Causes of the German Revolution:
One reason was failure in the First World War. The Germans had been confident of victory when they went to war in September 1914, but the Allies remained undefeated by 1918 and now had the combined might of Britain, France, Russia, and the USA. A final, desperate German offensive was launched in March 1918. But, in July, the Allies counter-attacked and drove the Germans back. Two million German troops had died since 1914, yet defeat seemed near, and morale amongst troops was therefore very low.
· Another reason for the German Revolution was the hardship caused by the war. Allied navies were blockading the German coast, preventing imports of basic supplies. Food shortages, along with military failure, created a sense of hopelessness. Hardship was exacerbated by a deadly influenza infection which spread through Europe in 1918.
· The Russian Revolution also helped to cause discontent in Germany. In November 1917, the Russians had overthrown the Tsar, and replaced him with a government of the people under Lenin. By November 1918, the Germans were demanding similar changes in their own country. They wanted to replace the undemocratic rule of the Kaiser with councils of workers and soldiers.
Ø Events of the German Revolution:
On 29 October 1918, German sailors at the naval base of Wilhelmshaven refused to set sail. The mutiny spread to the naval base at Kiel where, on 4 November, 40,000 sailors joined dockers and took over the dockyard having formed a workers’ and soldiers’ council. This sparked similar revolts all across Germany in towns such as Hamburg and Bremen. In Hanover, soldiers refused to control the rioters. The Government was beginning to lose control.
· On 7 November, in Bavaria, thousands of workers, led by Kurt Eisner, marched on the state capital of Munich. The local ruler, King Ludwig III, fled the country. On the next day, Eisner set up a workers’ and peasants’ council and declared Bavaria a people’s state. Leaders in other parts of Germany feared similar revolts and fled.
· In Berlin, even the Kaiser’s own ministers deserted him. As defeat in the war came closer, the Allies said that they would only negotiate with “representatives of the people”. Ministers therefore told the Kaiser that he had to go. On 9 November, he agreed to abdicate, and he fled to Holland the next day. Germany’s biggest political party, the Social Democrat Party (SPD), formed a new government, led by Friedrich Ebert.
Effects of the German Revolution:
The new government was able to agree an armistice, under Friedrich Ebert, the new Chancellor, on 11 November. Germany had to withdraw from all land won in the war, pull its troops back 30 miles inside its border with France, surrender its munitions, and place its navy under allied control.
· The second effect, a new government, took longer to achieve. The terms of the armistice were unpopular and economic suffering continued, meaning that the winter of 1918-1919 was one of political turmoil. But Ebert’s government gradually gained control. By mid-1919, in the town of Weimar, a new constitution was agreed and the new German state became known as the Weimar Republic.
Strengths of the new constitution:
It made Germany more democratic than it had been under the autocratic rule of the Kaiser. More people voted, and there was a general election every four years, using the seemingly fair electoral system of proportional representation.
· It had a system of checks and balances. For example, there were two houses in the new parliament and the power of one, the Reichstag, was limited by the power of the other, the Reichsrat. There were also two key offices: the president and the chancellor. Power was shared between the two, and so it was difficult for either to seize dictatorial control.
Weaknesses of the new constitution
· The system of proportional representation meant that even parties with small number of votes gained seats in the Reichstag, meaning that 28 parties were represented in the 1920s. Therefore, to get majority support, chancellors needed coalitions of several parties, who often had different ideas, making stable government difficult.
· The careful balancing of powers made strong, decisive government by the chancellor very difficult. This meant that, whenever compromise broke down, the chancellor had to ask the president to suspend the constitution, under Article 48, and rule by decree. This undermined the effectiveness of the constitution.
Reaction to the Treaty of Versailles:
The terms of the treaty were very unpopular with the German people. They did not believe that they deserved such harsh treatment. Some of the terms which the Germans resented included the reparations of £6.6 billion, the obligation to limit their army to 100,000 men, and the loss of 13% of its European territory, including key industrial areas, and all of its overseas colonies.
· The treaty was particularly difficult to take for the German people because many (particularly those on the political right) believed that their army had never been defeated in the war; it had merely failed to win. Critics of the treaty claimed that the army had been ready to fight on, and was betrayed by the politicians in Berlin, who became known as the ‘November Criminals’. They were blamed for being weak and accepting unreasonably harsh terms – this resentment followed the Weimar Republic right up to its collapse in 1933.
On January 6th 1919, the Spartacist League (a left-wing movement), led by Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht, attempted revolution against Ebert’s government in Berlin. Spartacists captured the headquarters of the government’s newspaper and other key buildings.
· However, they were poorly organised and easily crushed by the Freikorps (demobilised soldiers who had refused to give back their arms) and the army, with both leaders killed.
· The significance was that Ebert has put his government into the hands of the army and the Freikorps, and undermined the position of the SDP as representatives of the working class.
In March 1920, 5000 right-wing supporters of Dr Wolfgang Kapp marched on Berlin to overthrow the Weimar Republic and reinstate the Kaiser, unhindered by the regular army.
· Ebert’s government was forced to flee to Dresden, and urged people to go on strike and cripple the revolution. Many workers had socialist leanings and obliged.
· Essential services ground to a halt and Kapp fled, before later dying in prison. However, this had shown that the government could no longer rely on the army.
Causes of hyperinflation:
Germany, crippled by the Treaty of Versailles and lacking gold after its great expenditure in the First World War, was forced to default on its reparations payments in 1923. France and Belgium used their rights according to the Treaty of Versailles to occupy the German industrial area of the Ruhr. They confiscated raw materials, manufactured goods, and industrial machinery. The German government urged passive resistance, meaning that production ground to a halt. The shortages which resulted caused inflation.
· It also meant that Germany now lacked tradable goods, and so the government was forced to print money in order to pay its debts.
· This was exacerbated by the existing economic problems in 1923. Unemployment and failing factories had created a situation whereby government income was only a quarter of what was required, and so the government just printed more money. The more prices rose, the more money had to be created, which sent prices up even further. This created a situation in which a loaf of bread cost 100 billion marks by 1923 (it had cost one mark in 1919).
Effects of hyperinflation:
The results of hyperinflation were complex. There were benefits for some people – farmers profited from rising food prices, although they still had to pay higher prices for other goods. Some businesses were able to pay off fixed loans, as they became worthless. Others were able to buy smaller, failing businesses very cheaply.
· However, most people suffered in some way. Everyone suffered from shortages, as German marks became worthless in comparison with foreign currencies (£1 cost 20 marks in 1918, and 20 billion marks in 1923). Foreign suppliers therefore refused to accept marks for goods, meaning that imports dried up and there were not enough supplies. People with savings in bank accounts, insurance policies, or pensions were hit hardest; their savings became worthless.
The Stresemann era:
In August 1923, Ebert appointed Gustav Stresemann as his chancellor and foreign secretary. He resigned as chancellor in November 1923, but remained foreign secretary until 1929. He led a number of policies which brought recovery to the Weimar Republic between 1924 and 1929.
· Germany’s biggest problem in 1923 was hyperinflation. Stresemann tackled this by abolishing the existing German currency and replacing it with a new, temporary one (the Rentenmark), and confidence in German money was restored. He soon replaced this with a permanent currency, the Reichsmark. He also called off passive resistance in the Ruhr and agreed to pay reparations again, restarting production. These measures stabilised the economy and meant that foreign businessmen were willing to lend money to Germany again.
· He agreed the Dawes Plan with the Allies in April 1924, whereby annual reparations payments were reduced and American banks invested 800 million marks in German industry. This helped Germany to achieve pre-war production levels in 1928, as the Weimar Republic went through an economic boom. However, this fragile economic recovery depended heavily on American loans.
· In foreign policy, Stresemann tried to co-operate with other nations to regain their trust. In October 1925, Stresemann signed the Locarno Pact with Britain, France, Italy, and Belgium. This guaranteed Germany’s frontiers with Belgium and France, and outlawed a repeat of the Ruhr invasion.
· In 1926, Stresemann negotiated Germany’s entry into the League of Nations, from which it had previously been excluded. In 1928, Germany became one of 65 countries to sign the Kellogg-Briand Pact – an international agreement by which states promised not to use war to achieve their foreign policy aims. These advancements in foreign relations re-established Germany as a respectable and equal member of the international community
Adolf Hitler and the German Workers’ Party:
In 1919, Adolf Hitler was sent to spy on the German Workers’ Party (DAP), but found that he actually agreed with their views and joined the party.
· By 1920, he was working alongside the leader, Anton Drexler, and the two men released the 25-Point Programme of the DAP in February 1920, and Hitler’s passionate oratory attracted larger numbers to meetings, and membership grew rapidly to 1100 in June 1920.
Ø Changes to the party 1920-22
In August 1920, at Hitler’s suggestion, the DAP changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP or Nazi Party). The swastika was then adopted as an emblem, and members began to use the raised arm salute. Such propaganda schemes helped to boost membership to 3000 by the end of 1920. This boosted funds, enabling the party to buy a newspaper and spread its views.
· In mid-1921, Hitler pushed Drexler aside and became the party Führer. He gathered loyal followers, such as Rudolf Hess and Hermann Goering, around him, and cultivated powerful friends, such as General Ludendorff. This raised the profile of the party.
· In 1921, Hitler created the SA, under the leadership of Ernst Röhm, which was the party’s private army. These ‘Brownshirts’ provided security at meetings and acted as bodyguards for Nazi leaders, which gave the Nazis an appearance of authority and organisation. They also broke up meetings of opposition groups, preventing them from spreading their views. Thus Hitler changed the Nazis by employing violent tactics and attacking rival groups.
Causes of the Munich Putsch:
In November 1923, Hitler launched the Munich Putsch – an uprising against the German government. He had three reasons for doing so:
· Firstly, hyperinflation was making the lives of Germans miserable. The French occupation of the Ruhr had also angered them. This had resulted in a growth of membership of the NSDAP to 55,000, and Hitler wanted to exploit their discontent, and seize his chance to make an impact nationally.
· Secondly, Hitler sensed that the new government of Gustav Stresemann would soon ease Germany’s economic and international problems. He needed to act before unrest died down.
· Thirdly, Stresemann’s government was beginning to crack down on extremist groups; the army had recently crushed a left-wing revolt in Saxony, and Hitler foresaw an imminent suppression of right-wing movements, and so he had to make a move before the NSDAP was banned.
Ø Events of the Munich Putsch:
On the evening of 8 November 1923, there was a meeting of 3,000 officials of the Bavarian government in a beer hall in Munich. Hitler burst in, with 600 storm troopers, brandishing a gun, and announced that he was taking over the government of Bavaria. He was supported by the famous German general, Erich von Ludendorff.
· The three main speakers, including von Kahr, the leader of the Bavarian government, were taken into a side room and agreed to support the uprising when confronted by Hitler’s troops and weapons.
· However, the next morning, Hitler heard that they had retracted their support and would oppose him. But Hitler pressed on and marched on the town centre with his key supporters, but they were met by state police, who opened fire. 14 Nazis were killed, and both Hitler and Ludendorff were arrested.
Ø Results of the Munich Putsch:
Hitler and three other leaders of the Putsch were found guilty of treason and sentenced to five years in jail, and the NSDAP was banned. The Munich Putsch was therefore a humiliating defeat for Hitler in the short term.
· However, the judge was quite lenient – five years was the minimum sentence allowed for treason, and Hitler was released after just 9 months. Ludendorff, incredibly, was not even found guilty. It also had several positive results in the long term.
· Hitler used his trial to get national publicity for his views. He used his time in jail to write his autobiography – ‘Mein Kampf’ (‘My Struggle’). This contained his political ideas and became a bestseller, helping to spread Nazi views. The ban on the NSDAP was weakly enforced and lifted in 1925.
· As a result of the publicity, the NSDAP won 32 seats in the Reichstag in the 1924 election. The Munich Putsch led to a change in Nazi tactics – Hitler now began to seek power through democratic means after the failure of his coup.
Ø Reorganisation of the party 1924-28:
As the party grew, it needed better organisation. Hitler appointed two efficient administrators to run Nazi headquarters, and divided the party into regions, appointing a network of ‘gauleiters’ to run the NSDAP in each ‘gaue’, or region.
· To fund this, Hitler improved party finances by befriending wealthy German businessmen, who shared his hatred of communism and hoped that Hitler would limit the power of trade unions. By the early 1930s, the Nazis were receiving donations from giants of German industry, such as Krupp and Bosch.
· Hitler strengthened the SA, expanding it to 400,000 members by 1930. The uniformed gave the Nazis an appearance of strength and order. However, many members of the SA were violent thugs whom Hitler did not trust, and so he set up a new party security group, called the **, in 1925. The ** were soon widely feared for their ruthlessness.
· Hitler worked with Dr Joseph Goebbels to improve Nazi propaganda. They created scapegoats for Germany’s problems, such as the communists, the Jews, and the ‘November Criminals’ who had signed the Treaty of Versailles. They created a clear image of strength for the party, through the spectacle of mass Nazi rallies and the impressive power of the SA and the **, as well as Hitler’s passionate rhetoric.
Impact of Wall Street Crash:
Banks were major investors in shares and suffered huge losses. German banks lost so much money that people feared that they couldn’t pay out the money in banks accounts, so they rushed to withdraw their money, causing some banks to run out of cash.
· This caused a second effect; German and American banks urgently needed to recall their loans to German businesses, which were heavily dependent on this money. Therefore they had to reduce operations or close, leading to a drop in industrial output and a rise in unemployment; half of Germans aged 16-30 were out of work in 1933.
· It led to political chaos; the Chancellor, Heinrich Brüning, proposed either an increase in taxes, or a reduction in unemployment benefit. This was vociferously opposed by people from both ends of the political spectrum, and the coalition of parties, upon which Brüning’s govern relied, collapsed. This meant that the government had to rely on over 100 decrees in 1931-32.
Hitler’s rise to power:
One reason why the Nazis gained support and eventually came to power in 1929-33 was their tactics. The SA was used to violently weaken his opposition by disrupting their meetings and intimidating their candidates, and to give the Nazis an aura of strength and organisation. The rhetoric of Hitler was charismatic and passionate, helping to deliver their flexible message, which appealed to a wide range of people. This propaganda was orchestrated by Josef Goebbels, and involved modern technology, such as planes, enabling Hitler to speak at several locations in a single day. One long term reason for the Nazis’ rise to power was the weaknesses of the Weimar Government. These included an ineffective constitution (the electoral system of proportional representation led to 25 coalitions in 14 years), and the deteriorating health of President Hindenburg. Weimar politicians were also blamed by many for signing the Treaty of Versailles. This meant that people looked to extremist parties such as the Nazis. One short-term reason for the Nazis’ rise to power was the Wall Street Crash and ensuing Great Depression. It was handled poorly by the Weimar Government; there were 5.5 million people unemployed by 1932, and many lost their savings, leading to hardship and suffering. Therefore people protested by voting for extremist candidates.However, the trigger which brought Hitler to power was his cunning political manoeuvring. An ambitious general, Kurt von Schleicher, persuaded Hindenburg to sack Brüning from his post as chancellor in May 1932. Von Schleicher controlled the new government from behind the scenes, choosing wealthy politician Franz von Papen as the figurehead for this new coalition, in which the Nazis had a place. Von Papen soon resigned, after the NSDAP emerged as the largest party in two consecutive elections. However, Hindenburg disliked Hitler, and appointed von Schleicher as chancellor in 1932. But he never gained majority support, and von Papen, who had been conspiring with Hitler, persuaded Hindenburg that he could control Hitler, and so Hindenburg appointed Hitler as chancellor, with von Papen as his vice-chancellor, in January 1933. Hitler’s tactics had led rival politicians to underestimate him, and thus he managed to be legally and democratically elected.
Setting up the Nazi dictatorship:
On 27 February 1933, the Reichstag burned down, and a young communist called Marius van der Lubbe, who was found in the building, was convicted of arson. Hitler claimed that the fire was part of a communist conspiracy, and persuaded Hindenburg to pass an emergency decree, giving police absolute power to arrest people and search their houses, without putting them on trial. This meant that Hitler could target communist leaders, and thus eliminate any political opposition.
· He then used intimidation and manipulation to pass the Enabling Act, in March 1933. The Communist Party had been banned and so its members unable to attend the session, and he gained the support of the Catholic Centre Party by agreeing not to interfere with the Catholic Church (in a concordat with the Pope in July 1933). He intimidated members of the remaining parties by stationing members of the SA around the Kroll Opera House, where the Reichstag had met since the fire. This meant that the Enabling Act was eventually passed by 444 votes to 94, giving Hitler the power to pass laws without consulting the Reichstag, which had effectively voted itself out of existence. He used these dictatorial powers to outlaw trade unions in May 1933, and other parties in July, and Germany became a single-party state. He removed any internal opposition through the Night of the Long Knives in June 1934. He secured himself against threats from the SA, who were gaining a dangerous loyalty to their leader, Ernst Röhm, by purging 200 members, including Röhm himself. He also went on to disband the SA altogether, thus ensuring that he was unrivalled in his own party. The trigger was the death of Hindenburg in August 1934: Hitler then combined the posts of chancellor and president, and also became Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, officially known as ‘Der Führer’. He now had absolute power in Germany.
The danger of the SA by 1934:
Ernst Röhm, the leader of the SA, wanted a ‘second revolution’, in which loyal Nazis would replace Germany’s conservatives in positions of wealth and power, particularly the army. He visualised himself as the leader of a vast new German army, built around the SA.
· Hitler totally disagreed with Röhm’s ambition, preferring the concept of a professional army. He also knew that the army was the only institution powerful enough to obstruct his ambition of becoming a dictator.
· The SA was becoming very large and powerful, and its members were gaining a dangerous loyalty to Röhm and his ideas. Thus the threat from the SA was growing, but was eradicated by Hitler on the Night of the Long Knives.
The police state:
Nazi Germany was a police state, meaning that intimidation was used to suppress anti-Nazi views. This was carried out by the ** (led by Heinrich Himmler), and the Gestapo (led by Reinhard Heydrich). The ** was initially set up as a personal bodyguard for Hitler, although it was expanded to 50,000 men in the 1930s, and was put in charge of all state security services. The Gestapo was Hitler’s non-uniformed secret police force, and was particularly feared by the German people. They arrested people who spoke or acted against the Nazis in any way. These organisations did not have to act within the law, and were answerable only to their commanders and Hitler himself, meaning that they often used brutal methods.
· These ‘criminals’ could be imprisoned indefinitely in concentration camps, and were often used as forced labour in these secretive locations. It is estimate that there were 150,000 people under arrest for political crimes by 1939.
· Finally, Hitler took control of what happened in the courts. Any judges who displeased the Nazis were banned, and Hitler set up a new court, for which the judges were carefully selected, to hear treason cases. Even then, Hitler could increase sentences himself if he believed them to be too lenient.
Censorship and propaganda:
Josef Goebbels was made ‘Minister of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda’ in March 1933. His main responsibility was to control the media in order to maximise Nazi popularity, and to distribute the Nazi message to the people. He underwent this in a variety of ways.
· All radio stations were placed under Nazi control and the Nazis promoted the production of cheap radio sets called ‘The People’s Receiver’, which meant that Germany had the highest proportion of radio owners in Europe by 1939. Loudspeakers also put out radio broadcasts in public places such as cafes and factories, to ensure that everyone heard Hitler’s message.
· Goebbels recognised the power of cinema, with audiences topping 250 million in 1933. He realised that Germans were bored by overtly political films; instead, love stories and thrillers were given pro-Nazi slants, and all film performances were accompanied by a 45-minute official newsreel, which glorified Hitler and publicised Nazi achievements.
· In addition to this, newspapers had to print approved stories to avoid being banned, and university lecturers had to support Nazi views or face dismissal. Books, plays, and paintings of which the Nazis disapproved were banned – no area of culture was left untouched by this brutal censorship.
Nazi policies towards women:
Hitler had clear ideas about women, believing that nature had given men and women different roles in life. The job of men was to work and fight, whereas women were expected to look after the home and raise a family. The role of women in Nazi society was summarised in the slogan: ‘kinder, küche, kirche’ (‘children, kitchen, church’), which were the main things with which women were expected to concern themselves.
· In order to encourage large families and fulfil the Nazi ideal of women as child-bearer and creator of the family, Hitler introduced the Law of Encouragement of Marriage, which gave newlywed couples a loan of 1,000 marks, and a further 250 marks for each child they had. The Mother’s Cross was also introduced for mothers of large families, to emphasise the nobility of motherhood. The ‘Lebensborn’ (meaning ‘fountain of life’) programme was another policy to encourage childbirth, offering nurseries and financial aid for women who had children with ** men.
· This ideal was frequently portrayed in Nazi propaganda, which depicted Aryan women at home with their numerous children. It was also evident in Nazi education; for girls, a great emphasis was placed on home economics and domestic science. Job discrimination against women was encouraged – female doctors, teachers, and civil servants were forced to quit their jobs, and women were never allowed to serve in the armed forces, even during the Second World War. This was so that they could raise a family, but angered many women. However, by the end of the 1930s, German industry was expanding so rapidly that the Nazis required some women to work, and so some of their earlier policies were reversed. Nevertheless, there were still fewer women in work than in the Weimar period.
Nazi policies towards the young:
Hitler and the Nazis placed considerable emphasis on the education of young people; the Third Reich was intended to last for 1000 years and so the future generations needed careful training. The Nazis had formed their own youth movement (the ‘Hitler Jugend’ or ‘Hitler Youth’) as early as 1926 and by 1933 it had 50,000 members. Membership became compulsory in 1939. Its aim was to educate young people “physically, intellectually, and morally… to serve the nation”.
· For boys, the Hitler Youth focused on physical fitness and military training, involving activities such as camping and hiking. Although these activities were enjoyed by some, many probably resented the militaristic drill and discipline. For girls, the emphasis was placed on domestic training, to prepare them for roles as mothers and wives.
· The Nazis also controlled other aspects of education. They quickly removed teachers who disagreed with their ideas. The curriculum was modified to include more P.E. and classic German literature. Biology became the study of Nazi racial theories, and history lessons criticised communism and the Treaty of Versailles, with ‘Mein Kampf’ becoming a compulsory school text.
Ø Nazi policies towards the Churches:
Hitler despised Christianity, but, initially, avoided publicly opposing it. However, after 1933, Catholic and Protestant bishops who opposed him (such as Pastor Martin Niemöller) were arrested, often ending up in concentration camps
· The Nazis attempted to create a pagan alternative to Christianity (the German Faith Movement), based on adulation of Hitler, and a mythical Germanic past. Only five per cent of the population got involved, but this epitomises the regime’s attempts to undermine the Churches.
· In July 1933, Hitler signed a concordat with the Roman Catholic Church, whereby the Nazis agreed to respect Catholics’ freedom of worship and to avoid interference with Catholic schools in Germany. In return, Catholic priests were forbidden to involve themselves in politics. Hitler had previously treated the Catholics with caution; he needed the votes of the Catholic Centre Party to pass the Enabling Act of March 1933. However, he soon broke his promises and began to interfere with Catholic schools, modifying the curriculum and banning Christian rituals and symbols.
Nazi policies towards the Jews 1933-39:
The Nazis believed that the Aryans were the ‘master race’, whose position was threatened by inferior races, the worst of whom were the Jews.
On 1 April 1933, Hitler implemented a nationwide boycott of Jewish shops and businesses, with a generally apathetic response. He restricted it to a single day to avoid economic disruption. A few days later, laws were introduced to evict Jews from the civil service, and to restrict their numbers in medicine and the legal profession. They were soon banned from inheriting land, and, in 1935, from the army and even from restaurants.
The Nuremberg Laws, issued in September 1935, were an important milestone in the isolation of the Jews. The Law for Protection of German Blood and German Honour banned marriages between Germans and Jews, and the Reich Citizenship Law denied German citizenship to Jews. They were now officially labelled as inferior members of society.
On 7 November 1938, a Jewish youth shot dead a German embassy official to avenge the Nazis’ treatment of his parents. Goebbels instructed party members to hold demonstrations against the Jewish community on the night of 9-10 November. In an **** of violence, 8,000 Jewish shops and homes were set alight, 20,000 Jews were arrested, and 100 killed. This night became known as ‘Kristallnacht’ (‘Night of Broken Glass’) because of the severity of the destruction. Two days later, Goebbels announced that the Jews were to be fined one billion marks for the damage, and a decree was issued formally excluding them from economic activity.
Policies to reduce unemployment:
Hjalmar Schacht was put in charge of the economy in 1934, and his main idea was to create vast building schemes such as the autobahns, thus providing jobs for the six million unemployed in 1933.
· The Labour Service was introduced in 1935, and offered all unemployed men aged 19-25 six months of compulsory manual work on one of these projects. The Labour Front was a united trade union, representing the needs of all workers, and also allowing the government to control them. ‘Strength Through Joy’ was a programme which brought the leisure time of workers under the regime’s control, offering subsidised holidays, theatre trips, and sports courses.
· Extensive rearmament between 1936 and 1939 created hundreds of thousands of jobs making munitions for the rapidly growing armed forces. Overall, Nazi policies to reduce unemployment were highly successful; there were only 300,000 people unemployed by 1939, and this hugely increased Hitler’s popularity, as well as benefiting the German economy.
Nazi policies towards the Jews 1939-45:
On 1 September 1939, German troops invaded Poland, and by 1941 they had conquered most of Europe, bringing another four million Jews under their control. This, and the disregard for international opinion brought on by war, exacerbated their persecution of Jews.
· To begin with, they just extended their existing methods. In Poland, Jews were rounded up, and forced to live in enclosed and overcrowded slums called ghettos. Death squads were used to assassinate Jews, but they were finding the mass shootings a strain. Therefore pressure was growing to find a rapid solution to the Jewish problem. It was agreed in the summer of 1941 that this would take the form of mass extermination in death camps. This policy has become known as the Final Solution, and was headed by Reinhard Heydrich. By November 1944, when gassing ceased at Auschwitz (the last camp to close), 5.7 million Jews had been slaughtered.
The Home Front:
From 1939-42, life in Germany was relatively undisturbed by the War – overall morale remained positive as a result of a series of German victories and although, there was some rationing, living standards remained high.
· However, this changed dramatically from 1942. Morale fell as German offensives stalled on several fronts. There were food shortages, resulting in a monotonous diet. Almost everything was rationed (such as soap), or not available (such as toilet paper). Eventually, ration cards were no longer honoured and many products disappeared onto the black market, on which many people were forced to rely in order to scrape out a living. Morale was worsened by the return of dead and injured soldiers, particularly after Operation Barbarossa, in 1941.
· During the ‘total war’ period of 1933-34, which followed defeat at Stalingrad, everything in Germany was geared towards the war effort. This meant an increase in working hours, the abolition of luxuries such as professional sport, places of entertainment, and bars, and travel restrictions. Thus there was a huge drop in living standards.
· Another cause of hardship was the extensive bombing by the Allies on German cities. In one series of raids on Hamburg in July 1943, 50,000 people were killed in the space of a week. Overall, approximately two million German citizens died as a result of the war.
The growth of opposition to Hitler:
Groups such as the Swing Movement and the Edelweiss Pirates opposed the way in which the Hitler Youth had taken over the lives of young people. Examples of the ways in which they opposed the Nazis included handing out leaflets, and doing forbidden things, such as listening to certain types of music, or girls wearing short skirts.
· Bishop Galen opposed the Nazis’ treatment of mentally and physically handicapped people, and revealed that they were secretly being killed by the secret police. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Protestant pastor, joined German military intelligence and tried to use his position to undermine the Nazis by passing messages to the Allies and helping Jews to escape to Switzerland.
· The White Rose Movement opposed Nazi attitudes to and treatment of Jews and Russians. They sprayed anti-Nazi graffiti and handed out leaflets to try and raise awareness about Nazi atrocities.
· Germany’s deteriorating military position in 1944 prompted an attempt of Hitler’s life in July, by Klaus von Stauffenberg. He planted a briefcase in the Führer’s headquarters, but it was moved and Hitler escaped with only minor injuries.
Defeat and the death of Hitler:
By July 1944, Allied armies were pushing Germans back on both fronts, and refugees from reconquered areas poured into Germany.
· In early 1945, there were very heavy air raids and government plans were in chaos. Hitler, Goebbels, and other Nazi leaders committed suicide amidst the ruins of Berlin.