers had committed suicide in fear of revenge for the acts against humanity that they had committed during the WWII.
What were these acts against humanity?
Germany had waged a genocidal war, which resulted in the mass murder of selected groups of innocent civilians of Europe. The number of people killed included: - 6 million Jews - 200,000 Gipsies - 1 million Polish civilians
- 70,000 Germans who were considered mentally and physically disabled, besides innumerable political opponents.
Many of these people were killed in Gas Chambers such as one in Auschwitz The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg
At the end of the war, an International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg was set up to prosecute Nazi war criminals for Crimes against Peace, for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity
The Nuremberg Tribunal sentenced only eleven leading Nazis to death.
The Treaty of Versailles
The Allies did not want to be as harsh on defeated Germany as they had been after the First World War which many believe was the reason for the start of the Second World War.
Germany had been met with unfair treatment at the end of First World War as per the Treaty of Versailles leading to imposition of the War Guilt clause which put limitations on German military power.
The treaty also required Germany to concede many of its territories and pay reparations for the loss caused due to the war amounting to around 6 Billion Pounds
The Allied armies also occupied the resource-rich Rhineland for much of the 1920s.
Germany also lost its overseas colonies, a tenth of its population, 13 percent of its territories, 75 per cent of its iron and 26 per cent of its coal to France, Poland, Denmark and Lithuania.
Birth of Weimar Republic
Germany was a powerful empire in the early 20th century and fought the First World War along with Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empire against the Allies (Britain, France and Russia, later joined by USA in 1917)
The war led to draining of resources in Europe and eventual defeat of Imperial Germany after the entry of the USA in the war.
The Germany policy was recast when a National Assembly met at Weimar to establish Germany with a democratic constitution and a federal structure.
This new German parliament was called the Reichstag in which the deputies were elected on the basis of equal and universal votes cast by all adults including women.
The Effects of the First World War
1. Financial Impact
The war led to depletion of resources in Europe turning it into debtors from creditors.
The new Weimar Republic was being forced to pay for the sins of the old empire.
2. Social Impact ( Glorification of War and Trench Life)
Soldiers came to be placed above civilians.
Politicians and publicists laid great stress on the need for men to be aggressive, strong and masculine. The media glorified trench life. However, the situation was very grim where the soldiers had to face enemy shelling and poisonous gases.
Aggressive war propaganda and national honour occupied centre stage in the public sphere, while popular support grew for conservative dictatorships that had recently come into being.
Why was the Weimar Republic not accepted by many Germans?
Many Germans believed that the new Weimar Republic was responsible for not only the defeat in the war but the disgrace at Versailles.
Who supported the Weimar Republic?
Socialists, Catholics and Democrats were among those who supported the Weimar Republic and became easy targets of attack in the conservative nationalist circles. They were mockingly called the ‘November criminals’.
Political Radicalism and Economic Crises
There was a revolutionary uprising of the Spartacist League similar to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Many Soviets of workers and sailors were formed and there were demands for Soviet style governance.
But the Weimar Republic supported by the Socialists, Catholics and Democrats crushed this uprising with the help of a war veterans organisation called Free Corps. The anguished Spartacists later founded the Communist Party of Germany and craved for radical solutions
As Germany failed to pay the war loans and war reparations due to depleting gold reserves, the French occupied Germany’s leading Industrial area - the Ruhr to claim its coal reserves.
To retaliate, Germans printed their currency ‘German Mark’ recklessly leading to hyperinflation and devaluation.
Eventually, the Americans bailed Germany out of the financial crisis by introducing the Dawes Plan by reworking the terms of reparation to ease the financial burden on Germans.
The Years of Great Depression
The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialised world, lasting from 1929 to 1939. It began after the stock market crash of October 1929, which sent Wall Street into a panic and wiped out millions of investors.
Fearing a fall in prices, people sold more than 13 million shares in a single day thereby starting the Great Economic Depression. The US investment in Germany were withdrawn after the Wall Street crash
Effects of the Great Depression on USA
The national income of the USA fell by half. Factories shut down and exports fell. Farmers were badly hit and speculators withdrew their money from the market. The effects of this recession in the US economy were felt worldwide.
Effects of the Great Depression on Germany
Industrial production was reduced to 40 per cent. Many workers lost their jobs or were paid reduced wages. Unemployment increased and at one point there were 6 million people unemployed. People could be seen with placards around their necks saying ‘Willing to do any Work’.
As jobs disappeared, the youth started taking part in criminal activities or simply sat in street corners playing cards.
The middle class saw their savings vanish. Many self-employed people lost their businesses and many big businesses were in crisis. There was a sharp fall in agricultural prices which affected a large number of peasants.
There was a feeling and fear of being reduced to the working class or unemployed. This was referred to as the fear of Proletarianisation. Even the organised workers could barely keep their jobs but lost their bargaining power
What were the political aspects that made the Weimar Republic vulnerable?
The Weimar constitution had some inherent defects which made it vulnerable to dictatorship such as:
1. Proportional Representation: It made it difficult to achieve majority by one party and often led to a rule under coalitions.
2. Article 48 : It gave the president powers to impose emergency, suspend civil rights and rule by decree.
Due to these defects, the Weimar Republic saw 20 different cabinets lasting an average of 239 days and hence people lost confidence in the democratic parliamentary system.
The political, social and economic crisis in the Weimar Republic laid the foundation for the rise of Hitler.
Hitlers’ Rise to Power
Adolf Hitler was dictator and leader of the German Nazi party. He was born in 1889 in a poor family in Austria and served the German army during the First World War. He won many medals for his bravery. He was a powerful speaker and his words could move people.
The Treaty of Versailles made him furious and he wanted to establish German supremacy again and restore the dignity of the German people. He promised to provide employment to German youth and also promised to weed out foreign influence on Germany.
In 1919, he joined a small group called the German Workers’ Party and subsequently took over the organisation. He renamed it the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. This party came to be known as the Nazi Party.
In 1923, he planned to control Bavaria and then Berlin to capture power but he was arrested, tried for treason and later released. The Nazi party could not garner popular support till the 1930s, but the years of great depression provided the situation where the Nazi propaganda got support in hope for a better future.
In 1928, the Nazi Party got no more than 2.6% votes in the Reichstag – the German parliament. But by 1932, it had become the largest party with 37% votes.
Hitler's style of Politics
Hitler understood the importance of rituals and spectacle in mobilisation of popular support. In order to showcase support to his policies and instil a sense of unity, the Nazis held massive rallies and public meetings.
He promoted use of red banners with the Swastika, the Nazi salute and ritualised rounds of applause to showcase the spectacle of power. Through these tactics, Hitler was projected as a saviour to German people who would relieve the people of their distress.
Hitler's style of politics captured the imagination of people who had lost their pride and dignity at the time of World War I and were living in acute economic and political crises.
The Destruction of Democracy in Germany
Once Nazi party had become the largest party in 1932, the German president Hindenburg offered chancellorship the highest position in the cabinet of ministers to Hitler in 1933.
Once he had acquired power, Hitler set out to destroy and dismantle the structures of democracy. A mysterious fire in the German parliament resulted in the Fire Decree of 28th Feb 1933 which suspended civic rights such as freedom of speech, press and assembly which had been guaranteed by the Weimar constitution.
Repression of Communists: Hitler also sent off Communists to the concentration camps where these people were isolated and detained without due process of law. He also meted out similar treatment to 52 other types of people whom he considered as enemies of the Reichstag.
Enabling Act of 1933 : Hitler in March 1933 passed the Enabling Act which established him as a dictator and gave him powers to sideline the German parliament.
- The state established complete control over the economy, media, army and judiciary.
- All political parties and trade unions except for Nazi party and affiliates were also banned.
- Special surveillance and security forces were also created to control the society in Nazi ways. They were also given extra-constitutional powers which gave the German state the reputation as the most dreaded criminal state.
- People could be detained and sent to the torture chambers and concentration camps at will without any legal procedures. The police had the power to rule without any punishable consequences for their actions.
Some German Special Forces
- The Regular Police in Green Uniform
- SA or Storm Troopers
- The Gestapo (Secret State Police)
- SS (The Protection Squads)
- Criminal Police - SD (Security Service)
Reconstruction of Germany after WWI
The responsibility of the economic recovery of Germany was given to economist Hjalmar Schacht. He aimed at full employment and production through a state funded work creation programme which resulted in construction of German SuperHighways called Autobahns and development of people's cars - the Volkswagen.
Schacht had also advised Hitler against investment in re-militarisation and arms and ammunition as the country was running on deficit but his advice was not taken into consideration. He eventually had to leave as his approach was considered too cautious.
Integration and Reoccupation of Rhineland
Hitler reoccupied the resource-rich Rhineland in 1936 and also pulled out of the League of Nations in 1933. He also integrated Austria and Germany under the slogan One People, One Empire and One Leader.
He also captured and occupied the German speaking region Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia and eventually captured the entire country. He was able to do so because he had the support from England (under Neville Chamberlain) which believed that the Versailles treaty was too harsh and thus favoured German appeasement.
Start of WWII
Hitler had sought to come out of this economic crisis through war and used expansion of territory to accumulate necessary resources. In 1939, he invaded Poland which turned France and earlier supportive England to start a war against Germany.
To strengthen his international power, a Tripartite Pact was signed between Germany, Japan and Italy in 1940 and puppet regimes were installed in large parts of Europe.
In order to ensure food supplies and living space for Germans (Lebensraum), Hilter had moved to conquer Eastern Europe and attacked the Soviet Union in 1941 despite a nonaggression pact with them.
Hitler's Historic Blunder - Attack on USSR
The Soviet Union was a powerful nation and the German attack on them proved to be a historic blunder for Hitler. He was now exposed on both fronts and was fighting both the British and French on western front and the Soviet Army on eastern front.
The Soviet Army defeated Germany at Stalingrad and marched into Berlin establishing their rule over the entire Eastern Europe which continued till the collapse of the USSR in 1991. At the same time, the USA had entered into WWII because of Imperial Japan's expansion in the east. Japan had occupied French Indo-China and was planning attacks on US Naval bases in the Pacific.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, USA entered the WWII and dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan leading to the end of WWII. WWII ended with the defeat of the axis powers.
The Nazi Worldview
The crimes committed by Nazis were linked to the ideology of racial hierarchy. According to this ideology, the blond, blue-eyes, Nordic German Aryans were the best race, while the Jews were considered to be of lowest category.
Jews came to be known as anti-race and arch enemies of Aryans. Nazism considered Aryans to be the finest race and believed that they had to retain their purity and dominate the world by eliminating the weaker races.
This idea of racist domination was borrowed from thinkers like Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer who gave the idea of natural selection and survival of the fittest. Though Darwin and Spencer never advocated human intervention in the process of evolution, the racist thinkers and politicians used their ideas to justify imperial rule over the conquered people.
Hitler believed that new territories had to be acquired for settlement and give living space (Lebensraum) to the pure German Aryan race. This would increase the resources available to the German nation and increase its power.
Hitler wanted to extend the German boundaries to concentrate all Germans in one place and the reason why Hitler captured Poland. This expansion would also increase the area of the mother country, while allowing the new settlers an intimate link with their place of origin.
Establishment of the Racial State
After Nazis came into power they quickly began to implement their dream of creating an exclusive racial community of pure Germans. They wanted a society of ‘pure and healthy Nordic Aryans’. Under the Euthanasia Programme, Hitler had condemned to death many Germans who were considered mentally or physically unfit.
Germany occupied Poland and parts of Russia, captured civilians and forced them to work as slave labour.
Jews remained the worst sufferers in Nazi Germany. Hitler hated Jews based on pseudoscientific theories of race. From 1933 to 1938 the Nazis terrorised, pauperised and segregated the Jews, compelling them to leave the country.
The Racial Utopia
Genocide and war became two sides of the same coin. Poland was divided and much of north-western Poland was annexed to Germany. People of Poland were forced to leave their homes and properties. Members of the Polish intelligentsia were murdered in large numbers, polish children who looked like Aryans were forcibly snatched from their mothers and examined by ‘race experts’.
Youth in Nazi Germany
Hitler was interested in the youth of the country. Schools were cleansed and purified. Germans and Jews were not allowed to sit or play together. In the 1940s Jews were taken to the gas chambers. Introduction of racial science to justify Nazi ideas of race. Children were taught to be loyal and submissive, hate Jews, and worship Hitler.
Youth organisations were responsible for educating German youth in ‘the spirit of National Socialism’. 10 year olds had to enter Jungvolk and at the age of 14, boys had to join the Nazi youth organisation where they were taught to worship war, glorify aggression and violence, condemn democracy, and hate Jews, communists, Gypsies and all those categorised as ‘undesirable’.
Later, they joined the Labour Service, at the age of 18 and served in the armed forces and enter one of the Nazi organisations. In 1922, the Youth League of the Nazis was founded.
The Nazi Cult of Motherhood In Nazi Germany, children were told women were different from men. Boys were taught to be aggressive, masculine and steel hearted and girls were told to become good mothers and rear pure-blooded Aryan children.
Girls had to maintain purity of the race, distance from Jews, look after their home and teach their children Nazi values. But all mothers were not treated equally. Honours Crosses were awarded to those who encouraged women to produce more children. Bronze cross for four children, silver for six and gold for eight or more.
Women who maintained contact with Jews, Poles and Russians were paraded through the town with shaved heads, blackened faces and placards hanging around their necks announcing ‘I have sullied the honour of the nation’.
The Art of Propaganda
Nazis termed mass killings as special treatment, final solution (for the Jews), euthanasia (for the disabled), selection and disinfections. ‘Evacuation’ meant deporting people to gas chambers.
Gas chambers were labelled as ‘‘disinfection-areas’, and looked like bathrooms equipped with fake showerheads. Nazi ideas were spread through visual images, films, radio, posters, catchy slogans and leaflets.
Orthodox Jews were stereotyped and marked and were referred to as vermin, rats and pests. The Nazis made equal efforts to appeal to all the different sections of the population. They sought to win their support by suggesting that Nazis alone could solve all their problems.
Ordinary People and the Crimes Against Humanity
People started seeing the world through Nazi eyes and spoke their Nazi language. They felt hatred and anger against Jews and genuinely believed Nazism would bring prosperity and improve general well-being.
Pastor Niemoeller protested an uncanny silence, amongst ordinary Germans against brutal and organised crimes committed in the Nazi empire. Charlotte Beradt’s book called the Third Reich of Dreams describes how Jews themselves began believing in the Nazi stereotypes about them.
Knowledge about the Holocaust
The war ended and Germany was defeated. While Germans were preoccupied with their own plight, the Jews wanted the world to remember the atrocities and sufferings they had endured during the Nazi killing operations – also called the Holocaust.
When they lost the war, the Nazi leadership distributed petrol to its functionaries to destroy all incriminating evidence available in offices.