The Rise of the Third Reich

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  • Created on: 13-03-15 14:25

The NSDAP 1920-23

When Hitler first joined the DAP, it was a political debating society with no programme, no headquarters and no structure. Hitler's immediate aims after he became its leaders were to give it a clear identity and to transform it into an organisation capable of waging political warfare. 

  • A policy statement - the twenty-five point programme published in early 1920
  • Calls itself National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP)
  • Newspaper of local party branches set up - most in Bavaria
  • Party rallies were held and were increasingly well attended
  • Paramilitary organisation, the SA, was established in 1921

By 1922 the NSDAP had 6,000 members. This increased after the French occupation of the Ruhr and reached 50,000 by the time of the ill-fated putsch attempt

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What did the Nazis stand for?

Ultra-Nationalism: Nations compete against each other for survival and greatness. Creating a Germany that would contain all Europe's German-speaking nationals within its borders and expanding to the east for Lebensraum. Duty to serve the nation's more important than any other obligation.

Racism: Nazis were racist - humankind was divided into biologically distinct groups, some of which were superior to others. Aryan or Nordic race was the master-race and at the bottom were the Slavs of Eastern Europe and Russia + saw the Jews as a race who if left unchecked would achieve world domination.

Authoritarianism: If Germany was to succeed in the struggle between nations it had to be ruled in a pitiless fashion by an all-powerful leader. Rejected democracy completely bc it encouraged conflict. Also had a contemptuous view of ordinary people.

Anti-Capitalism: Hostile to big businesses - sympathetic to the plight of small businessmen and traders. 


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How did Nazi beliefs differ from the Elite's?

  • Conservative elites wanted restoration of the monarch
  • Nazis did not - Hitler wanted Germany to be ruled by "a man chosen by destiny"
  • Conservative elites were old-school imperialists who hoped to regain Germany's lost colonies. 
  • Hitler displayed little interest in overseas colonies - instead he wants to seize territory and resources from the Soviet Union
  • Conservative elites were suspicious of a movement which labelled its ideas "National Socialism" and supported anti-capitalist proposals 
  • Nazis spoke of creating a new society, a "National Community" which was not divided by class and status. The apparent belief in equality alarmed the conservative elites.
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Hitler's Treason Trial - 1924

November 1923 - Hitler marched into a Munich beer hall where Gustav head of Bavaria's state gov was speaking. He forced him at gunpoint to agree to set in motion the right-wing march on Berlin they had both been planning. Naively, he let him go and Gustav promptly ordered forces to occupy key points around the city. 30-second shoot-out left 18 people dead and most of the 2000 Nazis fled

Hitler was put on trial for treason in Feb-Mar 1924 : he turned the platform into Nazi prpaganda. He was found guilty but was given an absurdly light sentence of 5 years. 

The trial was important because:

  • Attracted a huge amount of publicity - made Hitler a nationally known figure in Germany for the first time.
  • Before the trial, Hitler saw himself as someone who was helping to prepare the ground for a savior who would rise up and restore Germany to greatness. After it, he believed he was the savior
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Hitler Reasserts his Authority

While he was in prison, the NSDAP fell into disarray - banned by law from campaigning. Its leaders were scattered.

Hitler's first task was - end the bickering within the NSDAP to UNIFY the party under his control

Then, he tightened his grip over the NSDAP by imprisoning the leadership principle. Individuals at each level of the party hierarchy were required to offer total and unhesitating obedience to their superiors. 

A new political strategy - LEGALITY

While in prison he reassessed their political strategy. Decided to abandon the putsch as a means of winning power and instead committed to legality. This involved elections with the object of building up a base within the Reichstag from which a final assault on power would be made. Didnt mean they renounced violence or that the SA were made redundant - their new aim was to attack Communist paramilitaries on the streets of Germany's towns and cities. The idea was to weaken the Weimar Republic by giving the impression that it was incapable of maintaining law and order = calculated use of violence as well as participation in the electoral process.

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More on Legality

In the late 1920s - Hitler ordered a major reorganisation of the NSDAP - aimed to enhance its ability to fight election campaigns. The NSDAP was divided into 35 areas with borders which correspond to those of Weimar Germany's electoral districts. Each area had its leader who was repsponsible for the political activity within it. 


Nazi's new election-based stratgy didnt bring immediate results. In the 1928 Reichstag elections they won less than 3% of the vote. The later 1920s, however, were not entirely barren years for the NSDAP.

Between 1923 and 1929 party membership doubled from 50,000 to more than 100,000. This increase owed much to Hitler's political skills, among them his capacity to inspire loyalty and his remarkable prowess as a public speaker.

In addition, the NSDAP received a boost in 1929 when Hugenberg, leader of the Nationalist Party, invited it to join his campaign against the arrangements for the payments of reparations set out in the Young Plan. This gave the Nazis a status and a respectability which they had not previously had. They had begun to edge in to the mainstream of German politics. 

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The Nazi Electoral Breakthrough 1928-32

Political Parties in the Weimar Era:

  • Multi-Party System - 5 or 6 major political parties capable of winning 10% or more of the vote in national elections.
  • Conversely, there was no single party capable of winning anywhere near 50% of the vote in national elections.
  • Coalitions made of three or four different political parties. This in turn helps to explain why in the 11 years between 1919 and 1930 no fewer than 16 separate gov held office in Germany
  • Political Parties Were Sectional: Represented interests of particular sections of the community - workers, Catholics, professional people, Junkers.
  • They attracted little or no support from outside their own 'camp'.
  • There were no real national parties in the Weimar Republic - that is, political parties which attracted support from different sections of the community and whose appeal cut across the boundaries of class and region. 
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Weimar Political Parties

Working-Class Camp

  • Communist Party: Younger and less-skilled workers; unemployed workers
  • Social Democratic Party: Older and more skilled workers - majority of the working class

Catholic Camp

  • Zentrum: Catholics of all social classes

Middle-Class Camp

  • Democratic Party: Intellectuals and professional people: the professor party
  • People's Party: Industrialists, businessmen, managers

Conservative Camp

  • Nationalist Party: Junkers and industrial tycoons - Hugenberg's party
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Who voted Nazi?

  • Support for the Zentrum was broadly stable throughout the Weimar era, suggesting that Catholics for the most part were resistant to the appeal of Nazism.
  • The Social Democratic Party's vote was more erratic than the Zentrum but it retained much of its hold on the working-class vote during the period of the Nazi breakthrough = Nazis failed to win over the majority of the working class. 
  • Support for the DDP and DVP collapsed in the early 1930s = Middle-class voters switched to the Nazis. 
  • Decline in support for the Nationalist DNVP suggests that large parts of the conservative camp followed suit. 
  • Nazis had quite a lot of success in winning over working-class voters. Even in the most deprived working-class districts - 1/5 of voters were supporting the Nazis by 1932. 
  • Majority of the working-class camp remained loyal to either the SPD or KPD but sig. minority within it did not.
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Who voted Nazi after 1930 and who didn't

Catholics less likely to vote Nazi than Protestants

Support for the Nazis was strong amongst middle- and upper-class voters

Nazis attracted a large following in the small towns and rural areas of Protestant Germany

Nazis had fewer supporters among working class than middle class, but by 1932 they had won over a significant minority of the working class.

Gender doesn't appear to have been a factor in determining whether someone voted Nazi or not 

Whether or not age was an influence on voting Nazi is a matter of controversy: some historians argue that younger voters were especialy strongly attracted to the Nazis but others insist this was not the case. 

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Why did people vote Nazi?

Germany's economy was heavily dependent on loans from the US and as a result it was hit harder by the economic slump than any other European country. Its banking system was plunged into crisis as foreign investors hurried to withdraw their money. Unemployment: 1.5 million in 1929 to 3 million in 1930 and 6 million in 1932. Hit by severe deflation - falling prices.

Middle-Class Voters:

  • It's a new party untainted by involvement in the Republic's failures. Hitler's apparent drive and charisma. Hard-hit small businessmen may have believed the Nazis would protect them from ruin. Fear of Communism.

Working-Class Voters:

  • Stirred by Nazi promises of national revival. Impressed by the Nazi vow to provide work and bread. Fearing disorder they may have felt the Nazi's offered the best hope of a return to some sort of stability. Industrial workers who lived their lives under Commies do not appear to have voted bc they were strongly attached to the camp of which they felt they were a part of.
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Nazi Propaganda

Josef Goebbels - Part's Propaganda Chief

  • Hitler's charistmatic personality - expression in his public speeches. He convinced them he was dynamic, decisive and sincere in his desire to create a new Germany.
  • Targetting different groups in society and making them separate, distinctive, tailor-made appeals - wooed German farmers who had three main grievances: low farm prices, debt and feeling that politicians were indifferent to their plight. Therefore, they made a series of promises: introduce tariffs to protect them against foreign competition, to deal with the Jewish financiers who they claimed were responsible for the farmers' debt problems and to give them a place at the heart of the National Community. This was spread by the Agricultural Apparatus.


  • Claiming to be the only party in Germany whose aim was to further the interests of the nation as a whole as opposed to the interests of sections of it. They wanted to create a Volksgemeinschaft (a national community)
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How spectacular was the Nazi electoral breakthroug

After 1929 there was a mass of insecurity and fear around in Germany for right-wing extremists to epxloit. They were helped too by the fact that confidence in democratic government was in sharp decline. The Nazis were therefore operating in conditions which from their point of view were highly favourable. 

The same ofcourse was true of other right-wing extremists, notably Hugenberg's Nationalists. Yet these others failed where the Nazi's succeeded. Conservative elite politicians proved no match for the Nazis when it came to fighting election campaings. As propagandists the Nazis reigned supreme.

Their electoral achievement, however, had its limits. The Nazis never got close in a free election to winning the support of a majority of the German voters. Nor could the continued loyalty of their new voters be taken for granted. In 1930, a German politicial commentator, Helmuth Gerlach, maintained that Nazi support was a mile wide but only an inch deep. 

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Hitlers Legal Path to Power 1930-33

Why did parliamentary government break down in 1930?

Disagreements between the moderate parties

  • Coalition made up of the four political parties which either favored or accepted the democratic system: the Social Democrats, the Centre, the Democratic Party and the People's Party.
  • When unemployment began to rise, the three non-socialist parties in Muller's coalition called for cuts in government spending
  • Demand reflected mainstream economic thought at the time, maintained that the best thing gov can do in an economic downturn was to cut expenditure, avoid borrowing and rely on the private sector to get the economy moving again. 
  • Social Democrats were unwilling to accept spending cuts. 
  • Muller's coalition broke up and no gov which commanded a majority in the Reichstag to form a gov on its own
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...more reasons

The 1930 Reichstag elections

  • Moderate parties lost ground, while Nazis on the right and the Commies on the left made gains. The four parties now had fewer than half the seats in the Reichstag amongst them so even if they had been able to overcome their differences, they wouldnt have been able to form a government which had a majority in the Reichstag
  • Anti-democratic: 38%
  • Parliamentary gov but not spending cuts: 24%
  • Parliamentary gov and spending cuts: 24%
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What did presidential government involve?

Collapse of parliamentary government brought Article 48 of the Weimar constitution into play. Presidential government was ruling under Article 48 for years on end. Brought Hindeburg to the force - he relied heavily on his advisors. Germany's conservative elites were firmly back in the saddle. Most influential: Kurt von Schleicher

Presidential gov did not involve the aged Hindenberg, but chancellors could only implement their policies if he was willing to issue the necessary decrees on their behalf. 


  • Served as an infantry officer on the W Front - he was sound and reliable
  • Bruning's political outlook was conservative. He disapproved of the revolution and privately hoped for the return of monarchy. 
  • His background in economics and finance meant that he was well qualified to tackle the problem of rising unemployment
  • Obstruct presidential government - constitution gave it the right to overturn presidential decrees. They hoped his appointment would help prevent difficulties of this kind since he was popular in the Reichstag.
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Burning's Policies as Chancellor

  • Firm believer in the orthodox, mainstream economic ideas. Assumed the economy would recover at its own accord. Saw the role of the gov as helping things along by living strictly within its means, spending only what it could afford and not running up debts. This meant deep cuts in gov spending. Reduced unemployment benefit and cut jobs and wages in the public sector. Even cut pensions of disabled war veterans. 
  • Exceptions to his cost-cutting: spending on the army was not cut and nor were there cuts in subsidies paid to farmers in E Germany. Cuts in these areas would not have been acceptable to Hindenburg and his advisors.
  • Convinced that the German economy was massively weighed down by the need to pay reparations. Worked hard and successfully to rid it of this burden. They were suspended by international agreement in 1931 and scrapped altogether in 1932. However these agreements did nothing to speed up Germany's economic recovery.
  • His policies were deeply unpopular in Germany - earned him the nickname of the "Hunger Chancellor" -by 1932 it was clear they were unsuccessful + unpopular. Unemployment still rising, no real evidence to suggest that the end of the economic depression was in sight. 
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Why did Brüning lose office?

  • Failure of his economic policies - as the economy deteriorated, support for the Commies grew. 
  • Violent clashes between Commies and Nazi paramilitaries became frequent
  • Middle-class fears of Commie takeover intensified
  • Schleicher - Hindenburg's most influential advisor - began in 1932 to think in terms of solutions to Germany's problems which did not involve Brüning. 

1. Relations between Hindenburg and Brüning turned sour - the two fell out when Hindenburg's seven-year term as President expired in early 1932. Initially, hoped to avoid an election, expected B to persuade the Reichstag to vote to extend his term in office. Brüning tried to do so but failed. 

Hitler decided to stand against him at the elections - in the second, run-off elections Hindenburg defeated Hitler by 19 mill to 13 mill, but H won the right-wing vote. Hindenburg was re-elected largely due to people he disliked and distrusted - Catholics and Social Democrats

2. It became known in Junker circles that Brüning was toying w/the idea of buying up insolvent Junker estates and settling unemployed workers in them. Enraged, they complained to Hindenburg that he was a wild extremist intent on seizing their property. He was soon dismissed. 

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Von Papen as Chancellor

Recommended to Hindenburg by Schleicher - greeted w/astonishment. He was little-known, hard-line, right-wing with no government experience.

Schleicher had reached the conclusion that Germany's crisis called for the introduction of a more extreme form of presidential government. He wanted Germany to be run in a near-dictatorship fashion by the president and the army with the Reichstag being permanently sidelined.

He also wanted to enlist the support of the Nazis: their involvement + their popularity w/electorate would provide the appearance of mass support for the idea of authoritarian rule. He tried to draw Hitler in ways such as:

  • Ministers appointed to serve who were as right-wing as he was 
  • Ban that Brüning had imposed on the SA was lifted
  • Von Papen's gov called for new Reichstag elections, knowing that the Nazis were certain to do well in them.
  • In violation of the constitution, von P removed the Social-Democrat-controlled state gov of Prussia from office. Hitler was glad because it had been a determined opponent of Nazism (oops, Schleicher)
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Political Intrigues 1932 - 33

July 1932 Elections - Nazis won nearly 38% - largest single party in the Reichstag. Starting-point of a 6-month period of change in positions at the top of German politics which culminated with Hitler's appointment as Chancellor in January 1933. 

They aimed for Hitler to join the government. He made it clar he wouldnt accept a supporting role and insisted on being Chancellor. 

The fall from the August meeting that sent Hitler home was extensive but complicated:

  • Hitler was angry - revenge by ordering Nazis of Reichstag to join the other political parties, including the Commies. Next elections - Nazis lost 2 million people and most were right-wing voters that saw him as selfish for refusing to work under vP
  • Schleicher wanted to get rid of vP now - Hindenburg though had developed a strong personal attachmnt to him and was reluctant to part. Only agreed when told the army wanted that.
  • December 1932: Schleicher took over as Chancellor - short on political allies + no real backing = tried to persuade the socialist wing of the NSDAP and SPD to koin forces and bring down unemployment. However, socialist wing cant be prised away from the main body of the party and law-abiding Social Dem. and violent left-wing Nz had virtually nothing in common. 
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Hitler becomes Chancellor

  • vP met Hitler in Jan 1923 on 5 occasions - agreement that H becomes C and vP becomes VC
  • vP persuaded Hindenburg to agree and bc they were readier to compromise than before, Hindenburg forced Schleicher out of office. 


  • Under pressure from supporters to do the deal.
  • Wanted to punish Schleicher for offering the VC to Strasser - an offer which he saw as a deliberate attempt to split and destroy the Nazi movement. 


  • Wanted his close friend vP back alongside him
  • Believed vP's assurance that Hitler would be controlled. 

Von Papen:

  • Deeply ambitious - desp. to return to gov. + Confident that he could control and manipulate H
  • Bitter about the way Schleicher had planned his dismissal as Chancellor - wanted revenge
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March 1933 Elections

Hitler didnt win absolute power - gov he led was a coalition in which only 3 out of the 12 were Nazis. His priority was to end presidential government and to concentrate power in his own hands w/out acting unconstitutionally. 

Nazis did everything to win this - opposition meetings were broken up, individuals were attacked and beated by SA men who had enrolled as volunteer policemen, opposition newspapers banned.

Reichstag Fire - played on the middle-class fears of Communism by claiming that an uprising was imminent. Issued a decree suspending basic rights: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly (Decree of Protection of the People and the State)

Gave Nazis 44% share of the vote - 36 seats short of the number they needed. The Nationalists were now allies of the Nazis, giving him their 52 voes + 81 Communists had been elected were removed from the equation bc the KPD was banned. 60% of the Reichstag was Nazi + allies

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The Enabling Act - 23 March 1933

Hitler had to ammend the 1919 constitution so as to give himself unlimited power. This act would allow the gov to introduce new laws and amend the constitution without the consent of either the Reichstag or the President - had to be passed by 2/3 of the majority in Reichstag and the Nz didnt have that. 

After a heated debate they decided to support it - thought they'd earn Hitler's gratitude by giving way over the Enabling Act and would therefore be able to exert influence over him. Others believed in his promises to uphold the position of the Catholic Church in Germany

The Act was called the Law to Alleviate the Sufferings of the People and the Country by the Nazis. Passed by 444-94 

This ended any semblance of democracy in Germany. 

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How did other parties help Hitler into power?

Conservative Elites: Closer to the Nazis in their outlook and were willing to do business with him. They all wanted to use Hitler to further their own ambitions only to find themselves outsmarted. Hindenburg was nevertheless responsible for the fateful decision to appoint Hitler Chancellor. Nationalist party, army, Junkers and big businesses gave him support and encouragement. A few were, however, horrified at the thought of Nazi rule.

Left-Wing Parties: Social Democrats and Commies were enemies of Nazism but they were also deeply hostile towards each other. This blinded them. Social Democrats attached more weight to the interests of their own supporters than they did to preservation of parliamentary government, they helped create the conditions which made it possible for Hitler to take a back-door route. Commies' lawlessness, links w/Soviet Russia and their unwavering hostility to all other political parties terrified the German middle classes and helped drive them into Hitler's arms. 

Centre Party: Leaders were not uncompromising opponents of H. Prepared to join a coalition. Smoothed his path by voting for the Enabling Act

Middle-Class Parties: Wiped out electorally by the Nazis and rendered powerless. Played no sig. part - moved to the right and did nothing to stand up for democratic principles.

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Did Hitler come to power legally?

It can be argued that the requirements of the 1919 constitution were met, at least technically, when Hitler was appointed Chancellor, when the Reichstag Fire decree was issued and when the Enabling Act was passed. 

It would, however, be nonsensical to suggest that the Nazis always acted within the law in the period up to 1933. From the mid-20s onwards, they used street violence in a calculated way to destabilise the Republic: scores of people were killed and thousands seriously injured.

The wave of Nazi terror which followed Hitler's appointment as Chancellor in 1933 certainly had no basis in law. Hitler's true attitude towards the law was evident when he defended three Nazi's convicted of murder as "nationalist freedom fighters"

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