Nazi Germany was the period in the history of Germany under the rule of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party (abbreviated as Nazi), which established a totalitarian regime that was in power from 1933 to 1945. This new State was called the Third Reich by Adolf Hitler and his followers, succeeding the Weimar Republic that had been created in 1919, right after WWI. The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which began in 962 AD with the coronation of Otto I and lasted until 1805, was the First Reich; the Prussian state, under the Hohenzollern dynasty with Emperor William I and William II, which united all the fragmented German semifeudal principalities and estates in one nation after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, was the Second Reich; and the Nazi government that came to power in 1933 was the Third Reich, according to Hitler.
Nazi Germany arose as a consequence of the national anger and resentment against the Treaty of Versailles, the peace treaty signed between Germany and the Allies in 1919, at the end of the Great War, and which was one of the causes of World War II. Germany did not take part in the negotation of the treaty; it was imposed on her. Germany had been forced to accept sole responsability for causing the war and to pay a huge amount of money and millions of tonnes of natural resources from the Rhur area to France and Ingland. This was too heavy a burden to bear and it was the cause the hyperinflation, unemployment, and starvation in Germany during the 1920’s. The Allies also wrenched large chunks of territory away from Germany, creating future geopolitical and territorial problems such as the Polish corridor.
During the 1920’s Germany was ruled by a republican government under the democratic Weimar Constitution. The political party which catapulted Hitler into power was the National Socialist German Workers Party, known by the German acronym NAZI, which grew out of a smaller political group with a nationalist orientation that formed in the last year of World War I. In 1919, Anton Drexler, a locksmith, founded the German Workers’ Party in Munich with Gottfried Feder and Dietrich Eckart. Adolf Hitler, who was a police spy of an intelligence commando, was infiltrated in the German Workers’ Party. In his inspection of the party, Hitler was impressed with Anton Drexler’s nationalist and anti-Marxist ideas, which favored a strong active government, and a non-Jewish version of socialism. And Drexler was also impressed with Hitler’s oratory skills and invited him to join as the party’s 55th member.
On November 8, 1923, in Munich, Adolf Hitler and General Ludendorff attempted to overthrow the Bavarian government, but failed. Hitler was sentenced to five years in prison. The time that Hitler spent in jail changed his view on violent revolution to effect change. From then on, to win the German heart, he had do everything legally, since Germans obviously frowned at not following the rules. This illegal attempt at seizing the Bavarian government is known as the Beer Hall Putsch.
In the elections of 1928, the Nazis gained a meager 12 seats in the German Reichstag. But in 1930, after the American stock market crashed, they obtained 107 seats and became the second-largest parliamentary party. After the July elections of 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag, with 230 seats. Hindenburg was reluctant to give any substantial power to Hitler, who consistently demanded to be appointed chancellor in order for Hindenburg to receive any Nazi Party support of the cabinets appointed under his authority.
On December 2, 1932, Hindenburg’s Chancellor Franz von Papen, who was the leader of the Catholic Center Party, resigned, for he had no longer enough political support in the Reichstag. He was temporarily replaced by Kurt von Schleicher who could not obtain support in parliament, too. Under pressure from businessmen and political leaders, Paul von Hindenburg finally accepted to appoint Hitler Chancellor of Germany. He was sworn in on January 30, 1933.
On February 27, 1933, a fire broke out in the Reichstag building and Dutch council communist Marinus van der Lubbe was found in the building. He charged with starting the fire and was put in prison. As the unnerved German public feared that the blaze had been a signal meant to initiate the communist revolution, the Nazis saw this event as an opportunity to get rid of potential insurgents. Many communists, anarchists, and socialists throughout the Reich were sent to the Dachau concentration camp. The event was quickly followed by the Reichstag Fire Decree, abolishing habeas corpus and other civil liberties. Then Enabling Act was passed in March 1933, with 444 votes, against the 94 of the remaining Social Democrats. The act gave Hitler legislative powers, authorizing him to deviate from the constitution for four years. Thus, Hitler had seized dictatorial powers.
The Nazis ruthlessly eliminated all opposition. The Social Democrats were banned in June. In June and July, 1933, the Nationalists Party, People’s Party, and State Party were all forced to disband. The remaining Catholic Center Party, at Papen’s urging, disbanded itself on July 5, 1933, after guarantees over Catholic education and youth groups. On July 14, 1933, Germany was declared a one-party state. On January 30, 1934, further consolidation of power was achieved with the Act to rebuild the Reich. This act changed the highly decentralized federal Germany of the Weimar Republic period into a centralized state. It transferred sovereign rights of the federal states to the Reich central government, disbanding local parliaments and putting the states administrations under the control of the Reich administration.
The black-red-gold flag of the Weimar Republic was abolished by the new regime which adopted the old imperial black-white-red tricolour, which had been completely abandoned during the Weimar Republic, was restored as one of Germany’s two officially national flags. The other official national flag was the swastika flag of the Nazi party. But, in 1935, it became the only national flag. The national anthem continued to be “Deutschland über Alles.”
By the spring of 1934, the German army still remained independent from Nazi control. The army had traditionally been separated from the government. The Nazi paramilitary SA expected top positions in the new power structure and wanted the regime to abide by its promise of enacting socialist legislation for Aryan Germans. But many top-ranking army officers hated the SA members and their violent and inmoral behavior, specially their leader Ernst Röhm, who was known to be a homosexual who led a life of total debauchery. Wanting to preserve good relations with the army and most of the businessmen who were wary of more political violence erupting from the SA, Hitler began what is known as the “Night of the Long Knives”, on the night of June 30, 1934. It was a purge of the leadership ranks of Röhm’s SA as well as hard-left Nazis carried out by another rightist and more elitist, Nazi organization, the SS, which was Hitler’s personal guard created by Heinrich Himmler.
Upon the death of Paul von Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, the Nazi-controlled Reichstag merged the offices of President and Chancellor of the Reich, reinstalling Hitler with the new title Führer und Reichskanzler. Until the death of Hindenburg, the army did not follow Hitler. But the execution 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. This resulted in a unanimous oath of allegiance by all army officers and soldiers to obey Hitler.
To detect any secret political activity against the Nazi regime, Herman Göring created the Gestapo, a state secret police which acted outside of any civil authority. It consisted of about 100,000 spies and informants who operated throughout Germany, reporting to Nazi officials the activities of any dissenters. Although many political opponents, such as Marxist communists or international socialists, were reported by spies and put in prison camps, most ordinary German citizens, happy with the improving economy and better standard of living, remained obedient and quiet.