Germany’s new constitution (Weimar Republic) has been described as perfect and ideal. It provided an electoral system based on proportional representation. This allowed smaller political parties to be represented in the Reichstag. But it also meant that none of the bigger political parties in Germany was ever likely to get a majority of seats in Parliament. Thereby ensuring that a coalition government would have to be formed from two or more of the parties, and would only work if they agreed a common policy
The Weimar Republic was very fair, it gave a say to more parties, everyone has the vote, no one could get too powerful. Its weaknesses were that there were lots of different parties. The parties never agreed on anything, the President could have power as a dictator.
During the five-year period 1918-1923, the newly formed Weimer Republic survived some serious crises. From both the left and the right came putsch’s (revolts), assassinations and anti-government propaganda. The threats to the Weimar Republic were the Spartacicts 1919. They were Communists led by Karl Leibnecht and Rosa Luxemburg. The Government responded by using the Freikrops. These were brutal ex soldiers used to put down the rising. The Weimar Republic survived, but Leibnecht and Luxemburg were killed.
The Kapp Putsch led by Wolfgang Kapp, who was an army general, and supported by the Freikrops attempted to take over the Government. They linked up with other nationalist groups who bitterly resented the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In March 1920 they attempted to seize power in Berlin. Wolfgang Kapp was named chancellor but German workers opposed to the Freikorps called a general strike. The Putsch (attempted takeover of the government) failed.
The Red Rising, some workers stayed on strike especially in the Ruhr region. This was again put down by the Freikrops, and the army and the Weimar survives.
The Munich Putsch. Hitler and the Nazis added by Ludendorff try to take over the government in Munich 1923. The Bavarian Police and army attack the Nazis and SA, revolt collapses and Weimar survives and Hitler is arrested.
However, the Weimar Republic appeared to have no ideas how to solve the problems of the depression. The Nazis party was not very successful between 1925 and 1930. When Hitler came out of prison, the German economy was beginning to recover. Jobs and more money people were less attracted to extremist nationalist like Hitler. The economic recovery, however, came to a very sudden end in 1930 as a result of the worldwide depression. A return of unemployment and hard times caused a great upsurge in support for Hitler. Hitler finally took power in 1933. He was to remain Chancellor of Germany until his suicide in 1945 at the end of the Second World War.
24th October 1929 was a fateful day in the history of the world. This was the day of the Wall Street crash. The value of shares on the American Stock Market collapsed. People tried frantically to sell their shares before the prices fell even further. In one day no fewer than 13 million shares were sold. This was the start of an economic crisis that devastated the whole world.
In Europe the impact of the depression was at its greatest in Germany. By 1932 German factories were only producing about 60% of the out put of 1928. By 1932 one out of every three of the working population was unemployed. The slump hurt farmers as well as factory workers. Farmers could not sell their goods, as factories had closed down. The income of German farmers fell about half between 1928 to 1932. The result was massive discontent.
Democratic Government (Weimar Government) was already in trouble before the depression started. On both the left and the right, some German politicians had been unhappy for years with democracy. In addition, many senior army officers and civil servants disliked the rule of Parliament. The depression added a new sense of crisis to German politics. As early as 1930 emergency powers were given to the President that limited the power of the Reichstag.
The depression was a tremendous piece of good luck for Hitler. It led to millions, supporting parties that worked to end the Weimar republic. Many businessmen looked to Hitler to defend them from the Communists. Before the depression Hitler’s Nazi party was very small. There were elections in Germany in 1928 and the Nazis won only 12 seats in Parliament. Hitler’s break through came in 1930 when the party won 107 seats and became the second largest party in Germany. At the same time there was an increase in support of the Communist party.
The Weimar Republic appeared to have no idea how to solve the problems of the depression. As people lost their faith in democracy they turned to the two parties that wished to destroy Parliament. Although deadly enemies, both the Nazis and Communist Party agreed that democracy was weak and worthless.
As unemployment rose in Germany there was an increase in street violence between gangs of Nazi’s and Communists. The Nazi’s made further progress in the elections of July 1932 when they won 230 seats and became the largest party in the Reichstag. Hitler’s appeal was based upon the problems of the depression; most of his supporters were impressed by the way his propaganda called for ‘work and bread.’
The Nazi Party Policies were anti-Semitism and racism. The Nazi’s blamed the Jewish people for Germanys misfortunes. They believed that Germanys peoples could be divided into two classes. Pure bred Germans, typically tall and blonde, were the Aryans. They were the herrenvolk or the master race. Non Aryans were racially inferior to the master race. They included peoples such as, the Jews and Slavs. These were the enslaved races who could work for the benefit of the master race.
Anti-Communism: Hitler was an implacable enemy of communists. Nationalism: The Nazis wanted to unite all the German speaking peoples of Germany and those living in Austria and in the new Republics created under the terms of the Paris Peace Treaties. Totalitarianism: The Nazis maintained that the state was more important than the individual and that the interest of the state must come before the interest of the individual. Expansionism: The Nazis said that Germany should expand her territories to gain lebensraum or living room. Militarism: Germany could only get her own way if she was strong. Conscription was essential to build up the army and provide a disciplined training for the youth of Germany. Rearmament was vital to give the armed forces the tanks, planes and ships they needed. Goring summed it up when he demanded ‘guns before butter.’
Hitler was now in a powerful position. There were further elections in November 1932. The Nazi’s lost a little ground but remained the single largest party. Although he did not win an out right majority, Hitler was able to do deals with other parties and he became the Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933. After elections in March 1933 Hitler took complete control. Democracy came to an end on 23 March 1933 when the Reichstag passed the so-called ‘Enabling Law.’
This gave Hitler the power to introduce future laws without the agreement of the Reichstag. Hitler was now the dictator of Germany.
Only one potential source of danger remained, apart from that of foreign invasion. This was the German army, which even in its depleted state after Versailles was still strong enough to stage a military coup. In practice many officers were Nazis who welcomed the role that Hitler had assigned the armed forces, to say nothing of the improvements in morale that the promised introduction of conscription and rearmament would bring.
On the night of the 30th June and 1st July 1934, Earnest Rohm and other SA (‘Storm troopers’) leaders were seized, thrown into various cells and cellars and shot. The total casualty list was several hundred. The executions were conducted on the order of Hitler, by SS firing squads, working at 15-minute intervals. The simple explanation for these murders was that Hitler no longer trusted the SA leaders.
In the first place, the SA had an extremely bad reputation, and this worried Hitler increasingly. Second, we know that Rohm wanted to push Hitler into certain policies, which Hitler thought unwise. Hitler was concerned that the SA leaders’ self-assertiveness would force the army to protect itself and that might mean the army overthrowing the Nazi rï¿½gime. He later explained his worries about Rohm in a speech to the Reichstag. This was after the murders had taken place.
So far Hitler’s motive seems clear. The Nazi party had always stressed that the SA and German army were close partners. The letter written by Hitler to Rohm only five months before the murders could not have been friendlier. We can explain these inconsistencies by one solution that Rohm mislead Hitler about his intentions. This is certainly what Hitler later argued and it gave him the excuse to take drastic action.
Hitler’s position was greatly strengthened by the murders. The army supported him when Hindenburg died, helped him to become President and swore an oath of allegiance to him. Yet it did not seem simple at the time. SA British newspaper believed that the murders were the last desperate attempt to prevent Hitler falling from power.
Hitler continued to benefit but the German army did not. The powers of the army were steadily reduced and Hitler completely reorganised the Reichswehr into a new army, the Wehrmacht, more directly under his control.
The Brownshirts never again played an important part in key decisions, and their security role was taken over completely by the SS. Yet it was the leadership, which had been destroyed in the night of the Long Knives, not the SA itself, which continued to play a role in mass rallies and demonstrations.
Hitler restored National pride by flouting the Treaty of Versailles. He gave Germans strong authoritarian government, which was what many wanted after the mess left by the Weimar politicians. He dealt ruthlessly with minorities who were unpopular anyway.
Some Germans did resist Hitler and the Nazis, but those who opposed the Third Reich or who did not belong to the Aryan ‘master race’ were intimidated. The Gestapo and the SS rounded up suspects, tortured them and out them in camps. Many ordinary Germans helped the Gestapo by acting as informers. Concentration camps were set up early in Hitler’s dictatorship. Minorities, especially Jews, were persecuted during the 1930’s by laws intended to exclude them from German life. Many emigrated.
Young Germans were happy to join the Hitler youth because of the range of out door activities offered to them. At school, lessons were deliberately used to indoctrinate children with Nazi values and beliefs; girls should grow up to be mothers, boys should learn to be soldiers. Workers lost rights when their trade unions were abolished, but benefited from the job opportunities in some of the public works started by Hitler. Rearming Germany and conscription helped to reduce unemployment and prepared the country for the war, which Hitler wanted.
Trade Unions were banned in May 1933 since it was inconceivable to the Nazis that workers could be allowed to strike or otherwise put pressure on their employers. Leading trade unionists were rounded up and sent to concentration camps for ‘re-education.’ The Nazis created the German labour front, which gave workers many benefits, such as subsidised holidays. Welfare benefits were also provided and workers got holidays with pay. Since few were without a job, it was easier for people in employment to remember the good things about National Socialism and to forget the many reminders that Germany was now a police state.
Hitler’s success came about largely as a result of policies condemned by the rest of the world.
Education was strictly controlled. The Nazis taught the young to believe implicitly in National Socialism. The children were not to think for themselves. Nazis did not want criticism; one-sided education like this is called indoctrination. German children were taught to think of themselves as the master race. School textbooks were altered to teach Nazi theories about race in Biology and History.
Nazi posters stressed the virtues of physical fitness. This would prove the superiority of the master race. Fit Germans were needed to fulfill Germany’s destiny. This was why the Nazis took great pride in the fact that Berlin was the venue for the 1936 Olympic Games. Nazi Germany was on show.
Despite the persecution of the Jews, the abolition of the trade unions and the activities of the Gestapo, the majority of the German people seemed to idolise Hitler. Newsreel films of processions and rallies show enthusiastic crowds ecstatic in their acclamation of the Fuhrer. Hitler had a remarkable gift as an orator, with a fiery and Germanic way with words, which undoubtedly attracted and mesmerised the crowds.
Goebbels used all the different types of media to whip up support for the Nazis and to insight hatred against their enemies. Goebbels was a brilliant and fluent speaker but a liar. Goebbels made very effective use of the state-controlled radio to inform or misinform the German people. Nazi propaganda urged everyone to tune into the radio, so that they could listen to the Fuhrer. The biggest show piece in the Nazi year was the annual Nuremberg rally. Torch light processions and military parades with goose-stepping standard bearers carrying giant swastikas impressed and thrilled the German crowds.
Despite the fact that many leading Jewish scientists and musicians had already fled from Germany, foreign leaders were impressed by the Nazis. They ignored reports from British and American journalists, which described conditions in the concentration camps. Ex-King Edward VIII visited Hitler in 1937 only 10 months after his abdication much to the disapproval of many people in Britain.
In conclusion, Hitler’s rise to power occurred through a series of events, which enabled him to take full control of Germany and eventually its empire.