Back To CourseAP European History: Exam Prep
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Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.
Some periods of human history are so ugly we would just rather forget that they even occurred. Perhaps no other period of history is uglier than the rise of fascism in Germany and its genocidal results. Despite how uncomfortable discussing the life of Adolf Hitler and the subsequent murder of approximately six million Jews might make us, learning about such horrific events is important if only to safeguard against such things ever happening again.
Fascism is a form of government that maintains strict control over government institutions and the state's citizens, championing nationalism and often racial and ethnic purity above all else. The rise of Adolf Hitler and fascism in Germany has its roots in the aftermath of World War I (WWI). Germany was largely blamed for the war, and the victorious allies imposed harsh punishments upon Germany, including exacting reparations which essentially made Germany pay for the wartime expenditures of each of the Allies in addition to its own. These economic sanctions crippled the German economy, to the point of the German currency, the Deutschmark, becoming virtually worthless.
Additionally, the Weimar Republic that replaced the German monarchy after WWI maintained a tenuous control on the nation. Though the Weimar Republic managed some prosperous years in the 1920s, much of this prosperity was fueled by infusions of U.S. cash through the Dawes Plan. When that cash dried up as the Great Depression hit the United States and the rest of the world in 1929, the Weimar Republic floundered.
By the 1930s, Germans were tired of failure. They had lost WWI, been told it was their fault, and the ineffectual Weimar Republic had bungled the German government ever since, failing to adequately cope with multiple economic crises, which made life for everyday Germans exceedingly difficult. It was under this atmosphere of hardship and political turmoil that Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party grew increasingly popular in Germany in the early 1930s.
The Nazi Party had its beginnings in the fringe German Workers' Party, which Adolf Hitler joined in 1919 and remade according to his own beliefs. The Nationalist Socialist Workers' Party (or Nazi, for short), as it was rebranded in 1920, had a heavily xenophobic and nationalist platform. The nationalism, or extreme pride in one's country, encouraged Germans to be proud in their ethnicity and heritage, and it increasingly blamed many of Germany's problems on the Jewish people. Hitler's premature attempt at a political coup in 1923 earned him nine months in prison, which merely allowed him time to formulate a better political approach for his party and solidify his xenophobic and anti-Semitic beliefs.
He emerged from prison determined to lead his party to power through the electoral process. Additionally, he reorganized his party foot soldiers into a paramilitary force - the notorious SA and SS. Hitler's strong oratorical skills and highly nationalist message appealed to the downtrodden Germans of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Germans flocked to support Hitler and his Nazi Party, happy to once again be told it was okay to be proud to be German.
The subsequent rise of the Nazi Party was meteoric; from a party on brink of collapse during Hitler's time in prison in 1923, the Nazi Party received the second most seats in the German Bundestag in the 1930 elections. In the 1932 elections, the Nazi Party added 123 seats to the 107 they already held, becoming the largest party in the German government. Almost immediately, Adolf Hitler mobilized the SA and SS and began intimidating political opponents and taking physical control of government apparatuses. He pushed through a series of laws stripping Germany of its democratic institutions and centralizing power in his own hands. By April 1933, Hitler was essentially dictator of Germany.
The 1930s saw Germany become increasingly enveloped by Hitler's cult of personality and the incredibly nationalist and anti-Semitic values of the Nazi Party. Hitler consolidated control through reorganizing the SA and SS and forming the Gestapo, murdering, exiling, or imprisoning many former devotees in the process.
Jews came under substantial pressure as the Nazi Party sponsored boycotts of Jewish businesses, and events like the Night of Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht, in 1938 fostered increased violence against Jewish institutions and Jews themselves. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were instituted, which placed hundreds of restrictions on Jews and Jewish life in Germany, including forcing Jews to wear identifying clothing in public.
At the same time, Hitler's Germany began flouting international laws. The ultra-nationalism Germany exhibited sought to unite all ethnic Germans under the German flag. As a result, in 1936 the German army marched into the Rhineland - an industrialized region of western Germany on the French border, where they were forbidden to be by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1938 and 1939 Germany further annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia, respectively.
Domestically, the Nazi Party whipped the German people into a nationalist fervor. All things German were prized, and the German people were encouraged to raise large families and live healthy lifestyles in order to be of service to the German state. The 1936 Berlin Olympics were seen as an opportunity to showcase Germany and the superiority of the German people.
In 1939, Hitler's expansionism led to the beginning of World War II (WWII) when Germany invaded Poland, supposedly intending merely to regain land Germany had lost after WWI. The invasion triggered Polish treaties with Great Britain and France, who declared war on Germany several weeks after the invasion. Hitler's Germany responded by invading France in 1940, taking just a few weeks to overrun the country.
While Germany spread its influence over Europe, within Germany and its new territories, Hitler began his systematic elimination of the Jewish race, the disabled, and any foreign nationality Hitler came across which he despised - in particular, Russians and Poles. This plan he termed his Final Solution, and he carried it out by shipping these people to camps where they were often worked to death or otherwise murdered. As the war dragged on, these camps increasingly became extermination camps, where prisoners, especially Jewish ones, were executed soon after arrival. All told, by the end of the war, approximately 11 million were murdered in Hitler's death camps, with as many as six million being Jews, though estimates vary wildly.
Several military blunders during WWII would prove the beginning of the end for Hitler and the fascist German state. The invasion of Russia in the summer of 1941 would prove a costly mistake, as Germany expended vast amounts of resources for every inch of Russian soil it gained, eventually being turned back after the Battle of Stalingrad. In 1943, the Allies invaded Sicily and began conquering Italy, leading to the overthrow of Hitler's closest ally, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
With the summer 1944 D-Day invasion of France, Hitler's German forces were now fighting the Allies on four fronts: the East, the West, in Italy, and in North Africa. This overextended German resources to the breaking point, and despite hard fighting on all fronts German forces slowly retreated. With the Allies closing in on Berlin in April 1945, Hitler and his longtime girlfriend Eva Braun committed suicide inside Hitler's bunker. Within a week in early May, Germany surrendered to the Allies, and Hitler's fascist experiment in Germany ended.
The rise of fascism in Germany occurred for several reasons. First, the harsh punishment meted out to Germany at the end of WWI crippled the German economy and made life in Germany incredibly hard. The problems were so great that Germany's post-war government, the democratic Weimar Republic, had little chance of succeeding in solving all of Germany's problems.
The political turmoil and unrest was felt by the German people, who flocked to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party when Hitler presented Germans with a nationalist view and an alternative scapegoat for their problems. Hitler's quick rise to power also meant a quickly deteriorating situation in Germany for that scapegoat: Jews. This fascist rhetoric resulted in the genocide of approximately six million Jews during WWII. Defeat of Germany in WWII and the end of fascist Germany was the only thing that kept that terrible number from rising further.
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Back To CourseAP European History: Exam Prep
28 chapters | 266 lessons | 22 flashcard sets