home l History Main Page l Germany 1919 1945 l The Nazis and The Jews

1. The Nazi regime:
(a) How effectively did the Nazis control Germany from 1933 to 1945?

Focus Points:
How much opposition was there to the Nazi regime?
Opposition to Nazi rule.
How effectively did the Nazis deal with political opponents?
The removal of opposition. Methods of control and repression.

How did Hitler keep control of Germany?

First of all, Hitler used both the ordinary police and the SS to keep control of Germany. This was also backed up by the Gestapo who were the secret police. Three ordinary police and the judges had to promise to be loyal to Hitler and Nazis were appointed to both groups. This maid them loyal and meant that the Nazis almost always got the result they wanted in court cases.
The Gestapo were feared by most ordinary Germans but in fact they were far fewer Gestapo agents than Germans believed. There bad reputation was enough to make most people obey the rules.
However there were some people that wouldn’t obey or were considered by the Nazis to be untrustworthy. These people were arrested and put in concentration camps. These were strict prisons were the prisoners were forced to work and often beaten and sometimes even killed. Normally, prisoners who were not considered dangerous were released after a few months. They weren’t supposed to talk about what happened but some did and this also made most people want to stay out of trouble.
As it turned out most Germans just did what they were told and learned not to complain. All of this made it relatively easy for the Nazis to keep control of Germany.

Specific groups:

The Judges, the Police and the Law.

One of the first groups Hitler wanted to control were the judges. After all, the judges would be the ones who sentenced anti-Nazis. This wasn’t too difficult as the majority of the judges were either pro-Nazi or nationalist. (Remember Hitler’s light sentence after the Munich Putsch. In the 1920’s 85% of judges were anti-Weimar.) However they all had to promise loyalty to the Nazis, give Nazi salutes and have Nazi emblems on their robes. The actions of the judges gave Hitler’s dictatorship more legality.

The Police were also quickly brought under control. From Jan. 1933, Goering controlled the majority of the Police in Germany. After March 1933, all the police came under Nazi control. Again, given that they a naturally right-wing group, the police gave little resistance to the Nazis. To begin with they stepped aside when the SA was active. Then after the Reichstag Fire, the Police co-operated with the SA during the March 1933 elections.
Following the Enabling Act, Nazi control became complete. The Gestapo were added as secret policemen. From 1936, both groups came under the command of the SS leader, Himmler.

With the passing of the Enabling Act in late March, 1933, Hitler could make laws without reference to Parliament. Anti-democratic laws(that would have been illegal before 1933) soon followed. The worst point was reached after the July 1944 Bomb Plot, when the so-called ‘People’s Court’ tried the surviving plotters. Here the Judge acted like an accuser and the defense lawyers demanded their ‘clients’ be severely punished. Not surprisingly the Allies had to disband the entire judiciary in 1945.

How did the Nazis use culture and mass media to control the people?
The use of culture and mass media.

The Press and Media.
The Newspapers were either pro-Nazi or not. The pro-Nazi press largely continued as before. Other papers, seeing how the situation was, simply became more pro-Nazi. For the rest there were two options: close down or do as Goebbels said. Foreign papers were largely banned – unless they were ‘friendly.’
In addition, newspapers were ‘fed’ stories and ‘guidelines’ by Goebbels. For example, in 1939, papers were told to show Hitler’s decisions were always correct. After the heavy British attacks on Cologne and Hamburg in WWII, a news blackout was imposed and all newspaper stories, especially local ones were carefully checked.
Germans increasingly found they had only one viewpoint. This made it difficult for them to accurately judge what was really happening. Once war broke out, this was even more important. At first, as Germany was winning, less control was needed as only victories were happening. But as the war turned against the Reich, more control and orchestration was needed. Apart from the example of bombing given above, Goebbels rallied the nation after the huge defeats of late 1942, especially Stalingrad. This call for ‘total war’ and ‘all-out sacrifice’ involved total and unified media coverage. By and large, this effort was successful, right up to May 1945, when the Reich collapsed. The examples given above are wartime ones because they are more dramatic and easier to measure, but peacetime ones also existed, such as the Olympics in 1936.)

Why did the Nazis persecute many groups in German society?
Different experiences of Nazi rule: anti-Semitism. The persecution of minorities.
Was Nazi Germany a totalitarian state?
As above.

(b) What was it like to live in Nazi Germany?

Focus Points:
How did young people react to the Nazi regime?
Different experiences of Nazi rule: young people.
How successful were Nazi policies towards women and the family?
Different experiences of Nazi rule: women.
Did most people benefit from Nazi rule?
Economic policy including rearmament.
How did the coming of the war change life in Nazi Germany?
Impact of World War 2 on Germany. Conversion to a war economy.
The Final Solution.

Groups and movements in the Third Reich.

Keeping control:

What was the Gestapo? (4 Points)

The Gestapo were Secret Police who were part of the SS. They were part of the Police after 1933 and headed by Heydrich. They had two main roles: first they hunted down both anti-Nazis and minorities persecuted by the Nazis. Secondly, they spied on the general public to find out what they really thought about Nazi policies. Their reputation was so fearful that most Germans assumed there far more Gestapo men than there really were. After 1939, they were also active in occupied territories. After the July 1944 Bomb Plot, they became even more vicious.

What was the SA?

The SA were better known as the ‘Brownshirts’ because of their uniforms. They were formed in 1921 to both protect Nazi meetings and disrupt those of their opponents. Their major enemy at this time was the ‘Red Fighting League’ of the Communist Party. They took part in the unsuccessful Munich Putsch in November 1923. They were led by Rohm – a fierce ex-officer – from 1921 – 24 and 1930 – 34. As Nazi support grew after October 1929, they were used more often both in their original role and to give the impression of Nazi strength and discipline (but they often embarrassed Hitler and frightened possible middle class supporters.) March 1933 was their high point but once the Enabling Act was passed the SA became a problem as they weren’t needed so much and looked for another role. Their violence and the demands of their leaders for radical policies led to the Night of the Long Knives’ when the leadership was wiped out and it slowly shrank in numbers and importance.

What was the SS?
The SS were formed in 1925 to be Hitler’s personal bodyguard. Unlike the SA, the SS wore black. They steadily grew, but remained smaller, better disciplined and more trustworthy than the SA. Himmler, their leader, was determined to replace the SA and not surprisingly played a major part in the ‘Night of the Long Knives’. After then, the SS grew. By 1939, it included Concentration Camp guards, elite military units, the Gestapo, special police units and even sports teams. During the war, the SS expanded into industry and death squads. The ‘Final Solution’ to exterminate the Jews and others was an SS operation. After July 1944, they grew even more powerful and vicious.

The Workers:

What was the DAF?
In 1933, the Nazis outlawed Trade Unions. In their place, the German Workers’ Front (D A F in German) was created. All workers had to join and it was led by Dr. Ley. The DAF was supposed to protect the workers rights by negotiations with the employers. It did nothing of the sort, but it did control the workers. It didn’t call strikes (which were illegal) but did introduce limited improvements, through the ‘Beauty of Labour’ (improving the workplace) and the ‘Strength Through Joy’ programme (holidays for workers.) These helped to balance the longer hours and lower wages German workers faced. Given that German industrial production increased steadily from 1933 to 1945, the DAF gave the Nazis what they wanted, even if the workers lost out overall.

How did the Nazis treat Women?
The Nazi policy to women can be best summed up by the phrase ‘Church, Children, Kitchen’ (‘KKK’ in German.) ‘Church’ stood not so much for religion but for tradition. Women were seen as vital for instilling ‘German’ values into future generations. ‘Children’ referred both to having four or more (for which they would get ‘The Mother’s Cross’ – a medal) but also bringing them up. ‘Kitchen’ referred to the idea that there was a woman’s workplace and ‘homemaker’ was her profession. To enforce these aims the Nazis used a mixture of stick and carrot. Women were forced out of jobs and sexual discrimination encouraged. Divorce on the grounds of lack of children was made easier. Alternative views were censored. However, state loans were given on easy terms to newly-weds (as long as the wife didn’t work.) With each child 25% of the loan was written off. In addition there was ‘The Mother’s Cross’. Propaganda praised women who conformed and generally respect towards women was demanded. In addition, outside the big cities many women broadly agreed with these viewpoints. Yet despite this, few women had much influence in the Third Reich. Those who did were unusual – and often very masculine by nature. Once the war started, women had to hold the Home Front together under increasingly difficult conditions. Even so, the Nazis were reluctant to properly use female labour (unlike Britain, the US or Russia) and so restricted their war effort rather than weaken their policy. Ultimately, German women found life harder, less free and more difficult under the Nazis.

Farmers and the countryside.

German farmers and rural areas had been important in helping the Nazis achieve power. Not surprisingly the Nazis continued to praise the countryside. Two important policies were: guarantying prices for crops and preventing the banks from seizing farms and land belonging to farmers who failed to repay their debts. Furthermore, city people were sent to the country to help with the harvest and rural traditions were promoted. The Nazis claimed that the peasants were the backbone of Germany and would be needed to ‘colonise and Germanise’ future conquered lands in the east. On the face of it, the farming communities benefited from the Nazis.
However, considering about 3% of the population left for the cities each year, life in the country was far from perfect. Fixed prices helped average, bad or unlucky farmers, but held back clever ones. Banks got round repossession laws by not lending to farmers except under very limited circumstances. Jobs opportunities lay in the cities and many rural areas remained desperately poor, especially in East Prussia. Once the war started the situation worsened as rural areas suffered far more from a lack of men, animals and machinery as the Army took them away. By 1945, German agriculture had been so badly damaged that Germany could no longer feed itself.

The industrialists.
Generally, big business did well under the Nazis. From about 1930, Hitler had toned down the ‘socialist’ part of the Nazi message. He was careful to wear a suit when meeting businessmen and not a uniform. He emphasized how important industry would be in his new powerful Germany. He stressed how the employers should be masters of their own houses, so Communism and Trade Unions would be suppressed. Orders and contracts from the Nazi state would follow, further strengthening the large companies. Of course, all this was not one way. To keep the Nazis pro-industry, generous contributions to Nazi election funds were expected. Even though the amount given wasn’t as high as it could have been, it was enough to make both sides feel they had kept their word.
Much of what Hitler promised happened. Recovery and later rearmament helped industry. As unemployment drops, normally the workers can bargain for better wages and conditions as there is a shortage of labour. But under the Nazis the workers couldn’t negotiate and so industry kept making profits, although by 1937 wages had started to rise again. Surprisingly, the Nazis let industrialists have a lot of freedom up to 1942, which resulted in Germany under-performing in war production (although, of course, profits kept growing.) Given the Nazi reluctance to use women in factories, foreign labour was used instead. Although some were volunteers, mostly were forced and some actually slaves in all but name. The big companies were all involved in the ‘Final Solution’ and all made profits from it. Not surprising, the Allies weren’t feeling too merciful towards the industrialists in 1945. Overall, this group gained much from the Nazi regime.

The Middle Class
The Middle Class had mixed fortunes under the Nazis. Although Nazi social policy often appealed to Middle Class values and claimed to support the type of stable society the Middle Class had craved for since 1918, they didn’t automatically benefit from what followed. Small businesses prospered or declined depending on what sector of the economy they found themselves in. Anything connected to rearmament or construction did well. Other small businesses found the restricted choices of Nazi economics weakened or killed off their trade.