Hitler's Germany, 1929-39

AQA History B: Unit 2, Section 5: Hitler's Germany, 1929-39


How & why Hitler could become Chancellor, Jan 1933

Wall Street Crash- Hitler & Nazis had little support, but as unemployment rose, so did support for the extremist political parties (Communists and Nazis) as they promised solutions to Germany's economic and social problems & Nazis promised to restore Germany's pride.

January 1933: Hitler became leader of largest party in Reichstag - he became a dictator within 18 months and enforced Nazi policies on th German people:

  • Political opposition banned
  • Nazi propaganda in every part of life, including education
  • SA, ** & Gestapo ensured non-Nazi opinions were punished harshly

People realised (too late) the huge price for supporting a party promising to restore Germany's pride.

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Wall Street Crash and Depression in Germany

Germany suffered particularly badly- American banks demanded repayment of loans, businesses went bankrupt, almost 6 million unemployed (1932), low wages/part-time work, couldn't afford rent

Government = powerless; many small political parties, none had majority, coalition needed

Support for Comunists-poor working class & Nazis- bankrupt businessmen & unemployed workers: 'One People, One Nation, One leader'

Goebbels = head of Nazi propaganda

SA threatened political opponents, encouraged atmosphere of chaos, other parties' meetings disrupted, members beaten up, fires started- blamed Communists for the violence

Hitler made many speeches, stressing simple facts: spoke at length about the disgrace brought to Germans by the shameful Treaty of Versailles

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Weimar system of government

Proportional representation=coalition governments

Article 48- President (General von Hindenburg) could make laws without consulting Reichstag in emergency, dangerous if misused, establish stable government & solutions to economic crisis

March 1930 - May 1932: Chancellor= Bruning: unpopular policies, raised taxes, cut unemployment benefit, reduced government employees' salaries

Nazis were growing in popularity: appealed to nationalism, pride, belief of Germany being 'stabbed in the back' by politicians after WW1, quick to blame the Jews for financial ills and showed them as enjoying the wealth of poor German citizens.

Hitler decided to fight against Hindenburg in Presidential Elections, he came second with 13 million votes (Hindenburg had 19 million) and campaigned with Nazi messages of nationalism, hatred of the Treaty of Versailles and suspicion of the Jews.

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Hitler appointed as Chancellor

May 1932: Hindenburg appointed Franz von Papen as Chancellor- Centre Party, not enough support: general election in July 1932, Nazis gained support; general election in November 1932, even fewer Centre Party seats, von Papen resigned.

Von Schleicher became Chancellor- failed to gain majority

Hindenburg forced to ask Hitler to become Chancellor- Hindenburg despised him and thought Nazis unworthy to rule Germany. January 1933- Hindenburg forced to make Hitler Chancellor- tried to limit his power by making von Papen Vice-Chancellor and restricting the number of other Nazis in the Cabinet to 2.

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Democracy to Nazi Dictatorship, 1933-34

Hitler appeared to have limited control when he became Chancellor. Nazis did not have a majority in the Reichstag: only 3 Nazis in Cabinet including himself.

Communist Party had much support, especially among worling classes.

Within 18 months, Hitler had destroyed Weimar Constitution and become a dictator.

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The Reichstag Fire, February 1933

27th February 1933: Reichstag building severely damadges by fire. Hitler immediately blames Communists. Dutch Communist Marinus van der Lubbe caught at the scene, found guilty and beheaded after 11 months- debatable as to whether he was actually responsible.

Communists gave different version of events: it was a Nazi plot so Hitler could blame the Communists; van der Lubbe started it & SA started others at same time; Nazis started the fire themselves.

Hitler persuaded Hindenburg to pass 'Protectino of the People and the State' law allowed Hitler to arrest anyone suspected of opposing the government- ended all personal liberty, stopped freedom of expression, took control of the press.

Hitler could act against political opponents in March election- some arrested, other too afraid to vote because of threatening behaviour of SA, SA intimidated suspected opponents, force them into open opposition so they could be arrested.

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March 1933 election and Enabling Act

March 1933: Nazis largest party in election, not majority, only 44%- Hitler disappointed with result, stopped Communists taking their seats with state of emergency declared by President.

Won over Centre Party by promising to protect Catholic Church in Germany, Nationalists prepared to support him. Those arriving at Kroll Opera House (temporary home for Reichstag after the fire) were ushered in by heavily-armed SA men. 

Reichstag members passed the Enabling Act- gave Hitler power to make his own laws without Reichstag. 444 votes in fovour, only 94 Socialists voting against.

Reichstag had voted to let Hitler and the Nazis do what they wanted. 

Germany was no longer a democracy. 

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Elimination of political opposition, 1933-34

Comunist Party- banned after Reichstag Fire

May-July: all other political parties benned, including those that had helped him become Chancellor. Enabling Act allowed him to pass law against formation of parties. Nazi Party the only political party allowed in Germany. Many prominent Communists and Socialists arrested. 

May 1933: trade unions (contained many communist supporters) closed down, replaced with Nazi trade union, the German Labour Front.

July 1933: Hitler signed agreement with Pope, Concordat: Catholics to accept Hitler's promise not to interfere with Catholicism in Germany.

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Hitler's elimination of the SA

Summer 1933: dictatorship nearly complete but Ernst Rohm in control of SA (Brownshirts)- reputation for violence & causing chaos giving the Nazis a bad name, Hitler wanted a professional army. Rohm wanted more powerful SA, Hitler saw it could challenge his leadership & Rohm was also a potential threat.

Hitler wanted ** (Blackshirts) to replace SA. Was told that SA was plotting against him (true) and planning to seixe power immediately (not true!). Hitler decided to act. 

30th June 1934 (Night of the Long Knives): ** used to shoot and arrest leading SA members. Rohm was shot in prison cell after refusing to commit suicide. Process continued over nexxt few days and nights. 

Not all those shot were SA members, some were opponents, such as previous Chancellor, von Schleicher.

Hitler told Reichstag he'd saved the nation from potential civil war- Reichstag accepted this version of events without question (it was only Nazis).

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The Fuhrer

2nd August 1934: President Hindenburg died. Hitler combined President and Chancellor and became Fuhrer (leader). The German armies swore a personal oath of loyalty to Hitler. 

Hitler had gained total power within Germany.

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One-party State

Hitler= all-powerful, but personally lazy.

Most detailed work and decision making was left to others, he preferred to dream up grand schemes about the greatness of Nazi rule and his plans for the expansion of the German State. 

Hitler's chief subordinates were allowed a great deal of flexibility, but they knew that Hitler wanted.

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Law and Order

Right to trial before imprisonment abolished.

Justice system became part of Nazi State- judges replaced with Nazi supporters; ** and Gestap would put people in concentration camps without a trial.

1934: People's Court set up to try people for 'crimes against the state'

Any opponent of the Nazis was called an enemy of the State.

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The ** and Gestapo

** formed in 1925 as Hitler's personal bodyguard. Had become party's own police force by early 1930s- becamse most important military group under Heinrich Himmler after the Night for the Long Knives in 1934

Gestapo= secret police under Reinhard Heydrich, first in Prussia then over whole of Germany by 1936- job to search out opponents of the Nazis, could arrest and imprisen, informers uncovered any attempts to organise opposition, torture used to extract information and confessions.

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Concentration Camps

Gestapo arrests could be held in 'protective custody' in a concentration camp indifinitely. Over 100,000 prisoners when first established, mostly political opponents. Less political prisoners one Nazi power over German people was consolidated.

Camps run byt ** guards, Death's Head Units, ruthless and cruel

  • Minor offence= beating
  • More major offence= execution without trial
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Josef Goebbels= head of Nazi propaganda, used posters, newspaper, films, speeches, radio to present criticising the Treaty, making Germany great and blaming the Jews

Marches and rallies- show power and achievements of Nazi Germany, huge rally at Nuremberg every September from 1933-38, several days of spectacle, parade, festival, religious ceremony

Film & cinema- film-maker Leni Riefenstahl paid to produce films glorifying the Nazis using events like this, shown in cinemas across Germany

Olympic Games 1936- largest stadium in the world at the time, news reports and filming carefully managed, anti-Jewish slogans removed from streets, visitors left with a positive view of Nazi Germany

Promoted Hitler as a powerful, yet caring, leader- with dogs or children, as a military leader having skills to lead Germany.

Many women adored him, he received many flattering letters, everyone admired his achievements and were attracted to his promises.

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Censorship & the media

Censorship influenced all parts of life under the Nazis, they controlled what was heard, seen, read, nothing allowed to contradict propaganda concerning hte greatness of the Nazi State.

1934: German radio brought under state control, speakers to be set up in public space for government announcements, cheap radios for familes, foreign stations difficult to tune in to

News sources were State-controlled, only newspapers allowed were Nazi run, instructions on presentation given at a daily press conference

Cinema- entertainment and politics, similar to radio. Only work of Leni Riefenstahl recognised as outstanding, her most famous film, Triumph of the Will, was about the 1934 party rally

Books burnt if not approved of by Nazis, May 1933: huge bonfire destroying 20,000 books- works of over 2.500 writers officially banned eventually

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Control of education & Youth movements

Children learnt Nazi beliefs from the moment they started school- history taught Nazi version of past, e.g. Germany 'stabbed in the back' by German politicians influenced by Jews, at end of WW1.

Boys- military skills; girls- housekeeping, cookery, being good mothers; older children- eugenics, how to 'improve' the German race through selective breeding. Jewish teachers sacked, other teachers took an oath of loyalty to Hitler.

Youth organisations, compulsory to join after 1936: taught about Nazi beliefs, given physical exercise and training. Older boys learnt military discipline, girls had League of German Girls aiming to make them fit to become strong mothers. 

Children and families welcomed youth movements- opportunities for weekends away camping and hiking. Girls could partially break free of 'homemaker' by travelling away and meeting teenagers from elsewhere in Germany despite Nazi views on women.

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Control of the Churches

Hitler had no respet for Christianity, but kept his views vahue and talked about 'positive Christianity' and tried to appeal to both Catholics and Protestants nevertheless as he had a lot of Christian supporters. Opposing communism helped because of communism's atheism.

Catholic Church should've benefited from Concordat but the Nazis interfered with the curriculum of Catholic schools and some teachers were dismissed. Late-1930s: 100s priest and nuns arrested on unlikely charges.

Protestant Church: grouped together into the Reich Church, many accepted this as many supported the Nazis and didn't mind wearing Nazi uniform in church. Some formed their own church, the Confessional Church- clear challenge to Nazi power, several hundred pastors arrested. Pastor Martin Niemoller, most famous spokesperson in 1930s spent 7 years in concentration camps.

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German benefit to Nazi rule: Economic policies

Economy in ruins, Hitler acted swiftly, unemployment fell more that democratic governments, Nazis claimed the credit.

Lots of public money spent on job-creation schemes. Road building- intended to build 7,000km autobahnen (motorways). German Labour Front organised & directed people into jobs in forestry, water works, building hospitals, schools, sports stadiums, organisation.

Get rid of Treat humiliation- rearmament & conscription, army grew from 100,000 to 1.4 million from 1933-39, lots spent on military equipment e.g. aircraft & tanks- increases other industries e.g. chimical production, oil, iron, steel, iron-ore mining. Jews (lost German citizenship), unemployed women, Nazi opponents in camps, weren't included in unemployment figures. 

Aim of making Germany self-sufficient (couldn't pay for imports) didn't toally succeed- heavy industry dependent on Swedish iron ore. Four Year Plan from 1936 moved towards self-sufficiency, Hitler wanted the economy to be ready for war. Much achieved, but impossible to be totally- not enough raw materials, only solution would be to take over countries with the raw materials and food it needed. Hence, Lebensraum became closely linked with both economic and foreign policy.

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Social policies & standards of living

Believed that Nazi rule was improving their lives: unemployment and starving reduced, economic situation and wages improving, distracted from longer working week.

Small businesses did well, less competition with Jewish businesses, big businesses benefited from huge construciton projects, big profits made - had to produce what Nazis wanted. From July 1935: compulsory for German men aged 18-25 to do 6 months' work on practical projects, no wages, just pocket money, not very popular, but gave purpose to unemployed.

'Strength Through Joy'- part of German Labour Front: provide leisure activities for happy workforce e.g. holidays, cruises, concerts, sports etc. access to activites previously only for better off. Hitler wanted Germans to have theiry own cars.

Mid-1930s: Germans pleased with efforts of Nazi policies, unemployment falling, pride rising especially after Olympic Games. More secure from attack after remilitarisation of Rhineland, pride increased dramatically when Anschluss succeeded in March 1938.

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Effects on Nazi women

Nazis wanted women to be wives and mothers Kinder, Kirche, und Kuche (Children, Church and Kitchen). Worried about falling birth rate and wanted to promote 'racially-pure' Aryan race. Incentives encouraged women to have children: Law for Reduction of Unemployment- interest-free loans for young married couples if wife stops work, quarter cancelled for every child; Mother's Cross for most productive mothers; strict laws against abortion.

From 1936, maternity centres, as breeding centres for pure Aryan children- approved mothers match with ** men to fill Germany with pure bred German children. 

Women sacked from positions of responsibility, e.g.doctors, civil servants in 1933, teachers gradually rediced, judges from 1936.

Campaigns affected the way women dressed: plaits or bun, no dyed, makeup & trousers discourages, slimming criticised.

Policies not always successful: difficult to find/afford suitable house, shortage of workers led to women workers in later 1930s, in 1937 Nazis forced to change clause in their marriage loans scheme so that married women with a loan could take up a paid job.

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Effects on German culture

German culture restricted through censorship. Nazi propaganda pervaded everything: American music, nightclubs, Jewish writers and composers banned; modern art dismissed as 'degenerate';plays and films had to have the right themes in. 

Many artists and authors suffered in silence. Some emigrated, along with scientists, e.g. Albert Einstein who help Americans develop the nuclear bomb in WW2.

In 1933, the benefits of Nazi rule outweighed the disadvantages and concerns: living standards recovering, pride increasing, workers benefiting as long as they were obedient. Negative only became prominent in many people's minds in later 1930s  which Nazis achieved totalitarian control.

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Racial persecution: Jews and other alien groups

Nazis believed: Jews= inferior race, true Germans= the master race, duty of Nazi State to persecute Jews who had caused the German defeat in WW1 & continued to undermine Germany. Many Jews had important positions in society, despite being <1% of the German population- gave impression that Jews were controlling society and economy. 

April 1933: one-day boycott of Jewish businesses; 1934: Anti-Jewish propaganda increased; Sept 1935: legal restrictions with Nuremberg Laws; 1936: lull in persecution during Berlin Olympic Games; Sept 1937: Hitler spoke against Jews, Jewich businesses seized; June-July 1938: Jewish doctors, dentists, lawyers forbidden to treat Aryans; Oct 1938: Jews have red 'J' on passports; Nov 1938: Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass)- co-ordinated attack on Jews and their property after Jewish youth shot German embassy official. Goebbels said there should be 'deomonstrations' against the Jews- led to attcking 8,000 shops, homes, synagogues, 100 killed, 20,000 arrested and sent to concentration camps. Much property rented from German owners- Jews fined for damage. Jewish pupils at Jewish schools, worst jobs, Germans to treat them badly.

1939: Jews officially encouraged to emigrate- not all could afford to or get visas. March 1939: first mass arrests of Jews: nearly 30,000 Jewish men and boys sent to concentration camps.

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Treatment of undesirable groups

Nazis also acted against other groups seen as alien, e.g. gypsies as they didn't have regular jobs and moved around- Nuremberg Laws applied to them as well, increasingly persecuted in later 1930s. Tramps and beggars arrested and put into forced labour. 

People with physical or mental disabilities seen as a threat to Aryan superiority if allowed to have children. A law passed in July 1933 included compulsory sterilisation, including people with depression, epilepsy, blindness, deafness and the physically disabled. By 1937 almost 200,000 compulsory sterilisations performed on men and women. Later policies included euthanasia, or 'mercy killing', by means of lethal injection. 

The mistreatment of Jews and other undesirable groups got worse very quickly after the war started in September 1939.

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