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Nazi rule is viewed as one of the bleak periods in the world’s history due to the many atrocities committed by the Nazi regime under the rule of Hitler. The Nazi revolution was characterized by dictatorial rule and the mass killing of millions of Jews. In addition to this, the Nazis adopted an expansionist strategy, an act which culminated in the break out of the Second World War1.
Even so, the Nazis did not start as the powerful nationwide party that ruled Germany for over a decade. The Nazis did not start out as the powerful nationwide party that ruled Germany for over a decade. Instead, the party had a humble beginning as a Right Wing party with low membership.
As a result of the contributions made by the members of the party most notably of whom is Hitler and the socio-economic realities of the time, the party was able to grow in size and power. This paper will provide a historical review of the Nazi Party and how it grew in power.
Particular emphasis will be laid on the role that violence played in the Nazi revolution and how violence was used as a tool to control the nation once the Nazis gained power. The paper will also discuss the ways in which the climate in Germany changed once the Nazis controlled the country.
How the Nazis Rose to Power
The Nazi party can trace its birth to the end of the First World War which saw Germany incur military defeat in the hands of the Allied forces. A consequence of this defeat was the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. This Treaty blamed Germany for the war and as such, the country was required to pay huge reparations for damages incurred by the Allied forces in the war2.
Other terms of the treaty included a limit of the German Army to 100,000 men and the occupation of German’s Rhineland by the French.
Many Germans were disillusioned by the defeat in war and the imposition of the Treaty of Versailles which not only resulted in economic burdens for Germans but also diminished Germany’s prestige. Many Germans therefore joined Right Wing groups like the Nazi party which promised to bring back the country’s prestige and ignore the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
The Nazi party was formed as the German Workers’ Party (DAP) by Anton Drexler in 19193. This party held Right Wing views such as: opposition to the Treaty of Versailles, anti-Semitic sentiments, and a belief in the superiority of the Aryan race. Hitler joined the party in the same year and was one of its initial members. In the 1920s, Hitler was the chief propagandist for the party and he took on a more prominent role4.
On behalf of the DAP, Hitler organized and spoke at many public rallies therefore popularizing the party. The German Workers Party (DAP) was renamed as The National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in 19205. The NSDAP is what is commonly known as the Nazi Party. In 1921, Hitler was made Chairman of the NSDAP mostly as a result of his brilliant oratory skills and leadership abilities6.
The Nazi party also established a military wing which was known as SA (storm troopers). This wing of the party was responsible for violent attacks and armed confrontations. With members of the SA, Hitler began making plots to overthrow the Weimar Republic (German Government) which many held responsible for all the problems that Germany faced.
The year 1923 was significant in Nazi development since it was in this year that Hitler attempted to overthrow the government. With a group of the SA (most of whom were ex-soldiers), Hitler marched through the streets of Munich in an attempt to seize control of Munich and thereafter march on to Berlin7. Hitler hoped to spark a revolution and seize rule of the Weimer Republic.
The coup began by a rally held at a beer hall where Hitler proclaimed a revolution and as such, the attempted coup is commonly referred to as the Beer Hall Putsch8. This attempted coup was a huge failure since it had not been properly planned and rather relied on the small support base of the Nazis.
The police were able to stop the 2000 men strong march and arrest Hitler and some of the Nazi Party member who were later charged with treason. Hitler received a 5 year prison sentence but only served for 8 months and was released9. The failed coup also led to the banning of the Nazi Party although the party continued to operate under a different name, “German Party”.
In 1925, the ban that had been imposed on the Nazis was lifted and the party could once again engage in public rallies as it had done before the coup. Hitler rebuilt the Nazi party which had been on the verge of disintegrating in his absence and re-established himself as the ultimate leader of the party10.
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In the 1928 elections, the Nazi Party succeeded in wining 12 seats. While this was a modest achievement, it was the first show by the Nazi party of being a major player in German politics.
Orlow records that the middle and upper middle class Germans were sincerely convinced that a communist take over of Germany was imminent and only the Nazis could save Germany from a Marxist revolution11. This conviction influenced the voting behavior of this class of Germans who voted against the Hindenburg Conservatives in the 1928 elections.
The Great depression of 1929 proved to be a blessing for the Nazis and it raised the party’s popularity to new heights12. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 had a profound impact on Germany since it resulted in the US calling in its loans to Germany. This led to the collapse of the German economy and a phenomenal rise in unemployment rates throughout Germany.
The crippling effects of the Great Depression helped Hitler to win over many of the Germans who had been adversely affected by the economic crisis13.
The Nazis also began to win over big industrialists, nationalists conservatives and with the backing of the press tycoon, Alfred Hugenberg, Hitler received nationwide exposure. Hitler played on national resentments and presented himself as Germany’s redeemer. The people of Germany were desperate for a solution and the Nazis through Hitler offered a solution as well as someone to blame for the economic crises14.
Bruning, who was the German Chancellor in the years immediately following the Great Depression, played a role in the success of the Nazis. He deliberately pursued policies that led to a worsening of the impact of the Depression.
With these actions, he hoped to restructure the Weimar Constitution to his liking and increase his decision making powers in the government. This move by Bruning had the effect of driving the middle and upper middle class groups into the Nazi party15.
In the 1930 elections, the Nazis acquired 6.4 million votes which was an 18.3% of the total vote. They also received 107 seats in the Reichstag, a monumental increase from the 12 seats won in the 1928 elections16. Leitz asserts that it was the ability of the Nazi party to secure mass support drawn from all social groupings in the later 1920s and early 1930s both in membership and electoral terms that gave the party its strength17.
Following the huge electoral success, the Nazi party began to receive huge financial contributions from great industrial magnates who viewed Hitler as a potent political leader. In 1932, Hitler announced his intention to run for presidency and in the run-off elections of 10 April 1931, he received 13.4milion votes18. Even so, Hitler still trailed the winning candidate, Hindenburg by 6million votes.
The Nazi party performed well in the Reichstag elections of July 1932, receiving about 37% of the votes which made it a majority in German parliament19. Even so, the Nazis did not have the outright majority that was needed to make the government. Hindenburg who was president of Germany sought to recruit Hitler so as to gain enough support in the Reichstag.
Therefore, on the 30th of January 1933, Hitler, whose party had a majority in the parliament, was made Chancellor of the Weimar Republic20. On the night of February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building were the German Parliament assembled caught fire21.
Hitler declared that the fire was set by Communists and declared a state of emergency in Germany. The Reichstag Fire Decree was also signed by President Hindenburg. This decree effectively suspended the basic rights and provisions afforded to the German citizens under the Weimar constitution.
Even though Hitler was made Chancellor in 1933, President Hindenburg still remained in charge of the German Government and Hitler was only head of the coalition government22. Hitler therefore sought to become the sole supreme leader of Germany by turning the German government into a dictatorship through the legal powers of the Weimar Republic constitution.
In July 1933, a law was passed that outlawed the formation of political parties23. This action had the effect of making Hitler’s Nazi Party the only legitimate political party in all of Germany. Hitler managed to acquire absolute power in 2nd August 1934, when he consolidated the office of the president and that of the chancellor in the person of “the Fuhrer and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler”24.
This was in essence a complete seizer of power by Hitler and the Nazis. Following this event, Hitler and his Nazi leaders implemented a series of radical policies that turned Germany from a democracy into an absolute dictatorship.
Hitler: Leader and Authoritarian Ruler
Adolf Hitler was without a doubt the single most influential figure of the Nazis and their rise to power is hugely credited to him. Wistrich regards Hitler as “founder and leader of the Nazi Party, Reich Chancellor and guiding spirit of the Third Reich from 1933 to 1945”25. Hitler embodied the ideal of the “charismatic Fuhrer” which greatly appealed to all classes of people.
Hitler’s appeal as a charismatic leader was so great that the movement that we presently refer to as “Nazi” was in Hitler’s reign known as the “Hitler movement”26. The failed coup attempt of 1923 was a significant stage in the political life of Hitler. Wistrich demonstrates that the failure of the Beer-Hall putsch and the subsequent imprisonment transformed Hitler from an “incompetent adventurer into a shrewd political tactician”27.
From the failure of the coup, Hitler learnt that the only way he could seize over was through the electoral process and the constitution. He therefore set out to win over the heart and minds of Germans though his oratory skills and propaganda.
Once Hitler became chancellor, the military wing of the NAZI, the SA, was looking forward to unrestricted actions against political enemies and rewards and benefits for their loyalty. Hitler was unwilling to succumb to the demands of the SA since he now viewed the SA as an obsolete wing of the Nazi party28. To cement his rule, Hitler ordered the murder of SA leaders in what is now known as the Night of the Long Knives29.
Their death greatly diminished the power and influence of the SA and henceforth, it became a shadowy organization with little strength. The demise of the SA was because of its being perceived as a threat to Hitler’s hegemony over the Nazis.
By the use of propaganda, the Fuhrer myth which dissociated Hitler from the party and the government was created.30. Hitler was viewed as a heroic figure defending popular justice and extirpating corruption and immorality in high place and intervening to restore order in all of Germany. Noakes credits this Fuhrer myth with the success of the Nazis since it acted as a source of legitimating for the regime31.
Behind this heroic figure, Hitler was actually the architect of the great violence which was associated with the Nazi. Through Heinrich Himmler who he hand picked to restructure the SS, Hitler ordered the arrest and imprisonment of thousands of Jews. Under Hitler’s order, Himmler established the infamous concentration camps where millions of Jews were killed in the holocaust32.
Hitler intended to use terror to build the ideal racially pure nation. Between 1941 and 1942, Hitler demanded that the prisoners held at the concentration camps be used for labor to help rebuild German cities as well as aid in the war effort33. These economic ambitions saw the prisoners being used as free forced labor.
Role of Violence in the Nazi Revolution
From the early years following the formation of the Nazi Party, violence and intimidation were an integral part of the party. The SA (storm troopers) was the major tool used to perpetuate violence.
The group which had developed military titles for its members was an important part of the Nazis organization and members of the division constantly carried out acts of violence against Jews34. The SA was very effective in carrying out acts of violence against anyone who opposed Hitler in public. Leitz recognizes that “SA intimidation tactics contributed to the rise of the Nazis”35.
Terror became an indispensable tool for the full conquest of the country once Hitler had been appointed Chancellor. Even though the Nazi had gained power through the electoral system, most Germans had not backed Hitler in the last free elections in November 193236.
Prior to Hitler’s accession to power, the Nazi had faced strong opposition from the Social Democrats and the Communists whose paramilitary activists had waged street battlers against their Nazi rivals (especially the SA). The Nazis conceded that there could be no absolute victory without the destruction of the organized working class who were the core members and supporters of the Social Democrats and the Communists37.
The establishment of Hitler’s dictatorship was therefore accompanied by intense political violence. By December 1933, hundreds of thousands of opponents had been abused and placed under temporal detainment38. Thousands more had been killed as the Nazi tried to attain absolute power in Germany. The Nazis made use of both legal and illegal means to perpetrate their violence.
Thousands of opposition group members were arrested by the police and charged as law-breakers. These people were put through courts and then jails and prisons which were run by the legal authorities39. At the same time, mass detention was undertaken without any legal process. Many opponents were abducted by SA and SS members and taken to “protective custody”40.
To lock up the huge number of political prisoners, the authorities made use of the existing places of confinement such as jails and regular prisons. Historians record that the state authorities collaborated with SA and SS camps to further extra-legal detention. The SS were given authority to run the camps which later came to be established as the infamous Nazi concentration camps.
A major occurrence with the advent of violence was the establishment of Camps which were to act as new places of detention to cater for the rising numbers of political prisoners who were being rounded up by the Nazi. The aim of the prison camps was to crush Hitler’s political opponents who were mostly Communists41.
The existence of the camps was well known to the German citizenry since most of the early camps were established in the middle of towns and cities and the guards were unable to hide the abuses that took place inside.
Wachsmann notes that while the SA made use of torture cellars and the ill treatment of prisoners, murder was seldom carried out since the aim of these early imprisonments was more about intimidation than killing42. These camps were a political weapon and they played a vital role in the Nazi assault on the opposition.
Historians note that without the camps, the new regime would not have established itself as quickly as it did43. Social discipline was seen as necessary for the formation of the master race and the regime was keen to wipe out deviance. Professional and habitual criminals were threatened with preventive police detention.
The structure of the camps changed significantly when the SS leader Heinrich Himmler took over the running of the camps from civil servants. SS men now run the camps. Himmler created the SS concentration camp system which was both effective and brutal.
The camps were manned by hardened young SS men who styled themselves as the elite of political soldiers44. The concentration camps were characterized by terror and systematic torture of prisoners. The prisoners were also held for longer than they had been held in the early years.
Without a doubt, the Jews were the major recipients of the violence perpetrated by the Nazi regime. These violence and agitation against Jews was mostly motivated by the desire to remove the Jews from German life45. Starting from 1933, a number of German Jews had been taken to camps as political opponents.
However, this number was fairly modest. The number of Jewish prisoners rose dramatically following the announcement by the Nazi in 9th November, 1938 of a nationwide program against the Jewish Population46.
Following the declaration of this program, Party activists took part in the destruction of thousand of Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues. Hundreds of Jewish people were killed and the mass arrest of thousands took place.
Climate of Germany during Nazi Control
A major change during Nazi rule was the adoption of authoritarian rule and removing of individual rights and freedoms. The freedom of speech and expression that the Germans had grown accustomed to all but disappeared during the rule of the Nazis. To begin with, Hitler outlawed all other political parties making Germany a single party state with himself as the ruler47.
Criticism of Hitler or/and the Nazis state was banned and those who dared to opposed were interrogated, tortured and if found guilty either imprisoned or executed. The Gestapo allegedly kept files on everyone in the country and updates to the reports were made through information obtained from ordinary Germans who acted as informants for the Nazis regime48.
The Nazis also prepared the German people for a war which they felt was imminent. Hitler emphasized that a main role of the party was to prepare the German people psychologically for war. This was done through indoctrination with Nazi ideology and in particular with the party’s racist and social-Darwinist imperatives49.
Priority was to be given to national interests and goals as defined by Hitler over the concerns of the individual citizen. Germany undertook major rearmament activity and the size of the standing army rose to many times that of the number allowed by the Treaty of Versailles.
The years following 1933 experienced an intense growth of governmental regulation of markets. This restricted the economic freedom of private owners as the rights inherent to private property were destroyed50. This loss of individual freedoms was in line with the Nazis philosophy of placing the interest of the nation above the individual rights of the citizens.
Hitler himself asserted that while everyone could keep that they had earned, the good of the community took priority over the individual and “the state should retain control; every owner should feel himself to be an agent of the State”51. The Nazi regime therefore retained the right to control all property in Germany.
Even so, the Nazis promoted the ownership and accumulation of private fortunes by party members and collaborators. In so doing, the Nazi regime increased its control over the economy.
Nazi rule is mostly associated with the atrocities that were carried out against the German-Jewish population. Hitler presented the Jew as the symbol and cause of all chaos, corruption and destruction in culture, politics and the economy.
As such, the Nazis set out to annihilate the entire Jewish population in Germany and Austria52. Between 1941 and 1942, the systematic extermination of European Jewry was official German state policy53. The SS was the branch that executed this Holocaust which is seen as the dark legacy of Nazi Germany to date.
Violence is the legacy that the Nazi are remembered for to this day. This paper set out to document how the Nazis rose to power during the 1920’s and how violence played a major role in their coming to power. The paper began by tracing the birth of the Party following Germany’s defeat in World War I.
It has been articulated that the Nazi movement would not have existed and risen to power as it did without Hitler who was the party’s outstanding leader. This paper has highlighted the various events that led to the Nazis turning from a small party with fewer than 1000 members in 1921 to the national power with millions of members by the 1930s.
This paper has highlighted the fact that the Nazis used various forms of terror tactics to gain control of Germans and hence ensure absolute rule. The role that various groups such as the SA and the SS played in perpetrating this violence has been underscored.
From this paper, it is clear that it was the massive campaign of political terror that helped the Nazi to cling on to power. While the Nazis gained power due to their promise to solve all of Germany’s problems and restore Germany’s glory, they failed to deliver on their promise and rather resulted to intimidation and violence to rule from 1933 until their defeat in 1945.
Bel, Germa. “Against the mainstream: Nazi privatization in 1930s Germany”. Economic History Review, 63, 1 (2010), pp. 34–55
Caplan, Jane. “Nazi Germany”. Oxford University Press, 2008.
Collier, Martin. “Hitler and the Nazi state”. Heinemann, 2005.
Leitz, Christian. “The Third Reich: the Essential readings”. Wiley-Blackwell, 1999.
Levin, Itamar. “His majesty’s enemies: Great Britain’s war against Holocaust victims and survivors”. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.
Noakes, Jeremy. “Government, party, and people in Nazi Germany”. University of Exeter Press, 1980.
Orlow, Dietrich. “The Historiography of the Decline of Bruning and the Rise of the Nazis: Comment and Review Article”. Hamburger Beitrage zur Sozial- und Zeitgeschichte, vol. 16. pp.748, 1982.
Scheck, Raffael. “Germany, 1871-1945: A Concise History”. Berg Publishers, 2008.
Sheridan, William. “Nazi Seizure of Power (Social Studies: History of the World)”. Franklin Watts, 1984.
Wistrich, Robert. “Who’s who in Nazi Germany”. Routledge, 2002.
Wachsmann, Nikolaus. “Concentration camps in Nazi Germany: the new histories”. Taylor & Francis, 2009.
1 Jeremy Noakes, “Government, party, and people in Nazi Germany”, (University of Exeter Press, 1980), 21.
2 William Sheridan, Nazi Seizure of Power. (Franklin Watts, 1984), 35.
3 William, 53.
4 Ibid, 53.
5 Jeremy, 23.
6 Ibid, 30.
7 William, 57.
8 Raffael Scheck, Germany, 1871-1945: A Concise History, (Berg Publishers, 2008), 143.
9 Ibid, 58.
10 Ibid, 60
11 Dietrich Orlow, “The Historiography of the Decline of Bruning and the Rise of the Nazis: Comment and Review Article”. (Hamburger Beitrage zur Sozial- und Zeitgeschichte, vol. 16, 1982), 67.
12 Jane, 28.
13 Raffael, 160.
14 Ibid, 33.
15 Dietrich, 71
16 Jeremy, 34.
17 Christian Leitz, “The Third Reich: the Essential readings”, (Wiley-Blackwell, 1999), 23.
18 Raffael, 165.
19 Christian, 23.
20 Jane, 48.
21 Raffael, 164.
22 Christian, 43.
23 Ibid, 44.
24 Raffael, 165.
25 Robert Wistrich, “Who’s who in Nazi Germany”, (Routledge, 2002), 116.
26 Robert, 117
27 Ibid, 116.
28 Martin Collier, Hitler and the Nazi state, (Heinemann, 2005), 95.
29 Raffael, 165
30 Jeremy, 57.
31 Ibid, 59.
32 Martin, 96.
33 Nikolaus Wachsmann, Concentration camps in Nazi Germany: the new histories, (Taylor & Francis, 2009), 30.
34 Jeremy, 18.
35 Christian, 84.
36 Nikolaus, 18.
37 Ibid, 18.
38 Martin, 99.
39 Jeremy, 34.
40 Ibid, 33.
41 Raffael, 170.
42 Nikolaus, 19.
43 Ibid, 20.
44 Nikolaus, 23.
45 Martin, 96.
46 Nikolaus, 25.
47 Jane, 53.
48 Jeremy, 32.
49 Ibid, 17.
50 Germa, 44.
51 Ibid, 48.
52 William, 53.
53 Nikolaus, 32.