Nazi Germany

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File:Flag Germany 1933.png
Flag of Nazi Germany

Nazi Germany, or the Third Reich, refers to Germany in the years 19331945, when it was under the control of the National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazi Party, with the Führer Adolf Hitler as head of state.

Third Reich, used as a near-synonym for Nazi Germany, is the English for the German expression Drittes Reich, literally Third Empire, but the second word is seldom translated. It refers to the government and its agencies rather than the land and its people. The term was first used in 1922 as the title of a book by conservative writer Arthur Moeller van den Bruck. It was adopted by Nazi propaganda, which counted the Holy Roman Empire as the first Reich, the 18711918 German Empire the second, and its own regime as the third. This was done in order to suggest a return to former German glory after the failure of the 1919 Weimar Republic. The reasons for the accession of the Nazis to power are complex.

The Nazi Party deliberately attempted to combine traditional symbols of Germany with Nazi Party symbols in an effort to reinforce the perception of their being one and the same. Thus the Nazi Party used the terms "Drittes Reich" and "Tausendjähriges Reich" ("Thousand-Year Reich") to connect the allegedly glorious past to its supposedly glorious future. In speeches, books and articles about the Third Reich post 8 May 1945, the 1000 years is often juxtaposed against the twelve years of the Third Reich's existence. There is evidence that Hitler himself disliked the term "Drittes Reich", because of its suggestion that his new order stood in a subordinate position to its predecessors, but a copy of Moeller's book was found in the Berlin bunker where both Hitler and his Reich came to their violent end.

During their twelve year rule, the Nazis sent massive armies throughout almost all of continental Europe, except Switzerland, Spain, Liechtenstein, Sweden, Portugal, Andorra, the Vatican and land near the Ural Mountains. As part of this, the Nazis endorsed the idea of a Greater Germany, with Berlin renamed Germania as its capital, and integration of all people of supposed pure Germanic origin. This policy manifested itself in the systematic extermination of an estimated eleven million people of racial minorities (Jews, Gypsies, Slavs), political opponents (liberals, communists), and social outcasts (the disabled, homosexuals), as well as opposing inhabitants and tens of millions of others as a direct or indirect result of combat.

Chronology of events

Pre-War Politics 1933-1939

Berlin during the Nazi era.

On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg after attempts by General Kurt von Schleicher to form a viable government failed, and under heavy pressure from former Chancellor Franz von Papen. Even though the Nazi Party had gained the largest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they had no majority in parliament.

Consolidation of power

The new government installed a dictatorship in a series of measures in quick succession (see Gleichschaltung for details). On February 27, 1933 the Reichstag was set on fire, and this was followed immediately by the Reichstag Fire Decree, which rescinded habeas corpus and other protective laws.

A step that turned Germany into a dictatorship virtually overnight was the Enabling Act passed in March 1933. The act gave the Chancellor of Germany the same legislative powers as the Reichstag, stated that the Chancellor could approve amendments to the constitution at will, and authorized several far-reaching emergency powers that suspended most civil liberties and turned Germany into a one-party state.

Further consolidation of power was achieved on January 30, 1934, with the Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reichs (Act to rebuild the Reich). The act changed the highly decentralized federal Germany of the Weimar era into a centralized state. It disbanded state parliaments, transferring sovereign rights of the states to the Reich central government and put the state administrations under the control of the Reich administration.

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"Norddeutscher-Bund" flag since 1867 (then forbidden by the Nazis in 1935 as "reactionary")

Only the army remained independent from Nazi control, and the Nazi quasi-military SA expected top positions in the new power structure. Wanting to preserve good relations with the army, on the night of June 30, 1934 Hitler initiated the Night of the Long Knives, a purge of the leadership ranks of the SA as well as other political enemies, carried out by another, more elitist, Nazi organisation, the SS. Shortly thereafter the army leaders swore their obedience to Hitler.

At the death of president Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, the Nazi-controlled Reichstag merged the offices of Reichspräsident and Reichskanzler and reinstalled Hitler with the new title Führer und Reichskanzler.

The inception of the Gestapo, police acting outside of any civil authority, highlighted the Nazis' intention to use powerful, coercive means to directly control German society. Soon, an army estimated to be of about 100,000 spies and infiltrators operated throughout Germany, reporting to Nazi officials the activities of any critics or dissenters. Most ordinary Germans, happy with the improving economy and better standard of living, remained obedient and quiet, but many political opponents, especially communists and some types of socialists, were reported by omnipresent eavesdropping spies, and put in prison camps where they were severely mistreated, and many tortured and killed. It is estimated that tens of thousands of political victims died or disappeared in the first few years of Nazi rule.

For political opposition during this period, see German resistance movement.

Social policy

See also Racial policy of Nazi Germany

The Nazi regime was characterized by political control of every aspect of society in a quest for racial (Aryan, Nordic), social and cultural purity. Modern abstract art and avant-garde art was thrown out of museums, and put on special display as "Degenerate art", where it was ridiculed. However, the crowds attending these displays of "decadent art" frequently eclipsed those attending officially sanctioned displays. In one notable example on March 31, 1937, huge crowds stood in line to view a special display of "degenerate art" in Munich, while a concurrent exhibition of 900 works personally approved by Adolf Hitler attracted a tiny, unenthusiastic gathering.

The Nazi Party pursued its aims through persecution and killing of those considered impure, targeted especially against minority groups such as Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses and homosexuals.

By the Nuremberg Laws passed in 1935, Jews were stripped of their German citizenship and denied government employment. Most Jews employed by Germans lost their jobs at this time, their jobs being taken by unemployed Germans. On November 9, 1938, the Nazi party incited a pogrom against Jewish businesses called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass, literally "Crystal Night"); the euphemism was used because the numerous broken windows made the streets look as if covered with crystal. By September 1939, more than 200,000 Jews had left Germany, with the Nazi government seizing any property they left behind.

The Nazis also undertook programs targeting "weak" or "unfit" members of their own population, such as the T-4 Euthanasia Program that killed tens of thousands of disabled and sick Germans in an effort to "maintain the purity of the German Master race" (German: Herrenvolk) as described by Nazi propagandists. The techniques of mass killing developed in these efforts would later be used in the Holocaust. Under a law passed in 1933, the Nazi regime carried out the compulsory sterilization of over 400,000 individuals labeled as having hereditary defects, ranging from mental illness to alcoholism.

Recent research has also emphasised the role of the extensive Nazi welfare programmes that supposedly helped maintain public support for the regime until late in the war.

Economic policy

File:20 Deutschmark note 3rd Reich.jpg
The Reichsmark gained significant value under the Third Reich

When the Nazis came to power the most pressing issue was an unemployment rate of over 40%. The economic management of the state was first given to respected banker Hjalmar Schacht. Under his guidance, a new economic policy to elevate the nation was drafted. One of the first actions was to destroy the trade unions and impose strict wage controls.

The government then expanded the money supply through massive deficit spending. However at the same time the government imposed a 4.5% interest rate ceiling, creating a massive shortage in borrowable funds. This was resolved by setting up a series of dummy companies that would pay for goods with bonds. The most famous of these was the MEFO company, and these bonds used as currency became known as mefo bills. While it was promised that these bonds could eventually be exchanged for real money, the collapse was put off until after the collapse of the Reich. These complicated maneuvers also helped conceal armament expenditures that violated the Treaty of Versailles.

Normally the effects of price control combined with a large increase in the money supply would produce a large black market, but harsh penalties that saw violators sent to concentration camps or even shot on the spot prevented this development. Repressive measures also kept volatility low, reducing inflationary pressures. New policies also limited imports of consumer goods and focusing on producing exports. International trade was greatly reduced remaining at about a third of 1929 levels throughout the Nazi period. Currency controls were extended, leading to a considerable overvaluation of the Reichsmark. These policies were successful in cutting unemployment dramatically.

Industry was mostly not nationalized, and businesses were still motivated by pursuing profits. However industry was closely regulated with quotas and requirements to use domestic resources. These regulations were set by administrative committees composed of government and business officials. Competition was limited as major companies were organized into cartels through these administrative committees. Selective nationalization was used against businesses that failed to agree to these arrangements. The banks, which had been nationalized by Weimar, were returned to their owners and each administrative committee had a bank as member to finance the schemes.

The German economy was transferred to the leadership of Hermann Göring when, on October 18, 1936 the German Reichstag announced the formation of a Four-year plan to shift the German economy towards a war production base. The four-year plan technically expired in 1940, but by this time Hermann Göring had built up a power base in the "Office of the Four-Year Plan" that effectively controlled all German economic and production matters.

Under the leadership of Fritz Todt a massive public works project was started, rivaling the New Deal in both size and scope; its most notable achievement was the network of Autobahnen. Once the war started, the massive organization that Todt founded was used in building bunkers, underground facilities and entrenchments all over Europe. Another part of the new German economy was massive rearmament, with the goal being to expand the 100,000-strong German Army into a force of millions.

In 1942 the growing burdens of the war and the death of Todt saw the economy move to a fully command economy under Albert Speer.

World War II

See: Military history of Germany during World War II
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Nazi conquests in Europe during World War II.
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The Nazi war flag

In 1939 Germany's actions led to the outbreak of World War II in Europe. Poland, France, Denmark, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands were invaded. Initially, the United Kingdom could do little to come to the rescue of its European allies and Germany subjected Britain to heavy bombing during the Battle of Britain. After invading Greece and North Africa, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. It declared war on the United States in December of 1941 after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

The persecution of minorities continued both in Germany and the occupied areas. From 1941 Jews were required to wear a yellow star in public, and most were transferred to ghettos, where they remained isolated from the rest of the population. In January 1942, at the Wannsee conference under the supervision of Reinhard Heydrich, a plan for the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" (Endlösung der Judenfrage) in Europe was hatched. From then until the end of the war some six million Jews and many others, including homosexuals, Slavs and political prisoners, were systematically killed and more than 10 million people were put into slavery. This genocide is called the Holocaust in English and the Shoah in Hebrew. (The Nazis used the euphemistic German term Endlösung—"final solution".) Thousands were shipped daily to extermination camps (Vernichtungslager, sometimes called "death factories") and concentration camps (Konzentrationslager, KZ), some of which were originally detention centers but later converted into mass-murder factories, or had death camps added to their facilities, for the purpose of killing of their inmates.

Parallel to the Holocaust the Nazis conducted a ruthless program of conquest, colonization and exploitation over the captured Soviet and Polish territories and their Slavic populations as part of their Generalplan Ost. According to estimates, 20 million Soviet civilians, three million non-Jewish Poles, and seven million Red Army soldiers died under Nazi maltreatment in what the Russians call the Great Patriotic War. The Nazis' plan was to extend German lebensraum ("living space") eastward, but their public pretext for launching the war in Eastern Europe was "to defend Western Civilization against Bolshevism".

By February 1943 the Soviets had defeated the Nazis at Stalingrad and began the push westward, winning the tank battle at Kursk-Orel in July. The Nazi regime was pushed back to the borders of Poland by February 1944 with the outcome of the war no longer in much doubt. The Allies finally opened a second front in June 1944 in Normandy, but the Soviets had already turned the tide of the war in Europe, mostly on their own, with 5-15% of Soviet supplies coming from the west. Soviet troops moving westward met Allied troops moving eastward at the Elbe on April 26 1945 (Cohen).

On April 30 1945, as Berlin was being taken by Soviet forces, Hitler committed suicide. On May 48, 1945 German armed forces surrendered unconditionally. This was the end of World War II in Europe and, with the creation of the Allied Control Council on June 5, 1945, the four Allied powers "assume[d] supreme authority with respect to Germany" (Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany, US Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series, No. 1520).


The winning allies first split Germany into occupation zones. At the Potsdam Conference German borders within the Soviet occupation zone were moved westward, with most territory given to Poland as compensation for the annexation of eastern Polish territory by the Soviet Union. About half of German East Prussia was annexed by the Soviet Union, nowadays called Kaliningrad. The German exodus from Eastern Europe, which was initiated by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, was after the war completed when virtually all Germans in Central Europe had been "resettled" to west of the Oder-Neisse line, with up to about 17 million ethnic Germans affected. The French, US and British occupation zones later became West Germany, while the Soviet zone became the communist East Germany. West Germany recovered economically by the 1960s, being called the economic miracle (German term Wirtschaftswunder) due to economic aid by the United States of America (Marshall Plan), while the East recovered at a slower pace under Communism until 1990, due to reparations paid to the Soviet Union and the effects of the centrally planned economy.

After the war, surviving Nazi leaders were put on trial by the Allied tribunal at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity. A minority were sentenced to death and executed, but most were released by the mid 1950s on account of health and old age. In the 60s, 70s and 80s some new efforts were made in West-Germany to take those who were directly responsible for crimes against humanity to court (e.g. Auschwitz trials). However, many of the not so prominent leaders continued to live well into the 1970s and 1980s.

In all non-fascist European countries legal purges were established to punish the members of the former Nazi and Fascist parties. Also there, however, some of the former leaders found ways to accommodate themselves under the new circumstances. An uncontrolled punishment hit the children of Nazis and those fathered by German soldiers in occupied territories, including the "Lebensborn" children.

See Nuremberg Trials

Organization of the Third Reich

The leaders of Nazi Germany created a large number of different organizations for the purpose of helping them in staying in power. They rearmed and strengthened the military, set up an extensive state security apparatus and created their own personal party army, the Waffen SS.

Through staffing of most government positions with Nazi Party members, by 1935 the German national government and the Nazi Party had become virtually one and the same. By 1938, through the policy of Gleichschaltung, local and state governments lost all legislative power and answered administratively to Nazi party leaders, known as Gauleiters.

The organization of the Nazi state, as of 1944, was as follows:

Head of State and Chief Executive

Cabinet and national authorities

Reich Offices

  • Office of the Four-Year Plan (Hermann Göring)
  • Office of the Reich Master Forester (Hermann Göring)
  • Office of the Inspector for Highways
  • Office of the President of the Reich Bank
  • Reich Youth Office
  • Reich Treasury Office
  • General Inspector of the Reich Capital
  • Office of the Councillor for the Capital of the Movement (Munich, Bavaria)

Reich Ministries

Occupation authorities

Legislative Branch


Wehrmacht — Armed Forces

OKW — Armed Forces High Command
Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces - Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel
Chief of the Operations Staff - Colonel General Alfred Jodl

Heer — Army

OKH — Army High Command
Army Commanders-in-Chief
Colonel General Werner von Fritsch (1935 to 1938)
Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch (1938 to 1941)
Führer and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler (1941 to 1945)
Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner (1945)

Kriegsmarine — Navy

OKM — Navy High Command
Navy Commanders-in-Chief
Grand Admiral Erich Raeder (1928-1943)
Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz (1943-1945)
General Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg (1945)

Luftwaffe — Airforce

OKL — Airforce High Command
Reichsluftschutzbund (Air Force Auxiliary)
Air Force Commanders-in-Chief
Reich Marshal Hermann Göring (to 1945)
Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim (1945)

Abwehr — Military Intelligence

Rear Admiral Konrad Patzig {1932-1935)
Vice Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (1935-1944)

Paramilitary organisations

National police

Reich Central Security Office (RSHA — Reichssicherheitshauptamt) Ernst Kaltenbrunner

Political organizations

Service organizations

Religious organisations

Academic organizations

  • National Socialist German University Teachers League
  • National Socialist German Students League

Prominent persons in Nazi Germany

For a listing of Hitler's cabinet see : Hitler's Cabinet, January 1933 - April 1945

Nazi Party and Nazi government leaders and officials

SS personnel



Noted victims

Noted refugees

Noted survivors

See also

External links


  1. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. ISBN 0671728687
  2. The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich by Christian Zenter and Friedemann Bedurftig. (1985 by Sudwest Verlag GmbH & co. KG, Munich)
  3. The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans. ISBN 0141009756
  4. A Social History of the Third Reich by Richard Grunberger. ISBN 0140136754
  5. Cohen, Nobel, Neuschell,Osheim,Roberts,Strauss (2002). Western Civilization The Continuing Experiment (3rd ed.). pp. 961-962. U.S.A: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-10208-6.
  6. The Hitler state : the foundation and development of the internal structure of the Third Reich by Martin Broszat translated by John W. Hiden, London : Longman, 1981 ISBN 0582492009.
  7. The Third Reich : the essential readings edited by Christian Leitz Oxford, UK ; Malden, Mass. : Blackwell Publishers, 1999 ISBN 0631207007.
  8. Hitler's thirty days to power : January 1933 by Henry Ashby Turner , Reading, Mass. : Addison-Wesley, 1996 ISBN 0201407140.
  9. The German Opposition to Hitler: An Assessment by Hans Rothfels Longwood Pr Ltd: London 1948, 1961, 1963, 1970 ISBN 0854961194.
  10. German big business and the rise of Hitler by Henry Ashby Turner , New York : Oxford University Press, 1985 ISBN 019503492.
  11. German National Socialism, 1919-1945 by Martin Broszat; translated from the German by Kurt Rosenbaum and Inge Pauli Boehm, Santa Barbara, Calif., Clio Press 1966.
  12. The German Dictatorship; The Origins, Structure, and Effects of National Socialism by Karl Dietrich Bracher; translated from the German by Jean Steinberg; with an Introduction by Peter Gay, New York, Praeger 1970.
  13. Germany and the two World Wars by Andreas Hillgruber, Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1981 ISBN 0674353218.
  14. The Third Reich by Klaus Hildebrand, London : G. Allen & Unwin, 1984 ISBN 0049430335.
  15. The Nemesis of Power : The German Army in Politics 1918-1945 by Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, Palgrave Macmillan: London: 1953, 1964, 2005 ISBN 1403918120.
  16. Inside Nazi Germany : conformity, opposition and racism in everyday life by Detlev Peukert London : Batsford, 1987 ISBN 071345217X.
  17. From Weimar to Auschwitz by Hans Mommsen translated by Philip O'Connor Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1991 ISBN 0691031983.
  18. The Nazi seizure of Power : the experience of a single German town, 1922-1945 by William Sheridan Allen New York ; Toronto : F. Watts, 1984 ISBN 0531099350.
  19. Mothers In The Fatherland : Women, The Family, And Nazi Politics by Claudia Koonz, New York : St. Martin's Press, 1987 ISBN 0312549334.

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