The Nazi rise to power
n the aftermath of World War I, Germany remained in turmoil throughout the 1920s, providing an ideal setting for the rise of extremist ideologies and firebrand political leaders. To Germans burdened by reparations payments to war victors, and threatened by hyperinflation, political chaos, and a possible Communist takeover, Adolf Hitler offered scapegoats and solutions.
Germans were provided with an easy explanation to all their problems: Jews and democracy. It was the “International Jewry” that had been responsible for Germany’s defeat in World War I and the humiliating peace treaty. Democracy, i.e. the elected officials of the Weimar Republic, was responsible for the economic depression of the early 1930s. The Nazis cleverly played on the “political paranoia” of the middle class.
Following the meteoric rise of the Nazi Party, Hitler was appointed as chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. At the time, the other political parties were unhappy about letting Hitler, the leader of a paramilitary fascist party, become head of the government. But some powerful figures in the German ruling establishment were of the opinion that Hitler could be controlled and effectively used against the communists, if he was made a responsible head of government.
he Nazi rise to power brought an end to the Weimar Republic, a quasi-democratic regime that had ruled Germany after World War I. Hitler immediately began laying the foundations of the Nazi state. Guided by racist and authoritarian principles, the Nazis eliminated individual freedoms and pronounced the creation of a Volk Community (Volksgemeinschaft)--a society which would, in theory, transcend class and religious differences.
Hitler used a suspicious fire in the German parliament (the Reichstag) in February 1933 to suspend basic civil rights--rights that had been guaranteed by the democratic Weimar Constitution. The Third Reich became a police state in which Germans enjoyed no guaranteed basic rights and the SS, the elite guard of the Nazi state, wielded increasing authority through its control over the police. Political opponents, , along with Jews, were subject to intimidation, persecution, and discriminatory legislation.
In the first two years of his chancellorship, Hitler followed a concerted policy of "coordination" (Gleichschaltung), by which political parties, state governments, and cultural and professional organizations were brought in line with Nazi goals. Culture, the economy, education, and law all came under Nazi control.
Using the Civil Service Law of April 1933, German authorities began eliminating Jews from governmental agencies, and state positions in the economy, law, and cultural life. The Nazi government abolished trade unions.
With the passage of the Enabling Law (March 23, 1933), the German parliament transferred legislative power to Hitler's cabinet and thus lost its reason for being. By mid-July, the Nazi party was the only political party left in Germany. The other parties had been either outlawed by the government or had dissolved themselves under pressure.
Hitler had the final say in both domestic legislation and German foreign policy. Nazi foreign policy was guided by the racist belief that Germany was biologically destined to expand eastward by military force and that an enlarged, racially superior German population should establish permanent rule in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The Third Reich's aggressive population policy encouraged "racially pure" women to bear as many "Aryan" children as possible.
Within this framework, "racially inferior" peoples, such as Jews and Gypsies, would be eliminated from the region.
mmediately after the Reichtag elections on 5 March 1933, which marked the real beginning to Hitler’s and the Nazis’ takeover of Germany, Nazi organisations began to unleash their anger against the Jews. Jews were molested, some even killed, and Jewish businesses were harassed or destroyed.
The first anti-Semitic initiative was the boycott of Jewish stores in April 1933. This was followed by a wave of anti-Semitic laws and decrees. More than 2,000 racist laws and decrees were issued between 1933 and 1945.
The Nazis did not exclusively view the Jews as a religious community, but rather as belonging to the ‘Semitic race’ that tried to gain power at the expense of the Aryan race. The position of the Jews at the centre of both political and economic affairs was perfect for theories of political conspiracy. It was relatively easy to accuse Jews of being in collusion with and responsible for communism, capitalism, liberalism, socialism, revolution, etc.
he so-called Nuremberg Laws in 1935 were a landmark event. They were a collection of race laws that definitively segregated the Jews from the German Volksgemeinschaft (‘people’s community’).
The most explicit expression of anti-Semitism was seen in the violent atrocities committed during the so-called Night of Broken Glass in 1938. Tens of thousands of Jews were imprisoned in concentration camps, while Jewish businesses, property and synagogues were destroyed. The Jews were even presented with the bill for the atrocities committed by the regime: a fine of 1 billion Reichmark for their ‘hostility towards the German people’.
n schools, the Nazi regime put much energy into showing the children why it was necessary to take action against the Jews. Through anti-Semitic literature, the pupils were indoctrinated with delusions of the Jews’ hunger for world dominance, that the Jews were an inferior and criminal race, and that the Jews were a serious danger to the German people. According to an official guideline for teaching about the Jewish Question from 1937, the teaching should ensure that every pupil "...remain an enemy of the Jews for the rest of his life and raise his children as enemies [of the Jews]."
Faced with increasing hostility, Jews began to emigrate from Germany in large numbers. Approximately 300,000 of Germany’s 500,000 Jews left the country between 1933 and 1941 – in 1941 the emigration was halted.
he most coherent effort at presenting the ideological characteristics of Nazism can be found in Hitler’s autobiographical work, Mein Kampf (‘My Struggle’). This book was written between 1923 and 1924, while Hitler was in prison for participating in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. In his book, Hitler presents his inalterable ‘worldview’ (Weltanschauung), which after the Nazi takeover became the political-ideological basis of the new regime.
Hitler’s Weltanschauung was entirely a system of prejudices that included:
• A racist interpretation of world history, where the Aryan race is presented as ‘creating cultures’ and the Jewish race as ‘destroying cultures’.
• A social-Darwinist view of life: the strong survive, the weak perish. This goes for man as well as for the rest of nature.
• A love of anything militaristic: only in war does man show his true abilities.
• A belief that Germany can (and should) become a world power.
Fundamental for all these aspects was Hitler’s steady belief in the biological and cultural superiority of the Aryan race. It was consequently a very important part of Hitler’s ideology that the races should not be mixed. He saw the ‘purity of the blood’ a prerequisite for the coming greatness of the German people.
Racism and NazismR
acism (together with anti-Semitism) played a defining role in Nazi ideology. In the latter half of the 19th century, many of the intellectual roots of Nazism came into existence. The Western European nations’ exploitation of their African and Asian colonies frequently resulted in the conclusion that the local population in the colonies had to be inferior individuals in order to put up with their situation. Racism, cloaked as pseudo-scientific social Darwinism, became a widely acknowledged set of thoughts that led to scientific treatises, books and research projects. Frequently this research served the purpose of pointing out the superiority or inferiority of a specific nation or race.
Based on such ideas of a racial hierarchy many European nations, including Germany, possessed a feeling that their nation was superior to everybody else. This also meant that all members of this nation should dwell within the same national borders. From this come the extensive Nazi plans to move all ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche), who were citizens of other countries, into the Third Reich.
Racist ideas were also the basis for the exclusion of undesirable individuals from the German race. A result of this notion was the Nazi desire to remove Jews, gypsies, the handicapped, and others, from the German Volksgemeinschaft (‘people’s community’). This ‘racial hygiene’ policy was carried out systematically with great cruelty after 1933.
1920's: Verbal and written attacks on the Jews
1933: Boycott of Jewish stores
1933-34: The Jews are not allowed to work as civil servants, university teachers, journalists and artists
1930's: Physical attacks on Jewish property and people as well as unsanctioned – but unpunished - murders.
1935: The Nuremberg Laws; race laws with the purpose of legally and administratively isolating and impoverish the Jews.
1935-39: Jewish property is confiscated, Jews are “asked” to emigrate from Germany (and from 1938 also from Austria).
1939: Forced labour for Jewish men between the ages of 14 and 60 is introduced. Jews begin to die because of the work and because of hunger.
1939-40: Ghettos are established in Poland for the Polish Jews – later for German and other European Jews as well. Many die from disease, hunger and random executions.
1941, 15 September: German Jews are forced to wear the yellow star.October: German Jews are prohibited from emigrating from Germany.
1941: The first organised mass murders (by shooting) are committed by the four Einsatzgruppen. The first gassings (using gassing trucks) are carried out in the first extermination camp, Chelmno. Gas chambers and crematoria are under construction.
1942: Extermination camps are established and Jews are deported there.
1944-45: Death marches – in fear of the Allied invasions, Jews surviving the concentration camps are forced to march to more ‘secure” camps. Many die during these transfers.
The ‘Nuremberg Laws’ are two fundamental anti-Semitic laws that were issued in September 1935, during the Nazi Party’s annual rally in Nuremberg. The laws and a number of subsequent regulations came to constitute the legal basis of the segregation of the Jews from the surrounding society as well as the racial definition of Jewish-ness.
The two laws, “the Reich Citizen Law’ and “the Law for the Protection of the German Blood and Honour’, were to regulate two very important aspects of Jewish life within the German Reich:
1.‘The Reich Citizen Law’ made non-Aryans (first of all Jews) second-rate citizens without full civic rights. After the law came into force in September 1935, only true ‘Reich Citizens’ were recognized as a part of the German ‘people’s community’. The Jews were excluded because of their race.
2.‘The Law for the Protection of the German Blood & Honour’ prohibited marriage or sexual relations between Aryans and non-Aryans, among other things. This ‘race-hygiene’ law was issued in order to protect the German blood from being mixed with that of lesser races.
As an appendix to these laws an ordinance was issued in November 1935 that definitively defined the concept of ‘Jew’. At the same time the Nazi regime took away the civic rights of the Jews, including the right to vote.
The most important consequence of the Nuremberg Laws was the realisation of the distinction between Jew and Aryan. Obviously, this distinction became pivotal later on, when the Nazis began the deportation and extermination of the Jews.
The most interesting aspect of the definition was that it was based on the ‘blood’. An individual was considered Jewish, if at least three of his grandparents were of Jewish origin. This meant that the German Jews were later unable to escape deportation by converting to Christianity.
Table: excerpts from laws and decrees, 1933-1938
7 and 11 April 1933: The Civil Servants Act means that only Aryans (members of the Aryan ”race”) can be employed as civil servants. The law defines what constitutes non-Aryan based on biological principles. Following the issuing of the Act, around 30,000 civil servants are dismissed from public service.
7 April: It becomes possible to revoke the license of Jewish lawyers.
10 May: Public book burnings of “non-Aryan” literature in the larger cities.
July 1933: Forced sterilisation becomes possible based on racial criteria according to a new law. Around 200,000 are forcibly sterilised.
1935: Jews are prohibited from bathing in public together with Germans (Aryans).
15 September 1935: The Nuremberg Laws – Jews are defined on biological and racial principles. Jews and gypsies become second-rate citizens without full civil rights.
November 1938: Jews are prohibited from going to the movies, theatres and art exhibitions. Jewish children are excluded from German schools.
December 1938: All Jews lose their drivers license. Jews are prohibited from driving.
ccording to the historian Saul Friedländer, the majority of the German population believed that the Nazi regime would lead Germany out of years of political turmoil. This belief survived the problems (for instance the bad economy) in the first years of the regime. A series of successes on the international scene – for instance the naval agreement with Great Britain 1935 – strongly reinforced this belief.
The Germans’ faith in the Nazi regime carried with it a broad acceptance of the Nazis’ measures against the Jews. Sympathy with the Jews would have been tantamount to doubting the policies of Hitler and the regime.
he same applied to the regime’s myth of the Volksgemeinschaft. The German national unity thus explicitly excluded the Jews. To belong to the German people meant accepting what this exclusion implied, i.e. that the Jews were not a part of Germany and its people.