The problems of the Weimar Republic


(this site was uploaded to the internet by Redruth School, Cornwall, in 2006)


German attitudes to defeat in 1918 and the treaty of Versailles

Europe had been drawn up into two armed camps by the beginning of the second decade of the C.20th. Each Great Power in Europe sought to gain pre-eminence and this caused great tensions and jealousy. Throughout the period 1900-1914 there were a series of crises that could have sparked a major war. When Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated by a Serb nationalist in Sarajevo in 1914 this acted as a catalyst for a wider conflict. The Great Powers of the two, armed camps pledged to support each other and Europe was plunged into a war.

The two sides were:

The Triple Alliance - Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy

The Triple Entente - France, Russia and Great Britain.

Many other countries were involved, including Japan and the USA (after 1917). The Empires of the Great Powers were also involved, this caused the war to widen into a World War.

The suffering of the participants in the Great War was so appalling, that when the war came to an end in November 1918, many hoped never to repeat such an experience again, and a mood of pacifism grew in the 1920s.

France had suffered particularly badly in the war, so when the diplomats met at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, their representatives, led by Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, pledged to make Germany pay.

Britain, led by Prime Minister David Lloyd-George, was more sympathetic to Germany. Lloyd-George realised that if Germany was harshly punished this would cause great resentment amongst the Germans and could cause tensions in the future. He believed that a strong Germany would be a good trading partner for Britain, and that a healthy German economy would prevent the rise of extremist political groups such as Communists or Fascists. On the other hand Lloyd-George had to listen to British public opinion which was calling for Germany to be 'squeezed until the pips squeak!'

The other great victorious power was the USA. Led by President Woodrow Wilson, the Americans had no great desire to punish the Germans. In January 1918 Wilson had proposed his Fourteen Points, which was a blueprint for a fair peace settlement at the end of the war. One of its main points was the idea of a League of Nations that would try to prevent major wars through negotiation. Wilson did not wish to punish the Germans, but at the Peace Conference Clemenceau and Lloyd-George overruled him.

There were a number of treaties that dealt with Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. Each was severely punished. The Treaty of Versailles was the peace settlement with Germany; it was very harsh.

In effect Germany had to:

- accept blame for starting the war
- lose all of its colonies
- lose most of its army, navy and all its air force
- lose huge territories in Europe
- pay reparations of £6.6 billion.

The Germans hated the Treaty of Versailles and throughout the 1920s and 1930s German politicians tried to reverse the terms of the treaty. In the 1920s Hitler and the Nazis gained support as they promised to reverse the treaty. In the 1930s when the Nazis were in power, Hitler set about reversing these terms. Britain believed that Hitler should be allowed to do this. The policies of letting the Germans take back their lands and building their armed services, with a vague promise of future good behaviour, were called Appeasement.

The nature of the Weimar Constitution

Democracy is the form of government that has come to prevail in the majority of countries at the beginning of the Twenty First Century. Democracy means ‘rule by the people’ and was first tried in some of the city-states of Ancient Greece. The essential point of democracy is that people are able to choose who they wish to be their rulers.

In 1919, Germany became democratic for the first time. Up until the end of the First World War, Germany had been ruled by the Kaiser. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and government passed from royal hands to an elected government known as the Weimar Republic. This was so-called because the German capital, Berlin was under the control of Communists and the new government was forced to meet in Weimar instead.

The Weimar Republic was a democracy. The German people voted for Members of Parliament to represent them in Parliament (Reichstag). The political party that gained a majority large enough to win votes formed the government. The leader of that party became the Chancellor (Prime Minister) and ministerial posts were given to other prominent members of the party. To keep a check on the actions of the new government, a head of state (President) was elected. This person did not run Germany on a daily basis that was the Chancellor’s job. The relationship between Chancellor and President was similar to the relationship between Monarch and Prime Minister in the UK today. In 1933 Hitler took both positions (President and Chancellor) illegally, and gave himself the title of Fuhrer.

The causes, nature and consequences of disorder 1918-1924

The Weimar Republic faced many problems. One of the worst was the fact that German political parties found it difficult to win enough votes to gain an overall majority in the Reichstag. This was because there were too many parties, each of which only represented a small group of people in Germany e.g. the SPD (workers), the KPD (communists), the Zentrum (Catholics) and so on. This meant that whenever there was a vote, to pass a new law for instance, no single political party had enough MPs to push a law through on its own. The Weimar Republic had too many political parties representing relatively small sections of the population. What was needed were fewer parties with widespread appeal so that one could get enough support to form a strong government that could pass laws and make changes to the benefit of the German people. The solution to this problem was for political parties to make coalitions i.e. share power. The problem was that these coalitions were often temporary and they found it difficult to agree.

Another problem was that the Weimar Republic was generally blamed for surrendering in 1918 and signing the Treaty of Versailles. Many political extremists, particularly the right-wing groups such as the Nazis, picked up this theme. Germany had no tradition of democracy in 1919 and there was no reason to suggest at this point that it would survive for long. The Weimar Republic faced serious competition from Communist, left-wing revolts in major cities such as Berlin and from right-wing, paramilitary groups such as the Nazis who were supported by wandering bands of ex-servicemen called freikorps. To compound the mess Germany faced severe economic difficulties that made many ordinary Germans look to strong extremist groups to solve Germany’s problems rather than to the relatively weak, but moderate and democratic Weimar Republic.

Despite these difficulties, the Weimar Republic began to enjoy some success under Gustav Streseman who dominated it from 1923-1929. However, democracy in Germany was far too weak to survive the mortal blow that was inflicted by the worldwide economic depression that was caused by the Wall St. Crash of 1929. Germany suffered badly and by 1933, many Germans were prepared to support the Nazis even if it meant an end to democracy.

Democracy had triumphed in 1918. By 1939 there were very few democracies left in Europe and the rest of the world. Communists and fascists had delivered credible alternatives and democracy was viewed as weak and out-dated by many. The dark days of the mid-century crisis seemed to indicate that democracy had failed and would be swept away.


Political instability, reparations, the occupation of the Ruhr and hyperinflation

The Weimar Republic is the term used to describe the German democratic republic that lasted from 1919 until 1933. The republic was established after workers and troops revolted in early 1918 against the government's refusal to end the First World War. On November 9, Kaiser Wilhelm II fled the country and a provisional (temporary) government was formed by Friedrich Ebert. The new parliament met in Weimar, in February 1919 and drew up a constitution that established Germany as a democracy. There were two houses of parliament, the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. Ebert was elected first president of the new republic.

Although the Weimar Republic was democratic it was weak and unpopular with many Germans. The Weimar Republic had too many political parties and weak coalitions did not seem to last long. It was blamed for surrendering to the Allies in 1918 and was associated with defeat by many who believed that Germany should have continued to fight after November 1918. Political extremists such as the Communists (left wing e.g. Spartacists, in 1919) and the Nationalists (right wing e.g. the Kapp Putsch, 1920) tried to seize power from the Weimar Republic. The Weimar Republic had to deal with severe economic problems in 1923 during the Ruhr Crisis and after the Wall St. Crash of 1929.


Reparations and the Ruhr Crisis 1923

World War I had left Germany with many economic, social, and political problems. In addition to enduring high inflation and a large national debt, Germans were deeply embittered by the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, signed in June 1919, which formally ended the war. The treaty called for German disarmament and huge reparation payments to the Allies.

Unable to meet the payments, Germany's currency collapsed and the German people suffered large financial losses. In January 1923 French and Belgian forces occupied Germany's main industrial region, the Ruhr, claiming that Germany had stopped making reparation deliveries. German workers were encouraged to strike in protest at the French and Belgian occupation. The result was a period of hyperinflation when the German mark became worthless. Many Germans were desperate by 1923 and were ready to support extremists such as the Nazis or the Communists.


Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler was born in Austria-Hungary in 1889. As a young man he wanted to become an artist and so applied twice to get into the Vienna Academy of Art, he was rejected. In the years just before the First World War, Hitler tried to scrape a living painting pictures as postcards. He made very little money and lived in a Men’s Hostel. His career was going nowhere. When war broke out Hitler was living in Munich in southern Germany. He immediately joined the German army and fought on the Western Front. He was wounded twice and received two medals for bravery. Hitler never got higher than the rank of corporal, as he was considered unsuitable for promotion; he ‘lacked leadership skills’. Hitler was very upset when Germany surrendered in November 1918 and firmly believed that Jewish politicians (the ‘November Criminals’) had ‘stabbed Germany in the back’.

The origins of the Nazi Party

At the end of the First World War many Germans felt that its politicians had betrayed their country. Many did not want to support democracy and so set up organisations to fight against it. There were literally hundreds of small groups all campaigning against democracy, the Weimar Republic and the Treaty of Versailles. Some groups even set up their own paramilitary forces. Adolf Hitler was sent by the German army to investigate the tiny DAP in Munich (German Workers Party). Hitler was impressed by the small group, was invited to join, very soon took control and renamed it the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party or NAZIS). Within a short while Hitler found that he could ‘speak’ well at public meetings in the Munich beer halls and that people listened to his fierce attacks on the Jews, the Allies and the Weimar politicians. Some of the Nazis were encouraged to wear uniforms, to ‘protect’ Hitler and to beat up opponents such as the Communists. This became the SA (Sturmabteilung – Storm Troopers or Brownshirts).


The Munich Putsch (or Beer Hall Putsch) 1923

By 1923 the Nazis had grown in support and numbered several thousand. Hitler decided that the time was right to seize power in Bavaria (the southern part of Germany) and then to march on Berlin. The rebellion began in Munich on November 8, 1923. Hitler planned to make the First World War hero, General Erich Ludendorff, a dictator. The Nazis kidnapped the leaders of the Bavarian government, declared a revolution, and the next day marched on Munich. Police crushed the rebellion, shot 16 of the 3,000 Nazi party demonstrators dead, and arrested Hitler. Hitler had badly misjudged the lack of support from the people of Munich. Hitler and other leading Nazis were put on trial for treason, but only served nine months in prison because the judge sympathised with them. Hitler used his time in Landsberg prison to write Mein Kampf (My Struggle). In Mein Kampf, Hitler laid out all his main ideas for Germany in the future. He also committed himself to using elections to gain power, rather than using force to do so. Many people believed that the Nazis would now fade away, but in the next few years, Hitler concentrated his energy on making himself the undisputed master of the Nazi Party.

Recovery in the later 1920s

Gustav Stresemann

Gustav Stresemann became Chancellor in 1923, and Foreign Secretary from 1923 to 1929. He dominated German politics in the 1920s and helped to stabilise the country. In 1924 the Allies made it easier for Germany to pay reparations through the Dawes Plan. The USA agreed to lend money to Germany. Germany used this money to pay reparations to France, Britain and Belgium. These three countries used reparations money to pay back the USA what they had borrowed to fight the First World War.

In October 1925, Stresemann signed the Locarno Pact and Paul von Hindenburg was elected the second president of the republic. Germany agreed never again to challenge its borders with France and Belgium. The Allies withdrew their occupation forces from the Ruhr and in 1926 Germany was elected to the League of Nations, an international alliance for the preservation of peace. A new currency, the Reichsmark, was established and an impressive economic recovery began. In 1929 the Young Plan extended the German reparation payments over another 59 years. Germany seemed to be on the road to recovery, Berlin became the pleasure capital of Europe and extreme political groups such as the Communists and the Nazis lost support. The Weimar Republic appeared to be working.

The Wall Street Crash 1929

Streseman died in 1929 and a world wide economic depression began with the Wall Street Crash in 1929, throwing the Weimar Republic into crisis. The value of shares dropped dramatically forcing businesses all over the world to go bust. Six million of were made unemployed by 1932. Extreme groups became popular again. Reichstag elections held in September 1930 made the Nazis the second-largest party, their support growing as the Depression deepened. In the elections of July 1932, the Nazis became the largest party in the Reichstag. Hindenburg was persuaded to bring Hitler into the government, with conservative politicians believing they could control Hitler in a coalition government. Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor on January 30, 1933. Hitler soon abolished the office of president and declared himself Führer (leader) of the Third Reich, bringing to an end the Weimar Republic.



The growth of Nazi Power 1920-1933

The Nazi Party’s beliefs and organisation

The Nazi Party did not come up with any new ideas or beliefs in the 1920s. Every policy of theirs was either copied from other parties or was very popular in Germany already. Hitler’s anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish) was very popular with a lot of Germans who blamed them for losing the First World War. In fact anti-Semitism had been popular in many countries for centuries. A summary of Nazi ideas is given below. These remained the same from 1920-1945.


Extracts from the Nazi Party Programme 1920

  • We demand the union of all Germans into a greater Germany.

  • We demand that Germany be treated in the same way as other countries and we demand the annulling of the Treaty of Versailles.

  • We demand land for our growing population.

  • Only a fellow German can have the right of citizenship. A fellow German can only be so if he is of German parentage. This excludes Jews.

  • Only German citizens shall have the right to vote; and they alone shall hold public office.

  • All immigration of non-Germans must stop immediately.

  • We demand that large industries share their profits with their workers.

  • We demand generous improvements in Old Age Pensions.

  • We demand a new law, which would allow property to be confiscated without compensation if this is in the general interest of the nation.

  • We demand the freedom of religion in Germany so long as religion does not endanger the position of the state or the moral standards of the German race. The party opposes the Jewish religion for its love of wealth.

  • In order to achieve this programme, the party demands the setting up of a strong central government with complete authority for parliament over the whole country.

Although the Nazi ideas were nothing new in Germany, two things were different about the Nazis.

Hitler said Nazism was not just a political party, but also a movement and an ideology that could transform German society. The key idea was volksgemeinschaft (impossible to translate, but "people's community"), i.e. aiming to bridge all class/social divisions. Hitler wanted to unite everyone in the struggle to make Germany great again. The Nazis did not just appeal to small groups in German society as other parties did, the Nazis aimed to appeal to everyone.

Hitler and the Nazis were very clever at using propaganda to win support. They used speeches, radio, posters, leaflets, marches, banners and flags to gain support.


The Munich Putsch 1923 and the lean years of the Nazi Party 1924-1928

When the Nazi takeover (Munich Putsch 1923) failed it looked as if Hitler was finished. Hitler decided that it was not possible to use the SA to seize power. Instead he vowed to win people’s support legally. The Nazis concentrated on propaganda in the late 1920s, but did not do very well in elections. However, by 1929 the German economy started to crumble and when the Wall St Crash occurred, Hitler realised that his chance had come.

The growth in support for the Nazis 1929-1933

Germany faced a terrible Depression between 1929-1934; millions were unemployed and were fed up with the Weimar Republic that seemed to have failed them. Millions of Germans, from all walks of like, turned to the Nazis or Communists as an alternative to democracy. By 1932 the Nazis were the most popular party in Germany, although they did not have an overall majority in the Reichstag.

Hitler becomes chancellor

In January 1933 President Hindenburg invited Hitler to become Chancellor of Germany. Hindenburg believed that he and other politicians, such as Vice-Chancellor Von Papen would be able to ‘control’ Hitler. They also thought that Hitler would make such a mess of it, that he would have to resign quickly. This was a serious misjudgement. Hitler set about gathering power into his hands and by 1934 had become dictator of Germany.

Varied reactions among the German people to the rise of Hitler

There were many people who were very glad that Hitler had come to power in 1933. He seemed to promise a way out of Germany’s troubled times and promised to provide work, food and a comfortable home. However, many Germans were very worried. Hitler had made no secret of his hatred for the Jews and many now left Germany, if they could. The German Communists were also worried by Hitler’s rise to power, he promised to crush communism in Germany. Abroad there were mixed feelings about the Nazis. Some saw Hitler as a brave man doing a good job restoring Germany’s fortunes and acting as a strong buffer against the USSR. Others were concerned that the rise of Hitler would one day lead to another world war.



The Third Reich 1933-1939

The Nazi Consolidation of power

In January 1933, President Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor of Germany. Hitler seemed to have achieved his aim, but in fact his position was still rather weak. Hindenburg and Vice-Chancellor Von Papen believed they could control Hitler. If Hitler proved ‘difficult,’ he could be sacked. The problems were:

1) The Nazis did not have a majority in the Reichstag. Hitler could not get laws passed without a majority.

2) The Communists were a threat to the Nazis. As long as there were Communists in Germany there would be strong opposition to the Nazis.

3) The SA had become dangerously powerful. Their leader, Ernst Rohm, hinted that he wanted to use the SA to get rid of Hitler and take over Germany and the Nazi Party by force.

The Reichstag Fire and the March 1933 election

In early 1933 the Reichstag (German parliament) was burnt down. This event was blamed on a young Dutch communist, Van Der Lubbe, although this has not been proven. The Nazis used the Reichstag Fire as an excuse to throw suspicion on the Communist Party. In March 1933 the Nazis won the election and joined forces with the Nationalists. This gave them a majority in the Reichstag.

The Enabling Act 1933

With a majority in the Reichstag, Hitler was able to pass the Enabling Act. This gave him wide-ranging powers to deal with his opponents. The Communist Party was banned, many communists were rounded up and sent to the first concentration camps. All political parties, other than the Nazi Party, were banned and trades unions were closed down. Hitler had achieved almost total power in Germany.

The Night of the Long Knives – 30th June 1934

 Hitler was still worried about some members of his own party. In particular, Ernst Rohm, the leader of the SA, concerned Hitler. On the 30th June 1934 Hitler’s bodyguard, the SS, butchered between 150-200 leading SA men, including Rohm. The so-called Night of the Long Knives put an end to any disagreement in the Nazi Party. The SA was weakened and Hitler was now in total command, supported by the ultra-loyal SS. Soon after President Hindenberg died. Hitler took over as President and Chancellor with the new title of Der Fuhrer – the leader. Nazi power was complete.

Methods of control and repression

The Nazis ruled Germany in the 1930s by controlling people through propaganda and fear. The most feared organisations were the SS (Schutz Staffel) and the Gestapo.

The SS was created in 1925 as Hitler's personal bodyguard. Under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler (from 1929), it became an elite force with unquestioning obedience and loyalty to Hitler. By 1933 it had 52,000 members. In June 1934 Hitler called upon the SS to destroy the troublesome SA (Night of the Long Knives), which they did ruthlessly and efficiently. In 1936 Himmler became the supreme "Chief of the German Police", a very powerful position in which he was answerable only to Hitler personally.

The Gestapo, or secret police, were also greatly feared. It had a wide range of spies and informers. The Gestapo could arrive at your home at any time and take you away for questioning. It used secrecy and fear of its methods to keep opposition quiet.

Education and propaganda

Brutal repression was only half the story of how the Nazi regime maintained itself in power. Propaganda played a key role too. Joseph Goebbels was made "Minister of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda" in March 1933. Goebbels’ main responsibility was to control the media in order to make the Nazis as popular as possible, and to prevent any criticism.

Radio and Press were the two key media for propaganda.

The spoken word was highly valued by Hitler and Goebbels. Radio broadcasts had been used by the Nazis in their 1932/3 election campaigns. Goebbels set up the Reich Radio Company. The Nazis promoted the production of cheap radio sets the "People's Receiver". (Germany had the highest percentage of radio owners by 1939). Radio broadcasts were also put out by loudspeakers in public places (cafes, factories, offices etc). "Radio wardens" were appointed to make sure people listened!

The Press was harder to control, with its longer tradition of independence.The Nazi's own publishing company bought two-thirds of newspapers by 1939. A state news agency was set up to vet all news before it reached journalists. Daily press conferences at the Propaganda Ministry were held to "guide" the thinking of editors and journalists. As a result press control was achieved. But newspaper readership actually fell by 1939 - the "doctored" news was so boring to read!

Hitler saw education as a tool to indoctrinate or brainwash the young so completely in Nazi principles as to guarantee the long-term survival of the Third Reich (the "thousand year Reich"). To control young minds the Nazis set up Nazi Youth organisations and kept a firm grip on schools.

In 1934 the Reich Ministry of Education and Science was set up to control the education system. Many changes were made: some teachers were sacked; many teachers were forced to join the Nazi Party; the curriculum was changed to include: much more PE, German Language and literature, biology became the study of Nazi race theories, History focussed on the historic mission of Germany and the Nazis.

Youth Movements were the real key to Nazi policy and the young:

  • Bund Deutscher Madel or BDM (League of German Girls, girls 14-18)
  • Jungmadelbund or JM (League of Young Girls, girls 10-14)
  • Hitler-Jugend or HJ (Hitler Youth, boys 14-18)
  • Deutsches Jungvolk or DJ (German Young People, boys 10-14)

Children learned to love Hitler and were brainwashed in Nazi ideas. For boys there was physical and military training and for girls domestic training to prepare them for  their future roles as mothers and citizens of the Third Reich. The Youth Movements did have some positive aspects: they taught teamwork, extra-curricular activities, story-telling, dance, handicrafts, music. Many young Germans probably resented all the military-style drill and discipline. The newsreel images of youthful comradeship and enthusiasm for the Third Reich are certainly misleading! The evidence suggests that German youth was NOT won over by 1939. A number of youth groups opposed to the Nazis also developed e.g. the Edelweiss Pirates, the Navahos and the White Rose. But the Nazis could not tolerate these young people and they were put down savagely in the 1940s.

Economic policies and rearmament

Nazi economic policy pre-1933 had been deliberately vague, so as to appeal to all classes. Nazi policy sometimes sounded "anti-capitalist" (to appeal to workers), but at other times Hitler was careful to re-assure big business that he meant them no harm.

In fact Nazi economic policy was never very clear even after 1933! This was partly because Hitler had no real interest in economics. For him, Germany and the German economy only really existed as a way of gaining power.

Between 1933-1936 Hitler was anxious to re-assure and win over big business. He was not yet totally secure. He needed to be cautious. The support of big business was vital.

Hjalmar Schacht was put in charge of the economy. His main idea was to encourage the Nazis to create big building schemes such as the autobahns or motorways. This would provide more jobs for the millions unemployed in the early 1930s. With all their new money the workers would spend it on other goods which would be good for all German businesses. It seemed to work brilliantly. Unemployment fell dramatically in Germany, to only 1.7 million by 1935!

Between 1936-1939 Hitler aimed to increase employment by rearming. Hundreds of thousands of people got new jobs creating weapons and munitions for the rapidly increasing armed forces.

The revival of the German economy helped Hitler by increasing support for the Nazi regime. It really did appear to many that the Nazis had saved Germany from the crippling economic problems of pre-1933/4.

The Working Class

Workers made a number of significant gains: a regular job, rents were fixed and cheap recreation was provided by the Party via "Strength Through Joy" - sport, culture, and foreign travel.

But the workers lost too:

* trade unions and the right to bargain with employers
* their pay was controlled
* their freedom of movement was limited
* after May 1933 workers had to join the Nazi-controlled "German Labour Front".

Real wages increased after 1933, but only very slowly. Hours of work also increased!
Workers in the armaments industry did best!


The Nazis had made many vague promises to farmers during their rise to power ("returning Germany to the traditional values of the land" etc). The Nazis liked the farmers. Nazi ideology stressed "Blood and Soil" and they believed the racially pure German peasant farmers stood for traditional German values.

The Nazis gave some help to the smaller farmers, but by the late 1930's workers were drifting from country to towns for higher wages, creating a severe labour shortage on the farms. The regime did nothing about this. Big business and industry simply counted for more than the farmers. In the end, there was much propaganda but in reality the farmers did not really thrive under the Nazis.

Small Businesses

Like farmers, small businessmen had been promised much but gained little from Nazi rule. The regime needed, and favoured, big business.

Under Hitler it was big business, rather than small businesses, agriculture or the working class that did best. The Nazi's destruction of Trade Unions and spending on arms production helped big business significantly. As a result profits, share values, investment income and managers' salaries all improved handsomely under Nazi rule.

Racial policy, its aims and consequences

"Hitler's obsessive hatred of the Jews was perhaps the most dominant and consistent theme of his political career." - a view many historians share.

Between 1933 and 1945 the Nazis encouraged hatred of the Jews, not only in Germany, but also in other German occupied countries after 1939. At first the Nazis made it difficult for Jews to live comfortably in Germany, by 1938 a whole series of laws had been passed against them and after 1941 the Nazis set about exterminating the Jews, the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question.’

Anti-Semitism has an ancient history in Europe, not just in Germany and certainly not invented by the Nazis. It was rooted in hatred of Jews as the murderers of Jesus. It was strong in the 1900s. The Jews were a convenient "scapegoat" ("sacrificial victim to whom blame is attached") for people losing out in the upheavals caused by industrial and urban growth. Jews were seen as unfairly privileged: in Germany, 1% of the population was Jewish, yet Jews were 5% of writers, 10% of doctors, and 16% of lawyers.

Hitler grew up in this culture of prejudice: he was a product of German anti-Semitism, not its creator. But Hitler's hatred of Jews was obsessive and vindictive, and it shaped his whole political philosophy. Hitler exploited hatred of Jews in his struggle for power. But after 1933 his policy was gradual: boycotts and discriminatory laws to start with. Fear of state terror and propaganda made it difficult for Germans to resist. Many Jews left in fear: 30% did so between 1933-8. The Holocaust had not really begun in 1939: it emerged only by 1942/3, reaching its evil climax between 1943-5.

Timeline of Nazi persecutions:

Before 1933

Hitler and the Nazis attack the Jews in speeches and in Mein Kampf. Hitler uses the long tradition of hatred for the Jews to gain popularity.


The Nazis come to power. Hitler orders a boycott of Jewish shops and businesses.


All Jewish shops marked with a yellow star of David. Germans discouraged from entering Jewish shops. Jews dismissed from jobs in the civil service, education and the media.


The Nuremberg Laws. The Citizenship Law stated that Jews were no longer German citizens, they could not be employed in any public position and law no longer protected them. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour banned marriages and sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews.


Many Jews begin to leave Germany.


Many Jews begin to leave Germany.


Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass). 30,000 Jews arrested, Jewish shops, synagogues and businesses burnt down or damaged. Jews forced to pay a collective fine.


Mass arrest of Jews March 1939. Thousands of Jews sent to concentration camps.


The ‘Final Solution’ begins. Six million Jews are exterminated in concentration camps by May 1945.

Religion and culture in Nazi Germany

Before 1933 Hitler avoided any attack on Christian ideas, but in private said "One is either Christian or German. You can't be both." Hitler wanted to encourage both Catholics and Protestants to join the Nazis.After 1933 Hitler arrested Catholic and Protestant priests who stood up to the Nazis.

The Nazis attempted to recreate a pagan alternative to Christianity based on a mythical Teutonic (Germanic) past - the German Faith Movement - based on the rejection of Christian ethics, "blood and soil", adulation of Hitler, and pagan ceremonies for baptism and marriage. This never really took off. Perhaps 5% of the population got involved. But it showed how the regime tried to undermine the churches.

The churches' influence was never destroyed, only restricted. Hitler's policies needed time to become rooted in German life. Some historians argue the churches failed in their responsibilities: they did not oppose Hitler actively or openly enough.

The Nazis also tried to control German culture and destroyed or banned anything they disagreed with. The famous burning of books in Berlin, May 1933, by Jewish authors, summed this up. This barbaric act in once so civilised a nation shocked many.

Culture was to be used by the Nazis to shape public opinion. A Reich Chamber of Culture was set up, under the direction of Dr Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda. Goebbels controlled all art, music, theatre, press, radio, literature and film.

The effect of Nazi rule on the lives of men and women

The place of women in Germany had been changing since 1900. The birth rate was falling (more contraception), female employment was rising, women were better educated, and there were fewer men to marry because so many were killed in the First World War.

Nazism opposed feminism, saw women as inferior, their place was in the home; all summed up by Kinder, Kuche, Kirche (KKK, Children, Kitchen and Church). The Nazi Party itself allowed women Party members no positions of authority. But the Nazis wanted to boost Germany's population, to increase its power and to resettle "the East" - Lebensraum ("Living Space") for Germans. Here was the key role for women - mothers of the next generation of Nazis!

Between 1933-36 the Nazis passed laws banning women from the higher professions e.g. medicine and law. The Nazis tried to persuade women to give up jobs and stay at home by giving them interest free loans if they married. From 1937 Nazi policies no longer worked. Conscription and rearmament from 1935 created labour shortages. Women had to be allowed to get jobs once again. This was even more so in the war (1939-45).

To increase the population the Nazis tried: anti-abortion laws to prevent abortions and contraception. Cash rewards were given to women for each new child. Bronze, silver and gold medals were given for women who gave birth to four, six and eight children. The population did rise between 1933-1939, so maybe this policy worked!

The effect of Nazi rule on the various social and ethnic groups within Germany

The Nazis tried to turn back the clock by creating a unified Germany of peasant farmers and workers getting along happily with the upper and middle classes. But it didn’t work. Farmers and workers did gain work, but they were controlled. The lives of women and children were limited and for other groups such as the communists, the Jews and the gypsies, Nazi life meant persecution.