German Fascism Under Hitler

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  • 0:02 Fascism in Germany
  • 0:28 Weimar Germany
  • 1:31 Rise of Fascism
  • 4:01 Germany under Hitler
  • 5:39 Holocaust
  • 7:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we will explore the conditions in Germany that allowed for the rise of fascism there and the eventual dictatorship of Adolf Hitler in the mid-20th century.

Fascism in Germany

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.

Weimar Germany

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.

Rise of Fascism

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.

Germany Under Hitler

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.

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