The state was a major European power from the 1930s to the mid-1940s. Its historical significance lies mainly in its responsibility for escalating political tensions in Europe by its expansionist foreign policy which resulted in World War II, its occupation of most of Europe during the war, and its commission of large-scale crimes against humanity, such as the persecution and mass-murder of millions of Jews, minorities, and dissidents in the genocide known as the Holocaust. The state came to an end in 1945, after the Allied Powers succeeded in seizing German-occupied territories in Europe and in occupying Germany itself.
In 1935, Germany was bounded on the north by the North Sea, Denmark, and the Baltic Sea; to the east by Lithuania, The Free City of Danzig, Poland and Czechoslovakia; to the south by Austria and Switzerland; and to the west by France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Saarland, which joined in 1935. These borders changed after the state annexed Austria, the Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia and Memel, and after subsequent expansion during World War II.
The Third Reich arose in the wake of the loss of land, the heavy reparations, and the perceived national embarrassment imposed through the Treaty of Versailles which ended World War I. Following civil unrest, the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s spurred by the stock market crash in the US, the counter-traditionalism of the Weimar period, and the rise of communism in Germany, many voters began turning their support towards the Nazi Party with its promises of strong government, civil peace, radical changes to economic policy and restored national pride. The National Socialist party promised cultural renewal based on traditionalism, and it proposed military rearmament in opposition to the Treaty of Versailles; the party claimed that in the Treaty of Versailles and the liberal democracy of the Weimar Republic, Germany's national pride had been lost.. The Nazis also endorsed the Dolchstoßlegende ("Stab in the back legend") which figured prominently in their propaganda as it did in propaganda of most other nationalist-leaning parties in Germany.
From 1925 to the 1930s, the German government evolved from a democracy to a de facto conservative-nationalist authoritarian state under President and war hero Paul von Hindenburg, who opposed the liberal democratic nature of the Weimar Republic and wanted to find a way to make Germany into an authoritarian state. The natural ally of the foundation of an authoritarian state had been the German National People's Party (DNVP or "the Nationalists"), but increasingly, after 1929, more radical and younger-generation nationalists were attracted to the revolutionary nature of the National Socialist party, to challenge the rising support for communism as the German economy floundered. By 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag. Hindenburg was reluctant to give any substantial power to Hitler, but worked out an alliance between the Nazis and the DNVP which would allow him to develop an authoritarian state. Hitler consistently demanded to be appointed chancellor in order for Hindenburg to receive any Nazi Party support of his administration.
On 30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany by Hindenburg after attempts by General Kurt von Schleicher to form a viable government failed (the Machtergreifung). Von Schleicher was hoping he could control Hitler by becoming vice chancellor and also keeping the Nazis a minority in the cabinet. Hindenburg was put under pressure by Hitler through his son Oskar von Hindenburg, as well as intrigue from former Chancellor Franz von Papen, leader of the Catholic Centre Party following his collection of participating financial interests and his own ambitions to combat communism. Even though the Nazis had gained the largest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they had no majority of their own, and just a slim majority in parliament with their Papen-proposed Nationalist DNVP-NSDAP coalition. This coalition ruled through accepted continuance of the Presidential decree, issued under 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".
On the night of 27 February 1933 the Reichstag building was set on fire and Dutch council communist Marinus van der Lubbe was found inside the building. He was arrested and charged with starting the blaze. The event had an immediate effect on thousands of anarchists, socialists and communists throughout the Reich, many of whom were sent to the Dachau concentration camp. The unnerved public worried that the fire had been a signal meant to initiate the communist revolution, and the Nazis found the event to be of immeasurable value in getting rid of potential insurgents. The event was quickly followed by the Reichstag Fire Decree, rescinding habeas corpus and other civil liberties.
The Enabling Act was passed in March 1933, with 444 votes, to the 94 of the remaining Social Democrats. The act gave the government (and thus effectively the Nazi Party) legislative powers and also authorized it to deviate from the provisions of the constitution for four years. In effect, Hitler had seized dictatorial powers.
Over the next year, the National Socialist Party ruthlessly eliminated all opposition. The Communists had already been banned before the passage of the Enabling Act. The Social Democrats (SPD), despite efforts to appease Hitler, were banned in June. In June and July, the Nationalists (DNVP), People's Party (DVP) and State Party (DStP) were forced to disband. The remaining Catholic Centre Party, at Papen's urging, disbanded itself on 5 July 1933 after guarantees over Catholic education and youth groups. On 14 July 1933 Germany was officially declared a one-party state.
Symbols of the Weimar Republic, including the black-red-gold flag (now the present-day flag of Germany), were abolished by the new regime which adopted both new and old imperial symbolism to represent the dual nature of the imperialist-Nazi regime of 1933. The old imperial black-white-red tricolour, almost completely abandoned during the Weimar Republic, was restored as one of Germany's two officially legal national flags. The other official national flag was the swastika flag of the Nazi party. It became the sole national flag in 1935. The national anthem continued to be "Deutschland über Alles" (also known as the "Deutschlandlied") except that the Nazis customarily used just the first verse and appended to it the "Horst Wessel Lied" accompanied by the so-called Hitler salute.
Further consolidation of power was achieved on 30 January 1934 with the Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reichs (Act to rebuild the Reich). The act changed the highly decentralized federal Germany of the Weimar era into a centralized state. It disbanded state parliaments, transferring sovereign rights of the states to the Reich central government and put the state administrations under the control of the Reich administration. This process had actually begun soon after the passage of the Enabling Act, when all state governments were thrown out of office and replaced by Reich governors (Reichsstatthalter). Further laws ended any autonomy in local government. Mayors of cities and towns with less than 100,000 people were appointed by the governors, while the Interior Minister appointed the mayors of all cities with more than 100,000 people. In the case of Berlin and Hamburg (and after 1938, Vienna), Hitler reserved the right to personally appoint the mayors.
In the spring of 1934 only the army remained independent from Nazi control. The German army had traditionally been separated from the government and somewhat of an entity of its own. The Nazi paramilitary SA expected top positions in the new power structure and wanted the regime to follow through its promise of enacting socialist legislation for Aryan Germans. Wanting to preserve good relations with the army and the major industries who were weary of more political violence erupting from the SA, on the night of 30 June 1934, Hitler initiated the violent "Night of the Long Knives", a purge of the leadership ranks of Röhm's SA as well as hard-left Nazis (Strasserists), and other political enemies, carried out by another, more elitist, Nazi organization, the SS.
At Hindenburg's death on 2nd August 1934 the Nazi-controlled Reichstag merged the offices of Reichspräsident and Reichskanzler and reinstalled Hitler with the new title Führer und Reichskanzler. Until the death of Hindenburg, the army did not follow Hitler, partly because the paramilitary SA was much larger than the German Army (limited to 100,000 by the Treaty of Versailles) and because the leaders of the SA sought to merge the Army into itself and to launch the socialist "second revolution" to complement the nationalist revolution which had occurred with the ascendance of Hitler. The murder of Ernst Röhm, leader of the SA, in the Night of the Long Knives, the death of Hindenburg, the merger of the SA into the Army and the promise of other expansions of the German military wrought friendlier relations between Hitler and the Army, resulting in a unanimous oath of allegiance by all soldiers to obey Hitler. The Nazis proceeded to scrap their official alliance with the conservative nationalists and began to introduce Nazi ideology and Nazi symbolism into all major aspects of life in Germany. Schoolbooks were either rewritten or replaced and schoolteachers who did not support Nazification of the curriculum were fired.
The inception of the Gestapo, police acting outside of any civil authority, highlighted the Nazis' intention to use powerful, coercive means to directly control German society. An army, estimated to be of about 100,000, spies and informants operated throughout Germany, reporting to Nazi officials the activities of any critics or dissenters. Most ordinary Germans, happy with the improving economy and better standard of living, remained obedient and quiet, but many political opponents, especially communists and Marxist or international socialists, were reported by omnipresent eavesdropping spies and put in prison camps where many were tortured and killed. It is estimated that tens of thousands of political victims died or disappeared in the first few years of Nazi rule.
"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 Special Courts killed 12,000 Germans, courts martial killed 25,000 German soldiers, and 'regular' 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.
Barbarossa too was briefly postponed while Hitler's attention was diverted to save his failing Italian ally in North Africa and the Balkans. The Afrika Korps arrived in Libya in February 1941. In what was to be one of many advances in the North African Campaign, the Afrika Korps took back much of the territory which the Italian armed forces had recently lost to advancing British Commonwealth forces from British-held Egypt, and then invaded Egypt later in 1941. In April, the Germans then launched an invasion of Yugoslavia. This was followed by the Battle of Greece and the Battle of Crete. But, by the time North Africa and the Balkans were subdued, February, March, April, and May were lost. Because of the diversions in North Africa and the Balkans, the Germans were not able to launch Barbarossa until late in June.
Before and after the German attempt to take Britain, Germany's navy, the Kriegsmarine, was raiding Allied convoys in the Atlantic Ocean which were sending Britain needed supplies from the United States, Canada, and British colonies. British forces were forced to spread out to protect their convoys from submarine attacks by German U-Boats, as well as stopping surface raiders. The British successfully repelled a number of German surface raiding attempts during the war, the two most famous battles with surface raiders included one with the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee and a British cruiser squadron in 1939, which set off a political controversy when the German ship attempted to take refuge in the neutral port of Montevideo, later being forced out and destroyed by her crew to avoid capture. The other was in 1941 with the German battleship Bismarck, Germany's largest and most powerful warship that sunk Britain's largest warship, the battlecruiser Hood. Bismarck was then pursued and sunk by British naval forces shortly afterward. Attacks by U-boats however, proved to be very successful and the most serious in damaging supply lines to Britain. Over time, the Allies developed improved defence tactics and new escorts that managed to reduce the numbers of merchant ships sunk. The German war machine managed to keep up with the steady losses of U-Boats because of their simple designs which allowed the U-Boats to be mass-produced and still remain a threat to the Allies throughout the war.
Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 and on the eve of the invasion, Hitler's former deputy, Rudolf Hess, attempted to negotiate terms of peace with the United Kingdom in an unofficial private meeting after crash-landing in Scotland. These attempts failed and he was arrested.
By late 1941 Germany and her allies controlled almost all of mainland and Baltic Europe with the exception of neutral Switzerland, Sweden, Spain (debated whether it was an Axis ally), Portugal (debated), Liechtenstein, Andorra, Vatican City and Monaco. On the eastern front, the German Army was at the gates of Moscow and engaged in a long winter war with the Red Army. Eventually the German army was forced out of Moscow, but held much of the Baltic territories spanning to the Black Sea.
Nazi Germany declared war on the United States on 11 December 1941, four days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. This allowed German submarines in the Atlantic to fight US convoys that had been supporting the United Kingdom and although Nazi hubris is often cited, Hitler presumably sought the further support of Japan. He was convinced of the United States' aggressive intentions following the leaking of Rainbow Five and hearing of the foreboding content of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor speech. Before then, Germany had practiced its own policy of appeasement, taking drastic precautions in order to avoid the United States' entry into the war.
The persecution of minorities and "undesirables" continued both in Germany and the occupied countries. From 1941 onward, Jews were required to wear a yellow badge in public and most were transferred to ghettos, where they remained isolated from the rest of the population. In January 1942, at the Wannsee Conference and under the supervision of Reinhard Heydrich, who himself was commanded by Heinrich Himmler, a plan for the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" (Endlösung der Judenfrage) in Europe was designed. From then until the end of the war some six million Jews and many others, including homosexuals, Slavs, and political prisoners, were systematically killed. In addition, more than ten million people were put into forced labour. This genocide is called the Holocaust in English and the Shoah in Hebrew. Thousands were shipped daily to extermination camps and concentration camps.
Parallel to the Holocaust, the Nazis conducted a ruthless program of conquest and exploitation over the captured Soviet and Polish territories and their populations as part of their Generalplan Ost. According to estimates, 20 million Soviet civilians, three million non-Jewish Poles, and seven million Red Army soldiers died because of the Nazis in what the Russians call the Great Patriotic War. The Nazis' plan was to extend German Lebensraum ("living space") eastward, a foreseen consequence of the war in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, said by the Nazis to have been waged in order "to defend Western Civilization against Bolshevism of subhumans". It is estimated that at least 51 milion Slavic people were to be removed from Central and Eastern Europe in the event of Nazi victory. Because of the many atrocities suffered under Stalin, the Nazi message was interpreted by many to be legitimate in parts of Soviet Union. Many Ukrainians, Balts, and other nationalities fought, or at least expected to fight, on the side of the Germans. People in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union that fulfilled the basic racial classifications of the Aryan race or had no Jewish ancestry, were allowed to avoid persecution and allowed to enlist in the Waffen Schutzstaffel (Waffen-SS) divisions. The Nazi regime intended to eventually "Germanize" the racially-acceptable peoples of the occupied east.
As the Soviet war economy recovered despite the loss of industrial territory to the German occupiers, the Red Army put up a strong front against the German army. By 1943 the Soviets had defeated the Germans at Stalingrad and began the push westward, winning the tank battle at Kursk-Orel in July.
From 1942 on the Western Allies stepped up bombing raids and began plans to land on German-occupied territory. A great controversy concerning Allied tactics, were the Allied bombings of German cities, which resulted in the complete destruction of the cities of Cologne and Dresden as well as others. These bombings resulted in numerous civilian casualties and severe hardship for the survivors living amid the destroyed infrastructure. The invasion of Italy as well as the collapse of the Fascist regime there, caused German forces to be spread thin to fight the two fronts. The German Army was pushed back to the borders of Poland by February 1944, following the great success of Operation Bagration. The Allies opened a Western Front in June 1944 at Normandy, a year and a half after the Soviets turned the tide on the Eastern Front. With a three front campaign, depleting oil and supply lines, and constant bombing by the Allies, German occupied territory was slowly taken by the Allies. As the Red army neared East Prussia, German civilians began to flee from East Prussia, West Prussia and Silesia en masse westward, fearing persecution by Soviet soldiers.
Millions of German soldiers would die over the course of World War II, with current highest estimates at 5.5 million. The corpses of German soldiers became so commonplace that they stopped generating any emotion whatsoever and became an inextricable part of the European landscape, and were often improperly buried or not at all.
By early 1945 Soviet forces surrounded Berlin, American and British forces had taken most of western Germany and Soviet troops moving westward met Allied troops moving eastward at Torgau at the Elbe on 26 April 1945 (Cohen). With Berlin under siege, Hitler and other key members of the Nazi regime were forced to live in the armoured underground Führerbunker while the upper terrain of Berlin was constantly shelled by the Red Army.
In the underground bunker Hitler grew increasingly isolated and detached from reality and increasingly exhibited signs of mental illness as he would burst into violent rages and temper tantrums when he was informed of the dire situation facing Berlin and the remaining German armed forces there. In one such rage at a meeting with military commanders it was claimed that Hitler began to consider committing suicide should Germany fail to win the war. Berlin was eventually surrounded and outward communications between Berlin and the rest of Germany were cut off. Despite evident total defeat, Hitler refused to relinquish his power or surrender.
With no communications coming out of Berlin, Hermann Göring sent an ultimatum to Berlin that he would take over the Nazi regime in April if his ultimatum was not responded to, in which case Hitler would have been deemed to be incapacitated as leader. Upon receiving the message, Hitler angrily ordered Göring's immediate arrest, and had a plane deliver the message to Göring in Bavaria. Later, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler in northern Germany began communicating with the western Allies about negotiating peace. Hitler once again reacted violently to Himmler's attempts to seek peace and ordered both his arrest and execution.
With no intent by Hitler to surrender, intense street fighting continued in the war-torn ruins of Berlin between remnant German army forces, Hitler Youth, and the Waffen-SS against the Red Army. This battle was known as the Battle of Berlin. The German forces by this time were severely depleted, large numbers of German children and the elderly were forced into conscription by the Nazis to fight against the Red Army in the remaining pockets of territory not controlled by the Red Army in Berlin.
Hitler was succeeded by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as Reich President and Dr. Joseph Goebbels as Reich Chancellor. No one was to replace Hitler as the Führer, which Hitler abolished in his will. However, Goebbels committed suicide in the Fuhrerbunker a day after assuming office. The caretaker government Dönitz established near the Danish border unsuccessfully sought a separate peace with the Western Allies. On 4-8 May 1945 most of the remaining German armed forces throughout Europe surrendered unconditionally (German Instrument of Surrender, 1945). This was the end of World War II in Europe.
With the creation of the Allied Control Council on 5 July 1945, the four Allied powers "assume[d] supreme authority with respect to Germany" (Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany, US Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series, No. 1520).
France took control of a large part of Germany's remaining coal deposits. Virtually all Germans in Central Europe outside of the new eastern borders of Germany and Austria were subsequently, over a period of several years, expelled, affecting about 17 million ethnic Germans. Most casualty estimates of this expulsion range between one to two million dead. The French, US and British occupation zones later became West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany), while the Soviet zone became the communist East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, excluding sections of Berlin).
The initial repressive occupation policy in Germany by the Western Allies was reversed after a few years when the Cold War made the Germans important as allies against communism. West Germany recovered economically by the 1960s, being called the economic miracle (German term Wirtschaftswunder), mainly due to the currency reform of 1948 which replaced the Reichsmark with the Deutsche Mark as legal tender, halting rampant inflation, but also to a minor degree helped by economic aid (in the form of loans) through the Marshall Plan which was extended to also include West Germany. West German recovery was upheld thanks to fiscal policy and intense labour, eventually leading to labour shortages.
Allied dismantling of West German industry was finally halted in 1951, and in 1952 West Germany joined the European Coal and Steel Community. In 1955 the military occupation of West Germany was ended. East Germany recovered at a slower pace under communism until 1990, due to reparations paid to the Soviet Union and the effects of the centrally planned economy. Germany regained full sovereignty in 1991.
After the war, surviving Nazi leaders were put on trial by an Allied tribunal at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity. A minority were sentenced to death and executed, but a number were jailed and then released by the mid-1950s due to poor health and old age, with the notable exception of Rudolf Hess, who died in Spandau Prison in 1987 while in permanent solitary confinement. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, some renewed efforts were made in West Germany to take those who were directly responsible for "crimes against humanity" to court (e.g., Auschwitz trials). However, many of the less prominent leaders continued to live well into the 1980s and 1990s.
The victorious Allies outlawed the Nazi Party, its subsidiary organizations, and most symbols and emblems (including the swastika in most manifestations) throughout Germany and Austria; this prohibition remains in force to the present day. The end of Nazi Germany also saw the rise of unpopularity of related aggressive nationalism in Germany such as Pan-Germanism and the Völkisch movement which had previously been significant political ideas in Germany and in Europe prior to the Second World War, those that remain are largely at present, fringe movements. In all non-fascist European countries legal purges were established to punish the members of the former Nazi and Fascist parties. Even there, however, some of the former leaders found ways to accommodate themselves under the new circumstances.
The response to numerous crimes discovered to be committed by Nazi Germany, fostered a revival in both the western and eastern blocs of internationalism resulting in the creation of the United Nations (UN). One of the UN's first objectives was establishing a series of war crimes tribunals to convict Nazi officials, called the Nuremberg Trials, named after where the trials were held, in the Nazis' former political stronghold of Nuremberg, Bavaria. The first major and most well-known Nuremberg trial was officially called the Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal (IMT). This trial involved twenty-four key Nazi officials including Hermann Göring, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer, Karl Dönitz, Hans Frank, and Julius Streicher. The trial found many of the accused to be guilty and twelve were sentenced to death by hanging. Many people that were hanged praised Hitler in their last seconds of life before being executed. A few officials managed to avoid being executed, including Göring, who committed suicide by ingesting a cyanide tablet before he could be hanged; Hess, a formerly close confidant to Hitler, was sentenced to life in prison and stayed in Spandau prison until his death in 1987; Speer, the state architect and later armaments minister, served twenty years despite his use of slave labour in projects; Konstantin von Neurath, a Third Reich cabinet minister who was in office prior to the Nazi regime; and another minister who also served in the pre-Nazi government, economist Hjalmar Schacht.
Some accused the Nuremberg Trials to be a form of "victor's justice", in that no similar action was taken to punish the war crimes and crimes against humanity of the victors, i.e. those of the Soviet Union, France, Great Britain and the United States during World War II.
Under the Nazi regime, administrative powers were significantly altered. The German constituent states were replaced in 1935 by local "gaus " (regional districts) led by Nazi officials who obeyed the central government's orders. This change consolidated Hitler's control over Germany and weakened the political weight of Prussia, which in the past dominated German political affairs. The central government and the gaus took over the states' powers, however Nazi officials still held leadership titles over the non-existent states, such as Hermann Göring, who was remained the Reichsstatthalter and Minister-President of Prussia until 1945, and Ludwig Siebert as Minister-President of Bavaria.
In addition to Weimar-era Germany proper, the Reich came to include, in the years leading up to the war, areas with ethnic German populations such as Austria, the Sudetenland, and the territory of Memel. Regions acquired after the outbreak of conflict include Eupen-et-Malmédy, Alsace-Lorraine, Danzig and territories of Poland. In addition, from 1939 to 1945, the Reich ruled Bohemia and Moravia as a protectorate, subjugated and annexed prior to the start of the world war. Although under German control and administration, the protectorate had its own currency.
The Reich's borders had changed de facto well before its military defeat in May 1945, as parts of the German population fled westward from the advancing Red Army and the Western Allies pressed eastward from France. By the end of the war, a small strip of land stretching from Austria to Bohemia and Moravia — as well as a few other isolated regions — was the only area not under Allied control. Upon its defeat, some have claimed that the Reich was in a state of debellation. Occupation zones were set up and administrated by France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. The prewar German lands east of the Oder-Neisse line and Stettin and its surrounding area - nearly 25% of pre-war Germany - were set under Polish and Soviet administration but factually sundered from Germany for annexation by Poland and the Soviet Union. The millions of Germans remaining in the areas were expelled by the Allies. These territorial changes resulted in the complete dissolution of Prussia as a German territorial component. Prussia was identified as a region neither of Poland nor of the Soviet Union (Kaliningrad Oblast). By signing the Treaty of Warsaw (1970) and the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany (1990), Germany finally renounced any claims to territories lost during the Second World War.
When the Nazis came to power the most pressing issue was an unemployment rate of close to 30%. The economic policies of the Third Reich were in the beginning the brainchildren of Hjalmar Schacht, who assumed office as president of the central bank under Hitler in 1933, and became finance minister in the following year. Schacht was one of the few finance ministers to take advantage of the freedom provided by the end of the gold standard to keep interest rates low and government budget deficits high, with massive public works funded by large budget deficits. The consequence was an extremely rapid decline in unemployment--the most rapid decline in unemployment in any country during the Great Depression. Eventually this Keynesian economic policy was supplemented by the boost to demand provided by rearmament and swelling military spending.
Hjalmar Schacht was finally replaced in 1937 by Hitler's lieutenant Hermann Goering when he resigned. Goering introduced the four year plan whose main aim was to make Germany self-sufficient to fight a war within four years. Under Goering imports were slashed. Wages and prices were controlled--under penalty of being sent to a concentration camp. Dividends were restricted to six percent on book capital. And strategic goals to be reached at all costs (much like Soviet planning) were declared: the construction of synthetic rubber plants, more steel plants, automatic textile factories.
While the strict state intervention into the economy, and the massive rearmament policy, almost led to full employment during the 1930s (statistics didn't include non-citizens or women), real wages in Germany dropped by roughly 25% between 1933 and 1938. Trade unions were abolished, as well as collective bargaining and the right to strike. The right to quit also disappeared: Labour books were introduced in 1935, and required the consent of the previous employer in order to be hired for another job. In place of ordinary profit incentive to guide investment, investment was guided through regulation to accord with needs of the State. Government financing eventually came to dominate the investment process, which the proportion of private securities issued falling from over half of the total in 1933 and 1934 to approximately 10 percent in 1935-1938. Heavy taxes on profits limited self-financing of firms. The largest firms were mostly exempt from taxes on profits, however government control of these were extensive enough to leave "only the shell of private ownership."
Another part of the new German economy was massive rearmament, with the goal being to expand the 100,000-strong German Army into a force of millions. The Four-Year Plan was discussed in the controversial Hossbach Memorandum, which provides the "minutes" from one of Hitler's briefings.
Nevertheless, the war came and although the Four-Year Plan technically expired in 1940, Hermann Göring had built up a power base in the "Office of the Four-Year Plan" that effectively controlled all German economic and production matters by this point in time. In 1942 the growing burdens of the war and the death of Todt saw the economy move to a full war economy under Albert Speer.
The war time economy of Nazi Germany can effectively neither be described as a free market economy nor as centrally planned. In the words of Richard Overy: "The Germany economy fell between two stools. It was not enough of a command economy to do what the Soviet system could do; yet it was not capitalist enough to rely, as America did, on the recruitment of private enterprise.
The totalitarian nature of the Nazi party was one of its principal tenets. The Nazis contended that all the great achievements in the past of the German nation and its people were associated with the ideals of National Socialism, even before the ideology officially existed. Propaganda accredited the consolidation of Nazi ideals and successes of the regime to the regime's Führer ("Leader"), Adolf Hitler, who was portrayed as the genius behind the Nazi party's success and Germany's saviour.
To secure their ability to create a totalitarian state, the Nazi party's paramilitary force, the Sturmabteilung (SA) or "Storm Unit" used acts of violence against leftists, democrats, Jews, and other opposition or minority groups. The SA's violence created a climate of fear in cities, with people anxious over punishment, or even death, if they displayed opposition to the Nazis. The SA also helped attract large numbers of alienated and unemployed youth to the party.
The "German problem", as it is often referred to in English scholarship, focuses on the issue of administration of Germanic regions in Northern and Central Europe, an important theme throughout German history. The "logic" of keeping Germany small worked in the favor of its principal economic rivals, and had been a driving force in the recreation of a Polish state. The goal was to create numerous counterweights in order to "balance out Germany's power".
The Nazis endorsed the concept of Großdeutschland, or Greater Germany, and believed that the incorporation of the Germanic people into one nation was a vital step towards their national success. It was the Nazis' passionate support of the Volk concept of Greater Germany that led to Germany's expansion, that gave legitimacy and the support needed for the Third Reich to proceed to conquer long-lost territories with overwhelmingly non-German population like former Prussian gains in Poland that it lost to Russia in the 1800s, or to acquire territories with German population like parts of Austria. The German concept of Lebensraum (living space) or more specifically its need for an expanding German population was also claimed by the Nazi regime for territorial expansion.
Two important issues were administration of the Polish corridor and Danzig's incorporation into the Reich. As a further extension of racial policy, the Lebensraum program pertained to similar interests; the Nazis determined that Eastern Europe would be settled with ethnic Germans, and the Slavic population who met the Nazi racial standard would be absorbed into the Reich. Those not fitting the racial standard were to be used as cheap labour force or deported eastward.
Racialism and racism were important aspects of society within the Third Reich. The Nazis combined anti-Semitism with anti-Communist ideology, regarding the leftist-internationalist movement — as well as international market capitalism — as the work of "Conspiratorial Jewry". They referred to this so-called movement with terminology such as the "Jewish-Bolshevistic revolution of subhumans. This platform manifested itself in the displacement, internment, and systematic extermination of an estimated 11 million to 12 million people in the midst of World War II, roughly half of them being Jews targeted in what is historically remembered as the Holocaust (Shoah), 3 million ethnic Poles,and another 100,000-1,000,000 being Roma, who were murdered in the Porajmos. Other victims of Nazi persecution included communists, various political opponents, social outcasts, homosexuals, religious dissidents such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, the Confessing Church and Freemasons.
From 1933 onward, Hitler and the Nazi regime performed a number of political maneuvers in order to restore German power on an international level, all in violation of the Versailles Treaty. As Germany's agenda became increasingly revisionist, opposition grew. However, the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement between Great Britain and Germany, allowing Germany to resume formerly-illegal naval construction, was seen by both sides as an important overture of peace given a shipbuilding rivalry of the past.
That same year Germany endorsed a plebiscite in German-populated Saar, which resulted in it returning to Germany in 1935, after being held by France as a protectorate since 1919. In 1936, with no British or French forces remaining in the Rhineland (which was to be permanently demilitarized of German forces), Germany defied the Versailles Treaty by sending military forces into the Rhineland.
From 1936 onward, Germany steadily proceeded on an interventionist foreign policy approach, beginning by supporting the fascist nationalist forces of Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War against the republican forces which were supported by the Soviet Union. German aircraft took part in attacks on Spanish republican forces as well as the infamous bombing of civilians in the Basque town of Guernica in 1937.
Although Germany's relations with Italy improved with creation of the Rome-Berlin Axis, tensions remained high because the Nazis wanted Austria to be incorporated into Germany. Italy was opposed to this, as were France and Britain. In 1938, an Austrian-led Nazi coup took place in Austria and Germany sent in its troops, annexing the country. Italy and Britain no longer had common interests and, as Germany had stopped supporting the German speaking population under Italy's control in Bolzano-Bozen(South Tyrol), Italy began to gravitate towards Germany.
Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in September 1938 came about during talks with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, in which Hitler, backed by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, demanded that the German territories be ceded. Chamberlain and Hitler came to an agreement when Hitler signed a piece of paper which said that with the annexation of the Sudetenland, Germany would proceed with no further territorial aims. Chamberlain took this to be a success in that it avoided a potential war with Germany. However, the Nazis helped to promote Slovakian dissention and declaring that the country was no more, seized control of the Czech part.
For quite some time, Germany had engaged in informal negotiations with Poland regarding the issue of territorial revision, but after the Munich Agreement and the reacquisition of Memel, the Nazis became increasingly vocal. Poland refused to allow the annexation of the Free City of Danzig.
Germany and the Soviet Union began talks over planning an invasion of Poland. In August 1939, the Molotov Pact was signed and Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to divide Poland along a mutually-agreed set boundary. The invasion was put into effect on 1 September 1939. Last-minute Polish-German diplomatic proceedings failed, and Germany invaded Poland as scheduled. Germany alleged that Polish operatives had attacked German positions, but the result was the outbreak of World War II, as Allied forces refused to accept Germany's claims on Poland and blamed Germany for the conflict.
From 1939 to 1940, the so-called "Phony War" occurred, as German forces made no further advances but instead, both the Axis and Allies engaged in a propaganda campaign. However in early 1940, Germany began to concern that the British intended to stop trade between Sweden and Germany by bringing Norway into an alliance against Germany, with Norway in Allied hands, the Allies would be dangerously close to German territory. In response, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway ending the Phony War. After sweeping through the Low Countries and occupying northern France, Germany allowed French nationalist and war hero Philippe Petain to form a fascist regime in southern France known as the "French State" but more commonly referred to as Vichy France named after its capital in Vichy.
In 1941 Germany's invasion of Yugoslavia resulted in that state's splintering. In spite of Hitler's earlier view of inferiority of all Slavs, he supported Mussolini's agenda of creating a fascist puppet state of Croatia, called the Independent State of Croatia. Croatia was led by the extreme nationalist Ante Pavelić a long-time Croatian exile in Rome, whose Ustashe movement formed a government in modern-day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Ustashe were allowed to persecute Serbs, while Germany contributed to that goal in German-occupied Serbia.
From 1941 to the end of the war, Germany engaged in war with the Soviet Union in its attempt to create the Nazi colonial goal of Lebensraum "living space" for German citizens. The German occupation authorities set up occupation and colonial authorities called Reichskommissariats such as Reichskommissariat Ostland and Reichskommissariat Ukraine. The Slavic populations were to be destroyed along with Jews there to make way for German colonists.
As the fortunes of war changed, Germany was forced to occupy Italy when Mussolini was thrown out as Prime Minister by Italy's king in 1943. German forces rescued Mussolini and instructed him to establish a fascist regime in Italy called the Italian Social Republic. This was the last major foreign policy delivered. The remainder of the war saw the decline of German power and desperate attempts by Nazi officials such as Heinrich Himmler to negotiate a peace with the western Allies against the wishes of Hitler.
As a new type of court, the Volksgerichtshof (people's court) was established in 1934, only dealing with cases of political importance. From 1934 to September 1944, a total of 5,375 death sentences were spoken by the court. Not included in this numbers are the death sentences from 20 July 1944 until April 1945, which are estimated at 2,000. Its most prominent jurist was Roland Freisler, who headed the court from August 1942 to February 1945.
The Nazi Party pursued its racial and social policies through persecution and killing of those considered social undesirables or "enemies of the Reich".
In the 1930s, plans to isolate and eventually eliminate Jews completely in Germany began with the construction of ghettos, concentration camps, and labour camps which began with the 1933 construction of the Dachau concentration camp, which Heinrich Himmler officially described as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners.
In the years following the Nazi rise to power, many Jews were encouraged to leave the country and did so. By the time the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935, Jews were stripped of their German citizenship and denied government employment. Most Jews employed by Germans lost their jobs at this time, which were being taken by unemployed Germans. Notably, the Nazi government attempted to send 17,000 German Jews of Polish descent back to Poland, a decision which led to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a German Jew living in France. This provided the pretext for a pogrom the Nazi Party incited against the Jews on 9 November 1938, which specifically targeted Jewish businesses. The event was called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass, literally "Crystal Night"); the euphemism was used because the numerous broken windows made the streets look as if covered with crystals. By September 1939 more than 200,000 Jews had left Germany, with the Nazi government seizing any property they left behind.
The Nazis also undertook programs targeting "weak" or "unfit" people, such as the T-4 Euthanasia Program, killing tens of thousands of disabled and sick Germans in an effort to "maintain the purity of the German Master race" (German: Herrenvolk) as described by Nazi propagandists. The techniques of mass killing developed in these efforts would later be used in the Holocaust. Under a law passed in 1933, the Nazi regime carried out the compulsory sterilization of over 400,000 individuals labeled as having hereditary defects, ranging from mental illness to alcoholism.
Another component of the Nazi programme of creating racial purity was the Lebensborn, or "Fountain of Life" programme founded in 1936. The programme was aimed at encouraging German soldiers — mainly SS — to reproduce. This included offering SS families support services (including the adoption of racially pure children into suitable SS families) and accommodating racially-valuable women, pregnant with mainly SS men's children, in care homes in Germany and throughout Occupied Europe. Lebensborn also expanded to encompass the placing of racially pure children forcibly seized from occupied countries — such as Poland — with German families.
At the outset of World War II, the German authority in the General Government in occupied Poland ordered that all Jews face compulsory labour and that those who were physically incapable such as women and children were to be confined to ghettos.
To the Nazis a number of ideas appeared on how to answer the "Jewish Question". One method was a mass forced deportation of Jews. Adolf Eichmann suggested that Jews be forced to emigrate to Palestine. Franz Rademacher made the proposal that Jews be deported to Madagascar; this proposal was supported by Himmler and was discussed by Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini but was later dismissed as impractical in 1942. The idea of continuing deportations to occupied Poland was rejected by the governor, Hans Frank, of the General Government of occupied Poland as Frank refused to accept any more deportations of Jews to the territory which already had large numbers of Jews. In 1942, at the Wannsee Conference, Nazi officials decided to eliminate the Jews altogether, as discussed the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question". Concentration camps like Auschwitz were converted and used gas chambers to kill as many Jews as possible. By 1945, a number of concentration camps had been liberated by Allied forces and they found the survivors to be severely malnourished. The Allies also found evidence that the Nazis were profiteering from the mass murder of Jews not only by confiscating their property and personal valuables but also by extracting gold fillings from the bodies of some Jews held in concentration camps.
Recent research by academics such as Götz Aly has emphasized the role of the extensive Nazi social welfare programs that focused on providing employment for German citizens and insuring a minimal living standard for German citizens. Heavily focused on was the idea of a national German community. To aid the fostering of a feeling of community, the German people's labour and entertainment experiences — from festivals, to vacation trips and traveling cinemas — were all made a part of the "Strength through Joy" (Kraft durch Freude, KdF) program. Also crucial to the building of loyalty and comradeship was the implementation of the National Labour Service and the Hitler Youth Organization, with compulsory membership. In addition to this, a number of architectural projects were undertaken. KdF created the KdF-wagen, later known as the Volkswagen (People's Car), which was designed to be a cheap, inexpensive automobile that every German citizen would be able to afford. The KdF wagon also was created in the idea that it could be converted to a military vehicle for war. Another national project undertaken, was the construction of the Autobahn, made it the first freeway system in the world.
German research on the dangers of tobacco was silenced after the war, and the dangers of tobacco had to be rediscovered by American and English scientists in the early 1950s, with a medical consensus arising in the early 1960s. German scientists also proved that asbestos was a health hazard, and in 1943 — as the first nation in the world to offer such a benefit — Germany recognized the diseases caused by asbestos, e.g., lung cancer, as occupational illnesses eligible for compensation. The German asbestos-cancer research was later used by American lawyers doing battle against the Johns-Manville Corporation.
As part of the general public-health campaign in Nazi Germany, water supplies were cleaned up, lead and mercury were removed from consumer products, and women were urged to undergo regular screenings for breast cancer.
The Nazi regime discouraged women from seeking higher education in secondary schools, universities and colleges. The number of women allowed to enroll in universities dropped drastically under the Nazi regime, which shrank from approximately 128,000 women being enrolled in 1933 to 51,000 in 1938. Female enrollment in secondary schools dropped from 437,000 in 1926 to 205,000 in 1937. However with the requirement of men to be enlisted into the German armed forces during the war, women made up half of the enrollment in the education system by 1944.
Organizations were made for the indoctrination of Nazi values to German women. Such organizations included the Jungmädel (Young Girls) section of the Hitler Youth for girls from the age 10 to 14, the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM, German Girl's League) for young women from 14 to 18.
On the issue of sexual affairs regarding women, the Nazis differed greatly from the restrictive stances on women's role in society. The Nazi regime promoted a liberal code of conduct as regards sexual matters, and were sympathetic to women bearing children out of wedlock. The collapse of 19th century morals in Germany accelerated during the Third Reich, partly due to the Nazis, and partly due to the effects of the war. Promiscuity increased greatly as the war progressed, with unmarried soldiers often involved intimately with several women simultaneously. Married women were often involved in multiple affairs simultaneously, with soldiers, civilians or slave labourers. "Some farm wives in Württemberg had already begun using sex as a commodity, employing carnal favours as a means of getting a full day's work from foreign labourers." . Marriage or sexual relations between a person considered “Aryan” and one that was not were classified as Rassenschande were forbidden and under penalty (people found guilty could face concentration camp, while non-Aryans death penalty).
An example of the almost cynical Nazi difference between doctrine and practice is that, whilst sexual relationships among campers was explicitly forbidden, boys' and girls' camps of the Hitlerjugend associations were needlessly placed close together as if to make it happen. Pregnancy (including disruptive repercussions on established marriages) often resulted when fetching members of the Bund Deutscher Mädel were assigned to duties which juxtaposed them with easily tempted men.
In practice, the enacted laws and policies met resistance from various ministries that sought to undermine them, and from the priority that the war-effort took to environmental protection.
Despite the official attempt to forge a pure Germanic culture, one major area of the arts, architecture, under Hitler's personal guidance, was neoclassical, a style based on architecture of ancient Rome. This style stood out in stark contrast and opposition to newer, more liberal, and more popular architecture styles of the time such as Art Deco. Various Roman buildings were examined by state architect Albert Speer for architectural designs for state buildings. Speer constructed huge and imposing structures such as in the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg and the new Reich Chancellery building in Berlin. One design that was pursued, but never built, was a gigantic version of the Pantheon in Rome, called the Volkshalle to be the semi-religious centre of Nazism in a renamed Berlin called Germania, which was to be the "world capital" (Welthauptstadt). Also to be constructed was a Triumphal arch several times larger than that found in Paris, which was also based upon a classical styling. Many of the designs for Germania were impractical to construct because of their size and the marshy soil underneath Berlin; materials that were to be used for construction were diverted to the war effort.
The majority of German films of the period were intended principally as works of entertainment. The import of foreign films was legally restricted after 1936 and the German industry, which was effectively nationalised in 1937, had to make up for the missing foreign films (above all American productions). Entertainment also became increasingly important in the later years of World War II when the cinema provided a distraction from Allied bombing and a string of German defeats. In both 1943 and 1944 cinema admissions in Germany exceeded a billion, and the biggest box office hits of the war years were Die große Liebe (1942) and Wunschkonzert (1941), which both combine elements of the musical, wartime romance and patriotic propaganda, Frauen sind doch bessere Diplomaten (1941), a comic musical which was one of the earliest German films in colour, and Wiener Blut (1942), the adaptation of a Johann Strauß comic operetta. The importance of the cinema as a tool of the state, both for its propaganda value and its ability to keep the populace entertained, can be seen in the filming history of Veit Harlan's Kolberg (1945), the most expensive film of the era, for the shooting of which tens of thousands of soldiers were diverted from their military positions to appear as extras.
Despite the emigration of many film-makers and the political restrictions, the German film industry was not without technical and aesthetic innovations, the introduction of Agfacolor film production being a notable example. Technical and aesthetic achievement could also be turned to the specific ends of the Greater German Reich, most spectacularly in the work of Leni Riefenstahl. Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935), documenting the Nuremberg Rally (1934), and Olympia (1938), documenting the 1936 Summer Olympics, pioneered techniques of camera movement and editing that have influenced many later films. Both films, particularly Triumph of the Will, remain highly controversial, as their aesthetic merit is inseparable from their propagandizing of Nationalsocialism ideals.
Two major displays of Nazi German art and culture were at the 1936 Summer Olympics and at the German pavilion at the 1937 International Exposition in Paris. The 1936 Olympics was meant to display to the world the Aryan superiority of Germany to other nations. German athletes were carefully chosen not only for strength but for Aryan appearance. However, one common belief of Hitler snubbing African-American athlete Jesse Owens has recently been discovered to be technically incorrect — it was African-American athlete Cornelius Cooper Johnson who was believed to have been snubbed by Hitler, who left the medal ceremonies after awarding a German and a Finn medals. Hitler claimed it was not a snub, but that he had official business to attend to which caused him to depart. On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories, and had refused to shake his hand, Owens recounted:
"When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour in Germany." He also stated: "Hitler didn't snub me — it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram."
Hitler was criticized for this and the Olympic committee officials insisted that he greet each and every medalist. Hitler did not attend any of the medal presentations which followed, including the one after Jesse Owens won his four medals.