Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.
The Beginning of National Socialism
Where did Nazism come from? How did Adolf Hitler become so powerful? Those are the questions we will be answering in this lesson. In the next few minutes we will learn how a fledgling political party evolved into an empire and how a drop-out artist became its leader.
After losing World War I, Germany experienced a revolution in which its imperial government was replaced by a government that is commonly called the Weimar Republic. The Weimar Republic was Germany's democratic government lasting from 1919-1933. The Weimar Republic was hated by both the extreme right and left. In response to Germany's new government, a host of political parties emerged. Among them was a conservative, nationalist party called the German Worker's Party, or abbreviated in German, the D.A.P. It was founded by a man named Anton Drexler.
Enter Hitler. Having dropped out of art school and only risen to the level of corporal during World War I, young Hitler increasingly found himself drawn to politics. In 1919, he joined the fledgling D.A.P., becoming its 55th member. Within a year or so, Hitler became the most influential member of the party. In 1920, the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Worker's Party, or N.S.D.A.P. It was a conservative, nationalist, and anti-Semitic party whose aim was to overthrow the Weimar Republic. By the early 1920s, Hitler, ever the genius of consolidating power, emerged as the undisputed leader of the N.S.D.A.P.
Okay, just so we are clear: National Socialism and Nazism are the same thing. In German, 'Nazism' is a shortened form of the word 'National Socialism.' Don't let the word 'socialism' throw you off; National Socialism was a conservative, right-wing movement - it was a form of fascism. The Nazis regarded communists as bitter enemies. Throughout the 1920s, Nazis and communists frequently engaged in brutal street fighting.
The Nazi Rise of Power
In the early 1920s, the Nazi Party was just one of hundreds of disgruntled political parties. As the decade progressed, however, other right-wing parties were gradually absorbed into the Nazi Party. Increasingly, the people of Germany came to support the Nazi Party. The German people were embarrassed by the restrictions imposed on them by the Treaty of Versailles, the treaty that ended World War I. Because the Nazi Party refused to abide by the Treaty of Versailles, it gained much popular support.
Anti-Semitism was also widespread throughout Germany. Many Germans blamed their loss in World War I on the Jews. Nazi anti-Semitism, therefore, proved popular. On top of that, Hitler recognized the power of image. Marching behind swastika banners, his S.A. storm troopers, nicknamed 'brownshirts,' struck fear in the hearts of any who opposed the party and admiration among those who supported it. The Nazis were particularly effective at harnessing the power of propaganda. Joseph Goebbels served as the party's Minister of Propaganda. Through posters, radio, speeches, and other forms of communication, Goebbels played a major role in the spread of Nazi ideology.
By 1923, Hitler felt confident enough to attempt an armed coup. The 'Beer Hall Putsch' took place in November of that year when Hitler and other Nazis gathered at a beer hall in Munich, Germany and attempted to overthrow the Bavarian government. The Putsch involved the kidnapping of government officials, forcing them at gunpoint to publicly support the coup, and a dramatic armed march against government police forces.
In the end, the 'Beer Hall Putsch' was a complete failure. Hitler was charged with high treason and sentenced to five years imprisonment. Ironically, Hitler's arrest, trial, and imprisonment only furthered his popularity. While in prison, he had the opportunity to write Mein Kampf, or My Struggle, an autobiographical volume and political manifesto outlining his future plans for Germany.
Consolidation of Power & the Nazi State
The Great Depression gave Hitler a chance to fulfill the plans set forth in Mein Kampf. The Great Depression was felt throughout the world, but it hit Weimar Germany particularly hard. Hyperinflation swelled to the point that wheelbarrows full of Reichsmark currency were required just to buy bread. As discontentment with the Weimar Republic rose, so, too, did Nazi popularity. Amid a series of political crises, Hitler ran for president in 1932, but lost to Paul von Hindenburg. Despite this, Hitler was appointed chancellor by Hindenburg in 1933.
In February 1933, the German Parliament building, the Reichstag, suspiciously caught on fire. Immediately, the Nazis blamed communists and used the fire as a pretext to pass an emergency decree, suspending civil rights. This allowed the Nazis to wipe out communist opposition. Hitler's promises to the political center also helped him secure support among moderates.
Given these circumstances, Hitler was able to coax the Reichstag into supporting his vision for a new Germany. In March 1933, the pro-Nazi Reichstag passed the Enabling Act. This act effectively gave Hitler the power to pass and enforce laws without the consent of the Reichstag. In short, it transformed Weimar Germany into a dictatorship.
Upon President Hindenburg's death in 1934, the offices of German President and German Chancellor were merged into one position. When Hindenburg died, Hitler assumed the title of Führer and Reich Chancellor of Germany. Basically, that was Hitler saying, 'Hey, everybody, I'm your dictator.' A public referendum a year later granted support to Hitler's assumption of supreme power.
And that, my friends, in a nutshell, is how Hitler came to power. Remember, he was a master of political maneuvering. Now, it's time to review.
The Weimar Republic was Germany's democratic government, lasting from 1919-1933. It was hated by the National Socialist German Worker's Party, or Nazi Party. The Nazi Party was a conservative, nationalist, and anti-Semitic political party.
In 1923, the Nazis attempted the 'Beer Hall Putsch', a coup designed to overthrow the Bavarian government. It was a failure and resulted in Hitler's imprisonment. While in prison, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, an autobiographical volume outlining his future plan for Germany. In 1933, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which essentially gave Hitler dictatorial powers.
At the end of this lesson, you should find that you can:
- Recall the name of Germany's democratic government
- Explain how the Nazi Party was founded and how it gained popularity
- Discuss the Beer Hall Putsch and how Hitler outlined his future plans while imprisoned
- Analyze the circumstances that led to Hitler's rise to power and to his full dictatorship
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