Culture and propaganda in Weimar and Nazi Germany summary and notes



Culture and propaganda in Weimar and Nazi Germany summary and notes


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Culture and propaganda in Weimar and Nazi Germany summary and notes

Notes on Culture and propaganda in Weimar and Nazi Germany

The 1920s were a period of turmoil in the Weimar Republic as she struggled to come to terms with the Treaty of Versailles, the rebellions of the 1920s and the depression of 1923. Yet the 1920s saw a renaissance in German culture and Berlin became the cultural capital of Europe as strict censorship of art was removed – yet there was also a backlash against this from many people on the right.

A new band of artists called “new objectiveness” emerged after the war – they tried to comment on what was happening in ordinary life. The most famous people to emerge from this movement were George Grosz and Otto Dix.

The 20s were also a golden age for German cinema – the most famous director of the age was the German Fritz Lang who produced several epic and famous films such as “Metropolis.” The most famous actress of the time – Marlene Dietrich – was also German although she moved to America after Hitler came to power and later appeared in anti-Nazi films for the Americans.

A new school of architecture grew in Germany after the war – the Bauhaus. They believed that architecture, technology and art should come together to build building which were both large and simple. This was very different from the elaborate style of building in pre war Germany.

The theatre and opera had attracted huge audiences in pre war Germany – in the 20s people began to write plays which were more realistic. They also passed social and political comment about what was going on in Germany at the time.

Cabaret and nightlife
Berlin became famous for its nightlife – more cinemas, theatres and nightclubs were opened. Daring shows and risqué performances were being performed on a nightly basis. This made Berlin famous but provoked a negative reaction from more conservative residents who objected to what they saw as “obscenity.”

The backlash
Many people were shocked by all these cultural developments and saw this as being symptomatic of everything that was going wrong in Germany at the time. They saw Berlin as being dirty, sleazy and as sex obsessed. The Nazis followed up this backlash and many of the movements mentioned above were sent into exile by the Nazis who had very different and traditional ideas on culture.

The Nazis and the use of propaganda
Josef Goebbels was a master of propaganda and used to persuade the German people that Nazi ideas were good and were working for Germany. He was vain, ambitious and a womaniser who was embarrassed by being club footed – he banned all pictures of him from the knee down. Goebbels used a number of ways to promote Nazi ideas and show off their successes but first he had some problems to overcome.

  • Newspapers – Germany had no national newspapers in 1933 but had over 4000 local newspapers, many of which were owned by Jewish people. The Nazi papers had a very low circulation. The Nazis took control of the newspapers and politically vetted the editors so that they would toe the party line. Anti-Nazi newspapers were closed down and the number of papers was reduced to 1000 – most of these were controlled by the Nazis. Nazi newspapers were displayed on the walls of railway stations. The Nazis kept an eye on people who worked in the newspaper industry as well – even newspaper sellers.
  • Radio – Hitler believed in the power of radio to get his message across. Most radio stations were local and state governments even owned their own radio stations. Goebbels wanted to forma Reich Radio Company in the lines of the BBC in Britain. Few people also had radios because they were expensive. The Reich Radio Company controlled all radio stations. Millions of cheap radios were produced so that people could afford them but they were manufactured so that they could not pick of foreign radio stations. By 1939 70% of German households had a radio. For those who did not have a radio 6000 public radios were erected in town squares. All of Hitlers speeches were put on the radio and programmes frequently put forward Nazi ideas and propaganda.
  • Films – film was an important way of getting your political points across but in the 1920s the German people had got used to seeing high quality films which were funny and entertaining. Would the German people be prepared to watch political films? Well over 1000 films were made under the Third Reich but most of these were love stories, comedies or adventure films. Some films were anti-Semitic and anti-Communist but Goebbels believed in entertaining people as well as getting the message across. Everyone had to stay in the cinema in order to watch propaganda newsreels as well as the film. Two Nazi propaganda films are regarded as major pieces of cinema – the Triumph of the Will (about the 1934 Nuremburg rally) and Olympiade (about the 1936 Berlin Olympics). They were directed by the female film maker Leni Riefenstahl.
  • Festivals and celebrations – rallies had been important in getting the Nazis into power now how could they use them to keep them there. The Nazis changed the calendar so that a number of important days in the history of the Nazi party could be celebrated. Every year the Nazi held a week long rally in Nuremburg which were attended by hundreds of thousands of people.
  • Culture – The Nazis were appauled by the new wave of culture that had swept Germany in the 1920s. They thought that it undermined traditional German values. What could they do about books, art, film and plays that they did not approve of? Goebbels set up a Reich Chamber of Culture of which all artists, actors and writers had to be member of it. If they did not join then they could not work. Unsuitable work was banned – this caused many others to leave Germany.

How did culture fare under the Nazis?

  • Music – Goebbels drew up guideline about what music was acceptable – only music that was German – folk songs, marching tunes and classical music by German composers. Some popular music was permitted but racially impure music – such as jazz – was banned.
  • Theatre – The Nazis thought that plays should show great moments in German history. If you joined the Nazi culture organisation you could get tickets for the theatre at half price – Goebbels even controlled what was on at the theatre and when.
  • Literature – Goebbels drew up a list of banned books which were moved from bookshops and libraries. The Nazis encouraged students to burn “un-Nazi” books. The Nazis encourage books about German history and particularly heroic acts of the First World War. Books were encouraged to promote Nazi ideas.
  • Art – Hitler had been an artist and had definite ideas on art. He hated modern art and liked classical art which showed the master race or heroic scenes from German history. He saw the artists of Weimar Germany as being perverted and influenced by the Jews. In 1937 the Nazis opened the House of German art to show off the types of works that they wanted to see produced – it also had a sections showing pieces of art which were banned and explained why. This section attracted five times more visitors than the official exhibition.
  • Architecture – Hitler preferred a certain style of architecture based on large stone buildings like there were in ancient Rome and Greece for public buildings. He preferred the country style traditional homes for homes and hostels – these should be made of wood and stone with shutters and pitched roofs.

The Berlin Olympics of 1936 – a propaganda triumph.
The 1936 Olympic games were given to Berlin before the Nazis came to power. Some Nazis wanted to cancel them but Goebbels saw them as a chance to show off Nazi ideals and of Aryan racial superiority to the world. Other countries sent amateurs to the games whilst Germany allowed her athletes to train full time and paid them from the government’s money – the same way as athletes are trained today. By the time of the games many people knew what was happening to the Jews and did not want to go – but they were forced to by their governments.

The Nazis built a magnificent stadium in Berlin that could hold over 100 000 people. They also built over 150 new buildings for the Olympics. For the opening ceremony the Nazis put on a magnificent show which impressed the world media – even non Nazis. They were impressed by the show that the Germans put on and facilities that they built. The Germans also had a very successful games – they finished top of the medal table – the only time that the Germans have done this. They won 33 gold, 26 silver and 30 bronze medals.

Unfortunately for the Nazis the star of the games was not a German but the one person who the Nazis would not have liked. Jesse Owens of the USA won 4 gold medals in athletics – and he was very popular with the German crowds. Hitler was outraged and left the stadium and refused to present Owens with any of his medals – be was a black man and didn’t fit in with Nazi ideas.

The cult of the Fuhrer
Hitler liked to give an image of him as a dynamic leader who worked hard for Germany – he didn’t have a wife because he was married to the German people as a whole. He liked to be photographed at work and with children and animals. In fact he was lazy, disorganised and had a girlfriend – Eva Braun, most people didn’t know that she existed until he married her shortly before they committed suicide.

Many women were attracted to Hitler and he received adoring letters. Many people identified with him as they could all find something in Hitler’s past which was similar to their own lives. Politically, Hitler had fulfilled all his promises and seemed to be trustworthy. Many people worshipped him and thought that he could do no wrong. They refused to blame him for mistakes committed by the Nazis – even people who did not like the Nazis still had a lot of personal respect for Hitler.


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Culture and propaganda in Weimar and Nazi Germany summary and notes

Germany – Summary Notes

Weimer Republic

Emergence of the Democratic Republic:

  • On 2 October 1918, the Reichstag was told that Germany could not win the war. This was a shock to the German people who were led to believe that they would win.
  • The Allies demanded that the defeated Germans have a democracy before peace could be discussed, and that meant that the Kaiser had to abdicate. He refused to.
  • The German revolution started at Kiel, where there was a mutiny in the navy. Workers and soldiers soon followed their example and the revolution spread. The Independent Socialist (USPD) set up a republic in Bavaria and Saxony.
  • On 9 November, the revolution came to Berlin and Kaiser Wilhelm finally agreed to abdicate after being told the army was longer at his command.
  • Power was now handed over to the Majority Socialists (SPD) and their leader, Friedrich Ebert became chancellor.
  • Ebert wanted now to maintain law and order, but the extreme left wing socialists, the Spartacists wanted a revolution on the Russian Model.
  • Philip Scheidemann, a prominent Majority Socialist was in the Reichstag when he heard that a Spartacist leader, Karl Liebknecht, was going to call for a Russian-style Soviet republic. Scheidemann then quickly ran to the Reichstag balcony and proclaimed a new republic, with Ebert as chancellor, and said that the army agreed with this.
  • Ebert was furious at this because he wanted a constitutional monarchy but it was too late. The Weimer Republic was now formed, almost by accident.
  • On the evening of 9 November, Ebert received a phone call from General Groener, the commander of the army. Groener wanted support for the officer corps and in return, the army would support the republic in resisting left-wing extremists. Ebert agreed.
  • To enforce law and order, irregular volunteer companies known as Friekorps were established to defend Germany against communism. They killed thousands of suspected communists.
  • On 19 January 1919, elections took place and produced the first elected government of the Republic.
  • The more moderate parties of the Reichstag won the most votes, showing that the majority of the people wanted a democracy. The extreme wings did not get as many votes, they wanted to restore the old Germany. The SPD got the most with 165 seats. The National assembly then voted Ebert as their first president who in turn appointed Scheidemann as the first chancellor. He made a coalition government with the SPD, the centre party and the German Democratic Party.


The Weimer Republic
Political Parties                            Political Parties                          Political Parties     

Social Democratic Party (SPD) 1875
-Majority Socialists
-Moderate Socialists
-Wanted Gradual social reform
-Support from Trade Union workers, salaried workers, civil servants.

 Of the Left                                       Of the Centre                           Of the Right

German Democratic Party (DDP) 1918
-Liberal Democratic
-Support from middle class.
-Liberal Middle-class, professional orders.


German People’s Party (DVP)
-moderate right-wing
-laissez faire
-support from middle-class, business-class


Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) 1917
-Radical Socialist Party
-Wanted to change structure of German society.


Communist Party of Germany (KPD)
-formed from Spartacist league 1919
-Party of the extreme left
-influence from Moscow
-Opposed to democracy and the Republic
-Support from Industrial working class, and unemployed


Centre Party
-Moderate broad-based party, middle class support.
-support catholic interests
-rejected socialism
-support mainly from catholic regions in south


German National Peoples Party (DNVP)
-party of right
-support from junker land-owning class, army officers, high ranked


National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP or NAZI) 1920
-extreme right-wing party
-support: middle-class of protestant north, some unemployed, agrarian workers, nationalists.



  • The constitution of the Weimer Republic was one of the most democratic in the world. But there were some flaws. Article 22 allowed small parties to be represented in the Reichstag according to proportional-representation. This meant there were frequent elections due to many coalition governments; in fact, all of the Republic’s 21 governments were coalitions.
  • Also, Article 48 allowed the president to take emergency powers, which meant he could do whatever he wanted in an emergency.

Impact of the Treaty of Versailles:

  • The defeat of the war was a shock to Germans, but the Treaty of Versailles was another big shock.
  • They expected the treaty to be along the lines of President Wilson’s Fourteen Points and a lot more moderate than what it was.
  • The Germans had no say in the treaty and France had almost free reign on the terms of the treaty.
  • Many thought that the TOV was too harsh on the Germans, they had to:
    • Reduce their army to 100 000 men, with no heavy artillery and no air force.
    • The navy was reduced to a few ships for coastal patrol, all U-boats were decommissioned.
    • Alsace-Lorraine went to France, Schleswig-Holstein to Denmark, the coal-producing Saar Basin to International control, the Rhineland was to be demilitarised, Danzig to the League of Nations, Posen to Poland and all colonies were taken away.
    • Germany had to pay reparations, which was 132 000 million gold marks (US$32 billion)
      • The reaction to the treaty was anger. It gave the army an opportunity to pass blame for the defeat onto those to signed the treaty, naming them the ‘November Criminals’ and that Germany was ‘stabbed in the back’.
      • The TOV caused long-term bitterness and humiliation for the Germans, there was a feeling that they had been treated unfairly. The blame went on the Weimer Republic and democracy, which had the stigma of shame and humiliation attached to them.
      • The provision of the treaty made it difficult for the Germans to pay the reparations. The TOV caused serious economic and political instability.
      • The TOV failed to solve the German problem in that it caused resentment but did not fully incapacitate the German’s from recovering.

Political, economic and social issues in the Weimer Republic to 1929:

  • The TOV was a major political and economic issue for the Weimer republic. The public did not trust the Republic and the provisions severely weakened the German economy.
  • The army was a major power in the Weimer Republic. They did not like it, but it would rather that than communism and socialism.
  • By 1920, the government was attempting to carry out the military provisions of the TOV by reducing the army to 100 000 men. They did this by disbanding freikorp companies.
  • In March 1920, the Ehrhardt Friekorps brigade just outside of Berlin refused to disband. The commander at the time refused to obey and ordered the brigade to march into Berlin. President Ebert expected the army to take care of the problem but the army commander refused to put down the rebellion saying that his men would not fire on fellow soldiers.
  • The government was now forced to leave Berlin and the military leaders took the city, proclaiming a new government headed by the radical right-wing politician, Wolfgang Kapp.
  • The Kapp Putsch failed because the workers in the city went on strike, thus the putsch collapsed and the legal government returned.
  • The Kapp Putsch was significant as it showed the weakness in the Weimer Republic. The Army was almost a state of its own and could not be trusted to contain threats to from the right as they were right-wing sympathizers.
  • The leader of the army at the time was General Hans von Seeckt. He was a nationalist trying to restore the honour of the army. He did this by avoiding the TOV, like putting soldiers into the police force, training the small army so there could be rapid expansion, training pilots overseas etc.
  • A new coalition government was formed after this, with the SPD, DDP and the centre party. Wirth, the chancellor, was a firm believer in democracy and implemented the policy of fulfillment, where Germany should seek to fulfill the provisions of the TOV and hopefully be able to re-negotiate the terms.
  • Opposition for this policy and the republic altogether came form the right-wing, who were the conservative side of German politics, including the army.
  • Assassinations by right-wing extremists caused the government to use Article 48 and introduce a Law for the Protection of the Republic which aimed to stop extreme right-wing groups.
  • The punishments for the right-wing assassins were soft as the Judiciary system was also right-wing.
  • Even with the policy of fulfillment, the German economy was still weak and defaulted on reparation payments of telegraph pole and coal to France. As a result, French and Belgian troop took control of the Ruhr, Germany’s most important industrial area.
  • This triggered anti-French feelings in Germany and the government called the policy of ‘passive resistance’, where Germans in the Ruhr went on strike and refused to cooperate with the French. French workers and more troops had to be sent.
  • Germany’s economy was now severely weakened, and had little capacity to recover. The government tried to fix this by printing more money. This caused inflation.
  • The failure to reform finances and to raise taxes caused this inflation. This soon grew to hyperinflation, where the German currency fell dramatically, but the Reichsbank kept on printing.
  • This caused great suffering to many people but some gained from the hyperinflation. The Junker landowning class was not affected and the smaller farming class survived. These farmers were able to barter their food instead of selling it.
  • The real gains were made by the industrialists and the business class who were able to wipe out their debts. Business interests that had access to foreign currency made huge profits.
  • By June 1923, the government had lost control of the economy as the people of Germany suffered from the hyperinflation.
  • In August the government fell and President Ebert called the leader of the German People’s Party, Gustav Stresemann to form a new government. He was able to make a coalition government of the Socialists, the Centre Party the DDP and his won DVP. These parties came from all the moderate sides of politics.
  • Stresemann’s first major step was to end passive resistance, this outraged German nationalists, but Stresemann knew that the Germans had to give into the French if they wanted to fix the German economy.
  • After the end of passive resistance, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which gave the government emergency powers.
  • After the Enabling Act was passed, the government used it to stop the printing of the worthless German currency which was recalled and put into circulation the new retenmark. Its number was restricted to stop it from being devalued.
  • The government also cut expenditure and introduced new taxes. This stabilized the economy and the retenmark was withdrawn in 1924 to make the new German mark.
  • On 2 November 1923, the SPD withdrew from the coalition government which led to the resignation of Stresemann.
  • After this, Stresemann became foreign minister for Germany. He set realistic goals for Germany.
  • He wanted to restore Germany by coming to terms with the allies instead of fighting them. He used is skill in diplomacy to do this.
  • In 1925, Stresemann found an ally in French foreign minister Aristide Briand and formed the Treaty of Locarno with France, Belgium, Britain and Italy. Germany was now treated as an equal in European affairs for the first time since the war. The Treaty gave security to all sides.
  • In 1926, Germany was admitted into the League of Nations, showing a healing relationship between Germany and its former enemies.
  • The Young Plan of Stresemann revised and reduced the reparations that Germany had to pay. Reparations were cancelled altogether when the depression started.
  • Stresemann died in October 1929, the republic lost one of its true supporters.
  • Cultural life in the Weimer Republic from 1924-1929 flourished. This was due to the free and tolerant nature of the republic.
  • Cabaret theatre flourished, which had political and social messages in them. Berlin became the leader of world cinema, which produced more film in the decade than all of Europe combined.
  • Expressionist literature and art also flourished. Bauhaus School of Architecture reflected the modernism of the time.
  • Germany had the brightest and most educated scientists in the world and science and technology flourished. Men like Albert Einstein were a symbol of this.
  • German economy grew significantly during the Weimer period. The key to this was the large amount of foreign capital that flowed into Germany. This meant the standard of living of Germans improved.
  • There were weaknesses in the economy though. Germany was living off borrowed money and had a huge foreign debt. The stoppage of this would be collapse the economy.
  • Another weakness was that the economic power was concentrated in industrialists and bankers, who helped Hitler come to power.
  • Unemployment rose and rural Germany was still depressed, which gave Hitler another support group against the republic.
  • In February 1925, Ebert died and Hindenburg took over the presidency. Hindenburg was not a supported of the republic.

Collapse of the Weimer Republic:

  • Germany never underwent a true liberal democratic revolution like the American or French revolutions.
  • Democracy in Germany was always overshadowed by nationalism, and after the defeat of WWI, democracy was forced onto them. They had little experience with democracy.
  • Germans blamed their humiliation and hardships on democracy and the republic.
  • Flaws in the German constitution included:
    • Proportional representation allowed small political parties to have representation in the Reichstag. It also made every one of the 21 governments a coalition government, so it could easily be dissolved resulting in many elections.            
    • The constitution gave a lot of power to the president through Article 48, which stated that the president had emergency powers. This power was overused by the presidents and helped Hitler get into power.
    • These weaknesses were attacked by the republics enemies, like Hitler, who used it to project himself into power.
      • The republic also had enemies such as the civil service, the judiciary and the educational system, which were conservative. The Junker landowning class and the privileged elites were also working against the republic.
      • Many hardships were blamed on the republic, like the depression and hyperinflation.
      • Only two parties in the Reichstag actually supported the republic (SPD and Centre Party).


      • When the depression began in Germany, the government at the time was a coalition of the SPD, DDP, the Centre Party and the DVP, headed by Chancellor Hermann Muller.
      • The Coalition disputed over relief payments for the unemployed. The SPD wanted to maintain relief payments to keep the support of the working class from the communists. The other parties of the Coalition opposed this. The divided government fell on 27 March 1930.
      • This put more pressure on President Hindenburg, who was influenced by his conservative advisers of Junkers, the army led by General von Schleicher. These people all wanted to turn Germany into an authoritarian state.
      • On Schleicher’s advice, Hindenburg appointed Heinrich Bruning the new chancellor, using Article 48. This marked the end of parliamentary government and the start of presidential rule.
      • Bruning tried to fix the worsening economic conditions by cutting expenditure and increasing taxes. Despite strong opposition in the Reichstag, the President again used Article 48 to pass the economic policy. The Reichstag responded by passing a vote of no confidence in Bruning. Bruning then asked the President to call new elections for September, not knowing that it would benefit the anti-republican parties.
      • The Nazis saw the election as an opportunity and rigorously projected themselves as the party of action. They went on a campaign that attacked the weaknesses of the republic in rallies and meeting everywhere.
      • Hitler’s message affected the middle-class, small-business owners and to the rural and farming population. Hitler did not say how he would fix the problems but he spoke with much determination and conviction that won the people over.
      • The Nazis were pleased with their election, increasing their representation from 12 to 107 seats, now the second largest party in the Reichstag. The communists became the third largest party.
      • Despite the success of the Nazis, Bruning stayed in power due to the support of the SPD who had the majority and tolerated Bruning as the lesser of two evils over Hitler. Bruning had his economic policy implemented and used Article 48. This worsened the economic conditions as Germany’s largest bank collapsed, food prices increased and unemployment reached 4.6 million.
      • Bruning succeeded in ending reparation payments when in 1931, the President proposed a one year moratorium. A year later, they were cancelled altogether.
      • In 1932, Hindenburg, Hitler and two other candidates from the KPD and DNVP entered to become the president of Germany. Hitler came close but in the end, Hindenburg won and retained power.
      • Once Hindenburg retained power, Schleicher began moves behind the scenes to remove Bruning had failed to fix the economic problems and thought Bruning had not moved the government enough to the right.
      • Hindenburg under this influence had Bruning removed in act of political betrayal with the excuse that Bruning had unsettled the army in banning the SS and SA.
      • Schleicher now had Hindenburg appoint Franz von Papen as the new chancellor. No one in the Reichstag supported Papen, clearly showing the Germany was now a presidential state.
      •  Schleicher tried to support Papen by securing the support of the Nazis by lifting the ban on the SS and SA and calling for new elections. He was plying into the hands of the Nazis as they wanted another election.
      • The campaign of the July 1932 elections was violent as street clashes between the Nazis and the Communists left 86 people dead. Hitler took to the air, the first politician to use planes to travel for campaigning.
      • The election was an overwhelming success for the Nazis who more than doubled their representation with 37.4% of the votes. They were now the largest political party in the Reichstag, with the Communists second.
      • The Nazis had come to power legally now and Hitler demanded the chancellorship. Hindenburg refused him this as he did not like Hitler and offered him the vice-chancellorship instead. Hitler rejected and when the Reichstag assembled, it was dissolved straight away by Presidential decree as Papen had no support. New elections were called – fourth election in 8 months.
      • The Nazis this time did not want an election, their resources were spent. Their vote declined to 32%, although they were still the largest party. The real winners were the communists who increased from 89 to 100 seats.
      • Again Hitler asked for the chancellorship and again he was refused by Hindenburg.
      • Papen remained in power only from presidential decree and in a desperate move, he asked the president to suspend the Reichstag and assume direct rule. Schleicher saw no more use in Papen and manipulated Hindenburg, saying that if Papen stayed in power, there would be civil war. On 2 December, Hindenburg reluctantly cut Papen and to keep Hitler out of power, appointed Schleicher as chancellor.
      • The German Industrialists, who did not support Hitler before 1932, backed the Nazi party when their favoured Papen resigned and the mistrusted Schleicher was appointed.
      • Schleicher tried to split the Nazis by offering Strasser, the leader of the Nazis in the Reichstag, the vice-chancellorship. Hitler was furious and made the Nazis in the Reichstag swear an oath of allegiance to him. Strasser was accused of treason and resigned.
      • Papen conspired with Hitler to bring Schleicher down by creating a coalition with the Nazis.
      • Papen thought that he could control Hitler and promised Hindenburg in their agreement that the real power would be with Papen.
      • On 28 January 1933, Hindenburg dismissed Schleicher as chancellor and on 30 January, he appointed Hitler as chancellor of Germany.

Impact of the Great Depression on Germany:

  • The Great Depression ended the flourishing of Germany before 1919 and caused great burdens for the people.
  • The impact of the Depression was huge as Germany was living on borrowed money which they spent on short term goals rather long term ones.
  • By late 1932, there were 6 million people unemployed and the government was unable to repair this.
  • The government adopted a policy of deflation that cut expenditure, which meant welfare payments were cut and taxes were increasing, making the impact of the Depression even greater.
  • The social impact was great as many went without food or shelter.
  • The greatest impact of the Depression may be that it tipped the scales against the Weimer Republic and supported extremist movements like the Nazis.
  • The Great Depression cause economic, social and political instability in Germany.

The Rise of the Nazi Party

Rise of the Nazi Party from 1923:

  • Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau, Austria on 20 April 1889 into a pretty comfortable middle-class family.
  • When his parents died he moved to Vienna, where his anti-Semitism is thought to have originated.
  • In 1913, Hitler moved to Munich and joined the German army when WWI broke out. He was a good soldier and earned the Iron Cross medal. His service ended when he was partly blinded in a gas attack. He was totally surprised and angered at the German surrender and felt that Germany had been betrayed.
  • After the war, Hitler worked as a political officer for the army and it was in his duties that he attended a meeting of a small political group called the German Workers’ Party in September 1919.
  • Hitler joined the party and attracted large crowds to his speeches at the Munich Beerhall and the party renamed themselves as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) or NAZI for short.
  • The Party developed its own identity, like the swastika and the black, red and white colours. The right-wing views of the party attracted ex-freikorps troops and by 1921, had their own private army called the Storm Troopers (SA).
  • By 1923, the Nazi party had over 70 000 members and 15 000 SA members.


  • The SA played an important part in the Nazi Party. Their aim was to promote the party at political rallies and to protect the party leadership. They were often involved in violent street battles with other political parties.
  • By 1923, the SA was under the control of Hermann Goring, who organized the SA along military lines. When Hitler came to power in 1933, they had nearly 3 million members.
  • In 1923, at the height of the hyperinflation, the Bavarian government and the Weimer authorities held a meeting at a Munich beerhall to discuss the situation.
  • Hitler saw it as an opportunity to seize power so he stormed into the beerhall and declared a revolution. He failed and was captured.
  • Although the Putsch was a failure, the trial was a success as Hitler was allowed to speak and his words were put on the newspapers. The conservative right-wing judges gave him the minimum 5 year sentence.
  • During his time in prison, he wrote a book called Mien Kampf, in which he expressed his views on Germany’s future.
  • Hitler’s central policy was nationalism. He wanted to return Germany to its position of greatness and unite all German-speaking and ‘racially pure’ people under a greater Reich.
  • It was this that made his racist views. He believed the Aryan race, of which Germans were, were the superior and needed to be protected. Jews were the opposite and to Hitler, they represented a threat to the Aryan race.
  • To keep the German race pure, he intended to restrict marriages and childbirth so that the weak and sick do not infect the race.
  • Hitler believed in the struggle of life and social Darwinism, where the strong prevail over the weak.
  • Democracy, equality and freedom were not part of Hitler’s view on the world. His emphasis was on the nation, where everyone worked for the good of the nation.
  • In order for Germany to revive, Hitler believed they needed a strong leader, who ruled with absolute authority and had the loyalty of the nation.
  • Hitler believed that in order for Germany to survive, it needed ‘living space’ or lebensraum. This concept meant that Germany would dominate Europe and that the Soviet Union would be destroyed. This Reich would have inferior races being slaves for the Germans.


  • When Hitler left prison after just 8 months, he wanted to rebuild the Nazi party, which had lost support after the failed Munich Putsch.
  • He decided that he could only get into power by legal means.
  • Whilst he was gone, leader of the left-wing side of the party, Gregor Stasser, had become influential and wanted to emphasise the left-wing of the party, Hitler did not like this.
  • To reorganize the party, they set up party branches in small towns and large cities. They promoted the party with Mein Kampf.
  • As a result, party membership grew from 27 000 in 1925 to 178 000 by 1928. At the party rally in Nuremberg the following year, over 200 000 people attended and 60 000 SA members paraded.
  • In the 1928 elections, two-third of the votes went to the moderate democratic parties. The Nazis only won 12 seats. The SPD won the most seats and it looked as if the people supported the democracy. Muller made a coalition government of SPD, DDP, the Centre Party and DVP.
  • In July 1929, the leader of the German Nationalist party, Alfred Hugenberg organized a committee of right-wing groups to oppose the Young Plan. The Nazis joined this committee.
  • This alliance with Hugenberg, who owned many media outlets, was a success for the Nazis as they used these free resources to promote the party and their members got more experience in propaganda. Hitler now arrived at the centre of German politics, in the midst of the depression.

Hitler’s ascension to power:

  • Done before in collapse of the Weimer Republic.

Initial Consolidation of Nazi Power:

  • The Nazis gained power legally through the constitution. Papen and Hindenberg severely underestimated Hitler and they could not control the Nazi revolution that was taking place.
  • Hitler intended to rule as a dictator but before he could do that, he had to secure power and preserve the appearance of legality in his actions. He was going to change the constitution by using the constitution.
  • Hitler’s first step in consolidating power was to call new elections and build an element of mass support to strengthen his position against enemy political parties and the president.
  • The Nazis used propaganda to project the new government as one of revival and said that they would create a sense of community among the people.
  • This peaceful approach masked the force and intimidation used by the Nazis through the SA. They terrorized opponents and sent them to the first concentration camps.
  • The police force’s aim was to also terrorise opponents. The Gestapo or secret police also grew in 1933.
  • On 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was burnt down. A Dutch communist was charged with the attack resulting in massive persecution of communists in Germany.
  • The fire also allowed the Nazis to attack the communist and destroy them. 4000 arrests took place after the fire. But the communist party was not banned to instill fear in anyone who would vote for them. If the communists were banned than the SPD would grow.
  • The fire also allowed the decree For the Protection of People and State to be passed. Under Article 48, the decree deprived Germans of their basic human rights, a basis for a totalitarian state.
  • This decree was only meant to be used for emergency but the Nazis used it terrorise and persecute people and carry out their policies.
  • In the election on 5 March 1933, the Nazis increased their representation to 340 seats, a working majority.
  • The Day of Potsdam was another attempt to consolidate power. It was a lavish ceremony to open the first Reichstag of the Third Reich.
  • To attain more power, Hitler changed the democratic constitution. On 23 March 1933, Hitler proposed the Enabling Act which would give the government the power to issue new laws without the Reichstag.
  • The Enabling Act was passed with a two-third majority in the Reichstag due to the pressure and fear from the Nazis. Germany was now a dictatorship under the cover of legality.
  • The Nazis now tightened their grip on Germany by passing laws to control every aspect of German life:
    • April 1933 the Law for the Restoration for the Professional Civil Service. Under this law, Jews, those who lacked adequate qualifications and those who were against the regime were removed.


    • The Nazis won the support of the workers and got them under control by the German trade union movement and granting workers the May Day Holiday on 1 March 1933. They abolished free trade unions and the German Labour Front replaced it. This was led by a Nazi.
    • After the passing of the Enabling Act, there was no need for political parties. They banned the SPD on 22 June. The DDP dissolved itself, Hugenburg, the leader of the DNVP was dismissed. The DVP was abolished and the Centre Party abolished itself.
    • Hitler called an election in November 1933. Because the Nazis were the only party left, they won every seat, further cementing his power.
    • April 1933, the Law for the Co-ordination of the States with the Reich was passed to ensure that the states implemented any legislation that came from Berlin. In February 1934, the state parliaments no longer existed.
    • The legal system was brought under the control of the state. In 1933, the National Socialist League for the Maintenance of the Law replaced all existing professional legal bodies. All legal publications and matters were controlled by the state, with judges expected to base their decisions on the good of the nation, those who didn’t were dismissed. In April 1934, the government set up a special people court to deal with crimes against the state, where there was no right of appeal against judgements.
  • The SA became a threat to the Nazis by 1934. They had 3 million members, much larger than the German army, who saw the SA as a rival and threat.
  • The SA represented the more left-wing or radical part of Nazism. Hitler wanted to retain the confidence of the army and groups threatened by the SA.
  • The SA in 1934 was an unstable force and there were rumours that their leader, Ernst Rohm, was planning a socialist revolution.
  • Rohm believed that the SA should be the main military force in Germany and that the army should be incorporated in to the SA. The army leaders were totally opposed to this as was Hitler.
  • Hitler believed that the SA had served its purpose and he needed to maintain the confidence of the army as they were the only organisation that could bring him down. He wanted to move the loyalty of the army from Hindenburg to himself and to remove the threat of the SA.
  • The army leaders expected Hitler to bring the SA under control. The army agreed to support Hitler if he did this.
  • On 21 June 1934, under pressure from the army and Hindenburg who threatened to hand over the government to the army if Hitler did not deal with the SA, he ordered a purge of the SA leadership to eliminate them.
  • Organised and carried out by the SS under Heinrich Himmler, they drew up death lists and moved in on 30 June 1934.
  • In this “Night of Long Knives”, the SS took the SA leadership by surprise. Hundreds of SA officers were arrested and shot, including Rohm. Schleicher and his wife were also shot in their home. Over 200 people were murdered in the purge.
  • This helped in strengthening Hitler’s power as he removed the threat of the SA and won the loyalty of the army in one move.
  • On 2 August 1934, President von Hindenburg died. A new law made while Hindenburg was still alive combined the offices of the president and chancellor. This meant that Hitler was now the head of everything, including the army, which swore an oath of loyalty to him personally. Hitler was now a dictator.

Nazism in Power

Hitler’s role in the Nazi state:

  • Hitler was the Fuhrer or leader of the Nazi state and he held all the power in Germany. The title Fuhrer gave the impression that the power and authority were in his hands.
  • Propaganda created by the Nazis projected Hitler as the leader chosen by fate to lead Germany and that he was not just another politician but a true national leader who worked tirelessly for the nation without consideration for himself.
  • There was an image of strength and authority that came with Hitler and there was a resoluteness against the enemies of Germany, such as Jews.
  • In return, Hitler was to have the absolute obedience and loyalty of the people and was the figurehead in which all Germans worked towards.
  • Factors that contributed to this myth include:
    • Germany’s tradition of heroic national leaders like Frederick the Great and Bismarck.
    • The humiliation and defeat of WWI created instability in Germany and there was a longing for a strong leader who would fix these problems.
    • Nationalistic ideas of the German people.
  • In reality, Hitler was a moody and lonely man, who had trouble relating to people on an emotional level.
  • He was a brutal and ruthless man but could show personal charm.
  • Hitler disliked regular routine, like paperwork and the day-to-day proceedings of his office.
  • He lived a simplistic life, the exercise of absolute power was enough for him. He traveled around a lot.
  • He was a great orator and was able to relate to the masses, giving him great persuasive powers, a significant ability which helped him into power. He was also a skilful politician and opportunist, getting the most out of his opportunities.
  • His role in the Nazi state was to basically rule Germany. But he only interfered with the issues that interested him the most, like foreign issues. The others, he would leave to the people below him.


Nazism as totalitarianism

  • Totalitarianism is a system of government in which power and all aspects of state affairs are controlled by one party, which tolerates no opposition.
  • There has been debate over whether the Nazi state was really totalitarian or not.
  • Some historians have argued that Nazism was totalitarianism for the following the reasons:
    • The Nazi party was the sole party in the government, a key aspect in totalitarianism.
    • Hitler was the leader of the Nazi party and therefore, the dictator and ruler over all, another aspect of totalitarianism.
    • Hitler deliberately encouraged competition and rivalry in those below him to stop them from coming together and plotting against him and to make sure that no one got too much power. For example, the rivalry between the Ministry for Labour and the German Labour Front. Or Joseph Geobbels, the minister for propaganda against Maz Amann, the Reich leader of the Press.
    • Hitler was a strong and clever leader.
  • Other historians have argued that Nazism was not a totalitarian state along these lines:
    • Although the Nazi state appeared to be structured and organized, it was in fact chaotic and unorganized.
    • This meant that Hitler was a weak leader who did not interfere to fix this.
    • Nazism was in fact a polycratic model where there were many ruler with Hitler the leader of them all. Particular characters had all the power over a specific aspect of German life. For example, Himmler had the SS and Gestapo, Geobbels had propaganda etc.
    • Hitler failed to give clear and distinct instructions to the people below him, often leading to confusion in the government.
    • The ideology of Nazism was vague, it was more a plan of action.
    • The Nazis had to share some of their power with the army and industrialists.
    • The Nazis relied on popular appeal, this was done through the propaganda ministry. This meant that the Nazis were cautious of the people.

The role of propaganda, terror and repression; SA and SS; opposition to Nazism:

  • In March 1933, the Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda was established. Headed by Dr. Joseph Geobbels.
  • Propaganda was an essential part of the Nazis terror and repression regime where there could be no opposition.
  • The ministry controlled all media in Germany and constantly repeated the ideologies of the Nazis, including the persecution of the Jews and the concept of community.
  • October 1933, the Editorial Law was passed. This meant all journalists in Germany had to be registered. All newspaper outlets were abolished and all news was distributed by the German News Bureau, which was controlled by the ministry.
  • The ministry also controlled radio. They produced the ‘people’s radio’ which was cheap and affordable. Geobbels used indirect propaganda through popular entertainment and music to spread the message.
  • The Reich Chamber of culture, also controlled by the ministry, looked after cinema, music, art, literature architecture and even sport.
  • From 1933, all film makers had to join the State Film Agency and the Reich Motion Picture Law required all subject matter for films to be approved. The first propaganda film were blatantly clear to the audience and not effective. Geobbels knew that indirect propaganda was the most effective so messages were transmitted in a subtle way in films that the audience enjoyed, like stories of heroic Germans.
  • Hitler was also promoted in these movies, the way the Nazis wanted the people to see him (explained in Hitler’s role in the Nazi State).
  • Geobbels also used the media to relate the successes of Germany with Hitler, like the recovery of the economy, the better standard of living and the stance against the TOV like rearmament.
  • From the beginning, the Nazis used the SA to promote themselves and to terrorise the people into believing them. They often started street battles with rival political parties, especially the communists and were instruments in the Munich Putsch and the ascension of Hitler to power.
  • Those who opposed the Nazi state or their ideology were dealt with.
  • The SS were originally part of the SA. In 1929, Hitler appointed Himmler as the leader of the SS, who turned the SS into a elite and loyal force to Hitler.
  • By 1933, the SS numbered nearly 50 000 and by 1935, the increased to 200,0000 men.
  • Entry into the SS was strictly controlled. Members had to have a pure racial background and meet specific education standards.
  • The SS carried out police functions and dealt with all opponents of the regime, usually by the use of force. During WWII, they deported people from conquered lands and enslaved foreign labour with POW’s.
  • Special SS killing squads were formed to murder Jews, communists, intellectuals and any other that opposed the Nazis. They were also responsible for the running of extermination camps where thousands of jews were executed.
  • The SS proved it’s loyalty and effectiveness to Hitler in the Night of Longs Knives. Hitler rewarded them by making them an independent organisation.
  • The Gestapo were the secret state police set up in November 1933. They were responsible for the internal security of the Reich by investigating and suppressing all anti-state activities.
  • The government gave the Gestapo the power to imprison people without a trial. They and the SS ran the first concentration camps. Gestapo records show people were sent to these camps if they refused to work or spread religious propaganda.
  • The Gestapo relied on informers and reports that civilians made against their fellow citizens. 60-90% of the Gestapo’s cases were started by these denunciations.
  • They relied on these informers and reports because they were under-resourced and under-staffed. They only employed 45000 when WWII broke out.


Social and cultural life in the Nazi state:

  • The People’s Community was a concept adopted by the Nazis. It was a concept where the society lived free from class division and social conflict. They believed this would bring a sense of national unity where all racially pure Germans lived peaceful among themselves.
  • This created among the people a sense of revival in 1933.
  • The Nazis also believed in racial purity and the preservation of the Aryan race. So the role of women and youth were important to the Nazis.
  • During the Weimer period, there had been significant advances in the rights of women. The Nazis didn’t believe this, they believed that the individual should do what is necessary for the good of the nation. This meant that everyone had a role to play in society.
  • The role of women according to the Nazis was a lesser role than men. Women were perceived as weak and inferior.
  • The Nazis banned women from politics, they were discriminated against in the workforce where 800 000 left between 1933 and 1935.
  • Women admissions to universities were cut and they were not allowed to hold high positions.
  • The Nazis supported the view that women should be the obedient wife and loving mother. Most women actually supported Hitler in this.
  • The Law for the Promotion of Marriage attempted the increase the declining birthrate in Germany. The Law said that ‘genetically healthy’ couples were given a loan if the woman gave up her job. The repayments were cancelled with every birth of a child.
  • Medals were given out to women who had 4 (bronze), 6 (solver), and 8 (gold) children on 12 August each year, Hitler’s mother’s birthday.
  • Abortions were made illegal and birth control was discouraged and in 1941, the production and distribution of contraceptives were banned.
  • The Lebensborn program set up homes for unmarried mothers and women who fell pregnant to a SS member outside of marriage. The slogan “giving a child to the Fuhrer” was used and the children were usually fostered out of the homes.
  • Another aspect of Nazi social life was the youth organizations. These were an attempt to preserve racial purity as the Nazis believed in eugenics and the process of natural selection where the strong survived.
  • Forced sterilization was introduced to people who had diseases and physical disabilities.
  • Youth organisations were also set up to win the loyalty of the next generation.
  • The Hitler Youth formed as early as 1922. When Hitler came into power, other youth organisation was closed down and the Hitler Youth aimed to bring all of Germany’s youth under one organisation.
  • The Hitler Youth aimed to shape the youth of the nation to support the Nazi policies. The boys of the Hitler Youth engaged in physical activities such a hiking and were taught map and compass work. They were taught their future roles in Nazi society.
  • They were trained to be though and self-disciplined and loyal to Hitler.
  • The League or German Maidens was an organisation set up for girls. They devoted themselves to physical fitness and were prepared for their future roles as wives and mothers.
  • There was also small youth organizations that provided resistance to the Nazis. One example were the Edelweiss Pirates, who formed gangs to engage in non-conformist actions, including provoking and fighting Hitler Youth.
  • The Swing Movement expressed their individuality by wearing English-style clothes and embracing swing and jazz music.
  • Before the Nazis came into power, Germany had one of the best education systems in the world. The Nazis opposed free thought and their education was based on indoctrination.
  • Boys were taught the more demanding subjects and emphasized on physical activity. Girls were taught on easier levels and subjects such as domestic services to prepare them for motherhood.
  • Teachers were forced to accept this new system and had to join the National Socialist Teachers’ Alliance. Jewish teachers and those who rejected the new system were banned.
  • German universities also suffered as intellectuals who supported free-thinking left. These people were the smartest in the world at the time. Enrolments declined especially for women from 20000 in 1933 to 5000 by 1939.
  • The Nazis had a completely different set of beliefs compared to Christianity. Hitler knew the influence of the church as moved cautiously with them.
  • Hitler made an arrangement with the Vatican in July 1933 when a concordat was signed. This guaranteed the rights of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany in return for the Church staying out of political activity.
  • Hitler violated the concordat when he restricted Catholic school and Catholic Youth Groups. Priests and nuns were persecuted and the Catholic press was closed. Religious instruction in school was cut.
  • The Protestant Churches were much easier to deal with as they were not an international organisation and Protestants had a tradition of loyalty to the nation.
  • After the Nazis came to power, the expressionist movement and free thinking prominent in Weimer Germany stopped. The Nazis did not believe in this and creative expression was used as propaganda.
  • In May 1933, students in Germany burnt books that were written by Jews and books that expressed liberal, communist and pacifist views.
  • The Reich Office of Literature had to approve which books could be published.
  • Music was also closely watched by the Reich chamber of Culture. Classical music prevailed by composers such as Wagner and Strauss. Jewish musicians were dismissed and many great German composers left the country. Modern music like jazz was banned because of its black American origins.
  • Modern forms of Architecture like the Bauhaus school of architecture were replaced by ancient Greek and Roman style architecture. Buildings became functional and monumental. The size of the buildings created a sense of authority of the state and designed to reinforce the power of the Nazi State.
  • Expressionist school of art that flourished in Weimer Republic and expressed emotions was destroyed in Nazi Germany. Hitler had a simplistic view of art and art works that were approved were ones containing themes of the family, heroic struggle, the Fatherland and nature. Other paintings were burnt.
  • Economically, the party focused on what it was against rather than what it was for. They never had a clear economic policy. Hitler did not believe in socialism, his idea of it was that the individual should work for the nation.
  • When the Nazis came into power, there were 6 million unemployed. Unemployment under the Nazis fell because:
    • A program of public works planned by the Weimar Republic was put into force by the Nazis, including a biliion reichmark autobahn project that linked Germany from east to west.
    • The Nazis forced women out of the workforce, leaving more positions for the men.
    • The Reich Labour Service meant that all males over 18 had to do 6 months of labour.
    • Conscription was introduced, this brought unemployment down too.
  • German industry was one of the best in the world and helped Germany to recover from the Depression and expanded the economy.
  • The four year plan sought to make Germany self-sufficient in food and raw materials to prepare for war.
  • German workers were taught their place in society and were given holidays through the Strength Through Joy movement, where they received holidays. They believed this would make the workers for efficient.

Nazi racial policy, anti-Semitism: policy and practice to 1939:

  • The Nazis believed in racial purity and that their race, the “Aryans” were superior. This resulted in extremely racist policies.
  • Anti-Semitism is the hostility and hatred towards Jews. Their religious beliefs that are different from Christianity, their rituals, language and close communities all factored in their persecution in history.
  • The Nazis were convinced that Jews were the most inferior race of people and their policies against them were brutal.
  • They developed deliberate policies to systematically kill Jews in Germany. By 1945, two-thirds of Jews in Europe had been killed.
  • By the 19th century, German Jews were accepted in Germany and these Jews were important in Germany as they contributed to the intellectual, financial, educational and cultural life of Germany. They were also loyal and fought for Germany in WWI.
  • In Hitler’s view, civilizations and nations were destroyed by racial impurity. He wanted to preserve the racial purity of the Germans and Jews were a victim og this as they were seen by Hitler as the complete opposite to Aryans. Hitler also linked his hatred of communism with Jews as many Jews were part of the communist Bolshevik revolution in Russia.
  • Between 1933 and 1935, laws were passed that removed Jews from the civil service, education, legal and health systems.
  • Jewish businesses were boycotted and slogans and poster were put up with anti-semitic messages. Jews were expelled from culture life and were removed from German national sporting teams.
  • The Nuremburg Laws forbad Jews to marry Germans and stripped Jews of their citizenship.
  • During the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, anti-Semitic propaganda and persecution was decreased in order to present the Nazis in a positive way to the world. They even let some Jews compete.
  • In 1927 however, the persecution of Jews resumed with even greater ferocity as attacks on Jews were now legitimized by the state.
  • New legislation restricted Jews from entering theatres, parks, restaurants and resorts. Jews were required to have a red ‘J’ stamped on their passport and Jewish males had to adopt Israel and women had to have Sarah as their middle names.
  • The Propaganda Ministry constantly released anti-Jewish propaganda that presented them as traitors, taking the blame for the WWI defeat. They were targeted. Der Sturmer, a publication put out by sadist and pornographer, Julius Streicher, appalled many Germans with its story. Hitler became a reader of Der Strumer.
  • On 9 November 1938, in response to the murder of a Nazi diplomat by a Jew, the Nazis launched a systematic attack on Jews in Germany. This came to be known as the Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, where SA and SS troops destroyed Jewish property. The next day, 20 000 Jewish men were sent to Concentration capms.
  • Ghettos were set up in the most run down districts of a city and Jews were sent to live there. Disease and overcrowding was common in the Ghettos and any Jew that attempted to leave was shot on the spot.

Nazi Foreign Policy

Nature of Nazi foreign policy: aims and strategies to September 1939:

  • Hitler thought that Britain could be an ally of Germany and did not want to challenge the British empire and it’s naval supremacy.
  • Hitler thought France was a danger as there was a chance that the powerful French army could attack them before they could fully rearm.
  • Hitler’s early steps in foreign policy were cautious as Germany was still recovering.
  • In October 1933, Hitler withdrew Germany from the League of Nations and the World Disarmament Conference, both of which were popular moves in Germany.
  • During this early period, Hitler spoke of peace and signed a Non-Aggression pact with Poland. This shows the deceptiveness of the Nazis was Poland was a target in their foreign policy.
  • In March 1935, Hitler announced to the world that Germany was following a policy of rearmament. The Western powers took no action.
  • By 1926, Hitler decided to test the French and reoccupied the demilitarized Rhineland. It was a great gamble as he knew the French could defeat them but the French and British again took no action. This was an important event as it showed the Western policy of appeasement. French and British weaknesses were revealed and Hitler now thought to take the fear of another war as another opportunity for him.
  • Hitler now knew that there was no danger in the west and his foreign policy became more daring. He announced the four-year-plan, which was to make Germany self-sufficient and ready for war.
  • Hitler believed that Italy was a natural ally of Germany and their bond with the Italians strengthened when both nations sent troops to fight in the Spanish civil war. In 1938, Hitler made a visit to Italy, which was returned a few months later when Mussolini visited Germany and spoke for a Rome-Berlin axis.
  • The Hossbach Memorandum, a written record of a meeting between Hitler and his military leaders on 5 November 1937, said that Hitler wanted to solve the problem of Lebensraum as soon as possible, before weapons could become obsolete.
  • This document shows that Hitler was now thinking of taking European Territory by force urgently. It outlined the incorporation of Austria into the Reich and the overthrow of Czechoslovakia.
  • Diplomatic events into the incorporation of Austria into the Reich was started by Austrian chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg. He met Hitler who pressured Schuschnigg to make two pro-Nazi members part of the Austrian government and that steps be taken to link their economies.
  • Schuschnigg resisted the demand and called for a referendum where he asked Austrians with they wanted a union with Germany. Hitler was furious and threats came that force would be used. Schuschnigg called off the referendum and resigned.
  • The Austrian president was ow pressured to appoint the pro-Nazi Setss-Inquart as chancellor, which he did. Seyss-Inquart was to call for German military assistance in restoring order in Austria nad hours later, German troops crossed the border into Austria unopposed.
  • On 15 March 1938, Hitler returned to Vienna and Austria officially became part of the Reich and was no longer an independent nation. It also started the persecution of Jews in Austria as the SS began to arrest and send them on concentration camps.
  • Czechoslovakia became a nation after WWI and had a modern army with good defenses. Hitler saw them as a threat and an obstruction in Germany’s path to the east.
  • 3 million Germans were living in Czechoslovakia at the time in an area known as the Sudetenland. Hitler sought to exploit this to destroy Czechoslovakia. He demanded that Sudetenland and the Germans living there be allowed to return to Germany. German propaganda also supported the issue and it quickly became an international problem.
  • Hitler made secret orders for the military to be ready to attack Czechoslovakia. Hitler was provoking a war.
  • The Czechs were not prepared to give up Sudetenland despite pressure from Britain and France, who thought the issue was not worth a war.
  • The British and French were following a policy of appeasement where they believed it was still possible to settle the problems with Germany peacefully. It was based on the Western powers realizing that the TOV was too harsh and the false belief that Hitler was a reasonable politician.
  • British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain supported Hitler on the issue of the Sudetenland.
  • At the Munich conference on 29 September 1938, Czechoslovakia was betrayed as the British and French abandoned the Czechs who reluctantly handed over the Sudetenland.
  • This issue showed that Britain and France were weak and Hitler was in a good position. The policy of Eastern expansion had begun.
  • In March 1939, German troops entered Czechoslovakia and took over. It marked the end of appeasement and the start of aggression.
  • On 31 March, Britain gave a guarantee to Poland as it was clear that Poland was Germany’s next victim of Eastern expansion.
  • In April 1939, Hitler ordered preparations for an attack on Poland, but he was concerned at what the Soviet Union might do.
  • Soviet leader Joseph Stalin viewed the west with suspicion and the west had little faith in the Soviets and thought that their army was weak.
  • The Soviet Union also disliked Poland, which had taken Russian territory in 1920.
  • In August 1939, secret negotiations between Germany and the Soviet Union ensued and on 23 August, both signed a non-aggression pact. This meant that Hitler was clear to invade Poland.
  • On 1 September 1939, the German army crossed into Poland. 2 days later, Britain and France gave Germany an ultimatum to withdraw by 11 am. When the Germans did not respond, Britain declared war on Germany. It was the start of WW2.

Impact of ideology on Nazi foreign policy to September 1939:

  • Hitler’s foreign policy was based on the belief that struggle was an essential part of life and also part of a nation. Hitler’s foreign policy concentrated on securing the final destiny of Germany.
  • Hitler’s foreign policy was also based on his determination to return Germany to its position of power.
  • Hitler’s foreign policy was national as well as racial and involved the expansion of Germany at the expense of inferior races.
  • Hitler believed that if the German people were to survive, they would have to expand their territory. This was called Lebensraum or ‘Living Space’.
  • He did not approve of overseas colonization as it was the mistake before WWI in challenging the British Empire. He looked to conquer lands in Europe.
  • The main aim of Lebensraum was directed in the east, in the Soviet Union which was abundant in resources. The German’s would enslave the slav race there and control all of the Soviet Union. This empire would last for a thousand years.
  • Hitler believed the restrictions placed in the TOV had to be eliminated. He was already rearming by March 1935.
  • He also believed that the Volk people and other Germans had been cut off from Germany, like Germans in Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, had to be brought back into the German Reich.
  • Nazism itself was a doctrine of conflict and violence and so it reflected in their foreign policy.


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