Weimar Republic
Years 1929-32

Nazi Germany, 1933-1939

Administration . Prehistory . Foreign Policy . Domestic Policy . The Economy . Demography . Cultural History

Administration . President 1925-1934 Paul von Hindenburg (non-party), 1934-1945 Adolf Hitler (NSDAP); Chancellor 1933-1945 Adolf Hitler (NSDAP). Capital Berlin. Federal Elections were held in November 1933, in March 1936, in April 1938.

Hitler appointed Chancellor, Jan. 30th 1933 : The Great Depression had caused a significant increase in the number of unemployed, which peaked at about 6 million. Chancellor Heinrich Brüning, pursuing a policy of strict austerity (1930-1932) failed to lead the country out of the crisis. The Weimar Republic, with its multitude of political parties was the most liberal democracy Germany ever had; the system of proportional representation required coalition governments to be formed, and by 1930 the democratic parties were no longer able to form government coalitions based on negotiated compromises; Brüning, since 1930, using emergency provisions in the Weimar constitution, ruled by decree.
Hitler promised to provide work to Germans who were desperate to see the economic crisis overcome. In the elections of January 1933, the NSDAP gained 33 % of the votes; the parties rejecting parliamentary democracy (NSDAP, other parties of the extreme right such as the DNVP, and the Communists (KPD)) together had gained more than 50 % of the votes. President Paul von Hindenburg had little choice but to ask Adolf Hitler to form a coalition government.

Review : The Rise of Hitler and the NSDAP : During World War I, the majority of the Germans have felt to fight for a good cause. They have accepted great hardship, and immense human losses. And many felt betrayed when, after the war, Germany was branded solely responsible for the war, having to give up all colonies, part of its territory, and to pay immense reparations. Even more, the country had to reduce it's army to a minimum and to concede to the French occupation of the Rhineland. Many felt betrayed. The Far Right blamed Germany's fate partially on the left (Dolchstoss Legend), partially on the world's Jews. It also rejected the Weimar Republic as formed by lackeys of the Allies.
The economic situation immediately fllowing the armistice was chaotic. A few nationalist organizations, among them Adolf Hitler's NSDAP, tried to cash in on that sentiment, and, in imitation of Mussolini's March on Rome, organized a March on the Feldherrnhalle in München (Nov. 8th 1923). It did not have the desired effect; Hitler was arrested and sentenced to 5 years in jail (he served only one year; the German justice system later was blamed to have been "blind on the right eye"). In jail he wrote his political vision in "Mein Kampf" (my struggle). The NSDAP remained a fringe protest party. Like other political parties of the time, the NSDAP had a party militia, the SA; it conducted a campaign of street fights, the communist and social democratic militias their favourite opponents. The organization should have been treated as a criminal one, and been disbanded; early on the authorities failed to do so, in the late 1920es and early 1930es they shied away from doing so because the party seemed to be too influential. In 1928, the NSDAP had a mere 4 % of the votes. After the wall street crash of 1929, it's share rose to 28 %.

Foreign Policy : Hitler argued that the statutes of Versailles had to be overturned; already in 1934 he wanted to orchestrate the unification of Austria with Germany, and only pulled back when Italian troops marched to the Austrian border. Germany concluded a Non-Aggression Pact with Poland in 1934.
Italy's invasion of Ethiopia (1935) and the subsequent economic boycott declared against Italy by the League of Nations destroyed the Alliance of Britain, France and Italy, which since 1918 guaranteed the status quo in Europe. Hitler Germany declared not to join the boycott, its willingness to supply Italy, and demonstratively left the League of Nations.
In 1936, Popular Fronts (including the respective Communist Party) won elections in Spain and France; the British government began to doubt in the reliability of France and temporarily eyed at a potential alliance Britain-Germany-Italy to counter the feared vision of a bloc consisting of the USSR, France and Spain, perceived to be held together by the band of Communism.
With the balance of powers in Europe destroyed, Hitler could begin to implement his policy of expansion - Anschluss of Austria March 1938, annexation of the Sudetenland (Czechoslovakia, Sept. 1938), of Rest-Czechia and the Memel Territory (March 1939). For a more detailed account, see chapter Appeasement.
The Other Germany (the German exile community) persued a foreign policy of her own, warning the world of the danger posed by Nazi Germany, and sending volunteers to support the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War (Thälmann Battalion, Battalion Etkar Andre).

Domestic Policy . Transition to One-Party Dictatorship : In the night from February 27th to 28th 1933, Dutch Communist Martinus van der Lubbe set the Berlin Reichstag (parliament building) on fire; he was caught on the spot. Nazi propaganda did not blame him as an individual, but the entire Communist movement for the act; police as well as Nazi militias (SA, SS, now enjoying the status of semi-official organizations) began to hunt Communists and Social Democrats, who ended up in makeshift Concentration Camps, such as Börgermoor (Emsland); the song "Die Moorsoldaten" describes the conditions in such early camps. Perhaps the most famous inmate of the early days : Carl von Ossietzky (Nobel Peace Prize for 1935). Following the Italian model, Hitler asked for a law empowering him to rule without parliament (Ermächtigungsgesetz / Enabling Act, passed March 23rd 1933). Soon afterward all parties except the NSDAP were disbanded or declared illegal. Then the Gleichschaltung was introduced (1933-1937), the synchronisation of all state governments (Prussia : February 6th 1933, by decree) and major organisations of society with the NSDAP. President Paul von Hindenburg died in 1934; Hitler ran for Germany's highst office, while holding on to his post as chancellor. From 1934 he held both positions.

Germany a Totalitarian State : The Führerprinzip (Führer principle) was generally introduced. The print media, radio, the education system were used to spread Nazi propaganda. The churches were turned into organizations loyal to the new political system; only a few managed to free themselves and stand up to the system, such as the Lutheran Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church) and individual Catholics; they had to face political repression; some, like Dietrich Bonhöffer, remained loyal to their conscience and paid for this with their lives. Youth organizations such as the boy scouts and the YMCA were dissolved, replaced by the HJ (Hitler Youth) for boys, the BDM for girls, were boys were trained to become soldiers who would execute any order, girls indoctrinated with the party line to produce many sons. Police, the SA and SS, the HJ could use force to harrass groups or individuals which the party decided to be victims of such treatment. Any attempt to sue the NSDAP or one of her affiliate organizations, or individual members, for their actions was futile; lawyers would refuse to take on such a case, as many were party members themselves, and the others did not want to get in trouble with the establishment. Publicly criticizing the party was dangerous; not being party member meant promotion in one's job was virtually impossible.

Nazi Policies : Hitler's Anti-Semitism and Race Theory were turned into political practice by the Nuremberg Laws (1935) which defined Jews by their ancestry and deprived them of their German citizenship. Jews were banned from the army, from employment by state and municipality, from university. Following the assassination of German diplomat Ernst von Rath by a disgruntled Jew in November 1938, Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels ordered the implementation of the Night of the Broken Glass (Nov. 9th - 10th 1938), a coordinated pogrom against Jewish institutions (synagogues, cemeteries), Jewish businesses and individual Jews, causing large numbers of German Jews to flee the country (see chapter Holocaust.
In 1937 Germany passed the euthanasia law; immediately entire institutions for severely mentally or physically disabled were cleared by giving the patients lethal injections. Doctors had the right to decide over the sterilization of individuals.

Economic Policy : In January 1933, Hitler had to deliver on his promise of drastically reducing unemployment. Hitler's solution was to kickstart the economy by printing money, financing Germany's ambitious Armament Policy (in violation of the Treaty of Versailles) and it's infrastructure projects like the construction of the Autobahn network. Unemployment was sharply reduced, and the economical situation improved considerably, for the moment. However, at foreign banks German mark were no longer accepted; exports had to be paid for in foreign currency. The German economy was a bubble economy, the bubble was expected to burst in 1940, at the latest. By that time Hitler planned to have started a major war.
Unemployment figures : 1933 26.3 %, 1934 14.9 %, 1935 11.6 %, 1936 8.3 %, 1937 4.6 %, 1938 2.1 % [IHS p.163].
Banknote circulation 1932 4.1 billion RM, 1938 8.6 billion RM [IHS p.767]; total central government expenditure in 1932 5.9 billion RM, in 1934 8.2 billion RM, from 1935 onward data no longer published [IHS p.799].
As in Italy, Germany was transformed into a corporate economy, i.e. the trade unions deprived of their right to strike. Hitler, as Mussolini, dreamt of achieving autarchy for the German economy; his vision of "Lebensraum im Osten" included the acquisition of oil wells in the Caucasus or beyond the Urals.
Hitler was an admirer of Henry Ford and supported the establishment of the Volkswagenwerk in Wolfsburg. His autobahn project, on the other hand, originally had more military than economic functions.

Demography . J. Lahmeyer gives the population of Germany for 1933 as 66.0 million, that of 1938 (pre-annexation of Austria, Sudetenland) as 68.0 million (from 1936 onward the data include the population of the Saargebiet).

Cultural History . When Hitler and the NSDAP rose to power, Germany witnessed an exodus of artists and scholars, among them Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Berthold Brecht, Fritz Lang, Marlene Dietrich. Albert Einstein, celebrated physicist and at that time on a lecture tour in the U.S., decided not to return, and accepted a professorship at Princeton. Among the writers who chose to stay in Germany was Gerhard Hauptmann.
On May 10th 1933 SA and HJ organized the Burning of the Books, a ceremony in which books of Jewish, Communist, Pacifist authors and others unliked by the party were thrown into the flames; among the authors whose books were burnt were Erich Maria Remarque, Carl von Ossietzky, Bertold Brecht, Franz Kafka, Heinrich Mann, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Arnold and Stefan Zweig, Bertha von Suttner.
Hitler, himself a failed art painter, hated modern art styles such as Impressionism, Dadaism, Fauvism, Surrealism and Expressionism; Nazi propaganda labelled these as "Degenerate Art", Nazi organizations cleansed Germany's musea of such items, selling off the more famous ones on Swiss auctions and destroying the remainder. Numerous artists disliked by the Nazis, living in Germany, were forbidden to produce pieces of art, such as sculptor Ernst Barlach.
The Nazi administration reorganised society at every level, introducing the "Führerprinzip" (Leader Principle). When it was introduced at the University of Heidelberg, philosopher Martin Heidegger accepted the function of Führer of the university professors.
At universities the Nazi administration promoted the pseudo-sciences of Geopolitics (Karl Haushofer) and of Race Biology.
Like Italy's Fascist government, the Nazis promoted sports, to turn boys into better soldiers and to compensate the masses for democratic freedom of which they were deprived. Hitler preferred athletics over football (soccer), perhaps because the dominant German soccer team of the time, FC Schalke 04, had many players of Polish ancestry in their starting line-up.
The Summer Olympics held in Berlin in 1936 were a huge success for Nazi propaganda; Leni von Riefenstahl directed the movie 'Olympia' (1936, 1938). Hitler dreamt of having erected a number of gigantic buildings intended to glorify Nazi values and German greatness; his favourite architect was Albert Speer.
With such a large percentage of the German cultural elite having chosen exile, the German community abroad came to be called "Das bessere Deutschland" (The Better Germany).
In exile, Bertolt Brecht wrote Mutter Courage, Der Gute Mensch von Sezuan. Director Wilhelm Dieterle (William D.) directed Louis Pasteur (1935), The Life of Emile Zola (1937), movies intended to raise sympathies for France (threatened by Nazi Germany) in the U.S. Heinrich Mann wrote Henri Quatre (1935, 1938).
Artists, authors who lived in Germany during/through the Nazi years, while opposing them (painter Emil Nolde, sculptor Ernst Barlach), suffering from a ban to write or produce art, experienced what is called "The Inner Exile".

Wikipedia articles : Third Reich, Nazi Germany, Nazi Party, Gleichschaltung, Enabling Act, Racial Policy of Nazi Germany, Nazi Eugenics, Degenerate Art, Nuremberg Laws, Edgar Andre, Thälmann Battalion, Nazi Book Burnings, Karl Haushofer, Volkswagen, Autobahn History
Articles from Wikipedia, German Edition : Liste der Verbrannten Bücher 1933 (List of Books Burnt in 1933)
Art and Propaganda 1930-1945, from DHM
Library of Congress Country Studies : Germany
Nationalsozialistische Europapläne (National Socialist Plans for Europe), by Daniel Spichtinger, in German
DOCUMENTS ----- note : some of the documents listed below are propagandistic and offensive. View with discretion ----

100 Reichsmark banknote of 1935, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money
Images of VW Memorabilia, from Strictly Vintage VWs
Poster advertising the GeStaPo, 1933, posted by Library of Congress
Exilpresse Digital 1933-1945 (German Exile Publications Digitized), posted by DDB, in German
Nazi Propaganda (in English translation), from German Propaganda Archive
Archivalienkatalog des Deutschen Exilarchivs, at Univ. Regensburg
REFERENCE Wolfgang Benz, A Concise History of the Third Reich, Berkeley : Univ. of California Press 2006, KMLA Lib.Sign. 943.086 B479c
Chapters I : Hitler, pp.1-19; II : Psychopathology of a Dictator, pp.20-29; III : Who Killed the German Republic ? pp.30-41; IV : The Trick by Fire and the Purge by Blood, pp.42-59; V : The Two G-Men, pp.60-70, VI : The other little Hitlers, pp.71-81; VII : War, Peace, Policy and Cash, pp.82-99, in : John Gunther, Inside Europe, 1940 War edition, NY : Harper & Bros. 1940 [G]
Frederic V. Grunfeld, The Hitler File. A Social History of Germany and the Nazis, 1918-1945, NY : Random House 1974 [G; actually a pictorial history]
Nora Waln, The Approaching Storm. One Woman's Story of Germany 1934-1938, NY : Soho (1939) Reprint 1967 [G]
Deutscher Widerstand 1933-1945, Informationen zur politischen Bildung 243, Ndr 2000 [G]
Tim Kirk, The Longman Companion to Nazi Germany, London etc.: Longman 1995 [G]
Article : Germany, in : Statesman's Yearbook 1937 pp.965-1005 (data of 1935-1937) [G]
Article : Germany, in : Americana Annual 1934 pp.268-272, 1935 pp.311-316, 1936 pp.317-321, 1937 pp.314-318, 1938 pp.304-308, 1939 pp.331-337 [G]
Article : Germany, in : New International Year Book 1933 pp.310-319, 1934 pp.268-276, 1935 pp.273-281, 1938 pp.288-295, 1939 pp.311-320 [G]
Article : Germany, in : Funk & Wagnall's New International Year Book 1933 pp.237-243, 1934 pp.260-266, 1935 pp.253-259, 1936 pp.223-228, 1937 pp.227-232, 1938 pp.234-242, 1939 pp.248-257 [G]
IHS : B.R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics, Europe 1750-1988, NY : Stockton Press 1992 [G]
Neil Gregor, How to Read Hitler, NY : W.W. Norton 2005, KMLA Lib. Call Sign 943.065 G819h
Marion Freyer Wolff, The Shrinking Circle. Memories of Nazi Berlin 1933-1939, NY : UAHC Press 1989 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on September 11th 2008

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