How Hitler controlled Germany and the opposition that he faced




How Hitler controlled Germany and the opposition that he faced


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How Hitler controlled Germany and the opposition that he faced

Notes on how Hitler controlled Germany and the opposition that he faced.

Taking control
The Nazis aimed to win over the hearts and minds of the people by improving their way of life – they had three aims

  • A strong Germany – a strong economy and army ready for war would be popular – to made Hitler look like a good leader and meant that the army could absorb large numbers of the unemployed.
  • A racial Germany – Aryanism – Hitler said that Jews and non white people should be persecuted.
  • The Volk – Hitler promoted the idea of Germany being one people.

They had several ways of doing this

  • Dictatorship – rule by one man and everyone would obey him. He would rule in the interests of all the people and not just people with a vested interest.
  • A one party state – there would only be one political party – the Nazis. Every major institution in the state was led by a Nazi and to enter a profession such as the law or teaching you had to be member of the Nazi party.
  • Economic success – Hitler thought that if you gave people jobs, food, access to consumer goods and holidays they would be happy and would not challenge his own authority.
  • A police state – The SS and police arrested all those who did not submit to the power of the Nazis.
  • Propaganda – The government controlled what people saw and heard – this enabled them to win over peoples hearts and minds. Goebbels was a master at this.

The Nazi state.
Hitler gave out an image that he was in total control – he gave the orders and everyone obeyed. The reality was very different – he worked a chaotic schedule where he was reluctant to do paperwork and to make decisions. He left the major decisions except on military and foreign affairs to others. Each major figure in the Nazi party competed for Hitlers favour and he took advantage of this to play them off against each other. Local leaders (Gaulieters) and national leaders often carried out contradictory policies. A policy of divide and rule. The trade unions were abolished and everyone had to join the Nazi labour front. Also you needed to be a Nazi to hold a major position in the state.

The SS
The SS was originally formed as Hitler’s personal bodyguard and had only 500 members. They were supposed to be the elite men of the Nazi regime with blonde hair and blue eyes. They were ruthless and completely loyal to Adolf Hitler – they wore black shirts to make them stand out from the SA. In the Nazi state they had unlimited power of arrest and ran the concentration camps. They even formed their own fighting unit – the Waffen SS – which was seen as a rival to the army. In the concentration camps they followed a routine of terror – opponents were executed and their relatives were told that they were shot whilst trying to escape. After the war broke out in 1939 they used slave labour from these camps to make weapons. Conditions in these camps were not good but they were very different from the death camps which would be set up during the war. They were led by Heinrich Himmler – a former chicken farmer – who was brutal and ruthless. He personally sancitioned the killing of 6 million Jews during the holocaust.

The Gestapo
This was the secret police force which was run by Goering – they spied on the people and had a vast network of informers. Other informers did not know who were spies and who were not. Local leaders would also check on peoples “political reliability.” People who were considered suspect were Because of their secret nature they were the main instrument of terrorising the German people and were feared by all. The Nazis also took control of the police and the courts and used them for their own ends – the number of crimes punishable by death rose from 3 in 1933 to 46 by 1943.

Winning hearts and minds
Political opposition had been crushed by the end of 1933 but there were still ways of opposing the Nazi regime – the success of this was negligible as outlined below.

  • Organise a coup d’etat – kill Hitler and bring down the regime. People didn’t do this for the first ten years – Hitler was successful over the first few years and during the first years of the war. Why remove a popular leader. Some people only started to plot against Hitler when the war started to go wrong in 1943.
  • Underground and open opposition – there was some open opposition but not much – the Nazis did not publicise any dissent from ordinary people.
  • Passive resistance – not cooperating with the Nazis. This was quite common – simple symbolic acts such as refusing to give the Nazi salute or refusing to join the Labour Front or Hitler Youth.
  • Private grumbling – moaning and groaning. This was widespread as many hated the bully boy tactics employed by the Nazis to get their way and the intrusion into people private lives. Most of the German people were not bothered either way for or against the Nazis but they rarely grumbled in public as they were too scared.

Why did people not rise up against the Nazis?

  • Fear of the SS
  • The opposition was divided – they were divided into small cells and didn’t cooperate with each other.
  • People did not know what was being done in their name – the Nazis did not publicise what they were doing.
  • People were pleased with what the Nazis had delivered – jobs and prosperity – they had no reason to want to oppose them.
  • People had minor as opposed to major problems with what the Nazis were doing.
  • The Nazis were very clever – they dropped unpopular policies quickly or kept them quiet. For example they carried out a policy of euthanasia on disabled people – when people found out they were mass protests, Publicly they abandoned the policy but carried it out quietly without telling anyone.
  • The Nazis had used quasi legal methods to get into power – people saw them as being the legal government of the country and were reluctant to oppose them.
  • There was no organised opposition to the Nazis – they wouldn’t allow it.

Opposition to the Nazis – Youth
During peacetime people were reluctant to oppose the Nazis  but once things started to go wrong in the war people became more likely to revolt. The war caused a serious problem in the Hitler Youth – the leaders were sent to the front to fight and this left no adults to lead it. Teenagers were put in charge and many members resented this and refused to obey orders. This was supplemented by the natural teenage urge to rebel against authority. The first organisation to rebel against the Nazis were a group known as “Swing Youth” – middle class youths who liked listening to banned black music and Jazz got together and dressed in ways that the government did not like – the girls wore short skirts and make up. Many members of this movement ended up in concentration camps and it collapsed.

Another group were the “Edelweiss Pirates” – their symbol was the flower which became a symbol of the opponents of the Nazis. They would beat up Hitler Youth patrols and would shelter army deserters and escapees from the concentration camps. Their most famous act was where they killed the head of the Gestapo in Cologne – several members were hanged for carrying out this act.

The most famous symbol of youth resistance to Nazis was the formation of the “White Rose” movement in Munich. This was set up be a group of students who were led by Hans and Sophie Scholl. They distributed leaflets highlighting Nazis atrocities which were happening in eastern Europe. In 1943 its leaders were arrested and executed.

Opposition to the Nazis – the church
Martin Niemoller was a hero of the First World War – he had been a successful U-boat commander – but in the 1930s he became known as the Nazis most important critic in the protestant churches. As a result he was put into a concentration camp in 1938 – he survived even though Hitler had ordered his death during the last weeks of the war.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer became another vocal Protestant critic of the Nazis – he said that Christianity could not sit back and agree or not opposed the Nazis racist policies. In 1935 he campaigned against the Nuremburg Laws and in 1937 the Gestapo closed his collage and banned him from preaching. He then joined the underground resistance movement and began to gather evidence of Nazi crimes by joining Army Intelligence. He used this information to help Jews to escape to Switzerland. He made contact with the British government about staging a coup to end the war but they told them that they would not accept anything short of unconditional surrender. Someone grassed on him to the Gestapo in October 1942 and was arrested. He put in solitary confinement in a concentration camps and on the 8th April 1945 was put o n trial. He was executed the next day.

Opposition to the Nazis – the army and the July plot of 1944
Hitler had always had his critics in the army – some officers had been prepared to move against him if Britain and France had stood up to him when he militarised the Rhineland in 1936. They also kept quiet whilst the war was going Germanys way but once the war started to be lost they began to work to get rid of Hitler. This plot was led by General Beck, Count Von Stauffenburg and Karl Goerdeler, a conservative politician. In the 30s Von Stauffenburg had been a Nazi – he supported them because of their anti-Communist policies. The suffering of the troops fighting on the Russian front convinced him that the only way to end the war was to assassinate Hitler. In December 1943 Von Stauffenburg was transferred to Hitlers Headquarters – he had direct access to Hitler. He then planned “Operation Valkyrie” – to assassinate Hitler by blowing him up. Throughout July 1944 Von Stauffenburg waited for an opportunity to kill Hitler and this came on the 20th July. Von Stauffenburg was in a meeting with Hitler and left a bomb under the table – Von Stauffenburg then left the meeting. Unfortunately someone kicked the briefcase containing the bomb next to a table leg and when it exploded the leg protected Hitler. Hitler survived with minor injuries. Once Von Stauffenburg had left the building he contacted Beck and the other plotters in Berlin who tried to take power but once news came through that Hitler had survived it collapsed. Von Stauffenburg, Goerdeler and Beck were arresteed and hung on meat hooks. 5000 others were executed. The army did not make any further attempts on Hitler’s life during the duration of the war and people began to focus on surviving the war rather than trying to remove Hitler.


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How Hitler controlled Germany and the opposition that he faced