Nazi Germany, or the Third Reich, is the common name for the country of Germany while governed by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) from 1933 to 1945. Third Reich (German: ) denotes the Nazi state as a historical successor to the medieval Holy Roman Empire (962–1806) and to the modern German Empire (1871–1918). Nazi Germany had two official names, the Deutsches Reich (German Reich), from 1933 to 1943, when it became Großdeutsches Reich (Greater German Reich).
On 30 January 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. Although he initially headed a coalition government, he quickly eliminated his government partners. At this time the German national borders still were those established in the peace Treaty of Versailles (1919), between Germany and the Allied Powers (United Kingdom, France, the United States, Italy, Japan et alii.) at the end of the First World War (1914–18); to the north, Germany was bounded by the North Sea, Denmark, and the Baltic Sea; to the east, it was divided into two and bordered Lithuania, the Free City of Danzig, Poland, and Czechoslovakia; to the south, it bordered Austria and Switzerland, and to the west, it touched France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Rhineland, and the Saarland. These borders changed after Germany regained control of the Rhineland, Saarland and the Memelland and annexed Austria, the Sudetenland and Bohemia and Moravia. Germany expanded into Greater Germany during the Second World War, which began in 1939 after Germany invaded Poland, triggering the United Kingdom and France to declare war on Germany.
During the war, Germany conquered and occupied most of Europe and Northern Africa. The Nazis persecuted and killed millions of Jews, Romani people and others in the Holocaust Final Solution. Despite its Axis alliance with other nations, mainly Italy and Japan, by 8 May 1945 Germany had been defeated by the Allied Powers, and was occupied by the Soviet Union, US, UK and France.
Nazi Germany arose in the wake of the national shame, embarrassment, anger, and resentment resulting from the Treaty of Versailles (1919), that dictated, to the vanquished Germans, responsibility for:
Other conditions fostering the rise of the Third Reich include nationalism and Pan-Germanism, civil unrest attributed to Marxist groups, the global Great Depression of the 1930s (consequent to the Wall Street Crash of 1929), hyperinflation, the reaction against the counter-traditionalism and liberalism of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of communism in Germany, i.e. the growth of the KPD (Communist Party of Germany). Many voters, seeking an outlet for their frustrations, and an expression for their repudiation of parliamentary democracy, which appeared incapable of keeping a government in power for more than a few months, began supporting far right-wing and far left-wing political parties, opting for political extremists such as the Nazi Party, (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP, National Socialist German Workers' Party)
The Nazis promised strong, authoritarian government in lieu of effete parliamentary republicanism, civil peace, radical economic policy (including full employment), restored national pride (principally by repudiating the Versailles Treaty), and racial cleansing, partly implemented via the active suppression of Jews and Marxists, all in name of national unity and solidarity, rather than the partisan divisions of democracy, and the social class divisiveness of Marxism. The Nazis promised national and cultural renewal based upon Völkisch movement traditionalism, and proposed rearmament, repudiation of reparations, and reclamation of territory lost to the Treaty of Versailles.
The Nazi Party claimed that through the Treaty, the Weimar Republic’s liberal democracy, the traitorous “November criminals” had surrendered Germany's national pride, by the inspiration and conniving of the Jews, whose goal was national subversion and the poisoning of the German blood. To establish that interpretation of recent German history, the Nazi propaganda effectively used the Dolchstoßlegende (“Dagger-stab in the Back Legend”) explaining the German military failure.
From 1925 to the 1930s, the German government evolved from a democracy to a de facto conservative–nationalist authoritarian state under war hero-President Paul von Hindenburg, who disliked the liberal democracy of the Weimar Republic, and wanted to make Germany into an authoritarian state. The natural ally for establishing authoritarianism was the German National People's Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP), "the Nationalists", but, after 1929, with the German economy floundering, more radical and younger nationalists were attracted to the revolutionary nature of the National Socialist Party, to challenge the rising popular support for communism. Moreover, the middle-class political parties lost support as the voters aggregated to the left- and right- wings of the German political spectrum, thus making majority government, in a parliamentary system, even more difficult.
In the federal election of 1928, when the economy had improved after the hyperinflation of the 1922–23 period, the Nazis won only 12 seats. Two years later, in the federal election of 1930, months after the US stock market crash, the Nazi Party won 107 seats, progressing from ninth-rated splinter group to second-largest parliamentary party in the Reichstag. After the federal election of 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag, holding 230 seats. President Hindenburg was reluctant to confer substantial executive power to Adolf Hitler, but former chancellor Franz von Papen and Hitler concorded an NSDAP–DNVP party alliance that would allow Hitler’s chancellorship, subject to traditional-conservative control, for President Hindenburg to develop an authoritarian state. In the event, Hitler consistently demanded to be appointed chancellor, in exchange for Hindenburg’s receiving any Nazi Party support of the cabinets appointed under his authority.
On 30 January 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany, after General Kurt von Schleicher’s failure to form a viable government (see Machtergreifung). Hitler pressured Hindenburg through his son Oskar von Hindenburg, and via intrigue by former Chancellor Franz von Papen, former leader of the Catholic Centre Party. By becoming the Vice Chancellor and keeping the Nazis a cabinet minority, von Papen expected to be able to control Hitler. Although the Nazis had won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they had no majority of their own, not even with the NSDAP–DNVP alliance that started governing in 1933 by Presidential Decree, per Article 48 of the 1919 Weimar Constitution.
The National Socialist treatment of the Jews in the early months of 1933 marked the first step in a longer-term process of removing them from German society. This plan was at the core of Adolf Hitler's "cultural revolution".
The new government quickly installed a totalitarian dictatorship to Germany with legal measures establishing a co-ordinated central government, (see Gleichschaltung). On the night of 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set afire, and the Dutch council communist Marinus van der Lubbe was found inside; he was arrested, charged with arson, tried, and then decapitated. The fire immediately provoked the response of thousands of anarchists, socialists, and communists throughout the Reich; describing said free-speech exercises as insurrection, the Nazis imprisoned many to Dachau concentration camp. The public worried that the fire had been a signal meant to initiate communist revolution in Germany, as in 1919, so the Nazis exploited the arson with the Reichstag Fire Decree (27 February 1933), rescinding most German civil liberties, including habeas corpus, to so suppress their opponents.
In March 1933, with the Enabling Act, voted 444–94 (the remaining Social Democrats), the Reichstag conferred dictatorial (decree) powers to Chancellor Adolf Hitler; four years of political power authorizing him to deviate from the Weimar Constitution. Forthwith, throughout 1934, the Nazi Party ruthlessly eliminated all political opposition; the Enabling Act already had banned the Communists (KPD), the Social Democrats (SPD) were banned in June, despite appeasing Hitler, and, in the June–July period, the Nationalists (DNVP), the People's Party (DVP), and the German State Party (DStP) were like-wise obliged to disband. Moreover, at the urging of Franz von Papen, the remaining Catholic Centre Party, disbanded on 5 July 1933 after obtaining Nazi guarantees for Catholic religious education and youth groups. On 14 July 1933, Germany officially became a single-party state, banning the founding of new parties.
In establishing the Dritte Reich, the Nazi régime abolished the Weimar Republic symbols, including the black-red-gold tricolour flag, and adopted new and old imperial symbolism representing the dual nature of Germany’s third empire. The previous, imperial black-white-red tricolour, mostly disused by the Weimar Republic, was restored as one of Germany's two, official, national flags; the second was the swastika flag of the Nazi party, which became the sole national German flag in 1935. The national anthem remained Deutschland über Alles (aka the Deutschlandlied, "Song of Germany"), but only the first stanza was sung, immediately followed by the Nazi anthem Horst-Wessel-Lied ("Horst Wessel Song"), accompanied by the Hitler salute.
On 30 January 1934, Reich President and Chancellor Hitler formally centralised government power to himself with the Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reichs (Act to rebuild the Reich), by disbanding Länder (federal state) parliaments, and transferring states’ rights and administration to the Berlin central government. The centralization began soon after the March 1933 Enabling Act promulgation, when state governments were replaced with Reichsstatthalter (Reich governors). Local government also was deposed; Reich governors appointed mayors of cities and towns with populaces of fewer than 100,000; the Interior Minister appointed the mayors of cities with populaces greater than 100,000; and, in the cases of Berlin and Hamburg (and Vienna after the Anschluss Österreichs in 1938), President and Chancellor Adolf Hitler had personal discretion to appoint their mayors.
By spring of 1934, only the Reichswehr remained independent of government control; traditionally, it was separate from the national government, a discrete political entity. The Nazi paramilitary Sturmabteilung (SA, "Storm Detachment") had expected to assume command of the German military; the Reichswehr opposed SA Leader Ernst Röhm’s ambition to subsume the Reichswehr to the SA. Moreover, Röhm also aimed to launch the "socialist revolution" to complement the "nationalist revolution" occurred with the political ascendancy of Adolf Hitler to German government. Röhm and the Sturmabteilung leaders wanted the regime to fulfill its campaign promise of enacting socialist legislation for Aryan Germans.
At the risk of appearing to talk nonsense, I tell you that the Nazi movement will go on for 1,000 years! . . . Don’t forget how people laughed at me, 15 years ago, when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!—Adolf Hitler to a British correspondent in Berlin, June 1934
Possessing only virtual absolute power without the Reichswehr, and wanting to preserve good relations with them, and certain politicians and industrialists (weary of SA political violence), Hitler ordered the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the Gestapo to assassinate his political enemies both in and outside the Nazi Party with the "Night of the Long Knives". The purges of Ernst Röhm, his SA cohort, the Strasserist, left-wing Nazis, and other political enemies lasted from 30 June to 2 July 1934.
Upon the death of Paul von Hindenburg, on 2 August 1934, the Nazi-controlled Reichstag consolidated the offices of Reichspräsident (Reich President) and Reichskanzler (Reich Chancellor), and reinstalled Adolf Hitler as Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Reich Chancellor). Until Hindenburg’s death, the Reichswehr did not follow Hitler, partly because the (multi-million-man) Sturmabteilung was larger than the German Army (limited to 100,000 soldiers by the Treaty of Versailles), and because the SA leaders sought to first subsume the Reichswehr to the SA, and then launch the Nazi socialist revolution. The assassination of Ernst Röhm and the SA leaders, fixed the Reichswehr’s position as the sole armed forces of the Reich, and the Führer’s imperial expansion promises guaranteed him military loyalty. Hindenburg’s death facilitated changing the German soldiers’ oath of allegiance from the Reich of the German Constitution to personal fealty to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of Germany.
In the event, the Nazis ended the official NSDAP–DNVP government alliance, and began introducing Nazism and Nazi symbolism to public and private German life; textbooks were revised, or re-written to promote the Pan-German racist doctrine of Großdeutschland (Greater Germany) to be established by the Nazi Herrenvolk; teachers who opposed curricular Nazification were dismissed. Furthermore, to coerce popular obedience to the state, the Nazis established the Gestapo secret state police—independent of civil authority. The Gestapo controlled the German populace with some 100,000 spies and informers, thereby were aware of anti-Nazi criticism and dissent.
Happy with Nazi prosperity, most Germans remained silently obedient,Template:cat handler[original research?]Template:cat handler[when?] while political opponents, especially the Communists, Marxists, and international socialists were imprisoned; "between 1933 and 1945, more than 3 million Germans had been in concentration camps, or prison, for political reasons". "Tens of thousands of Germans were killed for one or another form of resistance. Between 1933 and 1945, Sondergerichte (Nazi "special courts") killed 12,000 Germans, courts martial killed 25,000 German soldiers, and civil justice killed 40,000 Germans. Many of these Germans were part of the government, civil, or military service, a circumstance which enabled them to engage in subversion and conspiracy, while involved, marginally or significantly, in the government’s policies."