In 1919, the Weimar Republic was established in Germany. It was an ultimately failed attempt at “democracy”. Political “gridlock” resulted in the inability to create “consensus”. Political coalitions of small, but numerous political parties often fell apart. Many Germans saw democracy as a “weak” form of government (“anarchy”).
In 1923, Adolph Hitler, a corporal in the Austrian army during the war, joined the Nazi Party. They made a failed attempt to seize power in the city of Munich. (the “Beer Hall Putsch) In prison, Hitler wrote the book “Mein Kampf” (“my struggle”). It reflected Hitler’s goal of restoring previous “German” national “greatness” after the “humiliation” of WW I and the Treaty of Versailles. Germany’s defeat had been a conspiracy of Marxists, Jews and corrupt German “traitors”. Hitler promised to end paying war reparations and defy the Versailles Treaty by re-arming Germany. The Nazis sought to rebuild a thousand year “Third Reich”, an Aryan “master race” to dominate the world. Aryan Germans everywhere were to unite into one great nation and expand territories to gain “lebensraum” (“living space”). Slavs and other inferior races must bow to Aryan needs. .
Economic problems during the 1920s and eventual “depression” in 1929 fed to unrest and helped lead to the rise of fascism. German money became almost worthless because of hyper-inflation. Middle class “savings” were wiped out. “Liberal” capitalism had led to economic “chaos” and suffering. Nazi Gregor Strasser: “We are socialists. We are deadly enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system with its exploitation of the economically weak.” The “Great” worldwide economic Depression of 1929 brought mass unemployment. By 1930, unemployment reached 4 million. As unemployment rose, Nazi Party membership grew to almost one million. Countless Germans identified their poverty with the misfortunes of the German nation and hoped “strong” Nazi leadership would improve their condition.
In the early 1930s, German democratic government was “paralyzed” by divisions. Fearing the growth of communist power, conservatives turned to Hitler’s Nazi party for support. Although they hated Hitler, (including great German general and then President Paul von Hindenburg) conservatives believed they could control him. Hitler was elected to the position of chancellor (parliamentary leader) in January, 1933 through legal means under the Weimar constitution.
Within a year, Hitler was dictator of Germany. Hindenburg died. A fire at the Reichstag parliament building in February, 1933 was used as an excuse to suspend civil rights. The Reichstag Fire was likely started by the Nazis themselves, but Communists were blamed. The Enabling Act passed by the Reichstag in March, 1933 gave Hitler extraordinary powers in time of “emergency”. The Nazis “idealized” their own will and thirst for power, with a “ruthless” drive.. Hitler stated, “Conscience is a “Jewish invention” to be discarded as an act of “self-liberation.” Hitler was amoral – “I don’t see why men should not be as cruel as animals.”
The Nazis used terror and intimidation to ensure loyalty. Hitler disbanded rival political parties and brutally “purged” his own Nazi party of suspected “traitors”. (the “Night of Long Knives” in June, 1934) Hitler demanded unquestioned obedience. Elite, black-uniformed troops called the S.S. enforced Hitler’s rule. The separate Gestapo secret police rooted out opposition through brutal repression.
The Nazis sought “totalitarian” state control of all aspects of German life. Universities were “purged” of professors who raised questions and displayed dissent. “Un-German” books were banned and publicly burned. All media was censored. Radio and film turned Nazism into a spectacle heightening nationalism Hitler urged most religious leaders to join a Nazi-dominated German “national church”. .
The popularity of the Nazis rested on both the idea Volksgemeinschaft, or people’s “community” and national “renewal”. (spiritual “rebirth”) The Nazis were credited with finally establishing national solidarity that “Germans” had long desired. The people’s community sought reconciliation amongst Germans long divided by class, region and religion. . National Socialism appealed to war veterans, lower middle classes, small-town Germans and business people alike. National solidarity resonated because it seemed to offer more social equality. Nazi rule was a revolution – with a sense of new direction and a new time. The Nazis ridiculed opponents as “hopeless yesteryears.”
Large public works programs (building highways, housing, replanting forests) relieved unemployment. Military rearmament, in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, provided jobs and revived German military power. Hitler promised a “Volkswagen”, a “people’s car”, that would make the German people “rich and beautiful”, The building of autobahns (roads) and the experience of travel and state-provided vacations enhanced the quality of life. The Volkswagen was a symbol of the future as a “new, happier age”. The Nazis seemed “men of the future.”
To build the future, the Hitler Youth indoctrinated young people through communal activity and state propaganda. The revival of the great German nation through its youth and “great leader” (the “Cult of Personality”) were continuously advertised. Hitler Youth pledged absolute loyalty to Hitler (“der Fuerher”, meaning “father-leader). “Obedient” Youth were used to help ensure the loyalty of their parents towards this “great” undertaking. While the Nazis often paid homage to the family, in practice the Nazis “invaded” the family to break its autonomy. (because the family contains loyalties outside state control) Hitler Youth also undertook physical fitness programs that “empowered” them towards “greatness”, and prepared them physically and psychologically for war.
The people’s community was also a statement of collective strength. It expressed the “peace of the fortress” that enabled Germans to mobilize against their external enemies. The Nazis elaborated a fundamentally embattled worldview in which only struggle guaranteed the preservation of life. The people’s community was endangered and implicitly violent. The Nazis taught that to preserve life might mean having to destroy it. “Permanent emergency” (crisis) was declared by the Nazis
“Outsiders” were seen as a threat to “national regeneration” (xenophobia). The Jews (under 1% of the German population) were blamed or “scapegoated” for Germany’s problems. “Asocials” such as Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and the mentally handicapped threatened the “purity” and healthy development of the volksgemeinschaft In 1935, the Nuremburg Laws deprived Jews of German citizenship and other restrictions. Jews were prohibited from marrying non-Jews, attending or teaching in German schools, holding government jobs, practicing law or medicine, or publishing books.
Communism was also hated by Hitler. Karl Marx was born a Jew. (though the “official” religion of Marxism is “atheism”) Communist “international” revolution that would ultimately create a single “class-less” society (no “rich”, “poor” or “countries”) was contrary to the idea of German/Aryan nationalism and “superiority”. The Nazis and Communists participated in brutal street fights.