In February 1933, the British ambassador in Berlin wrote to the Foreign Office that in his opinion, the Nazis had “come to stay”. Hitler himself reinforced this opinion, telling a British writer, “I tell you that the National Socialist movement will go on for 1,000 years,” giving birth to the myth of the thousand year Reich. On February 27, 1933, a fire damaged much of the Reichstag, destroying much of its main chamber, where the members met, and gutting the offices and other rooms of the building. Hitler and Goebbels arrived at the scene while the fire was still burning, with both immediately declaring that the fire was arson, attributed to the communists. Whether the Nazis had set the fire themselves, as has been proposed by some historians, remains unknown, but Hitler immediately turned the fire to his political advantage.
Under German law, the Reichstag was allowed to pass a measure known as an Enabling Act, granting temporary authority to the Chancellor and the President to enact laws exclusive of the democratic process, as a form of martial law during a national emergency. Hitler and the Nazis argued that Germany was on the verge of civil war with the communists, and Hitler used the fire and the propaganda value accusing the communists of setting it to persuade Hindenburg to enact such a law suspending civil liberties. Following Hindenburg’s acquiescence, communists were banned from the Reichstag and mass arrests of those suspected of being communists began throughout Germany. With the communists deposed from the Reichstag the Nazis went from being a plurality to a majority, and as head of the Nazi party Hitler became the de facto dictator of Germany.
10. Hitler rules by decree for the next four years
Following the passage of the enabling act and the suppression of the communists, evicting them from the government to which they had been elected, Hitler was able to rule Germany by decree, issuing laws and suppressing civil liberties as he chose. Hindenburg remained in place as President, but he was little more than a figurehead to which Hitler deferred publicly, but ignored privately. On July 14, 1933, all political parties in Germany other than the Nazis were outlawed, and political activity which did not support National Socialism became a crime against the state. The governments of the German states were replaced with the machinery of the Nazi party, their authority coming from the central government in Berlin. Party membership became a prerequisite of government office. Hindenburg died in 1934, and rather than appoint himself to the presidency Hitler combined the offices into one, which he held as the Fuhrer, or leader, of the German people.
On the day of Hindenburg’s death Hitler took steps to ensure that the German military, who had to that time been loyal to the president, would from thence maintain unquestioning loyalty to him. It was not his idea. The oath originated with the military command in the hope that it would strengthen ties between the head of state and the army, to the detriment of Hitler’s links with the Nazi party. The oath required every soldier to swear loyalty to Hitler and the nation’s legal institutions, but in none of the forms of the oath (there were slightly different versions administered to civil servants and other positions) was the Nazi Party mentioned.
11. Nazification of the civil service was critical to Hitler’s power
In 1930s Germany the civil service included not only government workers, but also teachers and professors, officers of the courts including judges and prosecutors, and many other professionals. In April 1933 the Law for the Restoration of a Professional Civil Service was decreed, though with some objections from Hindenburg, which effectively banned Jews from the German civil service, and forced the removal of thousands of former civil servants from their positions. Many, in order to retain their posts, joined the Nazi Party. Others were forced into retirement or simply dismissed. The decree was later supplemented with a series of related ordinances which forced Jews and others known to have opposed National Socialism out of schools, under the guise of relieving overcrowding.
In January 1934, the separate German states were effectively abolished as political entities, reduced to provinces under a centralized government, and Germany for all practical purposes ceased to be a federal republic. The powers of the former states were formally transferred to the Chancellor and President, which Hitler then had combined into the same office through the Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich in August 1934 following the death of Hindenburg. The political moves were possible since the Nazis had banned all opposition in the Reichstag, but the support of the German people was still necessary. Hitler’s moves to control public opinion and gain public support were part of an all-encompassing propaganda campaign which emphasized the superiority of the Aryan race and the international conspiracies against it, led by Jewish control of the world’s economic system.
12. The Nazi “co-ordination” effort to control the minds of Germans
In the spring of 1933, Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels delivered a speech in which he stated that the purpose of propaganda was to “permeate the person it intends to grasp”. To Goebbels, successful propaganda seized control and shaped a person’s beliefs and attitudes without the person being aware that they were being, as it were, sculpted by another. Beginning in the spring of 1933, all persons in any position who did not fully support the Nazi philosophy and goals were purged, an important part of the civil service “reforms” installed by the Nazis. Another was the mandatory membership in youth organizations, beginning at the age of six for boys, and ten for girls. Following completion of the youth services boys were directed into the armed forces or the labor services. By 1936 over six million Germans were in the Hitler Youth.
In May, 1933, all labor unions in Germany were dissolved by decree and replaced with the Nazi run German Labor Front. Under its wing the party established an organization which it called Strength through Joy (Kraft durch Freude) which mandated all recreational organizations throughout Germany, whether they be football leagues or bridge clubs, be members, and thus under the control of the party and subject to its propaganda. The KDF operated recreation centers, organized day trips and vacation excursions, and held mandatory recreational events for workers across Germany, reaching a membership of more than 25 million before World War II. Other organizations were developed to structure worker activities within industry and in government positions, creating in Germany a situation in which the people were isolated from those the Nazis considered unworthy and suspect.
13. Hitler and Goebbels create the myth of the Nazi rise to power
As Hitler consolidated his political power and Goebbels continued to shape the minds of the German people, the party created the myth of the Nazi’s rise to power, in which they were forced to wrest control of Germany’s destiny from the treacherous hands of the Jews and communists. Anti-Jewish propaganda was relentless, presented continuously to the German people in schools and universities, from church pulpits, in radio broadcasts, films, posters, newspapers, magazines, and literature. During Hitler’s rise to power several newspapers and magazines warned against the excesses of the Nazi Party and its aims, and when Hitler achieved control of the government he moved quickly and ruthlessly to eliminate their voices, which he referred to collectively as the “poison kitchen”.
Chief among these political enemies was the Munich newspaper Munchener Post, which had been the subject of numerous legal actions by the Nazis for libel in the 1920s, and less than legal actions by the SA against their delivery vehicles, reporters, and editorial staff. In 1933, immediately after becoming Chancellor, Hitler had the SA seize the paper’s offices and destroy its files and records. Its staff was arrested and sent to concentration camps, a new entity created by the Nazis for the suppression of opposition. The street address of the Post was eliminated from Munich directories and never restored. The Post was just one of the many news outlets destroyed by the Nazis, replaced with the myth creating propagandists which were soon the only voice heard within Germany, other than those who met in secret, for the time being unable to stem the Nazi tide.
14. German rearmament preceded Hitler’s accession to power
Between 1918 and 1933, under the government of the Weimar Republic, the German military, supported by the federal government, began rearming in violation of the Versailles Treaty. The goal of the federal government was the creation of paramilitary organizations which could be rapidly absorbed into the army in case of national emergency. One of the reasons the government did not suppress the development of paramilitary organizations such as the SA, the SS, and the KPD, was the recognition that such forces could become part of a national army in the event of another war. After Hitler came to power in 1933 he made the rearming of Germany, already well underway, an open secret. Rearming became the government’s highest priority, both to enhance German prestige and to combat the Great Depression, then taking jobs from the German economy.
During the 1930s the rearmament of Germany led the German economy into near full employment. Jobs which were plentiful and which paid well enhanced the position of the Nazis in power, as well as helped create a revitalized Germany. By 1935, when the expanding German military strength was well known, Hitler revived conscription in Germany. That same year the British and Germans agreed to a new naval treaty which allowed the German fleet to expand to 35% of the tonnage of the British fleet, which exceeded the limitations imposed by the Versailles Treaty, and which was reached without the approval of England’s French ally. Germany had already begun construction of a new U-Boat fleet, which began to deploy in 1935, another violation of the Versailles Treaty. Britain chose to follow the path of accepting German rearmament under agreed limitations, rather than oppose it vigorously.
15. The creation of the Gestapo and the crushing of the SA leadership
When Hitler became Chancellor Hermann Goering was named as the Interior Minister of Prussia, the largest German state and the one possessing the largest police force. Goering detached the intelligence and political sections of the Prussian police, purged them of non-Nazis, and replaced them with fervent Nazi loyalists, creating the Geheime Staatspolizei, which became known as the Gestapo. In April 1934, under the direction of Hitler, Goering transferred control of the Gestapo to Heinrich Himmler, who was named head of all German police outside of Prussia on April 20, 1934. By the spring of 1934 the power of the SA and its leadership was viewed as a potential threat by Himmler, Goering, and Hitler, and curbing its influence though infiltration became a Nazi priority. Their view was supported by senior German military leaders.
At the end of June 1934, Himmler’s SS and the Gestapo carried out a series of assassinations of senior SA officers who had been instrumental in the Nazi rise to power but were by then viewed as a threat by the Nazi leadership. The murders were sometimes simply acts of revenge for past slights, to settle old scores, or to remove rivals. At least 85 murders were carried out, mostly by the SS, and there are estimates that the killings may have numbered in the hundreds. Another thousand or more Germans who had once been opposed to the Nazis disappeared into concentration camps and prisons. The Night of the Long Knives, as it became known, was so named from a long-standing German phrase for vengeful retribution. Upon its completion Hitler addressed the Reichstag during which he established himself as the final arbiter of justice in Germany. The Gestapo became one of the most feared of the Nazi organizations.
16. Hitler controls nearly all aspects of German society
By 1935, the Nazi Party – and by extension its head, Adolf Hitler – controlled nearly all of Nazi society with the notable exception of the churches. Many of these also fell into compliance with Nazi philosophy, particularly in regards to policies concerning Germany’s Jews. Others continued to resist, though often covertly, concerned with the prevalence of the Gestapo and its many spies throughout German society. Throughout the remainder of the 1930s and in fact throughout the ensuing war in Europe, the Nazi regime sought to suppress dissent from the churches and religious schools through the issuance of decrees which eliminated Christian symbols and ceremonies, and which attempted to create a national religion by combining the Christian protestant churches under state control.
A special barracks was erected at the Dachau concentration camp for the imprisonment of clergy, eventually more than 2,700 members of the clergy were imprisoned there, more than 2,500 of them Catholics. Other clergymen of all faiths vanished into Gestapo cells and were never seen again. Hitler promised not to interfere with the practice of religion when he assumed power, a promise he immediately broke, and suppression continued throughout his regime. It was one area of German life which he could not completely bring under his control, though efforts to do so continued until the collapse of the Reich in 1945. Hitler decided not to implement plans for the complete destruction of Christianity in Germany until after the war, when he intended to restore the pagan rituals of Germanic history under a thirty point plan which included replacing the Christian cross with the swastika and the bible with Mein Kampf.
17. Hitler’s territorial ambitions begin in the Rhineland
The Versailles Treaty had established that German military forces and fortifications would not be allowed in the area known as the Rhineland, and that Allied forces would not withdraw from the region until 1935. In fact the Allies withdrew their occupation troops in 1929 (British) and 1930 (French) as part of the negotiations over the German payment of war reparations. The year before the French withdrew they began construction of the series of forts along the French frontier which became known as the Maginot Line. For the first half of the 1930s French, Italian, British, and Soviet diplomats maneuvered over various means of containing Germany within its borders, and in 1935 France and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of alliance, which the Germans declared was a violation of the Versailles Treaty.
By 1935 the German economy was again faltering, with inflation and food shortages driving up prices and German support of the Nazi regime falling, especially in the larger cities. Hitler, desirous of a prestige building foreign policy victory, decided to remilitarize the Rhineland in January 1936. Although Goering counseled against the decision and even attempted to persuade Mussolini to dissuade the Fuhrer, the German army marched into the Rhineland beginning in March, 1936, supported by Luftwaffe aircraft. Hitler followed his coup by offering to return Germany to the League of Nations and offered a treaty of non-aggression to the French. France, which was most threatened by the German move, did nothing to oppose it militarily, and Hitler knew from that point that his other territorial desires in Europe were feasible.
When Hitler wrote Mein Kampf he stated within it his intention to unite Germany and Austria, despite several formerly Austrian territories being occupied by the Italians. As he moved towards annexing Austria Mussolini at first opposed him, until he was personally reassured by the German Chancellor that there would be no demands for the cession of territory by Italy. Hitler’s desire to annex Austria into the Reich has long been explained as being motivated by the desire to unite all of the Germanic people but in fact he had more mercenary reasons for absorbing the Austrian state. Austria was wealthy in many of the materials needed by the ever-increasing German military buildup, including iron and textiles, magnesium, and other products required of the German economy and growing war machine. The primary means by which Hitler convinced the Austrians to support him was through propaganda.
The slogan, Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer was displayed prominently in Germany and Austria, and the Austrian Nazi Party used tactics similar to those it had used successfully in Germany to terrorize opponents and shape public opinion. The Austrian government responded by rounding up Nazis and imprisoning them, leading to a German boycott of Austria. In the mid-1930s Hermann Goering was the loudest voice in Germany calling for Austrian annexation. By 1937 both Austria and Czechoslovakia were targets for German military takeover, to be plundered for their raw materials and industrial bases. Hitler eventually seized Austria though the threat of military invasion and conquest, which was covered by a referendum which established the desire of the Austrian people to join the Reich. Opposition was rapidly suppressed by the SS. The plebiscite vote to ratify annexation was held throughout Germany and Austria and was claimed by the Nazis to represent over 99% approval.
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