Wars

Nazi Germany: Politics, Society, and Key Events

Nazi Germany: Politics, Society, and Key Events

Nazi Germany is a reference for the twelve-year period in German history (1933-1945) during the totalitarian dictatorship of Adolf Hitler through the Nazi Party, which was founded in 1919 as the German Workers' Party. The group grew in retaliation to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and promoted German pride and anti-Semitism, two traits that infused Nazi Germany.

Scroll down to see articles about the post-World War One events that caused Nazi Germany to form, along with posts on Nazi society, politics, propaganda, and the major events that occurred in Nazi Germany, leading up to the events of World War Two and its eventual downfall.

Timeline

Date

Event

9th November 1918Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated. Weimar Republic declared.
28th June 1919Treaty of Versailles signed.
5th January 1919German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) DAP formed by Anton Drexler, Gottfried Feder, Dietrich Eckart and Karl Harrer
12th September 1919Adolf Hitler, who had been sent by the German Army to spy on the German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) DAP, decided that he liked the political ideas of the party and became a member.
24th February 1920German Workers' Party (DAP) changed its name to National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDP) called the Nazi Party for short. During its first meeting a 25 point programme was announced
29th July 1921Adolf Hitler became leader of the NSDP and took the title der Führer
4th November 1921SA (Sturm Abteilung) formed. Known as Stormtroopers these were the party militia. They were also known as brownshirts because of the brown shirts that formed part of their uniform.
8th November 1923Munich (Beer Hall) Putsch - Hitler and the NSDP attempt to overthrow the Bavarian government failed. The leaders were arrested and charged with treason.
26th February 1924Hitler's trial for his part in the Munich Putsch began. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison but only served 10 months. During his time in prison Hitler wrote Mein Kampf.
April 1925SS (Schutzstaffel) formed. The SS, who wore black shirts to distinguish them from the SA, initially formed Hitler's personal bodyguard, but later became the party militia.
4th July 1926Hitler Youth, League of German Worker Youth was formed. The party had had a youth section since its beginning, but this new re-organised Hitler Youth was more integrated into the SA.
20th August 1927The first annual party conference to be held at Nuremburg. Known as the Nuremburg Rally all subsequent annual meetings were held at Nuremburg.
1929 - 1930Great Depression - The world depression saw many Germans face unemployment and poverty. Support for the Nazi party increased dramatically.
During 1930Hitler Youth junior branches established - Deutsches Jungvolk for boys aged 10 - 14 years and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls) for girls aged 10 - 18 years.
September 1930The Nazi party gained 18.3% of the vote in the Reichstag elections to become the second largest party.
July 1932The Nazi party gained 37.4% of the vote in the Reichstag elections to become the largest party.
30th January 1933Hitler appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Hindenburg
3rd February 1933Hitler defined the Nazi party foreign policy. The prime goal was to secure lebensraum (living space) for the German master race.
27th February 1933The Reichstag Fire. A fire which broke out at the Reichstag building was blamed on the Communist Party (KPD). As a result the KPD, which was the second largest party in Germany, was banned. The banning of the Communist party gave the Nazis a clear majority in government.
5th March 1933With the Communist party banned Hitler ordered a new election at which the Nazi party gained 44% of the General election vote.
23rd March 1933Enabling Act gave Hitler power to make laws without consulting the Reichstag for a period of four years
26th April 1933The Gestapo, Nazi secret police, were formed
26th April 1933The Nazis took over local government
2nd May 1933Trade Unions were banned
10th May 193325,000 'un-German' books burned in an “Action against the Un-German Spirit”. The move was encouraged by Joseph Goebbels, Head of Propaganda.
14th July 1933All political parties except the Nazis were banned
October 1933Germany withdrew from the League of Nations
30th June 1934The Night of the Long Knives - 150 leaders of the Stormtroopers SA were executed. Many members of the SA were committed socialists and demanded that Nazi policy embrace socialist aims. This was not a direction the Nazis wished to follow so the SA were eliminated.
2nd August 1934President Hindenburg died. Hitler combined the post of President and Chancellor and called himself Fuhrer.
September 1934In a speech to the National Socialist Women's Organization, Hitler defined women's role stating that a woman's ” world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home.”
26th February 1935Hitler ordered Hermann Goering to establish the Luftwaffe, German airforce, in defiance of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles
March 1935Hitler publicly announced that the German Army was to be expanded. Conscription was introduced.
15th September 1935Nuremburg Laws defined German citizenship. Relationships between Jews and Aryans were banned.
7th March 1936Re-occupation of the Rhineland. In contravention of the terms of the Versailles Treaty, Hitler sent German troops to re-occupy the Rhineland.
1st August 1936Berlin Olympics began.
25th October 1936Axis alliance concluded between Germany and Italy
25th November 1936Anti-Comintern pact concluded between Germany and Japan
December 1936Law concerning the Hitler Youth made membership of the Hitler Youth compulsory for all boys
14th March 1938Anschluss with Austria. Hitler made a triumphant entry into Vienna
30th September 1938Munich Agreement - Allies agreed that Germany could have the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia in return for peace
November 1938Kristallnacht - Jewish shops and synagogues were destroyed. Following the event the Jewish population was fined for the destruction.
15th March 1939Hitler invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia in contravention of the Munich Agreement
31st March 1939Britain issued a statement guaranteeing Poland's independence. The issuing of this statement meant that if Germany invaded Poland then Britain would come to the aid of the Poles.
23rd August 1939Nazi-Soviet Pact - Alliance between Hitler and Stalin which agreed to divide Poland between the two countries.
25th August 1939Anglo-Polish Common Defence Pact - This agreement offered mutual military assistance in the event that one country was attacked by another European country. A clause was added specifying that the assistance would only be offered if the invaded country's army fought against the aggressor.
1st September 1939Hitler invaded Poland using Blitzkrieg (lightning war) tactics. Although the Poles fought back they were quickly defeated and Poland was occupied.
3rd September 1939Britain and France declared war on Germany
9th April 1940Denmark and Norway invaded and occupied
10th May 1940Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France invaded and occupied
10th July 1940Battle of Britain began - German Luftwaffe attempted to gain control of British airspace through defeat of the Royal Airforce.
October 1940Daylight and night bombing raids on Britain (The Blitz) by the Luftwaffe were abandoned. Hitler also delayed and later abandoned plans to invade Britain.
6th April 1941Yugoslavia and Greece invaded and occupied
22nd June 1941Operation Barbarossa - 3 million German troops invaded Russia
5th December 1941German advance in Russia halted by Russian winter and Russian counterattacks.
11th December 1941Hitler declared war on the United States. Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on 7th December the United States had declared war on Japan. Under the terms of the Anti-Comintern Pack Hitler was bound to declare war on the United States
20th January 1942Wannsee Conference approved plans for the 'Final Solution'.
5th November 1942German troops defeated at the Second Battle of El Alamein in North Africa
2nd February 1943German 6th Army defeated at Stalingrad
4th March 1943First allied bombing raid on German cities
6th June 1944Operation Overlord, D-Day. Allied invasion of Normandy
20th July 1944July Bomb Plot failed attempt to assassinate Hitler.
30th April 1945Hitler committed suicide
2nd May 1945Germany surrendered ending the war in Europe
20th November 1945Nuremburg war crimes trial began

Sudetenland: The German Loss of Land that Presaged Nazi Germany

At the end of World War One the treaties of Versailles, St Germain and Trianon broke the Austro-Hungarian Empire and took land from both countries and also from Germany to give to other countries.

The Sudetenland was taken away from Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and given to Czechoslovakia. The region contained Czechs, Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, Poles and Ruthenians. Although American President Woodrow Wilson had wanted people in disputed regions to be allowed to decide where they would live this did not happen.

When Adolf Hitler came to power he promised to rip up the treaty of Versailles and claim back land that had been taken away from Germany. In 1936 he had marched soldiers into the Rhineland region and reclaimed it for Germany. In March 1938 German troops marched into Austria. The Austrian leader was forced to hold a vote asking the people whether they wanted to be part of Germany. The results of the vote were fixed and showed that 99% of Austrian people wanted Anschluss (union with Germany). The Austrian leader asked Britain, France and Italy for aid. Hitler promised that Anschluss was the end of his expansionist aims and not wanting to risk war, the other countries did nothing.

Hitler did not keep his word and six months later demanded that the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia be handed over to Germany. Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Britain, met with Hitler three times during September 1938 to try to reach an agreement that would prevent war. The Munich Agreement stated that Hitler could have the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia provided that he promised not to invade the rest of Czechoslovakia. Hitler was not a man of his word and in March 1939 invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Despite calls for help from the Czechoslovak government, neither Britain nor France was prepared to take military action against Hitler. However, some action was now necessary and believing that Poland would be Hitler's next target, both Britain and France promised that they would take military action against Hitler if he invaded Poland. Chamberlain believed that, faced with the prospect of war against Britain and France, Hitler would stop his aggression. Chamberlain was wrong. German troops invaded Poland on 1st September 1939.

The Rhineland

Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles 1919 Germany was not allowed to have any military force, building or armaments in the Rhineland area. To ensure German compliance the area was occupied by British and French troops.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Locarno 1925 Germany, France, Britain and Italy agreed that the Rhineland should remain a demilitarised zone permanently. By June 1930 British and French troops had evacuated the area.

In January 1936 Adolf Hitler began to make plans to re-occupy the Rhineland. He argued that the move was needed as a defence strategy especially as France and the Soviet Union had renewed their alliance in 1935.

The date for occupation was set for 7th March 1936 and in the early morning 32,000 armed German troops entered the Rhineland.

Although Germany had been steadily building up her army since 1933 it was not strong enough to hold the Rhineland if France or Britain counter-attacked. Hitler later commented “The forty-eight hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw… ”

France was on the verge of elections and politicians were unwilling to take steps that would be unpopular with the population. French politicians and leaders knew that taking military action against Germany would be expensive and could lead to a full-scale Franco-German war.

The French appealed to the British for support but many British politicians felt that Germany was simply re-claiming what was theirs anyway. Additionally, popular feeling in Britain was totally against another major war.

The League of Nations, established by the Treaty of Versailles to deal with acts such as this, condemned Hitler's action but did not enact economic or military sanctions.

The Nazi Party

On 5th January 1919, Anton Drexler together with Gottfried Feder and Dietrich Eckart founded the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei DAP (German Workers' Party). Drexler wanted to form a party that supported the German workforce. From its earliest beginnings the party tended towards right wing politics. It was Nationalist, racist, anti-Semetic, anti-capitalist, anti-communist and determined to see a return to pre-war Germany.

Although the group only had around 40 members in 1919, the authorities were concerned that it may be a Communist group and so sent an army intelligence agent, Adolf Hitler, to investigate.

On September 12th 1919, Adolf Hitler attended a meeting of the German Workers' Party. During the meeting a point was raised with which Hitler disagreed and made a passionate speech against. Anton Drexler was impressed with Hitler's ability to speak well and invited him to join the party. After some persuasion Hitler agreed. He was the fifty-fifth person to join the group. (Later he changed his membership card to show that he was the 7th person).

On 24th February 1920 the name of the group was changed to Deutsche Nationalsozialistische Arbeiterpartei NSDP National Socialist German Workers' Party, known as the Nazi Party. As part of its re-launch the party published its 25 point programme:

1. We demand the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany on the basis of the right of self-determination of peoples.

2. We demand equality of rights for the German people in respect to the other nations; abrogation of the peace treaties of Versailles and St. Germain.

3. We demand land and territory (colonies) for the sustenance of our people, and colonization for our surplus population.

4. Only a member of the race can be a citizen. A member of the race can only be one who is of German blood, without consideration of creed. Consequently no Jew can be a member of the race.

5. Whoever has no citizenship is to be able to live in Germany only as a guest, and must be under the authority of legislation for foreigners.

6. The right to determine matters concerning administration and law belongs only to the citizen. Therefore we demand that every public office, of any sort whatsoever, whether in the Reich, the county or municipality, be filled only by citizens. We combat the corrupting parliamentary economy, office-holding only according to party inclinations without consideration of character or abilities.

7. We demand that the state be charged first with providing the opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for the citizens. If it is impossible to sustain the total population of the State, then the members of foreign nations (non-citizens) are to be expelled from the Reich.

8. Any further immigration of non-citizens is to be prevented. We demand that all non-Germans, who have immigrated to Germany since the 2 August 1914, be forced immediately to leave the Reich.

9. All citizens must have equal rights and obligations.

10. The first obligation of every citizen must be to work both spiritually and physically. The activity of individuals is not to counteract the interests of the universality, but must have its result within the framework of the whole for the benefit of all Consequently we demand:

11. Abolition of unearned (work and labour) incomes. Breaking of rent-slavery.

12. In consideration of the monstrous sacrifice in property and blood that each war demands of the people personal enrichment through a war must be designated as a crime against the people. Therefore we demand the total confiscation of all war profits.

13. We demand the nationalization of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).

14. We demand a division of profits of all heavy industries.

15. We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare.

16. We demand the creation of a healthy middle class and its conservation, immediate communalization of the great warehouses and their being leased at low cost to small firms, the utmost consideration of all small firms in contracts with the State, county or municipality.

17. We demand a land reform suitable to our needs, provision of a law for the free expropriation of land for the purposes of public utility, abolition of taxes on land and prevention of all speculation in land.

18. We demand struggle without consideration against those whose activity is injurious to the general interest. Common national criminals, usurers, Schieber and so forth are to be punished with death, without consideration of confession or race.

19. We demand substitution of a German common law in place of the Roman Law serving a materialistic world-order.

20. The state is to be responsible for a fundamental reconstruction of our whole national education program, to enable every capable and industrious German to obtain higher education and subsequently introduction into leading positions. The plans of instruction of all educational institutions are to conform with the experiences of practical life. The comprehension of the concept of the State must be striven for by the school Staatsbuergerkunde as early as the beginning of understanding. We demand the education at the expense of the State of outstanding intellectually gifted children of poor parents without consideration of position or profession.

21. The State is to care for the elevating national health by protecting the mother and child, by outlawing child-labor, by the encouragement of physical fitness, by means of the legal establishment of a gymnastic and sport obligation, by the utmost support of all organizations concerned with the physical instruction of the young.

22. We demand abolition of the mercenary troops and formation of a national army.

23. We demand legal opposition to known lies and their promulgation through the press. In order to enable the provision of a German press, we demand, that:

a. All writers and employees of the newspapers appearing in the German language be members of the race:

b. Non-German newspapers be required to have the express permission of the State to be published. They may not be printed in the German language:

c. Non-Germans are forbidden by law any financial interest in German publications, or any influence on them, and as punishment for violations the closing of such a publication as well as the immediate expulsion from the Reich of the non-German concerned. Publications which are counter to the general good are to be forbidden. We demand legal prosecution of artistic and literary forms which exert a destructive influence on our national life, and the closure of organizations opposing the above made demands.

24. We demand freedom of religion for all religious denominations within the state so long as they do not endanger its existence or oppose the moral senses of the Germanic race. The Party as such advocates the standpoint of a positive Christianity without binding itself confessionally to any one denomination. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit within and around us, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our nation can only succeed from within on the framework: common utility precedes individual utility.

25. For the execution of all of this we demand the formation of a strong central power in the Reich. Unlimited authority of the central parliament over the whole Reich and its organizations in general. The forming of state and profession chambers for the execution of the laws made by the Reich within the various states of the confederation. The leaders of the Party promise, if necessary by sacrificing their own lives, to support by the execution of the points set forth above without consideration.

On 28th July 1921 Adolf Hitler became leader of the party. By the end of 1921 the party was fairly well established with a membership of 3000 people. The party had adopted the swastika as its symbol, the Hitler Youth had been formed for the children of party members and the SA, stormtroopers had been created as the party militia group.

Following the failed Munich Putsch - attempt to overthrow the Bavarian government, in November 1923, Hitler was imprisoned. On his release in December 1925 he resolved to win power by non-violent, legitimate means. The SA were separated from the main party and took on the role of a support group. The SS, Hitler's personal bodyguard, took on a similar role.

The Nazi party stood for election but initially only gained a small number of seats in the Reichstag (German Parliament). They gained much more support when Germany suffered a financial crisis due to the Great Depression and after Hitler had been appointed Chancellor of Germany in January 1933.

Year

Votes

% of Total Vote

Reichstag Seats

May 1924

1,918,300

6.5

32

December 1924

907,300

3

14

May 1928

810,100

2.6

12

September 1930

6,409,600

18.3

107

July 1932

13,745,800

37.4

230

November 1932

11,737,000

33.1

196

March 1933

17,277,000

43.9

288

The banning of the Communist party following the Reichstag fire on 27th February gave the Nazis a clear majority in parliament. The Enabling Act passed in March 1933 gave Hitler the power to make laws without consulting parliament.

During 1933 all political parties other than the Nazi party were banned, membership of the Hitler Youth was made compulsory for all teenagers, local government was taken over by the Nazis and trade unions were banned. The secret police, The Gestapo were also formed. One year later the Night of the Long Knives saw the murder of all SA leaders who disagreed with Hitler's policies.

Following the death of President Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler combined the post of Chancellor and President to become Fuhrer of Germany. From this point until the Nazi downfall in 1945 it was Hitler as Dictator rather than the Nazi party that held true power. Members of the Nazi Party retained their positions so long as they remained in the favour of Hitler.

Leading Members of the Nazi Party

  • Adolf Hitler - Fuhrer
  • Rudolph Hess - Deputy leader (captured in 1941)
  • Hermann Goering - Minister for Air, Commander of the Luftwaffe
  • Heinrich Himmler - Head of the SS, Chief of Police
  • Josef Goebels - Propaganda Minister
  • Reinhard Heydrich - Head of the Gestapo (assassinated 1942)
  • Joachim von Ribbentrop - Foreign Minister

Munich Beer Hall Putsch

Following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm and defeat in World War One, the government of the new German Weimar Republic were forced to accept the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which included the payment of reparations to the allies of 6,600 million.

The repayments led to a devaluation of the German mark against foreign currencies and to hyperinflation in Germany. In 1923, when Germany defaulted on its repayments France occupied the Ruhr industrial region of Germany.

With popular feeling against the government, Hitler believed that the time was right for his National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi Party) to overthrow the government.

On 8th November with the support of other Socialist groups, and former World War One General Ludendorff, Hitler ordered 600 of his Stormtroopers under the command of Herman Goering to surround a Beer Hall in Munich where Conservative politician Gustav von Kahr was making a speech to 3,000 people. Also present were the local army commander, Lossow and the Bavarian police chief, Seisser. At about 8.30pm Hitler entered the hall, stood on a chair and fired a pistol shot into the ceiling. He announced to the crowd that the revolution had begun then ordered von Kahr, Lossow and Seisser into an adjoining room. After about ten minutes the group returned to the hall and Hitler announced that he had the support of all three men. When the meeting ended, Hitler immediately began planning his takeover of Munich. Von Kahr, Lossow and Seisser went straight to the authorities.

The next morning Hitler and 3,000 Nazi supporters began a march on Munich. However, it soon became apparent that the authorities had been alerted when they encountered a road block manned by 100 armed police. Shots were fired killing sixteen Nazis and four police officers. Both Hitler and Goering were injured and ran to take cover. Other Nazis also ran. Ludendorff however continued to march on, he later branded Hitler a coward and refused to have anything more to do with him.

Hitler was arrested on 12th November and charged with treason. He was found guilty at his trial in February 1924 and given a five year prison sentence. While in prison Hitler wrote his famous book Mein Kampf

Stormtroopers Sturm Abteilung SA

At the end of World War One many German soldiers became members of the Freikorps ad hoc right-wing militia groups used to