- In the First World War, which continued for nearly four long years, Germany suffered defeat. Germany was forced to sign the treaty of Versailles and Germany became a Republic.
- Hitler stirred up the emotions of the Germans by condemning the treaty of Versailles. Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and President in 1934.
- He cancelled civil liberties, abolished the frees and radio, and controlled all educational institutions. He tortured and executed millions of Jews in Germany.
- Hitler was determined to make Germany a might power and conquer all of Europe. With surprising rapidity, Germany rose from ashes.
- German forces attacked Poland on 1 September 1939. Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September in order to protect Poland. World War II began in September 1943. Germany was defeated in this war.
September 1, 1939, Germany invades Poland
News article from September 1939
- Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered to the Allies in May 1945.
Try yourself:When did Hitler become the Chancellor of Germany?
Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in 1933 following a series of electoral victories by the Nazi Party. He ruled absolutely until his death by suicide in April 1945.
Birth of The Weimer Republic
- The defeat of imperial Germany and the abdication of the emperor gave an opportunity to parliamentary parties to recast German polity.
- A national Assembly met at Weimer and established a democratic constitution with a federal structure. Deputies were now elected to the German Parliament or Reichstag.
- On the basis of equal and universal votes cast by all adults, including a woman. This republic, however, was not received well by its own people largely because of the terms it was forced to accept after Germany’s defeat at the end of the First World War.
Parts of Territory that Germany lost after the Treaty of Versailles
Try yourself:Reichstag refers to
Reichstag is a German word generally meaning parliament.
Treaty of Versailles
Germany signed a peace treaty with the Allies at Versailles according to which:
- Germany lost its overseas colonies, a tenth of its population, 13 per cent of its territories, 75 per cent of its iron and 26 per cent of its coal to France, Poland, Denmark and Lithuania.
Treaty of Versailles
- The Allied Powers demilitarized Germany to take its power.
- The War Guilt clause held Germany responsible for the war damages the Allied countries suffered. Germany was forced to pay compensation amounting to 6 billion pounds.
- The Allied armies also occupied the resource-rich Rhineland for much of the 1920s.
Try yourself:The Treaty of Versailles (1920) signed at the end of World War I, was harsh and humiliating for Germany, because
- It was harsh and humiliating because Germany lost its overseas colonies, a tenth of its population, 13% of its territories, 75% of its iron and 26% of its coal to France, Poland, Denmark, and Lithuania.
- The Allied powers demilitarised Germany to weaken its powers.
- The War Guilt Clause held Germany responsible for the war damages that the Allied countries had to suffer.
- Germany was forced to pay a compensation of 6 billion.
- The Allied armies also occupied the resource-rich Rhineland for much of the 1920s.
- Many Germans held the Weimar Republic responsible for not only the defeat in the war but the disgrace at Versailles.
The Effects of the War
- The war had a devastating impact on the entire continent, both psychologically and financially. From a continent of creditors, Europe turned into one of the debtors.
- The Weimer republic carried the burden of war guilt and national humiliation and was financially crippled by being forced to pay compensation.
- The First World War left a deep imprint on European society and polity. Soldiers came to be placed above civilians. Politicians and publicists laid great stress on the need for men to be aggressive, strong, and masculine.
- However, soldiers lived miserable lives in trenches, trapped with rate feeding on corpses.
- They faced poisonous gas and enemy shelling and witnessed their ranks reduce rapidly.
- Democracy was indeed a young and fragile idea, which could not survive the instabilities of inter-war Europe.
Try yourself:In what ways did the First World War leave a deep imprint on European society and polity?
The First World War left a deep imprint on European society and polity. It had a devastating impact on the entire continent.
(i) In society, soldiers were ranked higher than civilians. The trench life of the soldiers was glorified by the media.
(ii) Politicians and publicists laid great stress on the need for men to be aggressive and masculine.
(iii) Aggressive war propaganda and national honour occupied centre stage in the public sphere.
(iv) People's support grew for the recently established dictatorships.
(v) Democracy as a young and fragile idea could not survive the instabilities of interwar Europe.
Political Radicalism and Economic Crisis
- Soviets of workers and sailors were established in many cities. The political atmosphere in Berlin was charge with demands for Soviet-style conveyance.
- Those opposed to this-such as the socialists, Democrats and Catholics – met in Weimar to give shape to the democratic republic.
- The Weimar Republic crushed the uprising with the help of a war veteran’s organization called Free Crops.
- The anguished Spartacists later founded the Communist Party of Germany. Communists and Socialists henceforth became irreconcilable enemies and could not make common cause against Hitler. Both revolutionaries and militant nationalists craved radical solutions.
- Germany had fought the war largely on loans and had to pay reparations in Gold. In 1923 Germany refused to pay, and the French occupied its leading industrial area, Ruhr, to claim their coal.
- Germany retaliated with passive resistance and printed paper currency recklessly. With too much printed money in circulation, the value of the German mark fell. As the value of the mark collapsed, prices of goods soared.
- This crisis came to be known as hyperinflation, a situation when prices rise phenomenally high.
The Years of Depression
- German investments and industrial recovery were totally dependent on short term loans, largely from the USA. On one singly day, 24 October, 13 million shares were sold in Wall Street Exchange. This was the start of the Great Economic Depression.
- The German economy was the worst hit by the economic crisis. Workers lost their jobs or were paid reduced wages. As jobs disappeared, the youth took to criminal activities and total despair became commonplace.
Sleeping on the line. During the great depression, the unemployed could not hope for either wage or shelter
- The economic crisis created deep anxieties and fears in people. The currency lost its value. Sections of society were filled with the fear of proletarianisation, anxiety of being reduced to the ranks of the working class, or worse still, the unemployed.
- The large mass of peasantry was affected by a sharp fall in agricultural prices and women, unable to fill their children’s stomachs, were filled with a sense of deep despair. Politically too the Weimer Republic was fragile.
- The Weimer constitution had some inherent defects, which made it unstable and vulnerable to dictatorship. Proportional representation and Article 48 were its major shortcomings. People lost confidence in the democratic parliamentary system, which seemed to offer no solutions.
Homeless Man queuing up for Night Shelter
Hitler’s Rise to Power
- Born in Austria in 1889, Hitler spent his youth in poverty. During the First World War, he enrolled in the German army, acted as a messenger at the front, became a corporal and earned medals for bravery.
- In 1919, he joined a small group called the German Workers Party; subsequently took control of this party, renamed it the National Socialist German Workers Party. This party came to be known as the Nazi Party.
- In 1923, Hitler planned to seize control of Bavaria, march to Berlin and capture power. He failed, was arrested and tried for treason, and later released. The Nazis could not effectively mobilize popular support till the early 1930s.
- It was during the Great Depression that Nazism became a mass movement. In 1928, the Nazi Party got no more than 2.6 per cent votes in the Reichstag – the German parliament. By 1932, the Nazi Party had become the largest party with 37 percent votes.
- Hitler was a powerful speaker. His passion and his words moved people. He promised them a strong nation, employment, a secure future for the youth and to restore the dignity of the German people.
- He devised a new style of politics. Nazis held massive rallies and public meetings to demonstrate their support for Hitler and instil a sense of unity among the people.
The Destruction of Democracy
- President Hindenburg offered the Chancellorship, on 30 January 1933, the highest position in the cabinet of ministers, to Hitler.
- The Fire Decree of 28 February 1933 suspended civic rights like freedom of speech, press and assembly that had been guaranteed by the Weimar constitution.
- On 3 March 1933, the famous Enabling Act was passed which established a dictatorship in Germany.
- The state took control over the economy, media, army, and judiciary. Apart from the already existing regular police in a green uniform and the SA or the Storm Troopers, these included the Gestapo (secret state police), the SS (the protection squads), criminal police and the Security Service (SD).
- Economic recovery was assigned to the economist Hjalmar Schacht by Hitler who aimed at full production and full employment through a state-funded work-creation programme.
- This project produced the famous German superhighways and the people’s car, the Volkswagen.
The Poster announces "Your Volkswagen"
- Hitler ruled out the League of Nations in 1933, reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936, and integrated Austria and Germany in 1938 under the slogan, One people, One empire and One leader.
- Schacht advised Hitler against investing hugely in rearmament as the state still ran on deficit financing.
The Nazi Worldview
- Nazis are linked to a system of belief and a set of practices. According to their ideology, there was no equality between people, but only a racial hierarchy. Racism of Hitler borrowed from thinkers like Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer.
- The argument of Nazi was simple: the strongest race would survive and the weak ones would perish.
- The Aryan race was the finest who retained its purity, became stronger and dominated the world.
- The other aspect of Hitler’s ideology related to the geopolitical concept of Lebensraum, or living space. Hitler intended to extend German boundaries by moving eastwards, to concentrate all Germans geographically in one place.
Establishment of the Racial State
- Nazis came into power and quickly began to implement their dream of creating an exclusive racial community of pure Germans.
- They wanted a society of ‘pure and healthy Nordic Aryans’.
- Under the Euthanasia Programme, Helmuth’s father had condemned to death many Germans who were considered mentally or physically unfit.
- Germany occupied Poland and parts of Russia, captured civilians and forced them to work as slave labour.
- Jews remained the worst sufferers in Nazi Germany. Hitler hated Jews based on pseudoscientific theories of race.
- From 1933 to 1938 the Nazis terrorised, pauperised and segregated the Jews, compelling them to leave the country.
The Racial Utopia
- Genocide and war became two sides of the same coin. Poland was divided and much of north-western Poland was annexed to Germany.
- People of Poland were forced to leave their homes and properties.
- Members of the Polish intelligentsia were murdered in large numbers, polish children who looked like Aryans were forcibly snatched from their mothers and examined by ‘race experts’.
Youth in Nazi Germany
- Hitler was interested in the youth of the country. Schools were cleansed and purified. Germans and Jews were not allowed to sit or play together. In the 1940s Jews were taken to the gas chambers.
Desirable Children that Hitler wanted to see multiplied
- Introduction of racial science to justify Nazi ideas of race. Children were taught to be loyal and submissive, hate Jews and worship Hitler. Youth organisations were responsible for educating German youth in ‘the spirit of National Socialism’. At the age of 14, boys had to join the Nazi youth organisation where they were taught to worship war, glorify aggression and violence, condemn democracy, and hate Jews, communists, Gypsies and all those categorised as ‘undesirable’.
- Later, they joined the Labour Service, at the age of 18 and served in the armed forces and enter one of the Nazi organisations. In 1922, the Youth League of the Nazis was founded.
The Nazi Cult of Motherhood
- In Nazi Germany, children were told women were different from men. Boys were taught to be aggressive, masculine and steel hearted and girls were told to become good mothers and rear pure-blooded Aryan children.
- Girls had to maintain purity of the race, distance from Jews, look after their home and teach their children Nazi values.
- But all mothers were not treated equally. Honours Crosses were awarded to those who encouraged women to produce more children. Bronze cross for four children, silver for six, and gold for eight or more.
- Women who maintained contact with Jews, Poles and Russians were paraded through the town with shaved heads, blackened faces and placards hanging around their necks announcing ‘I have sullied the honour of the nation’.
The Art of Propaganda
- Nazis termed mass killings as special treatment, final solution (for the Jews), euthanasia (for the disabled), selection and disinfection. ‘Evacuation’ meant deporting people to gas chambers.
- Gas chambers were labelled as ‘‘disinfection-areas’, and looked like bathrooms equipped with fake showerheads. Nazi ideas were spread through visual images, films, radio, posters, catchy slogans, and leaflets.
- Orthodox Jews were stereotyped and marked and were referred to as vermin, rats, and pests. The Nazis made equal efforts to appeal to all the different sections of the population.
- They sought to win their support by suggesting that Nazis alone could solve all their problems.
A Concentration Camp
Ordinary People and the Crimes Against Humanity
- People started seeing the world through Nazi eyes and spoke their Nazi language. They felt hatred and anger against Jews and genuinely believed Nazism would bring prosperity and improve general well-being.
- Pastor Niemoeller protested an uncanny silence, amongst ordinary Germans against brutal and organised crimes committed in the Nazi empire.
- Charlotte Beradt’s book called the Third Reich of Dreams describes how Jews themselves began believing in the Nazi stereotypes about them.
Knowledge about the Holocaust
- The war ended and Germany was defeated. While Germans were preoccupied with their own plight, the Jews wanted the world to remember the atrocities and sufferings they had endured during the Nazi killing operations – also called the Holocaust.
- When they lost the war, the Nazi leadership distributed petrol to its functionaries to destroy all incriminating evidence available in offices.