Growth of Parliamentary Government
Difficulties of ruling Germany : Growth of Parliamentary Government
The Kaiser had extensive powers including appointing and dismissing government ministers.
The Reichstag could discuss, amend and vote on new legislation but could not decide what topics to discuss.
At the same time however, political parties were emerging, and developing in size and importance.
They never became big enough to gain a majority though.
The RIGHT WING parties usually formed coalitions to make decisions together, but by 1914 these parties had declined in influence, and the more left-wing parties such as the SOCIAL DEMOCRATS had gained influence.
Germany had a growing number of industrial workers, making the SDP appeal to more people, as they represented the rights of the workers.
Growth of Parliamentary Government (2)
Each of Germany’s 25 states had control over their own domestic matters, but this control diminished with the national government organising a national army, communications and social insurance schemes.
All of this meant:
- Most men were eligible to vote but had little real impact .
- The Kaiser and his ministers controlled almost everything in Germany The middle classes liked this, because they were afraid of the growing strength of the industrial workers and the left wing.
- By 1914 there was more support for left wing parties such as the Social Democrat Party who appealed to Germany's growing number of industrial workers.
- Even though all men could vote, the Kaiser made the important decisions with ministers who were all right wing. They were afraid of the growing political strength of the workers.
Influence of Prussian Militarism
Difficulties of ruling Germany : Influence of Prussian Militarism
Prussia was the largest and most influential of the 25 states, as it ha 2/3 of the German population and over half the territory. It had a proud tradition of military activity, and the army had sworn an oath of allegiance to the Kaiser.
The influence of the Prussian military chiefs often directed German foreign policy, which was concerned with overseas expansion and the acquisition of an empire.
Long-established countries on Germany’s borders were often viewed with suspicion.
The special status of the army was at odds with the development of DEMOCRATIC systems of government in Germany, but many Germans admired the army and what itstood for.
- The army swore on oath of loyalty to the Kaiser in return for an influence of German politics.
- The special status of the army was a threat to the development of democracy in Germany.
In 1880, Germany were producing half the amount of steel that Britain was, but by 1914 they were producing twice as much. This showed rapid industrialisation.
By 1914, Germany was producing 1/3 of the world’s electrical goods, and had the most advanced telephone system in the world.
Germany had leading chemical and steel industries, and foreign trade and exports flourished. 5
The population grew from 40million in 1871 to 68million in 1914, which provided the manpower for the growth of industrial cities.
By 1914, only 1/3 of the labour force was working in agriculture, and as a result, food imports rose rapidly.
- Germany's production of steel etc increased massively making them wealthier when they traded with other countries.
- This made Germany become an economic rival country to Britain.
Social Reform and the Growth of Socialism
German society was dominated by elite ruling classes who favoured RIGHT WING policies, and an AUTHORITARIAN style of rule.
The growing nubers of industrial workers posed a possible threat to this structure of society, and the ruling classes were fearful of the SOCIALIST movement.
Each German government tried to pacify the demands of the workers through social reforms such as:
- Old age pensions
- Sickness and accident insurance schemes
Many workers remained dissatisfied, and this led to continual growth I support for the SDP, and the COMMUNIST ideology of Karl Marx.
In 1912, the SDP gained nearly 1/3 of the seats in the Reichstag. This shows how widespread socialist sentiment was becoming.
Social Reform and the Growth of Socialism (2)
- As Germany had increasing production they had a rising number of workers. Pensions and sickness schemes were introduced to prevent the workers asking for more.
- However, as the Social Democrat Party gained a third of the seats in the Reichstag in 1912, it was clear the workers wanted more.
Domestic Importance of the German Navy Laws
To Wilhelm II, a large navy was essential for his colonial ambitions, and WELTPOLITIK.
He wanted to develop a navy to rival that of Great Britain.
Admiral von Tirpitz argued that Germany needed battleships that could compete with Britain’s, as success over the British Navy would ensure Germany’s place as a world power.
A large ship-building programme would also frighten the British government, and the hope was that this would make the British government more open to Germany’s colonisation of overseas territory and less likely to stand in their way.
After Tirpitz became State Secretary of the Navy in 1897, several ‘NAVAL LAWS’ were passed which had a profound effect on Anglo-German relations,, as well as affecting the lives and attitudes of many Germans.
Domestic Importance of the German Navy Laws (2)
1898 – The First Naval Law
Passed in spite of opposition from the SDP and the Conservative Party Allowed for the building of SEVEN new battleships in addition to the TWELVE Germany already possessed.
This would not be enough to match Britain or France, but was a turning point.
1900 – The Second Naval Law
Passed during the Boer War in South Africa Germany took the opportunity to sympathise with the Boers, who were fighting against the British.
This law doubled the size of the German fleet to 38 battleships.
This made it clear that the German navy was not just patrolling the coastline, but was directly attemptin to rival Britain.
This ENCOURAGED NATIONALIST ATTITUDES IN GERMANY, and created a fear of British ambitions.
Domestic Importance of the German Navy Laws (3)
Early 1900s- more Naval Laws were passed in the Reichstag
Increased size of German Navy Illustrated it’s importance
Encouraged the belief amongst Germans that Britain was attempting to become even more powerful, and prevent Germany becoming a Colonial Empire.
From 1902 onwards, a Naval Arms Race developed between Britain and Germany. Kaiser was in full support of Naval Expansion, it was seen as key to fulfilling German ambitions and a more powerful German empire.
- The Kaiser wanted a navy that rivalled the British navy and in 1897, several laws were passed affecting Germany's relation with Britain.
- In 1898, a law was passed that allowed for 7 more battleships to be built in the next 3 years.
- In 1900, another law allowed for Germany's navy to be 38 battleships.
- This developed a race between Germany and Britain
- The Kaiser wanted the naval expansions as he wanted to be taken seriously by countries like Britain and France to obtain oversea colonies.
A journey through Berlin in 1914 would have revealed prospering businesses and a well-educated and well-fed workforce.
There was great optimism about the power and strength of Germany. 4 years later in 1918 the same journey in Germany would have shown a drastically different picture. Although little fighting had taken place in Germany itself, the war had still destroyed much of the old Germany.
- The proud German army was defeated.
- The German people were surviving on turnips and bread.
- A flu epidemic was sweeping the country, killing thousands of people already weakened by rations
Impact of WW1
Germany was virtually Bankrupt:
- War left 600,000 widows and 2 million children without fathers - by 1925 the state was spending one-third of its budget in war pensions
- National income was about one-third of what it had been in 1913
- Industrial production was about two-thirds of what it had been in 1913
The war had deepened division in German society:
- There were huge gaps between the living standards of the rich and the poor
- Many Germans were bitter at the restrictions placed on their earnings during the war while the factory owners made vast fortunes during the war.
- During the war women were called up to work in factories. Many people saw this as damaging to trasitional family values and society as a whole
Germany had a revolution and became a democratic republic - the Weimar Republic:
- Stresses of war led to a revolution in October-November 1918 and the abdication of the Kaiser
- Many ex-soldiers and civilians despised the new democratic leaders and came to believe that the heroic leader Field Marshal Hindenburg had been betrayed by weak politicians.
The End of the Monarchy
The end of the monarchy, November 1918 In autumn 1918 the Allies had clearly won the war. Germany was in a state of chaos, as you have seen in Figure 8. The Allies offered Germany peace, but under strict conditions.
One condition was that Germany should become more democratic.
When the Kaiser refused, sailors in northern Germany mutinied and took over the town of Kiel. This triggered other revolts.
The Kaiser’s old enemies, the Socialists, led uprisings of workers and soldiers in other German ports. Soon, other German cities followed. In Bavaria an independent Socialist REPUBLIC was declared.
On 9 November 1918 the Kaiser, realising he had little choice, abdicated his throne and left Germany for the Netherlands.
Treaty of Versailles
The terms of the Treaty of Versailles were forced upon Germany by the “Big 3” - the leaders of Britain, the USA and France. The terms provided that:
- Germany had to accept the blame for starting the war.
- Germany was forbidden to have submarines or an air force. She could have a navy of only six battleships, and an army of just 100,000 men. In addition, Germany was not allowed to place any troops in the Rhineland, the ***** of land, 50 miles wide, next to France.
- Germany had to pay £6,600 million, called reparations, for the damage done duringthe war.
- Germany lost land in Europe. Germany’s colonies were given to Britain and France.
- Germany could not join the League of Nations.
- Germany could never unite with Austria.
Many of the German people were surprised when the armistice was signed, especially those fighting on the Western front where German troops had made some recent advances. One such soldier was Adolf Hitler who was later able to present the signing of the armistice as a betrayal of the German people, referring to the signatories as the “November Criminals” who had “stabbed in the back” the German soldiers; Dolchstosslegende.
Many Germans were “displaced” and now found themselves living outside Germany. Over time, the German people grew to resent the Treaty of Versailles and regard it as unfair and too harsh.
Germans felt betrayed. The end of the war had come suddenly and unexpectedly; their Kaiser had run away; the new government had to face all the problems that existed – political uncertainties, economic problems, and a crisis in German society.
In addition, a devastating outbreak of flu had swept across western Europe and killed many Germans who were suffering from malnourishment and had little resistance to germs.
At the end of any conflict, the victorious countries sought compensation from those NATIONS responsible for starting the war. At the conclusion to the First World War, Germany’s REPARATIONS were spelt out in the Treaty of Versailles, decided upon by the British, American and French leaders. Financial reparations were also enforced by the treaty. The bill, announced in April 1921, was set at £6,600 million, to be paid in annual instalments. This was 2 per cent of Germany’s annual output. The Germans protested that this was an intolerable strain on the economy, which they were struggling to rebuild after the war, but their protests were ignored.
Occupation of the Ruhr
The first instalment of £50 million was paid in 1921, but in 1922 nothing was paid.
Ebert, Socialist leader and German Chancellor, did his best to play for time and to negotiate concessions from the Allies, but the French in particular ran out of patience. They too had war debts to pay to the USA.
So in January 1923 French and Belgian troops entered the Ruhr, an industrial area of Germany near the French border. This was quite legal under the Treaty of Versailles.
They began to take what was owed to them in the form of raw materials and goods. The results of the occupation of the Ruhr were disastrous for Germany.
The government ordered the workers to carry out passive resistance, which meant to go on strike. That way, there would be nothing for the French to take away.
The French reacted harshly, killing over 100 workers and expelling over 100,000 protesters from the region. More importantly, the halt in industrial production in Germany’s most important region caused the collapse of the German currency.
Because it had no goods to trade, the government simply printed more money. For the government this seemed an attractive solution. It paid off its debts in worthless marks, including war loans of over £2,200 million.
The great industrialists were able to pay off all their debts as well. This set off a chain reaction. With so much money in circulation, prices and wages rocketed, but people soon realised that this money was worthless. Wages began to be paid daily instead of weekly. Workers needed wheelbarrows to carry home their wages.
The price of goods could rise between joining the back of a queue in a shop and reaching the front! Poor people suffered, but the greatest casualties were the richer Germans – those with savings. Prosperous middle-class families would find that their savings in the bank, which might have bought them a house in 1921, by 1923 would not even buy a loaf of bread.Pensioners found that their previously ample monthly pension would not even buy a cup of coffee.
It was clear to all, both inside and outside Germany, that the situation needed urgent action.
In August 1923 a new government under Gustav Stresemann took over. He called off the passive resistance in the Ruhr. He called in the worthless marks and burned them, replacing them with a new currency called the Rentenmark.
He negotiated to receive American loans under the Dawes Plan. He even renegotiated the reparations payments .
The economic crisis was solved very quickly. Some historians suggest that this is evidence that Germany’s problems were not as severe as its politicians had made out.
It was also increasingly clear, however, that the HYPERINFLATION had done great political damage to the Weimar government.
Right-wing opponents had yet another problem to blame the government for, and the government had lost the support of the middle classes.
The day after the Kaiser fled, Friedrich Ebert became the new leader of the Republic of Germany.
He immediately signed an ARMISTICE with the Allies. The war was over. He also announced to the German people that the new Republic was giving them
- freedom of speech
- freedom of worship
- better working conditions.
A new constitution was drawn up. The success of the new government depended on the German people accepting an almost instant change from the traditional, AUTOCRATIC German system of government to this new democratic system. The prospects for this did not look good.
The reaction of politicians in Germany was unenthusiastic.
Ebert had opposition from both right and left. On the right wing, nearly all the Kaiser’s former advisers remained in their positions in the army, judiciary, civil service and industry. They restricted what the new government could do. Many still hoped for a return to rule by the Kaiser.
A powerful myth developed that men such as Ebert had stabbed Germany in the back and caused German defeat in the war.
On the left wing there were many Communists who believed that at this stage what Germany actually needed was a Communist revolution just like Russia’s in 1917. Despite this opposition, in January 1919 free elections took place for the first time in Germany’s history.
Ebert’s party won a majority and he became the President of the Weimar Republic. It was called this because, to start with, the new government met in the small town of Weimar rather than in the German capital, Berlin. Even in February 1919, Berlin was thought to be too violent and unstable.
The Weimar Constitution
- Before the war Germany had had no real DEMOCRACY. The Kaiser was virtually a dictator.
- The Weimar Constitution, on the other hand, attempted to set up probably the most democratic system in the world where no individual could gain too much power.
- All Germans over the age of 20 could vote.
- There was a system of PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION – if a party gained 20 per cent of the votes, they gained 20 per cent of the seats in the Parliament (Reichstag).
- The Chancellor was responsible for day-to-day government, but he needed the support of half the Reichstag.
- The Head of State was the President. The President stayed out of day-today government. In a crisis he could rule the country directly through Article 48 of the Constitution. This gave him emergency powers, which meant he did not have to consult the Reichstag
Communist party SPARTACISTS. They were led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.
They argued strongly against Ebert’s plans for a democratic Germany. They wanted a Germany ruled by workers’ councils or soviets
The Communist KPD hated the new government: Spartacists were made up of rebel soldiers and sailors.
In Jan 1919, 50,000 Spartacists rebelled in Berlin. They were quickly shut down by Ebert and his army of ex-soldiers (friekorps). They attempted to take over Newspaper and Telegraph headquarters. Overall failed as they didn't have enough support
Bitter street fighting followed between the Spartacists and Freikorps. Both sides were heavily armed and casualties were high. The Freikorps crushed the rebellion and Liebknecht and Luxemburg were murdered.
In 1919, Communist Workers’ Councils seized power all over Germany, and a Communist ‘People’s Government’ took power in Bavaria. Ebert used the Freikorps (unemployed soldiers) to put down the revolt.
he Freikorps and The Kapp Putsch: in March 1920, a Freikorps brigade rebelled against the Treaty, led by Dr Wolfgang Kapp. It took over Berlin and tried to bring back the Kaiser. In the same year terrorist groups murdered 356 politicians and in August 1921 Matthias Erzberger, the man who signed the armistice (a 'November criminal'), was shot.
In March 1920 Dr Wolfgang Kapp led 5,000 Freikorps into Berlin in a rebellion known as the Kapp PUTSCH (‘Putsch’ means rebellion). The army refused to fire on the Freikorps and it looked as if Ebert’s government was doomed. However, it was saved by the German people, especially the industrial workers of Berlin. They declared a general strike which brought the capital to a halt with no transport, power or water. After a few days Kapp realised he could not succeed and left the country. He was hunted down and died while awaiting trial. It seemed that Weimar had support and power after all. Even so, the rest of the rebels went unpunished by the courts and judges.
Ebert’s government struggled to deal with the political violence in Germany. Political ASSASSINATIONS were frequent. In the summer of 1922, Ebert’s Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau was murdered by extremists.
On 8 November, Hitler hijacked a local government meeting and announced he was taking over the government of Bavaria. He was joined by the old war hero Ludendorff.
Nazi storm troopers began taking over official buildings. The next day, however, the Weimar government forces hit back. Police rounded up the storm troopers and in a brief exchange of shots 16 Nazis were killed by the police.
The rebellion broke up in chaos. Hitler escaped in a car, while Ludendorff and others stayed to face the armed police. Hitler had miscalculated the mood of the German people. In the short term, the Munich Putsch was a disaster for him. People did not rise up to support him. He and other leading Nazis were arrested and charged with treason.
At the trial, however, Hitler gained enormous publicity for himself and his ideas, as his every word was reported in the newspapers.
In fact, Hitler so impressed the judges that he and his accomplices got off very lightly. Ludendorff was freed altogether and Hitler was given only five years in prison, even though the legal guidelines said that high treason should carry a life sentence. In the end, Hitler served only nine months of the sentence and did so in great comfort in Landsberg castle.
Stresemann Era (1924-1929)
Politics became more stable. There were no more attempted revolutions after 1923
By 1928 the moderate parties had 136 more seats in the Reichstag than the radical parties. Hitler’s Nazi Party gained less than 3 per cent of the vote in the 1928 election. Just as important, some of the parties who had co-operated in the revolution of 1918 began to co-operate again. The Socialists (SPD), Catholic Centre Party, German Democratic Party (DDP) and the German People’s Party (DVP) generally worked well together in the years 1924–29.
Despite the relative stability of Weimar politics in this period, both the Nazis and Communists were building up their party organisations. Even during these stable years there were four different Chancellors and it was only the influence of party leaders that held the party coalitions together.
Despite increased support for more moderate parties, was that around 30 per cent of the vote regularly went to parties opposed to the Republic. The right-wing Nationalist Party (DNVP) and the Nazis began to collaborate closely and make themselves appear more respectable. Another event which would turn out to be very significant was that the German people elected Hindenburg as President in 1926. He was opposed to democracy and wrote to the Kaiser in exile for approval before he took up the post! It was clear that the Weimar Republic had not yet won the loyalty of all sections of German society.
The Nazi Party in the late 1920s
After the failed Munich Putsch, Hitler used his time in prison to write a book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle). It set out at great length his ideas about how the Nazis should develop as a party. He came to the conclusion that trying to seize power by force was a mistake. The Nazi Party would have to work within the democratic system to achieve power, but once they had achieved it, this system could be destroyed.
Once out of prison, Hitler copied the Communist Party by seeking to strengthen the party, for example, by setting up youth organisations and recruitment drives. Hitler was encouraged that the Nazi Party gained 32 seats in the Reichstag elections of 1924. However in 1928 the Nazis gained only 12 seats. The party was gaining little support from the industrial workers who were more inclined to support the Communist groups. Therefore he decided to focus much more on other groups in society.
Although Chancellor for only a few months, Stresemann was a leading member of every government from 1923 to 1929. He was a more skilful politician than Ebert, he had a wider support from business interests as a right-winger.
Through the 1920s the rest of Europe was gradually coming out of its post-war depression. Slowly but surely, he built up Germany’s prosperity again. First he called in the worthless marks and replaced them with a new currency called the Rentenmark. This provided confidence and stability.
After the crisis of 1923 the American government stepped in to offer financial support for Germany. It was in the USA’s interest for Germany to be able to build up her international trade again. They lended 800 million under the Dawe's Plan of 1924 and spread over a longer time.
Some of the money went into German industry, replacing old equipment with the latest technology. It also funded pools, sport centers.... As well as providing facilities, these projects created jobs. By 1927 German industry had recovered very well. In 1928 Germany achieved the same levels of production as before the war and was the world’s second greatest industrial power (behind the USA). Wages for industrial workers rose and for many Germans there was a higher standard of living. Reparations were being paid and exports were on the increase. The government was even able to increase welfare benefits and wages for state employees.
Dawes Plan (1924)
The Dawes Plan 1924 was an agreement signed between the Allies and Germany. It was devised by a banker from the United States called Charles G. Dawes. The need for such a plan came about as the Allies were fed up with Germany not paying the reparations.
The basic idea behind the plan was to make it easier for Germany to pay the reparations. In order to do this there were two strands to the plan.
Reparations reduced in the short term to 50 million pounds per year
The United States would give loans to Germany to be used on their industrial capacity. The loans totalled $25 billion.
As a result of the signing of the deal, the reparations payments were resumed, and the occupation of the Ruhr came to an end.
These measures took steps to improve the German economy. As a result of US loans Germany industry thrived and employment increased. The government also saw tax revenues increase as a result of the increased employment.
Locarno Treaties (1925)
Stresemann worked hard to improve Germany’s international reputation during this period. In 1925 the Locarno Treaties were agreed in which Germany promised to respect its existing borders with France and Belgium.
Aims of the pact:
- Secure borders of the nations of Europe after the First World War
- To ensure the permanent demilitarization of the Rhineland. This was a key condition argued for by France. France had been invaded a significant number of times in the previous century by Germany so the French were understandably weary about German military force.
- The final agreed action from the Locarno Pact was that negotiations would start to allow Germany into the League of Nations.
Consequently, in 1926, Germany was admitted into the League of Nations. This in turn aided German recovery, as trade between the increasingly trusted and respected Germany, and other countries, increased.
Stresseman later was awarded the noble peace prize in 1926, as a result of the work he had done for Germany in developing her foreign relations
Young Plan (1929)
The Young Plan was an another plan agreed between Germany and the Allies. Similarly to the Dawes Plan it was named after the US Banker who oversaw the plan. Owen Young was appointed by the Allies to draw up the new plan.
The Young Plan was simple, it cut the total reparation payments down from £6.6billion to £2 billion. As well as the reduction in the total reparations from the war, the Young Plan also gave another 59 years to pay the reparations to the Allies. This meant that Germany would be paying reparations until 1988.
Whilst this agreement made it easier for Germany to repay the war reparations, the deal did not please everyone in Germany especially those who resented the Treaty of Versailles such as the National Socialists. Despite this opposition, most ordinary German people saw the plan as a success. When the Republic held a referendum on the Plan 85% of the electorate voted in favour of the plan.
Although many of Stresemann’s actions strengthened the German economy, the picture was mixed. The economic boom in Weimar Germany was precarious as US loans could be called in at short notice, which would cause ruin in Germany. The main economic winners in Germany were big businesses (such as the steel and chemical industries) which controlled about half of Germany’s industrial production.
Other winners were big landowners, particularly if they owned land in towns – the value of land in Berlin rose by 700 per cent in this period. The workers in the big industries gained as well. Most Weimar governments were sympathetic towards the unions, which led to improved pay and conditions. However, even here there were concerns as unemployment began to rise – it was 6 per cent of the working population by 1928.
The main losers were the peasant farmers and sections of the middle classes. The peasant farmers had increased production during the war. In peacetime, they found themselves overproducing. They had mortgages to pay but not enough demand for the food they produced. Many small business owners became disillusioned during this period. Small shopkeepers saw their businesses threatened by large department stores (many of which were owned by Jews). A university lecturer in 1913 earned ten times as much as a coal miner. In the 1920s he earned twice as much. These people began to feel that the Weimar government offered them little
During the 1920s there was also a cultural revival in Germany. In the Kaiser’s time there had been strict censorship, but the Weimar Constitution allowed free expression of ideas
Writers and poets flourished, especially in Berlin. Artists in Weimar Germany turned their back on old styles of painting and tried to represent the reality of everyday life, even when that reality was sometimes harsh and shocking.
Artists like George Grosz produced powerful paintings, which criticised the politicians of the Weimar period. Other paintings by Grosz showed how many soldiers had been traumatised by their experiences in the war.
Otto Dix produced paintings which highlighted the gaps between the rich and poor in Germany at the time.
The famous Bauhaus style of design and architecture developed. Artists such as Walter Gropius, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky taught at the Bauhaus design college in Dessau. The Bauhaus architects rejected traditional styles to create new and exciting buildings. They produced designs for anything from houses and shops
Weimar Culture (2)
The 1920s were a golden age for German cinema, producing one of its greatest ever international stars, Marlene Dietrich, and one of its most celebrated directors, Fritz Lang. Berlin was famous for its daring and liberated night life. Going to clubs was a major pastime. In 1927 there were 900 dance bands in Berlin alone. Cabaret artists performed songs criticising political leaders that would have been banned in the Kaiser’s days. These included songs about sex that would have shocked an earlier generation of Germans
The Weimar culture was colourful and exciting to many. However, in many of Germany’s villages and country towns, the culture of the cities seemed to represent a moral decline, made worse by American immigrants and Jewish artists and musicians. As you have read, the Bauhaus design college was in Dessau. It was situated there because it was forced out of Weimar by hostile town officials.
Organisations such as the Wandervogel movement were a reaction to Weimar’s culture. The Wandervogel wanted a return to simple country values and wanted to see more help for the countryside and less decadence in the towns. It was a powerful feeling which the Nazis successfully harnessed in later years
Germany and the growth of democracy (SUMMARY)
- Wilhelm II became Kaiser of Germany in 1890. His character was likely to pose problems.
- In the period 1890–1914, the new German government was increasingly dominated by militarism and nationalism.
- In the decades before the First World War Germany was becoming more industrialised.
- Germany suffered badly in the First World War, with civilians in cities experiencing food and fuel shortages.
- In November 1918, days before the end of the war, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated.
- In 1919 the Treaty of Versailles punished Germany, setting out severe reparations terms.
- The Weimar Republic was established in 1919, but it faced political and economic problems arising from the chaos in Germany after the war.
- In 1923 the French occupied the Ruhr to try to claim their reparations payments.
- The same year also saw the economic crisis caused by hyperinflation and Hitler’s attempt to seize power (the Munich Putsch).
- From 1924 onwards Stresemann was the leading minister, and Germany began to recover economically and improve its relations with other countries.
- In October 1929 the Wall Street Crash shattered the German recovery
The Great Depression
In 1929 the American stock market crashed and sent the USA into a disastrous economic depression. In a very short time, countries around the world began to feel the effects of this depression. Germany was particularly badly affected. American bankers and businessmen lost huge amounts of money in the crash. To pay off their debts they asked German banks to repay the money they had borrowed. The result was economic collapse in Germany. Businesses went bankrupt, workers were laid off and unemployment rocketed
The Depression was a worldwide problem. It was not just Germany that suffered. Nor was the Weimar government the only government grappling with the problem of unemployment. However, because Germany had been so dependent on American loans, and because it still had to pay reparations to the Allies, the problems were most acute in Germany.
In addition, it seemed that the Weimar Constitution, with its careful balance of power, made firm and decisive action by the government very difficult indeed.
Thus all sections of society were affected in different ways – from business leaders to industrial workers. The effects were not just economic. The recently gained mood of optimism vanished, and the defects of Weimar Germany, mostly hidden in the later 1920s, suddenly became glaringly obvious
Growth in support for extremist parties, 1928–32
The effects of the Wall Street Crash, leading to economic depression in Germany, convinced many Germans that the government of the Weimar Republic had failed.
The Germans blamed the Weimar Government and the politician.
The people of Germany turned to extremist parties, as they lost all hope on the Weimar Republic. The far-right and far-left parties provided ideological solutions which were seen attractive by the struggling Germans
Therefore many turned to the Communists who promised a workers’ revolution, or they looked to the right-wing parties, especially the Nazis with their promises of a return to strong rule and the restoration of Germany’s status in the world.
The Appeal of the Nazi Party
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 armaments and be used for public works like road building!
The Nazis’ 25-Point Programme was very attractive to those most vulnerable to the effects of 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 but they had not won support for the Nazis in the Stresemann years. The difference now was that the democratic parties simply could not get Germany back to work.
In the 1930 elections the Nazis won 107 seats. In November 1932 they won 196 seats. They did not yet have an overall majority, but they were now the biggest single party.
Hitler provided solutions to everyone's problems, allowing the Nazi Party to become the single biggest party as they gained the support of a wide audience.
Hitler and his supporters made promises that appealed to many people. Hitler’s PROPAGANDA chief, Joseph Goebbels, simplified the main policies so that they could be easily understood by everyone.
The promises made by the Nazi Party
- They talked about a return to traditional values.
- They criticised the democratic system of the Weimar Republic and its failure to solve the nation’s economic problems.
- They promised employment and economic strength.
- They cited the Jews, Communists, Weimar politicians and the Treaty of Versailles as the root causes of Germany’s problems.
Because these were expressed as generalised beliefs, rather than detailed policies, it was difficult to criticise them, and they appealed to large sections of society. When the Nazis were criticised over a specific policy, they were very likely to drop it. This happened when their plans to nationalise industry were criticised by industrialists. There is no doubt that Nazi campaign methods were modern and effective. Goebbels understood how effectively propaganda could be used and the Nazis’ posters and pamphlets could be found everywhere. Their rallies impressed people with their energy, enthusiasm and sheer size.
The Role of the SA
This military group was important in the Nazi rise to power. It protected Nazi rallies and disrupted the meetings of political opponents. Although the organisation gave the impression of order, its members were not always strictly disciplined and were not fully under Hitler’s control. They were known as the Brownshirts.
The Nazi Party was also seen as a party of order, in a time of chaos. During this period there were frequent street battles between Communist gangs and the police. In contrast, the SA and ** gave an impression of discipline and order. Many people welcomed the fact that the SA were prepared to fight the Communists . The SA were better organised and usually had the support of the police and army when they beat up opponents and disrupted meetings and rallies.
Originally part of the SA in the 1920s, but the organisation became separate under Heinrich Himmler. The ** swore total loyalty to Hitler, were tightly disciplined, and were known as the Blackshirts
The Nazis’ greatest campaigning asset was Hitler. He was a powerful speaker who was years ahead of his time as a communicator. Hitler ran for president in 1932, winning 13 million votes to Hindenburg’s 19 million. Despite Hitler’s defeat, the campaign raised his profile hugely. Using films, radio and records he brought his message to millions. He travelled by plane on a hectic tour of rallies all over Germany. He appeared as a dynamic man of the moment, the leader of a modern party with modern ideas. At the same time, he was able to appear to be a man of the people, someone who knew and understood the Germans and their problems
Not everyone was taken in by Nazi campaigning methods and Hitler’s magnetism. But even some of the sceptics supported the Nazis. The historian Gordon Craig believed that this was because of something he called ‘negative cohesion’. This meant that people supported the Nazis not because they shared Nazi views (that would be positive cohesion) but because they shared Nazi fears and dislikes. In what was seen as a modern, decadent culture, the Nazis could count on the support of those who felt traditional German values were under threat. The SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY made a grave mistake in thinking that German people would not fall for these vague promises and accusations. They underestimated the fear and anger that German people felt towards the Weimar Republic
Failure of Wiemar Democracy
Politicians seemed unable to tackle the problems of the Depression. When the Depression began to bite in 1930 the Chancellor, Heinrich Brüning, pursued a tough economic policy. He cut government spending and welfare benefits. He urged Germans to make sacrifices. Some historians think that he was deliberately making the situation worse in order to get the international community to cancel reparations payments.
Other historians think that he was afraid of hyperinflation recurring as in 1923. In protest, the SPD (still the main party in the Reichstag) pulled out of the government. To get his measures passed, Brüning relied on President Hindenburg to use his powers under Article 48 to bypass the Reichstag.
Brüning and Hindenburg decided to call new elections in 1930. This was a disastrous decision, as it gave the Nazis the opportunity to exploit the fear and discontent in Germany and make the gains. The new elections resulted in another divided Reichstag, and the problems continued into 1931 and 1932. The impression was that democracy involved politicians squabbling over which job they would get in the Cabinet. Meanwhile, they did nothing about the real world, where unemployment was heading towards 6 million and the average German’s income had fallen by 40 per cent since 1929. The Reichstag met fewer times (for only five days in 1932). Brüning had to continue to rely on Hindenburg using his emergency powers, bypassing the democratic process altogether.
After the Reichstag elections of July 1932 the Nazis were the largest single party (with 230 seats) but not a majority party. Hitler demanded the role of Chancellor from Hindenburg (president), but he refused and . He allowed the current Chancellor Franz von Papen (an old friend of Hindenburg) to carry on as Chancellor. He then used his emergency powers to pass the measures that von Papen had hoped would solve the unemployment problem
Von Papen was soon in trouble. He had virtually no support at all in the Reichstag and so called yet another election in November 1932
Hitler regarded the election as a disaster for the Nazis. The Nazis started to run out of funding. It is said heeven threatened suicide
Hindenburg again refused to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. In December 1932 he chose Kurt von Schleicher
Within a month, however, von Schleicher too was forced to resign. By this time it was clear that the Weimar system of government was not working
the role of Papen and Hindenburg
Hitler demanded the post of Chancellor from the President, the old war hero Hindenburg. However, he was suspicious of Hitler and refused. He allowed the current Chancellor Franz von Papen (an old friend) to carry on as Chancellor. He then used his emergency powers to pass the measures that von Papen had hoped would solve the unemployment problem
However, von Papen was soon in trouble. He had virtually no support at all in the Reichstag and so called yet another election in November 1932. The Nazis again came out as the largest party, although their share of the vote fell.
Hindenburg again refused to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. In December 1932 he chose Kurt von Schleicher, one of his own advisers and a bitter rival of von Papen. Von Papen remained as an adviser to Hindenburg. Within a month, however, von Schleicher too was forced to resign. By this time it was clear that the Weimar system of government was not working. In one sense, Hindenburg had already overthrown the principles of democracy by running Germany with emergency powers. If he was to rescue the democratic system, he needed a Chancellor who actually had support in the Reichstag.
Through January 1933 Hindenburg and von Papen met secretly with industrialists,army leaders and politicians. And on 30 January, to everyone’s great surprise, they offered Hitler the post of Chancellor. They believed that they could control Hitler and gain support.
The Establishment of Hitler's Dictatorship
Through January 1933 Hindenburg and von Papen met secretly with industrialists, army leaders and politicians. And on 30 January, to everyone’s great surprise, they offered Hitler the post of Chancellor. Why? With only a few Nazis in the Cabinet and von Papen as Vice Chancellor, they were confident that they could limit Hitler’s influence and resist his extremist demands. The idea was that the policies would be made by the Cabinet, which was filled with conservatives like von Papen. Hitler would be there to get support in the Reichstag for those policies and to control the Communists. So Hitler ended up as Chancellor not because of the will of the German people, but through a behind-the-scenes deal by some German aristocrats. Both Hindenburg and von Papen were sure that they could control Hitler. Both were very wrong.
It is easy to forget, but when Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933 he was in a very precarious position. Few people thought he would hold on to power for long. Even fewer thought that by the summer of 1934 he would be the supreme dictator of Germany. He achieved this through a clever combination of methods – some legal, others dubious. He also managed to defeat or reach agreements with those who could have stopped him.
How did Hitler become Chancellor in 1933?
- Hitler’s speaking skills
- Nazi propaganda campaigns
- The Nazis’ violent treatment of their opponents
- Nazis’ criticisms of the Weimar system of government
- Nazi policies O Support from big business
- Failure to deal with the Depression
- Failure to co-operate with one another
- Attitudes of Germans to the democratic parties
- Weaknesses of the Weimar Republic
- Scheming of Hindenburg and von Papen
- The impact of the Depression
- The Treaty of Versailles
- Memories of the problems of 1923
the Reichstag Fire
Once he was Chancellor, Hitler took steps to complete a Nazi takeover of Germany. He called another election for March 1933 to try to get an overall Nazi majority in the Reichstag. Germany’s cities again witnessed speeches, rallies, processions and street fighting. Hitler was using the same tactics as in previous elections, but now he had the resources of state media and control of the streets. Even so, success was in the balance.
Then on 27 February there was a dramatic development; the Reichstag building burned down. Hitler blamed the Communists and declared that the fire was the beginning of a Communist uprising. A young Dutch Communist, named Marinus van der Lubbe, was arrested at the scene and was said to have confessed to starting the fire. Hitler demanded special emergency powers to deal with the situation and was given them by President Hindenburg. The Nazis used these powers to arrest Communists, break up meetings and frighten voters.
There have been many theories about what caused the fire, including that it was an accident, the work of a madman, or a Communist plot. Many Germans at the time thought that the Nazis might have started the fire themselves.
The Enabling At
In the election of early March 1933, the Nazis won their largest-ever share of the votes and, with the support of the smaller Nationalist Party who got 52 seats, Hitler had an overall majority. He could use this to destroy the Constitution of the Weimar Republic.
Using the SA and **, Hitler then intimidated the Reichstag into passing the Enabling Act which allowed him to make laws without consulting the Reichstag. Only the SPD voted against him.
Following the election, the Communists had been banned. The Catholic Centre Party decided to co-operate with the Nazis rather than be treated like the Communists. In return, they retained control of Catholic schools. The Enabling Act made Hitler a virtual dictator. For the next four years if he wanted a new law he could just pass it. There was nothing President Hindenburg or anyone else could do.
The elimination of political opposition in 1933
Within six months of Hitler becoming Chancellor, all political opposition had been silenced:
- 30 January Hitler appointed Chancellor.
- 27 February Reichstag Fire. Arrest of 4,000 Communists.
- 28 February Emergency Decree issued by Hindenburg.
- 5 March Reichstag elections – Nazis gained 44 per cent of votes. With support of Nationalist Party, Nazis had 52 per cent of votes.
- 13 March Goebbels took control of all media.
- 24 March Enabling Act – Hitler could pass decrees without the President being involved.
- April Civil service, law courts and education purged of opponents of the Nazis.
- 2 May Trade unions banned. All German workers to belong to new German Labour Front.
- 14 July Law Against Formation of New Parties. Germany becomes a one-party state.
- 20 July Concordat (agreement) between state and Catholic Church
The Night of the Long Knives, June 1934
Hitler was still not entirely secure, however. The leading officers in the army were not impressed by him and were particularly suspicious of Hitler’s SA and its leader, Ernst Röhm. The SA was a badly disciplined force and, what’s more, Röhm talked of making the SA into a second German army. Hitler himself was also suspicious of Röhm. Hitler feared that Röhm’s control over the 4 million SA men made him a potentially dangerous rival.
Hitler had to choose between the army and the SA. He made his choice and acted ruthlessly. On the weekend of 29–30 June 1934 squads of ** men broke into the homes of Röhm and other leading figures in the SA and arrested them. Hitler accused Röhm of plotting to overthrow and murder him. Over the weekend Röhm and possibly as many as 400 others were executed. These included the former Chancellor von Schleicher, a fierce critic of Hitler, and others who actually had no connection with Röhm. Although the killings took place over the whole weekend, this purge came to be known as the Night of the Long Knives.
Hindenburg thanked Hitler for his ‘determined action which has nipped treason in the bud’. The army said it was well satisfied with the events of the weekend. The SA was not disbanded afterwards. It remained as a Nazi PARAMILITARY organisation, but was very much subordinate to the ** and never regained the influence of 1933. Many of its members were absorbed by the army and the **.
Der Führer, August 1934
Soon after the Night of the Long Knives, Hindenburg died and Hitler took over as Supreme Leader (Führer) of Germany. On 2 August 1934 the entire army swore an oath of personal loyalty to Adolf Hitler as Führer of Germany.
The army agreed to stay out of politics and to serve Hitler. In return, Hitler spent vast sums on REARMAMENT, brought back CONSCRIPTION and made plans to make Germany a great military power again. Hitler had total control, in theory, over the government and the armed forces.
Germany and the Depression
- In 1929 the STOCK MARKET collapse in Wall Street, New York, USA, led to economic chaos across the world.
- There were worsening economic problems in Germany in 1930–32.
- Extremist parties gained more support – the Nazis and the Communists.
- In May 1932 Hitler stood for President, but was defeated by Hindenburg. However, the Nazis were the largest party in two successive Reichstag elections.
- In January 1933 Hitler was invited to be Chancellor, with von Papen as Vice-Chancellor.
- The Reichstag Fire in February 1933 gave Hitler the excuse to act against the Communists.
- In March 1933 the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which gave Hitler the ability to pass his own laws.
- In April 1933 all civil servants and teachers who were not Nazi supporters were removed from their posts.
- In May 1933 no political party other than the Nazis was allowed. Trade unions were banned.
- Hitler saw the SA as a possible threat to his power, and in the Night of the Long Knives, June 1934, leading SA members were killed.
- Hitler became Führer in August 1934 after the death of President Hindenburg.
Hitler and the Nazis came to power because they promised to use radical methods to solve the country’s two main problems – unemployment and a crisis in German farming. In return for work and other benefits, The German people gave up their political freedom.
At first, many Germans felt it was worth it, such as the 5 million who were unemployed in 1933. Hitler was fortunate in that by 1933 the worst of the Depression was over. The Nazis acted with energy and commitment to solve some of the main problems. The brilliant economist Dr Hjalmar Schacht organised Germany’s finances to fund a huge programme of work creation. The National Labour Service sent men on public works projects and conservation programmes, in particular to build a network of motorways or autobahns. Railways were extended or built from scratch. There were major house-building programmes and grandiose new public building projects such as the Reich Chancellery in Berlin.
One of Hitler’s plans was rearmament. In 1935 he reintroduced conscription for the German army. In 1936 he announced a Four-Year Plan under the control of Goering to get the German economy ready for war (one of the very few clear policy documents that Hitler wrote). The aim was to achieve self-sufficiency in as many aspects of the economy as possible. Conscription reduced unemployment. The need for weapons, equipment and uniforms created jobs in the coal mines, steel industry and textile mills. Engineers and designers gained new opportunities, particularly when Hitler decreed that Germany would have a world-class air force (the Luftwaffe). As well as bringing economic recovery, these measures boosted Hitler’s popularity because they boosted national pride. Germans began to feel that their country was finally emerging from the humiliation of the Great War and the Treaty of Versailles, and putting itself on an equal footing with the other GREAT POWERS.
Hitler promised (and delivered) lower unemployment which helped to ensure popularity among industrial workers. Hitler needed good workers to create the industries that would help to make Germany great and establish a new German empire in eastern Europe. Hitler banned trade unions and created the German Labour Front (DAF) – headed by Dr Robert Ley. The DAF kept strict control of workers. It was forbidden to strike for better pay and conditions and in some areas workers were prevented from moving to better paid jobs
Hitler also won the loyalty of industrial workers by a variety of initiatives:
- Schemes such as Strength through Joy (KDF) gave them cheap theatre and cinema tickets, and organised courses, trips and sports events. Workers were offered cut-price cruises on the latest luxury liners.
- Many thousands of workers saved five marks a week in the state scheme to buy the Volkswagen Beetle, the ‘people’s car’. It was designed by Ferdinand Porsche and became a symbol of the prosperous new Germany, even though no workers ever received a car because all car production was halted by the war in 1939.
- Another important scheme was the Beauty of Labour movement. This improved working conditions in factories. It introduced features not seen in many workplaces before, such as washing facilities and low-cost canteens.
The farmers had been an important factor in the Nazis’ rise to power.
Hitler did not forget this and introduced a series of measures to help them. In September 1933 he introduced the Reich Food Estate. This set up central boards to buy agricultural produce from the farmers and distribute it to markets across Germany. It gave the peasant farmers a guaranteed market for their goods at guaranteed prices. The second main measure was the Reich Entailed Farm Law. It gave peasants state protection for their farms: banks could not seize their land if they could not pay loans or mortgages. This ensured that peasants’ farms stayed in their hands.
The Reich Entailed Farm Law also had a racial aim. Part of the Nazi philosophy was ‘Blood and Soil’, the belief that the peasant farmers were the basis of Germany’s master race. They would be the backbone of the new German Empire in the east. As a result, their way of life had to be protected. However, rather like the industrial workers, some peasants were not thrilled with the regime’s measures. The Reich Food Estate meant that efficient, go-ahead farmers were held back by having to work through the same processes as less efficient farmers. Because of the Reich Entailed Farm Law, banks were unwilling to lend money to farmers. It also meant that only the eldest child inherited the farm. As a result, many children of farmers left the land to work for better pay in Germany’s industries. Rural depopulation ran at about 3 per cent per year in the 1930s – the exact opposite of the Nazis’ aims!
Big business and the middle classes
The record of the Nazis with the middle classes was also mixed. Certainly many middle-class business people were grateful to the Nazis for eliminating the Communist threat to their businesses and properties. They also liked the way in which the Nazis seemed to be bringing order to Germany. For the owners of small businesses it was a mixed picture. If you owned a small engineering firm, you were likely to do well from government orders as rearmament spending grew in the 1930s. However, if you produced consumer goods or ran a small shop, you might well struggle. Despite Hitler’s promises, the large department stores which were taking business away from local shops were not closed.
It was big business that really benefited from Nazi rule. The big companies no longer had to worry about troublesome trade unions and strikes. Companies such as the chemicals giant IG Farben gained huge government contracts to make explosives, fertilisers and even artificial oil from coal. Other household names today, such as Mercedes and Volkswagen, prospered from Nazi policies.
Impact of the war on the German economy and the pe
Germans had no great enthusiasm for war. People still had memories of the First World War. But in war, as in peacetime, the Nazis used all methods available to make the German people support the regime. Food rationing was introduced soon after war began in September 1939. Clothes rationing followed in November 1939. Even so, from 1939 to 1941 it was not difficult to keep up civilian morale because the war went spectacularly well for Germany. Hitler was in control of much of western and eastern Europe and supplies of luxury goods flowed into Germany from captured territories. However, in 1941 Hitler took the massive gamble of invading the Soviet Union, and for the next three years his troops were engaged in an increasingly expensive war with Russian forces who ‘tore the heart out of the German army’, as the British war leader, Winston Churchill, put it. As the tide turned against the German armies, civilians found their lives increasingly disrupted. They had to cut back on heating, work longer hours and recycle their rubbish. Goebbels redoubled his censorship efforts. He tried to maintain people’s support for the war by involving them in it through asking them to make sacrifices. They donated an estimated 1.5 million fur coats to help to clothe the German army in Russia.
State control of the economy from 1942 onwards
From 1942, Albert Speer (as Minister of Armaments and War Production) began to direct Germany’s war economy. All effort focused on the armament industries. Postal services were suspended and letter boxes were closed. All places of entertainment were closed, except cinemas – Goebbels needed these to show propaganda films. Women were drafted into the labour force in increasing numbers. Country areas had to take evacuees from the cities and refugees from eastern Europe.
These measures were increasingly carried out by the **. In fact, the ** became virtually a state within the German state. This ** empire had its own armed forces, armaments industries and labour camps. It developed a business empire that was worth a fortune. However, even the ** could not win the war, let alone keep up German morale.
Bombing on German cities
British bombing on German cities began in 1942 when the north German city of Lubeck was virtually destroyed. Between 1943 and 1945, with American help, major bombing assaults were made on cities such as Hamburg and Dresden. Overall, it is estimated that about half a million German civilians died and three-quarters of a million were wounded, while 7.5 million German civilians were made homeless.
The loss of morale among German civilians
With defeat looming, support for the Nazis weakened. Germans stopped declaring food they had. They stayed away from Nazi rallies. They refused to give the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute when asked to do so. Himmler even contacted the Allies to ask about possible peace terms.
By 1945 the German people were in a desperate state. As well as those made homeless by Allied bombings, refugees were fleeing the advancing Russian armies in the east. In eastern Germany over 3 million Germans were fleeing, but they got no help from the retreating German army.
No transport was easily available as priority was given to retreating German troops and to moving equipment. Most of those fleeing were forced to walk hundreds of miles, with attendant cold, hunger and disease. Over half a million died on the journey. When the survivors reached western Germany they found cities devastated by bombing and chronic food shortages.
Germany and the Second World War
- Sept 1939 German invasion of Poland Spring
- 1940 German invasion of Holland, Belgium and France
- Summer 1940 Start of the Battle of Britain
- Spring 1941 German invasion of Balkans
- June 1941 German invasion of the USSR
- October 1942 German defeat at El Alamein in North Africa
- February 1943 German army surrenders to Russians at Stalingrad
- June 1944 Allied invasion of Europe (D-Day landings)
- January 1945 Russian and Allied troops move in on Germany
- May 1945 End of war in Europe; Hitler commits suicide.
Social policy and practice
Hitler wanted all Germans to think of themselves as part of a national community. Their first loyalty would be to Germany and the Führer, not to their regional area or group within society. They would be proud to belong to a great nation. Hitler’s policies towards each group were designed to encourage this kind of loyalty to the Nazi state. In part, Hitler succeeded. The apparent benefits of Nazi rule made most Germans willing to accept some social control in the interests of making Germany great again.
Effects on women
The Nazis were a very male-dominated organisation, and all the Nazi leaders were men. Hitler had a very traditional view of the role of the German woman as wife and mother. In the traditional rural areas and small towns, many women felt that the proper role of a woman was to support her husband. There was also resentment towards working women in the early 1930s, since they were seen as keeping men out of jobs. Women’s role in society was summed up as ‘Kinder, Küche, Kirche’ (‘Children, Cooking, Church’).
Alarmed at the falling birth rate, Hitler offered tempting financial incentives for married couples to have at least four children. Women who had eight children received a ‘Gold Cross’, and were given a privileged seat at Nazi meetings. Posters, radio broadcasts and newsreels all celebrated the ideas of motherhood and homebuilding
With all these encouragements the birth rate did increase from 15 per thousand in 1933 to 20 per thousand in 1939. There was also an increase in pregnancies outside marriage. These girls were looked after in state maternity hostels.
However, by 1939 there was a shortage of labour to work in factories. Many women were encouraged back into work – and this process accelerated during the early 1940s with the huge demands for war materials.
Education policies and their impact
The Nazis had reorganised every aspect of the school curriculum to make children loyal to them.
You learnt about the history of Germany. How the German army was ‘stabbed in the back’ by the weak politicians who had made peace. Remember the hardships of the 1920s for yourself, but at school you would have been told how these were caused by Jews squeezing profits out of honest Germans. By the time you were a senior pupil, your studies in history would have made you confident that loyalty to the Führer was right and good. Biology lessons would have informed you that you were special, as one of the Aryan race which was so superior in intelligence and strength to the Untermenschen or sub-human Jews and Slavs of eastern Europe.
As a member of the Hitler Youth (boys) or League of German Maidens (girls), you would have marched in exciting parades with loud bands. You would probably be physically fit. Your leisure time would also be devoted to Hitler and the Nazis. You would be a strong cross-country runner, and confident at reading maps. After years of summer camps, you would be comfortable camping out of doors and if you were a boy you would know how to clean a rifle and keep it in good condition.
As a child in Nazi Germany, you might well feel slightly alienated from your parents because they are not as keen on the Nazis as you are. They expect your first loyalty to be to your family, whereas your Hitler Youth leader makes it clear that your first loyalty is to Adolf Hitler. You find it hard to understand why your father grumbles about Nazi regulation of his working practices – surely the Führer (Hitler) is protecting him? Your parents find the idea of Nazi inspectors checking up on the teachers rather strange. For you it is normal.
Did all young people support the Nazis?
Levels of support for the Nazis differed at different times. Many young people were attracted to the Nazi youth movements by the leisure opportunities they offered. There were really no alternatives. All other youth organisations had been either absorbed or made illegal.
Even so, only half of all German boys were members of the Hitler Youth in 1933 and only 15 per cent of girls were members of the League of German Maidens. As with all other sections of society, young people were monitored closely and the reports of the security services threw up some interesting groups, such as the ‘Swing’ youth movement and the Edelweiss Pirates. Neither of these groups had strong political views. They were not political opponents of the Nazis. But they resented and resisted Nazi control of their lives.
Youth Rebel Groups
- The ‘Swing’ youth: This was made up mainly of middle-class teenagers. They went to parties where they listened to English and American music and sang English songs. They danced American dances such as the ‘jitterbug’ to jazz music which the Nazis had banned. They accepted Jews at their clubs. They talked about and enjoyed sex. They were deliberately ‘slovenly’.
- The Edelweiss Pirates: The Edelweiss Pirates were working-class teenagers. They were not an organised movement, and groups in various cities took different names. The Pirates were mainly aged between 14 and 17 (Germans could leave school at fourteen, but they did not have to sign on for military service until they were seventeen). At the weekends, the Pirates went camping. They sang songs, just like the Hitler Youth, but they changed the lyrics of songs to mock Germany and when they spotted bands of Hitler Youth they taunted and sometimes attacked them. In contrast with the Hitler Youth, the Pirates included boys and girls.
The impact of the war
In 1939 membership of a Nazi youth movement was made compulsory. But by this time the youth movements were going through a crisis. Many of the experienced leaders had been drafted into the German army. Others, particularly those who had been leaders in the pre-Nazi days, had been replaced by keener Nazis. Many of the movements were now run by older teenagers who rigidly enforced Nazi rules. They even forbade other teenagers to meet informally with their friends. As the war progressed, the activities of the youth movements focused increasingly on the war effort and military drill. The popularity of the movements decreased and indeed the popularity of anti-Hitler Youth movements increased. The Pirates’ activities became increasingly serious during the war. In Cologne, for example, Pirates helped to shelter army deserters and escaped prisoners. They stole armaments and took part in an attack on the GESTAPO during which its chief was killed. The Nazi response was to round up the so-called ‘ringleaders’. Twelve were publicly hanged in November 1944
Control of Churches and religion
In the beginning there was some relation between the church and the Nazis.Hitler signed a Concordat with the Catholic Church in 1933. The Nazis agreed to leave the Catholic Church alone and allowed it to keep control of its schools. In return, the Church agreed to stay out of politics.
Hitler attempted to unify all of the Protestant Churches in one official Reich Church. The Reich Church was headed by the Protestant Bishop Ludwig Müller. However, many Germans still felt that their true loyalties lay with their original Churches in their local areas rather than with this state-approved Church.
In the 1930s at least most were totally ignorant about the intentions of Nazi policies towards the Jews and other minority groups. Many churchgoers either supported the Nazis or did little to oppose them. However, there were some very important exceptions. The Catholic Bishop Galen criticised the Nazis throughout the 1930s. In 1941 he led a popular protest against the Nazi policies of killing mentally ill and physically disabled people, forcing the Nazis temporarily to stop this policy. He had such strong support among his followers that the Nazis decided it was too risky to try to silence him because they did not want trouble while Germany was at war
Control of Churches and religion (2)
Protestant ministers also resisted the Nazis. Pastor Martin Niemöller was one of the most high-profile critics of the regime in the 1930s. Along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he formed an alternative Protestant Church to the official Reich Church. Niemöller spent the years 1938–45 in a concentration camp for resisting the Nazis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached against the Nazis until the Gestapo stopped him in 1937. He then became involved with members of the army’s intelligence services who were secretly opposed to Hitler. He helped Jews to escape from Germany. Gradually he increased his activity and in 1942 he contacted the Allied commanders and asked what peace terms they would offer Germany if Hitler were overthrown. He was arrested in October 1942 and hanged shortly before the end of the war in April 1945.
Aryan ideas, racial policy and persecution
The Nazis believed in the superiority of the Aryan race. Through their 12 years in power they persecuted members of other races, and many minority groups such as Gypsies, homosexuals and mentally handicapped people. They persecuted any group that they thought challenged Nazi ideas: homosexuals were a threat to Nazi ideas on traditional family life; the mentally handicapped were a threat to Nazi ideas about Germans being a perfect master race; Gypsies were thought to be an inferior people. The persecution of such minorities varied. In families where there were hereditary illnesses, sterilisation was enforced. Over 300,000 men and women were compulsorily sterilised between 1934 and 1945. A so-called ‘euthanasia programme’ was begun in 1939. At least 5,000 severely mentally handicapped babies and children were killed between 1939 and 1945 either by injection or by starvation. Between 1939 and 1941, 72,000 mentally ill patients were gassed before a public outcry in Germany itself brought this to an end. The extermination of the Gypsies, on the other hand, did not cause an outcry. Five out of every six Gypsies living in Germany in 1939 were killed by the Nazis. Similarly, there was little or no complaint about the treatment of socalled ‘asocials’ – homosexuals, alcoholics, the homeless, prostitutes, habitual criminals and beggars – who were rounded up off the streets and sent to concentration camps. The most disturbing aspect of Nazi Germany, the story of Nazi treatment of the Jewish population in which anti-Semitism culminated in the dreadful slaughter of the ‘FINAL SOLUTION’.
Hitler and the Jews
Throughout Europe, Jews had experienced discrimination for hundreds of years. They were often treated unjustly in courts or forced to live in GHETTOS. One reason for this persecution was religious, in that Jews were blamed for the death of Jesus Christ. Another reason was that they tended to be well educated and therefore held well-paid professional jobs or ran successful stores and businesses. Hitler hated Jews insanely. In his years of poverty in Vienna, he became obsessed by the fact that Jews ran many of the most successful businesses, particularly the large department stores. This offended his idea of the superiority of Aryans. Hitler also blamed Jewish businessmen and bankers for Germany’s defeat in the First World War. He thought they had forced the surrender of the German army. As soon as Hitler took power in 1933 he began to mobilise the full powers of the state against the Jews. They were immediately banned from the civil service and a variety of public services such as broadcasting and teaching. At the same time, SA and later ** troopers organised boycotts of Jewish shops and businesses, which were marked with a Star of David.
In 1936 the pressure on Jews and other minorities relaxed a little. Some Jews saw this as a positive sign, and believed that the regime had gone as far as it was going to go to persecute them. The reality was that the persecution lapsed primarily because Germany was trying to present itself to the world in a positive light while the Olympics were being held in Berlin. Many Jews then left the country and emigrated
In November 1938 a young Jew killed a German diplomat in Paris. The Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels turned this event into an opportunity for himself. He had recently fallen out of favour with Hitler and was desperate to regain his favoured status. Goebbels urged a wide-scale and brutal response toov the event in Paris. Plain-clothes ** troopers were issued with pickaxes and hammers and the addresses of Jewish businesses. They ran riot, smashing up Jewish shops and workplaces. Ninety-one Jews were murdered. Hundreds of synagogues were burned. Twenty thousand Jews were taken to concentration camps and thousands more left the country. This event became known as Kristallnacht or ‘The Night of Broken Glass’.
Many Germans watched the events of Kristallnacht with alarm and concern. The Nazi-controlled press presented Kristallnacht as the spontaneous reaction of ordinary Germans against the Jews. Most Germans did not believe this. However, hardly anyone protested. The few who did were brutally murdered.
The Final Solution
The persecution of the Jews developed in intensity after the outbreak of war in 1939. After defeating Poland in 1939, the Nazis set about ‘Germanising’ western Poland. This meant transporting Poles from their homes and replacing them with German settlers. Almost one in five Poles died in the fighting and as a result of racial policies of 1939–45. Polish Jews were rounded up and transported to the major cities. Here they were herded into sealed areas, called ghettos. The ablebodied Jews were used for slave labour but the young, the old and the sick were simply left to die from hunger and disease. The decision to go ahead with the systematic killing of all Jews was apparently taken in January 1942 at the Wannsee Conference on the outskirts of Berlin by senior Nazis. Himmler, the head of the ** and Gestapo, was put in charge of the programme of mass murder, which began on an industrial scale in camps such as those at Auschwitz and Treblinka in Poland.
Was the ‘Final Solution’ planned from the start?
Hitler made speeches in which he talked of the annihilation of the Jews, but he never signed any documents or made any recorded orders directly relating to the extermination of the Jews. The Nazis kept the killing programme as secret as they could, so there are relatively few documents.
- The civil service bureaucracy – it collected and stored information about Jews.
- Police forces in Germany and the occupied lands – many victims of the Nazis, such as Anne Frank, were actually taken by the police rather than the Gestapo or **.
- The ** – Adolf Eichmann devised a system of transporting Jews to collection points and then on to the death camps. He was also in charge of looting the possessions of the Jews. The ** Death’s Head battalions and Einsatzgruppen also carried out many of the killings.
- The Wehrmacht (German armed forces) – the army leaders were fully aware of events.
- Industry – companies such as Volkswagen and Mercedes had their own slave labour camps. The chemicals giant IG Farben competed with other companies for the contract to make the Cyclon B gas which was used in the gas chambers.
- The German people – there was widespread support for anti-Semitism, even if these feelings did not include support for mass murder. Many Germans took part in some aspect of the HOLOCAUST, but closed their eyes to the full reality of what was happening (see Source 30).
Goebbels and propaganda in Nazi Germany
Hitler appointed Dr Joseph Goebbels as Minister for Enlightenment and Propaganda. Goebbels passionately believed in Hitler as the saviour of Germany. His mission was to make sure that others believed this too. Throughout the twelve years of Nazi rule Goebbels constantly kept his finger on the pulse of public opinion and decided what the German public should and should not hear. He aimed to use every resource available to him to make people loyal to Hitler and the Nazis.
- From a humble background but very intelligent; university educated.
- Small in stature and with a twisted right leg.
- Joined Nazi Party in 1922; became one of Hitler’s greatest supporters.
- Created a Nazi newspaper in 1927, and soon became head of Nazi propaganda.
- Became Minister for Public Enlightenment in 1933.
- Promoted the Nazi message through films, radio, posters and the 1936 Olympic Games.
- Encouraged burning of books that could be hostile to NAZISM. Bitterly anti-Jewish.
- Skilful public speaker.
- Committed suicide one day after Hitler in 1945.
Censorship and Nazi control of the media
Goebbels was in control of the media. In contrast with the free expression of Weimar Germany, the Nazis controlled the media strictly No books could be published without Goebbels’ permission (best seller Mein Kampf). In 1933 he organised high-profile ‘book burnings’. Nazi students came together to burn any books that included ideas unacceptable to the Nazis.
Artists suffered the same kind of restriction as writers. Only approved painters could show their work. Usually paintaings and sculptures of heroic looking Aryans, military figures or images of the ideal Aryan family.
Goebbels also controlled the newspapers closely. They were not able to print anti-Nazi ideas. Jewish journalists found themselves out of work and anti-Nazi newspapers were closed down. The newspapers became very full and circulation fell by about 10 per cent
The cinema was also closely controlled. All films – factual or fictional, thrillers or comedies – had to carry a pro-Nazi message. Foreign films coming into Germany were censored by Goebbels, The newsreels which preceded feature films were full of the greatness of Hitler and the massive achievements of Nazi Germany. There is evidence that Germans avoided these productions by arriving late!
Censorship and Nazi control of the media (2)
Goebbels plastered Germany with posters proclaiming the successes of Hitler and the Nazis and attacking their opponents. He banned jazz music (which had been popular in Germany) because it was ‘black’ music and black people were considered an inferior race.
Goebbels loved new technology and quickly saw the potential of radio broadcasting for spreading the Nazi message. He made cheap radios available so all Germans could buy one and he controlled all the radio stations. Listening to broadcasts from the BBC was punishable by death. Just in case people did not have a radio Goebbels placed loudspeakers in the streets and public bars. Hitler’s speeches and those of other Nazi leaders were repeated on the radio over and over again until the ideas expressed in them – German expansion into eastern Europe, the inferiority of the Jews – came to be believed by the German people.
Throughout this period Goebbels was supported in his work by the ** and the Gestapo. When he wanted to close down an anti-Nazi newspaper, silence an anti-Nazi writer, or catch someone listening to a foreign radio station, they were there to do that work for him.
The police state and Heinrich Himmler
There was supposed to be no room for opposition of any kind in Nazi Germany. The aim was to create a totalitarian state. In a totalitarian state there can be no rival parties, no political debate. Ordinary CITIZENS must divert their whole energy into serving the state and to carrying out its leaders’ orders. The Nazis had a powerful range of organisations and weapons that they used to control Germany and terrorise Germans into submission.
- Had been a chicken farmer in Germany.
- Became head of the ** in 1929 when it was only a small organisation.
- By 1934 the ** had 52,000 members.
- Himmler was totally loyal to Hitler.
- He had the primary role of eliminating opposition to the Nazis, and carrying out Nazi racial policies.
- The Death’s Head Units had the specific job of killing Jews and other undesirables.
- In May 1945 he was captured but committed suicide before his trial.
The ** was formed in 1925 from fanatics loyal to Hitler. After virtually destroying the SA in 1934, the ** grew into a huge organisation with many different responsibilities. It was led by Heinrich Himmler. ** men were of course Aryans, very highly trained and totally loyal to Hitler. Under Himmler, the ** had primary responsibility for destroying opposition to Nazism and carrying out the racial policies of the Nazis. Two important sub-divisions of the ** were the Death’s Head units and the Waffen-**. The Death’s Head units were responsible for the concentration camps and the slaughter of the Jews. The Waffen-** were special ** armoured regiments which fought alongside the regular army
The Gestapo (secret state police) was the force that was perhaps most feared by the ordinary German citizen.
Under the command of Reinhard Heydrich, Gestapo agents had sweeping powers. They could arrest citizens on suspicion and send them to concentration camps without trial or even explanation. Modern research has shown that Germans thought the Gestapo were much more powerful than they actually were. As a result, many ordinary Germans informed on each other because they thought the Gestapo would find out anyway.
The Police and Courts
The police and courts also helped to prop up the Nazi dictatorship. Top jobs in local police forces were given to high-ranking Nazis reporting to Himmler. As a result, the police added political ‘snooping’ to their normal law and order role.
They were, of course, under strict instructions to ignore crimes committed by Nazi agents. Similarly, the Nazis controlled magistrates, judges and the courts, which meant that opponents of Nazism rarely received a fair trial.
Concentration camps were the Nazis’ ultimate SANCTION against their own people. They were set up almost as soon as Hitler took power. The first concentration camps in 1933 were simply makeshift prisons in disused factories and warehouses. Soon these were purpose-built. These camps were usually in isolated rural areas, and run by ** Death’s Head units. Prisoners were forced to do hard labour. Food was very limited and prisoners suffered harsh discipline, beatings and random executions. By the late 1930s, deaths in the camps became increasingly common and very few people emerged alive from them. Jews, socialists, Communists, trade unionists, churchmen and anyone else brave enough to criticise the Nazis ended up there.
Opposition and resistance in the Third Reich in th
The Nazis faced relatively little open opposition during their twelve years in power. In private, Germans complained about the regime and its actions. Some might refuse to give the Nazi salute. They might pass on anti-Nazi jokes and rude stories about senior Nazis. However, serious criticism was always in private, never in public. Historians have debated why this was so. It was terror! All the Nazis’ main opponents had been killed, exiled or put in prison. The rest had been scared into submission.
Nazi successes: ‘It’s all for the good of Germany’
Many Germans admired and trusted Hitler. They were prepared to tolerate rule by terror and to trade their rights in political freedom and free speech in return for work, foreign policy success and what they thought was strong government.
- Economic recovery was deeply appreciated.
- Many felt that the Nazis were bringing some much needed discipline back to Germany by restoring traditional values and clamping down on rowdy Communists.
- Between 1933 and 1938 Hitler’s success in foreign affairs made Germans feel that their country was a great power again after the humiliations of the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles. For many Germans, the dubious methods of the Nazis may have been regrettable but necessary for the greater good of the country.
Economic fears: ‘I don’t want to lose my job’
German workers feared losing their jobs if they did express opposition . Germany had been hit so hard by the Depression that many were terrified by the prospect of being out of work again. It was a similar situation for the bosses. Businesses that did not contribute to Nazi Party funds risked losing Nazi business and going bankrupt, and so in self-defence they conformed as well. If you asked no questions and kept your head down, life in Nazi Germany could be comfortable. ‘Keeping your head down’ became a national obsession. The ** and its special security service, the **, went to great lengths to find out what people were saying about the regime, often by listening in on conversations in cafés and bars. Your job could depend on silence.
The White Rose Group
Some groups did begin to act against Hitler as the war developed into a worldwide war in 1941. For example, a group of students at Munich University known as the White Rose Group gave out leaflets, put up posters and scrawled graffiti on walls in 1942 and early 1943. The six most prominent members were arrested, tortured and then beheaded. These students are now remembered as heroes in Germany for standing up to Nazi tyranny
The Stauffenberg bomb plot, July 1944
Much more serious were the plots to end Hitler’s rule. They had started in the late 1930s, including one to blow up Hitler in his plane that failed because the bomb did not go off. After various plans and plots that achieved nothing, in 1944 a group of army officers joined together to plan in meticulous detail. They could see that Germany was heading towards defeat and that Hitler was no longer capable of providing clear leadership. Claus von Stauffenberg was also disgusted at the brutality of the **. The plan was to detonate a bomb under a table at a meeting that Hitler was attending. Army officers would then seize power in Berlin. However, someone moved the briefcase containing the bomb slightly further away from Hitler, and crucially to the other side of a heavy table leg. When the bomb went off, Hitler was only slightly injured, though four people were killed. All the plotters were rounded up and executed. It was another ten months before the war in Europe ended. The Allies closed in on Berlin. Russian troops got to the city first. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, and Goebbels did the same the following day. Germany surrendered to the Allies without conditions.
The experiences of Germans under the Nazis
- Hitler had become Führer – leader – by summer 1934 and had established a dictatorship.
- Hitler created millions of jobs through public works schemes and expanding the size of the army.
- Many Germans were happy with the economic progress Germany appeared to be making. O During the Second World War the German economy survived well at first, but there was much suffering by 1944.
- Hitler’s policies had huge effects on women who assumed specific roles in society, especially as mothers.
- Many young people gained pride in their country and worshipped Hitler through the Hitler Youth.
- The Churches mostly supported Hitler. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a notable exception to this.
- Non-German races were increasingly persecuted, from the Nuremberg Laws (1935) to Kristallnacht (1938) and the policy of the Final Solution adopted in 1942.
- Hitler maintained control through propaganda and censorship via the **, the secret police and the courts.
- Opposition groups such as the White Rose Group began to campaign against Hitler during the war. One well-organised plot to assassinate Hitler failed in 1944.