Nazi Party

From Citizendium
(Redirected from National Socialism)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

The German National Socialist Workers' Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. Germans usually called it the NSDAP; English speakers, the Nazi Party) controlled Germany, under Adolf Hitler, between 1933 and 1945. "Nazi" is a short form of “Nationalsozialist,” representing the German pronunciation of the first two syllables of the word “national.” It was formed analogously with “Sozi,” the long-established nickname for the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

While some call National Socialism or Nazism an ideology, the Nazi Party was far less a party of ideology such as Marxism or even Stalinism, and much more the party under the charismatic leadership of Hitler. Had there been no Hitler, the party would have remained insignificant. The term "national socialism," however, had already been current in German and Austrian politics since the 1890s and did not refer to either Marxian socialism or Nazism. There had been a German National Socialist Workers’ Party (DNSAP) in Austria, but it had no influence on the Nazis. [1] There was, indeed, a Nazi racial and biological ideology, but it was far more specialized than Marxism. There was factional rivalry between ideologies of Socialism in National Socialism, sacrificed to Hitler's pragmatic objectives.

In the 1950s and 1960s, historians tried to unify Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and Fascist Italy under a rubric of totalitarianism, but the model has fallen into disuse. Alan Bullock simplified the problem in his 1992 book, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, focusing on the two.[2] The idea of a generic totalitarian model also fails when examining contemporary Japanese militarism. Joseph Nyomarkay suggests that while ideology is the basis of authority in Marxist movements, charisma was always the Nazi basis of leadership.[3] In other words, Nazi ideology was what Hitler believed. The party's evolution can be divided into several periods:

  • Before mass movement (1919-1925)
  • Rise of the Party (1925-1930)
  • Rise of the Sturmabteilung (SA) (1926-1934)
  • Consolidation (1934-1939)
  • Wartime (1939-1945)

Hitler, coming to power legally in 1933, rapidly established a dictatorship (informally called the Third Reich,[4]) under which National Socialism gained unlimited power and exiled or executed its enemies. The NSDAP itself was relatively less important after 1933, as millions joined and the party's sphere of action was narrowed. Heinrich Himmler's SS, which combined the security organizations (i.e. RSHA) including the Gestapo secret political police as well as other intelligence and security organizations), military units (Waffen SS, and its own economic system (WVHA), overshadowed the main NSDAP in importance during the war. The profound antisemitic ideology of the Nazis led the regime in 1933-45 to undertake the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed. National Socialism's expansionist ideology, especially its demand for living space ("Lebensraum") to the east was the principal cause of World War II. Despite its strong popular base, the Party was thoroughly suppressed by the Allies in 1945 and remains illegal in Germany.




For more information, see: Holocaust.

Antisemitism was part of the Nazi race and biological ideology from the beginning. Hitler blamed the Jews and Communists for the ills of Germany. Over time, and as the Nazis gained power, their methods against Jews increased from persecution to mass killing.

Jewish civil, economic and political rights were steadily restricted, culminating in the passage of the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935, which stripped them of their citizenship and banned marriage and sexual relations between Jews and “Aryans.” After a lull in anti-Semitic agitation during 1936 and 1937 (partly because of the 1936 Olympic Games), the Nazis returned to the attack in November 1938, launching the pogrom known as "Kristallnacht" (the Night of Broken Glass), in which between 1000 and 2000 Jews were killed, 30,000 arrested and sent temporarily to concentration camps, and thousands of Jewish businesses, offices, synagogues and community facilities were attacked and burned. This satisfied the party radicals for a while, but the regional party bosses remained a persistent lobby for more radical action against the Jews, until they were finally deported to their deaths in 1942 and 1943.[5]

Early years: 1919-1925

The National Socialist German Workers Party came into existence under that name on 24 February 1920, but it had existed under the name German Workers Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, DAP) since January 1919. The party was founded in Munich by a group including Anton Drexler, Gottfried Feder, Dietrich Eckart, and Karl Harrer. Drexler, an avid German nationalist, had been a member of the militarist Fatherland Party during World War I, and was bitterly opposed to the armistice of November 1918 and to the left-wing and Communist revolutionary upheavals that followed in its wake. The DAP was one of many small political groups formed in the wake of Germany’s defeat, which German conservatives saw as resulting from betrayal — a "stab in the back" — of the undefeated army by the SPD, the liberals, the intellectuals and the Jews.

The “stab in the back" myth, or Dolchstoss, was widely accepted by Germans, but is rejected by historians who note the armistice of November 1918 was sought on the recommendation of Field Marshall Hindenburg, along with all the top generals, who recognised that the Germany Army was defeated. But in spite of spin that historians want to place on the myth, it was Hindenburg himself who propagated the myth in response to questions at hearings conducted by the Weimar Government into the causes of the war and Germany's defeat. Like other groups, the DAP advocated völkisch ideology – the belief that Germany should become a unified “national community” (Volksgemeinschaft) rather than a society divided along class and party lines. This ideology was explicitly anti-Semitic from the start – the “national community” would be “judenrein” (free of Jews). The DAP was violently opposed to the SPD (Socialists) and to Bolshevism, although its program had some socialist elements and it saw itself as a working-class party, rejecting pre-war aristocratic conservatism. Among the party’s earlier members were Rudolf Hess, Hans Frank, and Alfred Rosenberg, all later prominent in the Nazi regime.

Hitler joins the movement

In September 1919 Adolf Hitler joined the DAP. Hitler, who had finished the war in a military hospital after suffering a poison gas attack at the front, had returned to Munich in November 1918. After the war he remained in the army and had joined the intelligence section. In this capacity he was sent to monitor the DAP’s activities. He found the DAP reflected his own views – German nationalism, anti-liberalism, anti-Semitism. He became the party’s 55th member.

The roots of the Nazi Party can be traced as early as 1915. German military-industrial leaders could not gain the broad support of labor for the war effort. Alfred Hugenberg wanted a German colonial empire both in Europe and abroad, and to this end founded the Fatherland Party. It failed to win support from workers, although various "lodges" already existed blaming Germany's ills on "racial inbreeding." One of these groups, the Political Workers' Circle, tried to overcome its own membership tensions by reconstituting itself on 5 January 1919 as a political party, the German Workers Party.[6] Hitler joined `on 6 September 1919 and made it a mass party, giving it a written program on 24 February 1920 and a new name: the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP).

Hitler soon discovered that he had talent as an orator, and his ability to draw new members, combined with his characteristic ruthlessness, soon made him the dominant figure in a small party. This was recognised by Drexler, and Hitler became party chairman on 28 July 1921. When the party had been first established, it consisted of a Leadership Board elected by the members, which in turn elected a Board Chairman. Hitler soon scrapped this arrangement. He acquired the title “Führer” (leader), and after a series of sharp internal conflicts it was accepted that the party would be governed by the “Führerprinzip” (leader principle): Hitler was the sole leader of the party and he alone decided its policies and strategy. Hitler at this time saw the party as a revolutionary organisation, whose aim was the violent overthrow of the Weimar Republic, which he saw as controlled by the socialists, Jews and the “November criminals” who had betrayed the German soldiers in 1918. The SA (also known as Brownshirts and storm troopers) were founded as a party militia in 1921 and began violent attacks on other parties.

Unlike some other party members, Hitler was not interested in the “socialist” aspect of National Socialist doctrine. Himself of provincial lower-middle-class origins, he disliked the mass working class of the big cities, and had no sympathy with the notions of attacking private property or the business class which some early Nazis espoused. For Hitler the twin goals of the party were always German nationalist expansionism and anti-Semitism. These two goals were fused in his mind by his belief that Germany’s external enemies – Britain, France, and (later) the Soviet Union – were controlled by the Jews, and that Germany’s future wars of national expansion would necessarily entail a war against the Jews. Although the party’s 1920 program made some rhetorical concessions to the socialist element, this was never central to the party’s policies. For Hitler and his principal lieutenants, national and racial issues were always dominant. This was symbolised by the adoption as the party emblem of the swastika or Hakenkreuz, of Indian origin and supposedly a symbol of the “Aryan” race.

During 1921 and 1922 the Nazi Party grew significantly, partly through Hitler’s oratorical skills, partly through the SA’s appeal to unemployed young men, and partly because there was a backlash against socialist and liberal politics in Bavaria as Germany’s economic problems deepened and the weakness of the Weimar regime became apparent. The party recruited former World War I soldiers, to whom Hitler as a decorated frontline veteran could particularly appeal, small businessmen and disaffected former socialists. The Hitler Youth was formed for the children of party members, although it remained small until the late 1920s. The party also formed groups in other parts of Germany. Julius Streicher in Nuremberg was an early recruit. Others to join the party at this time were a former army officer Ernst Röhm, who became head of the SA, World War I flying ace Hermann Göring, and Heinrich Himmler. In December 1920 the party acquired a newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter.

Coup attempt (Beer hall putsch

In January 1923 the French occupied the Ruhr industrial region as a result of Germany’s failure to meet its reparations payments. This led to economic chaos, the resignation of Wilhelm Cuno’s government and an attempt by the Communist Party (KPD) to stage a revolution. The reaction to these events was an upsurge of nationalist and extreme right-wing sentiment. Nazi Party membership grew sharply, to about 20,000[7] By November Hitler had decided that the time was right for an attempt to seize power in Munich, in the hope that the Reichswehr (the postwar German army) would mutiny against the Berlin government and join his revolt. In this he was influenced by former General Erich Ludendorff, who had become a supporter though not a member of the Nazis.

On the night of 8 November, the Nazis used a patriotic rally in a Munich beer hall to launch an attempted putsch (coup d’etat). The so-called Beer hall putsch attempt failed almost at once when the local Reichswehr commanders refused to support it. On the morning of 9 November the Nazis staged a march of about 2,000 supporters through Munich in an attempt to rally support. Troops opened fire and 16 Nazis were killed. Hitler, Hess, Ludendorff, and a number of others were arrested, and were tried for treason in March 1924. Hitler and his associates were given lenient prison sentences. While Hitler was in prison he wrote his semi-autobiographical political manifesto Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”). Meanwhile the Nazi Party effectively ceased to exist without his leadership, something he made no effort to prevent.

Rise of the Party: 1925-1933

Hitler was released in December 1924. In February 1925, he refounded and reorganised the Nazi Party, with himself as its undisputed leader. The new Nazi Party was no longer a paramilitary organisation, and disavowed any intention of taking power by force. In any case, the economic and political situation had stabilised and the extremist upsurge of 1923 had faded, so there was no prospect of further revolutionary adventures. The Nazi Party of 1925 was divided into the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party (Korps der politischen Leiter), appointed by Hitler, and the general membership (Parteimitglieder). The party and the SA were kept separate and the legal aspect of the party’s work was emphasised. In a sign of this, the party began to admit women. The SA and the SS (founded in April 1925 as Hitler’s bodyguard, commanded by Himmler) were described as “support groups,” and all members of these groups had first to become regular party members.

The party’s nominal Deputy Leader was Rudolf Hess, but he had no real power in the party. By the early 1930s the senior leaders of the party after Hitler were Himmler, Goebbels, Göring, and Röhm. Beneath the Leadership Corps were the party’s regional leaders, the Gauleiters, each of whom commanded the party in his "Gau" (region). There were 34 Gaue for Germany and an additional seven for Austria, the Sudetenland (in Czechoslovakia), Danzig and the Saarland (then under French occupation). Joseph Goebbels began his ascent through the party hierarchy as Gauleiter of Berlin-Brandenburg in 1926. Streicher was Gauleiter of Franconia, where he published his anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer. Beneath the Gauleiters were lower-level officials, the Kreisleiter (County Leader), Ortsgruppenleiter (Local Group Leader), Zellenleiter (Cell Leader) and Blockleiter (Block Leader). This was a strictly hierarchical structure in which orders flowed from the top and unquestioning loyalty was given to superiors. Only the SA retained some autonomy. The SA was composed largely of unemployed workers, and many SA men took the Nazis’ “socialist” rhetoric seriously. At this time the Nazi salute (borrowed from the Italian fascists) and the greeting “Heil Hitler!” were adopted throughout the party.


The Nazis contested elections to the national parliament, the Reichstag, and to the state legislatures, the Landtags, from 1924, although at first with little success. The “National Socialist Freedom Movement” polled 3 percent of the vote in the December 1924 Reichstag elections, and this fell to 2.6 percent in 1928. State elections produced similar results. Despite these poor results, and despite Germany’s relative political stability and prosperity during the later 1920s, the Nazi Party continued to grow. This was partly because Hitler, who had no administrative ability, left the party organisation to three competent officials. The party also had a very capable propaganda head in Gregor Strasser, who was promoted to national organisational leader in January 1928. These men gave the party efficient recruitment and organisational structures. The party also owed its growth to the gradual fading away of competitor groups on the right, such as the DNVP. As Hitler became the recognised head of the German far right, other groups declined or were absorbed.

Voter base

The party also expanded successfully in the 1920s beyond its Bavarian base. It was strongest in rural Germany and among Protestants and the lower middle class, giving it a base in Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg, Pomerania, and East Prussia. It was weakest among Catholics (who were loyal to their own Center Party), and factory and mining districts controlled by Socialist or Communist parties.

Nuremberg was a party stronghold, and the first Nuremberg rally was held there in 1927, the second in 1929. The Nazis’ strongest appeal was to the lower middle-class – farmers, public servants, teachers, small businessmen – who had suffered most from the inflation of the 1920s and who feared Bolshevism more than anything else. The small business class were receptive to Hitler’s anti-Semitism, since some blamed “Jewish big business” for their economic problems. University students, disappointed at being too young to have served in World War I and attracted by the Nazis’ radical rhetoric, also became a strong Nazi constituency. By 1929 the party had 130,000 members.[8]

Economics, labor, and class

Recent scholarship tends to emphasize the willingness of the German middle classes to accommodate National Socialism (Anpassung).

The Nazis envisioned a sort of neo-feudal utopia based on the Aryan race, in which class or social rank was far less important than attachment to the group, or "Volksgemeinschaft." The socialist and communist workers who comprised 46% of the workforce presented a major challenge; they had to be integrated, and it was not enough merely to break up their unions and parties and exiling their leaders. The working class had been dispirited by the high unemployment and despair of the depression. The regime's success in solving the unemployment problem gave it credibility, and it took the next step in trying to integrate the working class.


In 1933 the Nazis replaced all labor unions with the "Deutsche Arbeitsfront" (DAF), controlled by Robert Ley and the NSDAP.[9] The DAF was a company union that worked with management regarding working hours and condition. It ended collective bargaining, prevented wildcat strikes and held wages steady, and thus was a major victory for employers.[10] Its subsidiary "Kraft durch Freude" (KdF), or the Strength through Joy movement was concerned with guiding leisure time of 17 million members through an extensive subsidized system of sports, cultural events, hikes, holiday vacations, welfare services, and even foreign tours.[11] The programs were a success. The majority of workers accepted membership in the DAF, and most joined in KdF activities, and in turn reduced absenteeism and worked harder. According to secret reports compiled by exiled Social Democrats (called "Deutschland-Berichte"), the KdF's recreational services were quite popular, in part because they marked a gain in the social status of the blue collar workers. Satisfaction with some of the undertakings of the DAF and KdF helped produce positive evaluations of the entire regime. [12] The DAF has been called a modernization program that introduced preventive health care, welfare benefits and promoted efficiency, while rejecting modernity by denying and indeed reducing the voice and autonomy of the workers.[13]

The idealization of work in German culture goes back to the Enlightenment, but the Nazi emphasized a new twist as part their wider "political religion." The Nazis made 1 May, the traditional Socialist holiday, the central holiday of their work cult, as well as organizing regular inspections of businesses and "work festivals" at workplaces. The ideological basis of the cult lay in the celebration of the value of work for the individual and the nation and emphasis on the laziness of the Jews and the God-given nature of work in the fight against the Jews. The distinction drawn between "German work" and the "Jewish concept of work" came to its logical conclusion in the concentration camps, where the Jews found themselves forced to work, more often than not to death.[14]

German agriculture was notoriously inefficient, and saw few changes. The Nazis had a rural base that they did not wish to alienate--indeed they glorified the peasant family ideal--and everyone remembered the near starvation of 1917-18 and wanted self-sufficiency in food.[15]

The Depression

Despite these strengths, it is highly unlikely that the Nazi Party would ever have come to power had it not been for the Great Depression, which began in October 1929. By 1930 the German economy was plunged into crisis with mass unemployment and widespread business failures. The parties of the left, the SPD and the KPD, were bitterly divided and unable to mount an effective opposition. This gave the Nazis their opportunity, and Hitler’s message, blaming the crisis on the “Jewish financiers” and the Bolsheviks (controlled by the Jews, he said) resonated with wide sections of the electorate. At the September 1930 Reichstag elections the Nazis won 18.3 percent of the vote and became the second-largest party in the Reichstag after the SPD. Hitler proved to be a highly effective campaigner, pioneering the use of new technologies and aircraft for this purpose. Hitler dismissed Strasser and appointed Goebbels as the party’s propaganda chief. While Strasser had used his position to promote his own version of national socialism, Goebbels was totally loyal to Hitler and worked only to burnish Hitler’s image.

Table 1: German Economy 1928-1939

GNP = 1928 marks; industry = industrial output; Employed in millions[16]
German economy 1928-1938
GNP real industry empl'd  % unemp
1928 90 100 18.4 7.1%
1929 90 101 18.4 9.4%
1932 72 59 12.9 30.3%
1933 75 66 13.4 26.4%
1934 84 83 15.5 14.8%
1935 92 96 16.4 11.8%
1936 100 107 17.6 8.3%
1937 113 117 18.9 4.5%
1938 126 122 20.1 2.0%

The 1930 elections changed the German political landscape by reducing the importance of the traditional parties of the right, the DNVP and the DVP, leaving the Nazis as an attractive alternative to the discredited SPD and the Zentrum, whose leader, Heinrich Brüning, headed a weak minority government. The inability of the democratic parties to form a united front, the self-imposed isolation of the KPD on the far left, and the continued decline of the economy all played into Hitler’s hands. He now came to be seen as the de facto leader of the opposition, and donations poured into the Nazi Party’s coffers. The belief that the Nazis were extensively or exclusively funded by big business is a myth, deriving ultimately from SPD and KPD propaganda. Some business figures such as Fritz Thyssen were Nazi supporters and gave generously,[17] but most were traditional conservatives who saw Hitler as a dangerous demagogue and the Nazis as another variety of socialists, and remained aloof. The party’s major source of finance was membership dues and levies.[18]

Consumer society

In the Third Reich a group of "people's products" was promised (eventually) to every family. They included a Volksempfänger (an inexpensive radio receiver), the Volkswagen automobile, and the Volkskühlschrank (a refrigerator). They comprised the Nazi version of a consumer society. The concept of people's products, with roots in the Weimar period, was adopted by the Nazi government and came to be defined as inexpensive goods and services of high quality for the masses, initiated by Nazi policies and communally produced by party- or state-owned companies. Private firms, forbidden to use such terms for their own products, cooperated with Nazi organizations in the design, production, and marketing of people's products, because they were afraid to lose control of the consumer goods market. In several cases, however, they lost money because of the low prices and large production runs. As with the Volkswagen, the firms risked conflicts with Nazi policies to withdraw from the projects, which were taken over by Nazi organizations. The main proponents of people's products were Goebbels's Ministry of Propaganda and Ley's German Labor Front (DAF), which represented the concept's two important goals - to win the German people for the regime and supply the German Volk with the standard of living appropriate for the race. The Nazi consumer society was to be realized not by increasing wages (which were frozen) but by extreme production efficiency. This strategy failed because it was impossible to significantly cut production costs in an economy that still depended on expert craftsmanship more than mass production. Thus the Nazi concept of people's products can be interpreted as a combination of propaganda and illusion.[19]

Economy and war

Overy argues the German economy in 1939 was not a crisis-ridden one dragged out of control by grumbling managers and laborers, but an economy remarkably resurgent after a severe economic crisis in the early 1930s that brought Germany to the brink of bankruptcy and threw German politics into chaos. Overy argues that domestic political peace and a more stable economy were essential preconditions for the period of active expansion undertaken by Hitler and the Nazi Party. The war was not a reaction to domestic crisis, but a response to the disintegration of the established international power structure during the 1930s. Hitler sought, with support from military and administrative circles in Germany, to pursue a strategy that would free Germany from Western economic and political interests and establish German international power.[20]

Crises in 1932

During 1931 and into 1932 Germany’s political crisis deepened. In March 1932 Hitler ran for President against the incumbent President Paul von Hindenburg, polling 30.1 percent in the first round and 36.8 percent in the second. By now the SA had 400,000 members and its running street battles with the SPD and KPD paramilitaries (who also fought each other) reduced German cities to a state of near anarchy. Paradoxically, although the Nazis were among the main instigators of this disorder, part of Hitler’s appeal to a frightened and demoralised middle class was his promise to restore law and order. Overt anti-Semitism was played down in official Nazi rhetoric, but was never far from the surface. Germans voted for Hitler primarily because of his promises to revive the economy (by unspecified means), to restore German greatness and overturn the Treaty of Versailles, and to save Germany from Bolshevism.

At the July 1932 Reichstag election the Nazis made another leap forward, polling 37.4 percent and becoming the largest party in the Reichstag by a wide margin. Furthermore, the Nazis and the KPD between them won 52 percent of the vote and a majority of seats. Since both parties opposed democracy and neither would join or support any ministry, this made the formation of a majority government committed to democracy impossible. The result was weak ministries governing by decree. Under Stalin’s orders, the KPD maintained its policy of treating the “social fascist” SPD as the main enemy, creating a fatal division on the left. The KPD, by its tactics at this time, and indeed by its very existence which terrified the middle class into supporting the Nazis, bears a heavy responsibility for Hitler’s rise to power.

Chancellor Franz von Papen called another Reichstag election in November, hoping to find a way out of this impasse. The result was the same, with the Nazis and the KPD winning 50 percent of the vote between them and more than half the seats, rendering this Reichstag no more workable than its predecessor. But support for the Nazis fell to 33.1 percent, suggesting that the Nazi surge had passed its peak – possibly because the worst of the Depression had passed, possibly because some middle-class voters had supported Hitler in July as a protest but had now drawn back from the prospect of actually putting him into power. The Nazis interpreted the result as a warning that they must seize power before their moment passed. Had the other parties united, this could have been prevented, but their shortsightedness made a united front impossible. Papen, his successor Kurt von Schleicher and the right-wing press magnate Alfred Hugenberg spent December and January in political intrigues which eventually persuaded President Hindenburg that it was “safe” to appoint Hitler Reich Chancellor at the head of a cabinet that included only a minority of Nazi ministers, which he did on 30 January 1933.

Rise of the SA

For more information, see: Sturmabteilung.
See also: Socialism in National Socialism

Under Ernst Roehm's leadership, the SA soon became a major problem for the party. Many of the 700,000 members of this working-class militia took the “socialist” element of National Socialism seriously, and soon began to demand that the Nazi regime broaden its attack from SPD and KPD activists and Jews to include the capitalist system as a whole. Röhm and his associates also saw the SA as the army of the new revolutionary Nazi state, replacing the old aristocratic officer corps. The army was still outside party control, and Hitler feared that it might stage a putsch if its leaders felt threatened with an SA takeover. The business community was also alarmed by the SA’s socialist rhetoric, with which, as noted earlier, Hitler had no sympathy.

In power: 1933-45

When it came to power in January 1933 the Nazi Party had over 2 million members. Once in power, it attracted many more members and by the time of its dissolution it had 8.5 million members. Many of these were nominal members who joined for careerist reasons, but the party nevertheless had an active membership of at least a million, including virtually all the holders of senior positions in the national government. Within a few months all other parties were banned or dissolved themselves, and Germany became a one-party state. Membership in the Hitler Youth was made compulsory for German teenagers, and served as a conveyor belt to party membership. The Nazi Party did not immediately purge the state administration of all opponents. The career civil service was left in place, and only gradually were its senior levels taken over by Nazis. In some places people who were opposed to the Nazi regime retained their positions for a long time. Examples included Johannes Popitz, finance minister of the largest German state, Prussia, until 1944 and an active oppositionist, and Ernst von Weizsäcker, under-secretary of state at the Foreign Ministry, who protected a resistance network in his ministry.

Nevertheless the period 1933-39 saw the gradual fusion of the Nazi Party and the German state, as the party arrogated more and more power to itself at the expense of professional civil servants. This led to increasing inefficiency and confusion in administration, which was compounded by Hitler’s deliberate policy of preventing any of his underlings accumulating too much power, and of dividing responsibility among a plethora of state and party bureaucracies, many of which had overlapping functions. This administrative muddle later had severe consequences Many party officials also lapsed rapidly into corruption, taking their lead from Göring, who looted and plundered both state property and wealth appropriated from the Jews. By the mid 1930s the party as an institution was increasingly unpopular with the German public, although this did not effect the personal standing of Hitler, who maintained a powerful hold over the great majority of the German people until at least 1943.

Purge of SA

In June 1934, therefore, Hitler, using the SS and Gestapo under Himmler’s command, staged a coup against the SA, having Röhm and about 700 others killed without any semblance of legal process. This Night of the Long Knives broke the power of the SA, while greatly increasing the power of Himmler and the SS, who emerged as the real executive arm of the Nazi Party. The business community was reassured and largely reconciled to Nazi rule. The army leaders were so grateful that the Defence Minister, Werner von Blomberg, who was not a Nazi, on his own initiative had all army members swear a personal oath to Hitler as “führer” of the German state. These events marked a decisive turning point in the Nazi takeover of Germany. The borders between the party and the state became increasingly blurred, and Hitler’s personal will increasingly had the force of law, although the independence of the state bureaucracy was never completely eclipsed.

Power inside Germany

Paradoxically, the more completely the Nazi regime dominated German society, the less relevant the Nazi Party became as an organisation within the regime’s power structure. Hitler’s rule was highly personalised, and the power of his subordinates such as Himmler and Goebbels depended on Hitler’s favor and their success in interpreting his desires rather than on their nominal positions within the party. The Nazi Party had no governing body or formal decision-making process – no Politburo, no Central Committee, no Party Congresses. The “party chancellery” headed by Hess theoretically ran the party, but in reality it had no influence because Hess himself was a marginal figure within the regime. It was not until 1941, when Hess was succeeded by Martin Bormann, that the party chancellery regained its power – but this was mainly because Hitler had a high opinion of Bormann and allowed him to act as his political secretary. Real power in the regime was held not by the NSDAP but by an axis of Hitler’s office, Himmler’s SS, and Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry.

War years

With the outbreak of war in 1939, the party to some extent came back into its own, particularly after 1941 as the war dragged on and the military situation began to turn against Germany. As Hitler withdrew from domestic matters to concentrate on military matters, leaving no one in a position to make decisions, civil administration ground to a halt and the German state became steadily more disorganised and ineffective. In these circumstances the Gauleiters, who were nearly all old-guard Nazis and fanatical Hitler loyalists, increasingly took control of rationing, labour direction, the allocation of housing, air-raid protection and the issuing of the multiplicity of permits Germans needed to carry on their lives and businesses. They served as ombudsmen for the citizenry against a remote and ineffective state. They also agitated for the removal of the remaining Jews from Germany, using the shortage of housing in German cities as a result of Allied bombing as a pretext. The party was especially effective and popular in relief work in bombed cities during the war. As the Allied armies closed in on Germany, the Gauleiters often took charge of last-ditch resistance, as in Breslau. In Berlin the teenagers of the Hitler Youth, under the direction of their fanatical leader Artur Axmann, fought and died in large numbers against the invading Soviet armies.


The army was the last area of the German state to succumb to the Nazi Party, and it never did so entirely. The pre-1933 Reichswehr had banned its members joining political parties, and this was maintained for some time after 1933. Many Nazis of military age joined the Waffen SS, the military wing of the SS. But in 1938 both Defence Minister Blomberg and the army chief of staff, General Werner von Fritsch, were removed from office after trumped-up scandals.

Hitler made himself Defense Minister, and established an overall high command, OKW, to which the services were subordinated.

The new army leaders, Generals Franz Halder and Walther von Brauchitsch, were in awe of Hitler and unable to openly oppose his will. Neverthless Halder actively supported unsuccessful plans to stage a coup and remove Hitler from power during the Czechslovakia crisis of 1938, and again in 1939. Brauchitsch knew of these plans but would not support them. After 1939 the ban on Nazis joining the army was lifted, and a number of generals, notably Walther von Reichenau and Walter Model, were fanatical Nazis. It was not until 1944 that a group of officers opposed to the regime staged a serious attempt to overthrow Hitler in the July 20 plot, but they never had the full support of the officer corps.

The German Navy was always firmly loyal to Hitler. Its second commander, Karl Doenitz, was Hitler's designated successor in 1945. Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe (Air Force) had been designated successor but was fired in the closing days of the war.

Media: film, radio, and print

The use, function, and effectiveness of the media under in Nazi Germany was far more varied than traditional studies of Joseph Goebbels and his Propaganda Ministry have assumed. New media like radio and film modernized communications significantly and were popular as entertainment, while newspapers remained a conservative medium of everyday local news and party propaganda. The media were modernized under National Socialism. There were major differences in how newspaper readers, radio listeners and cinema audiences reacted to the development of the media. Radio in 1932 was a medium for music and entertainment; after 1933 new formats were developed in response to listeners turning to foreign broadcasts. Most feature films were melodramas and light entertainment, and although many carried a fascist message, the cinema was fundamentally a commercial, non-political sphere. Newspapers remained relatively conservative in presentation. The press was largely concentrated in the hands of the Nazi party, so information was highly controlled. In wartime the difficulties of production made newspapers increasingly unattractive, and by 1942 were trusted by few readers. The media generally became technically more efficient, and sought to please its growing audience. Total control of the media by Goebbels or other leaders was not achieved. Particular elements, such as war films, or the "Wehrmacht Request Show," had memorable success. Agenda setting by Berlin stressed fascist themes, symbols, and rituals. [21]


In the latter years of the Weimar Republic, there was considerable affinity between the Nazi Party and its ideology and a broad spectrum of Protestant opinion in Saxony. More than that, within the Saxon church there were supporters of anti-Semitism and "negative eugenics." During the Nazi accession to power in 1933, the new policies of the Nazi Party encountered clear sympathy among leading figures in the Lutheran Church in Saxony, a sympathy that was paraded publicly. After Bishop Ludwig Ihmels's death in 1933, a power vacuum arose that became an opportunity for the so-called German Christians to gain in influence, leading to the Nazification of the regional church. In 1935 a new regional church committee retreated from the excesses of the previous two years but maintained a course of loyal, if more moderate, approval of the regime's politics. Subsequently, however, the German Christians again began to infiltrate church life with Nazi ideas, with a specific focus on anti-Semitism.[22]

Vondung (2005) explores the concept of political religion with respect to National Socialism, noting the religious elements in the area of organization and cult, including the Nazi festivals and ceremonies that provided ritual forms for confessions of faith. Eric Voegelin suggests that the "articles of faith," which were presented in the Nazi cult, can be understood as the manifestation of an existential core of religious character. Moreover, "believing intellectuals" outlined a Nazi theology and a Nazi history of salvation. Hitler himself and other leading Nazis cherished an apocalyptic worldview that must be seen as the most poignant manifestation of the National Socialist political religion and as the only plausible explanation for the Holocaust.


Women, children, youth

Before 1933 women comprised a smaller proportion of Nazi Party members than of any other party; the proportion declined even further until 1937, when alumnae of the girls' organization came of age and began swelling the party ranks. Nazi women's clubs started early as auxiliaries for the men and were fully subjugated by the male-dominated hierarchy with the appointment of Gertrud Scholtz-Klink as leader of the two women's organizations in February 1934. The few Nazi "feminists" fending for equality were isolated. Many jobs and especially the professions were blocked for women until they were needed for the war effort. The Women's Labor Service under Konstantin Hierl emphasized the educational importance of the work experience. However male government and military leaders saw the service as an organized labor reservoir. In general, Hierl had his way, and the educational function remained strong to the end.[23]

Koonz (1986) presents German women as collaborators with the Nazi regime. In Mein Kampf Hitler had emphasized women's education as preparation for maternity. Mothers were to devote themselves to children, wives to husbands, and unmarried girls to only those professions that corresponded to their feminine nature.

Koonz (1986) stresses that National Socialism saw woman as restorer of the traditional family. However, its policy toward women altered according to the political and economic situation. Before 1933, women were considered men's equals in the struggle for Nazi ascendancy. They were allowed organizational and ideological autonomy to organize other women, but in 1933 early leaders and writers were retired and replaced by bureaucratic women who emphasized feminine virtues, marriage, and childbirth. The participation of women in higher education was also limited from 1934, and yet the concept of the traditional role of women clashed with the reality of industrial society and the need for production to serve the nation's militarization. As Germany prepared for war, large numbers were incorporated into the public sector. By 1943, all women were required to register with the employment office. However wages remained lower and women were denied positions of leadership or control.

Women took men's places during the war, though to a lesser extent than in the Allied nations. Several hundred thousand women served in military uniform during the war. Many had combat roles in anti-aircraft units.[24]

Historians have argued that Nazi Germany failed to mobilize women successfully for the war effort because of National Socialist theories on the subordinate role of women in society. That view has been challenged more recently by those who point out that Nazi policy was more anti-feminist than anti-women; women could not have authority but they could be mobilized. By 1942 German women formed 42% of the German work force. The Nazi regime had a system of soldiers' dependents' allowances that were a higher percentage of the husband's wages than that prevailing in the United States. The voluntary contributions of German women to the war effort was quite important. Even the well-known retention of women in the consumer goods industry and as domestics can be wrongly interpreted unless it is realized that these women worked mostly for the armed forces. Nonetheless, the highly-skilled work force of wartime Germany remained primarily male. The main reason greater percentages of German women were not recruited into the wartime workforce is that Germany had been mobilizing its population, male and female, since the mid-1930s.[25]

Rupp reports that the Nazi glorification of woman as wife and mother appealed to a great number of German women. Even when economic necessity dictated that German women join the labor force, Nazi idealization of woman as mother, housewife, guardian of racial purity, transmitter of German culture, and supporter of national economic policy did not waver. Instead, Nazi ideology simply labeled such employment a woman's sacrifice for her people.[26]

Resistance inside Germany

For more information, see: German Resistance.

Denazification after 1945

By 1945 the Nazi Party and the Nazi state were no longer capable of separation. When the German armies surrendered to the Allies in May 1945 and the German state ceased to exist, the Nazi Party, despite its 8.5 million nominal members and its nationwide organizational structure, also ceased to exist. Its most fanatical members either killed themselves, fled Germany, or were arrested. The rank-and-file burned their party cards and sought to blend back into German society as quickly as possible. By the end of the war Nazism had been reduced to little more than loyalty to the person of Adolf Hitler, and his death released most Nazis from their oaths and any desire to keep the party alive. In his Political Testament, Hitler appointed Bormann "Party Minister," but nominated no successor as leader of the party - a recognition that a Nazi Party without Hitler had no basis for existence. The party was formally banned by the Allied occupation authorities and an extensive process of denazification was carried out to remove former Nazis from the administration, judiciary, universities, schools, and press. There was virtually no resistance or attempt to organise a Nazi underground. By the time normal political life resumed in western Germany in 1949, Nazism was effectively extinct and made illegal.


  1. Ian Kershaw (1998), Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris, W.W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-04671-0, p. 135
  2. Alan Bullock (1992), Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, Alfred A. Knopf, p. xvi
  3. Joseph Nyomarkay (1967), Charisma and Factionalism in the Nazi Party, University of Minnesota Press, p. 12
  4. "Reich" is translated variously as "empire" or "realm." The first and second Reichs, according to the Nazis' designation, were the Holy Roman Empire and the German Empire of 1871-1918.
  5. Evans (2005) 580-610; Martin Gilbert, Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction (2006)
  6. Hatheway (1994)
  7. Kershaw, Hitler, 179
  8. Kershaw, Hitler, 310
  9. The Nazis got rid also of their own labor organization, the "Factory Cell Organization." Evans (2005) p 462
  10. Evans (2005) p 461, 477
  11. Evans (2005) p 465ff
  12. Allan Borup, "Integrationen af de Tyske Arbejdere i Nazisternes Folkefaellesskab," [The Integration of German Workers into the Nazi National Community]. Arbejderhistorie: Tidsskrift for Historie, Kultur Og Politik [Denmark] 2004 (1): 21-37. ISSN: 0107-8461; Evans (2005), 455-92; Burleigh (2000) 239-51.
  13. Ronald Smelser, "How 'Modern' Were the Nazis? DAF Social Planning and the Modernization Question." German Studies Review 1990 13(2): 285-302. Issn: 0149-7952 Fulltext: JSTOR
  14. Irmgard Weyrather, "'Deutsche Arbeit' - Arbeitskult im Nationalsozialismus," Zeitschrift für Religions- Und Geistesgeschichte 2004 56(1): 18-36. ISSN: 0044-3441
  15. Evans (2005), 420-28; on the role of food in wartime conquests see Karl Brandt. The Reconstruction of World Agriculture (1945).
  16. Burton Klein, "Preparation for War: A Re-examination", The American Economic Review, Vol. 38, No. 1. (March 1948), pp. 56-77, at p 62
  17. It should be noted that Thyssen later turned against the Nazis and left Germany in 1939. He was arrested in France and spent four years in a concentration camp (Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, Allen Lane 2005, 372
  18. Kershaw, Hitler, 358-59
  19. Wolfgang König, "Das Scheitern einer nationalsozialistischen Konsumgesellschaft: 'Volksprodukte' in Politik, Propaganda und Gesellschaft des 'Dritten Reiches.'" [The Failure of a National Socialist Consumer Society: "Volksprodukte" in the Politics, Propaganda, and Society of the Third Reich]. Zeitschrift für Unternehmensgeschichte 2003 48(2): 131-163. ISSN: 0342-2852; Evans (2005) 327ff
  20. Overy (1994); also Richard J. Overy, "Germany, 'Domestic Crisis' and War in 1939: Reply" Past & Present 1987 (116): 138-168. in Jstor. David Kaiser and Tim Mason, "Germany, 'Domestic Crisis' and War in 1939," Past and Present, No. 122 (Feb., 1989), pp. 200-221 in JSTOR argued that Hitler called the war to distract attention from domestic economic failures.
  21. Zimmerman et al (2006)
  22. Gerhard Lindemann, "Die Evangelisch-Lutherische Landeskirche Sachsens und der Nationalsozialismus," Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte 2005 18(1): 182-237. ISSN: 0932-9951
  23. Jill Stephenson, "Women's Labor Service in Nazi Germany." Central European History 1982 15(3): 241-265. ISSN: 0008-9389 Fulltext: in Ebsco
  24. D'Ann Campbell, "Women in Combat: The World War Two Experience in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union," Journal of Military History (April 1993), 57:301-323 online edition
  25. Hancock (1994)
  26. Leila J. Rupp, "Mother of the Volk: the Image of Women in Nazi Ideology." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1977 3(2): 362-379. Issn: 0097-9740 Fulltext: in JSTOR