Germany Under the Nazis

In 1932, German President Paul von Hindenburg was asleep in his home. His son woke him with the news that he had defeated Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler and reelection to the Presidency. “It will still be true in an hour,” he said as he went back to sleep. Dismissive of the “Bohemian Corporal” as he called Hitler, Hindenburg hoped making Hitler Chancellor in January 1933 would appease and quiet him. A year later he was dead, and Hitler folded the powers of the Presidency into his own. He became F¸hrer, or leader, of all of Germany. He proclaimed the Third Reich, following a history theory that German unity would be achieved in the Third Kingdom. After The Holy Roman Empire and Otto von Bismarck, Adolf Hitler proclaimed his rule would last a thousand years.

The Nazis had always used violence to intimidate their opponents, and once Hitler took office this did not change. In 1933 Buchenwald Concentration Camp was opened for political prisoners, and after Hitler became the supreme power thousands were sent there. At first Jews were not sent; the Nazis first focused on the intelligentsia and their political enemies.

In March 1933 the Reichstag was set afire in circumstances that remain mysterious. The Nazis blamed the Communists and history has blamed the Nazis. This last institution of the Weimar Republic was shut down, and Hitler used this as an excuse to condemn Communists and socialists to prison.

Hitler and the Nazis moved against those least likely to defend themselves. Disabled and mentally retarded Germans were sent away to special “hospitals” where they were forcibly sterilized and eventually killed.

On April 1, 1933, the Nazis organized a boycott of Jewish business. The SA stood in front of Jewish businesses and intimidated anyone attempting to enter. The next week Jews were removed from civil service positions. With the year, “non-Aryans” — anyone with one Jewish parent or grandparent — were removed from practicing professions like law, banking, medicine, and journalism.

Goebbels, his Minister of Propaganda, gave out radios to the populace and used the mass media to misinform German citizenry. All non-Nazi organizations were banned. Church youth groups, farmers' unions, labor unions, all were made into affiliates of the Nazi Party. The Hitler Youth, organizations for children, practiced extreme anti-Semitism and a highly militaristic regimen. Gender segregated, the young girls were taught to express their Teutonic virtue in motherhood, and to give Greater Germany children. The boys played military games, learned map reading, glider training, and field maneuvers. Every organization, from miners to mothers, held Hitler in cult-like fascination. His memoir from prison after the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Mein Kampf (My Struggle,) sold thousands of copies.

In 1934, the real moves towards the future of Germany began. Thousands of Nazis belonged to the Sturmarbeitelung (SAStorm Troopers). Essentially street thugs in brown shirts, the SA had carried Hitler into the Chancellery with their fists, intimidating or killing his enemies. Led by Ernst Rˆhm, the SA was powerful enough to displace Hitler if they so desired, and thus became a threat. Also, Hitler could never gain control of the Army until he eliminated the SA as a threat to the thoroughly Prussian Officer corps. On June 30, 1934, during the “Night of Long Knives,” Rˆhm and several other SA leaders were summoned to a villa outside Berlin, where they were arrested. Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, envious of Rˆhm's intimacy with Hitler, accused him of being a homosexual. He was taken to prison, where he was beaten and told to confess. When he would not, he was offered a pistol, when he did not commit suicide, the door was thrown open and he died in hail of gunfire. Hitler gained the support of the Army, who signed a pledge of allegiance to him. They were allowed to keep the traditional salute instead of the Nazi “Sieg Heil!”

Frustrated with the lack of economic progress under the Weimar Republic, the Junkers, or manufacturing conglomerates, secretly supported the Nazis, who advocated rearmament. Some bankers also supported the Nazis, thinking they would get the freedom to trade they could not get under Weimar law. This union of capitalism and Nazism was key to giving the Nazi Party the funding to gain seats in the Reichstag and eventually control all of Germany.

In 1935 the Reichstag rubber-stamped the Nuremburg Laws, which made Jews Staatsangehˆrige, state subjects. Marriage was prohibited between Jews and Aryans; racial “science” was compulsory; so was membership in the Hitler Youth. 129,000 Jews fled Germany between 1933 and 1937. They had great difficulty finding a place to live. Most countries did not accept them willingly.

Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne briefly considered living in Germany during his tour in 1937. She was shocked by the overt racism of the German public. Lindbergh, who admired the Nazis, was on a goodwill tour and was secretly there to analyze the Luftwaffe for the United States government. He appreciated the renewed spirit of Nazi Germany. The anti-Semitism of Berlin under the Nazis appalled Anne Morrow Lindbergh, house-hunting with their second child.

Hitler's first step towards his goals outlined in Mein Kampf was the remilitarization of the Rhineland. As a consequence of the Versailles Treaty, the French had occupied the Rhineland since the end of World War I. A newly rearmed Wehrmacht moved into the Rhineland on March 6, 1936. The army had orders to retreat if the French showed any resistance whatsoever. However, many international leaders saw the reoccupation as a positive conclusion of the unfair terms of the end of the war. Little international criticism allowed Germany to stay. The French were worried, and intended to compel Britain to honor her pledge of support against aggressors. British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, recommending that England not get involved, wrote of France: “The trouble is that we are in a bad position to browbeat her into what we think reasonableness, because, if she wishes to do so, she can always hold us to our Locarno obligations and call upon us to join with her in turning the German forces out of the Rhineland.” France never made the call. The first step to greater Germany had been achieved without any blood.

The Olympic games of 1936 would become known as the Nazi Olympics. Hitler staged elaborate ceremonies, which included a parade of ethnic Germans from around the world. Hitler had hoped that German athletes would sweep the games, but was increasingly frustrated by black athletes from the United States. Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the games, was not received by Hitler, who avoided all the athletes the day Owens set a new long jump record. The games marked the high point of world acceptance for Nazi Germany. The Nazis portrayed Germany as a nation reborn, dealing with the depression better than the western democracies. Hitler enjoyed the public attention and the prestige of their location in Germany. Few people guessed it would be twelve years before the world would meet for Olympic games again.

Also in 1936, the Germans joined Hitler's role model, Mussolini, in sending troops to fight in Spain for Spanish General Francisco Franco. Over 18,000 Germans fought on the ground and in the air, trying out the new weapons coming out of the Junkers industrial conglomerates.

Germany was well on the way to rearmament when Hitler looked to Austria as the next step in his plan. Anschluss, or reunification, was a dream of Hitler's for years. He had spent much time in Vienna after the war, and was very familiar with their culture. Hitler began agitating for reunification in 1934 by fermenting civil war. When this tactic failed, Hitler begrudgingly recognized Austrian independence while secretly working to undermine the government. Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg met Hitler at Berchtesgarden in on February 12, 1938. Hitler demanded that Nazis in Austrian prisons be released and Nazi officials appointed to key positions. Schuschnigg relented, and Hitler told him that the agreement meant peace for “five years.”

But Hitler kept demanding Anschluss. Schuschnigg decided on a national vote to let Austrians decide if they wanted to reunify with Germany. Hitler challenged the vote, demanded and got the resignation of the Austrian government and even before he got it German troops entered Vienna. Again, the Western powers did nothing, fearing an open confrontation with Germany would lead to war. Again, many felt that Germany was righting the wrongs of the Versailles Treaty.

Thousands of Austrian Jews fled the Nazi occupation. Sigmund Freud went England, where he died in 1939. His family felt it was due to emotional and physical stress of his escape, which aggravated his cancer. Baron Louis Rothschild lost part of his fortune as he left, paying the Gestapo $12,000,000 to leave. The Jewish population of Vienna went from 250,000 to 135,000 by July 1939.

At home, the anti-Semitic fervor reached new heights. Jews were targeted on November 9, 1938 in what came to be known as Krystallnacht ñ the night of broken glass. After the murder of a German diplomat in Paris by an expatriate German Jew, the SS and SA followed precise orders and burned 200 synagogues and 7.500 Jewish business and warehouses. 200 Jews were killed. The Nazis paid insurance claims, and then confiscated the money. Soon the German Jews would be deported to the camps.

Hitler was growing more and more confident. He had bullied, cajoled, and bluffed his way into reclaiming territories lost in the Great War. Now his eyes fell on the ethnic Germans in the Sudatenland in Czechoslovakia. If he could separate the Sudatenland from Czechoslovakia, then he could claim the whole country. This time Hitler was looking at land that did not belong to ancestral Germans.