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About this book

Hitler's 'thousand-year Reich' lasted barely longer than twelve brief and inglorious years, and yet had an impact on millions of ordinary lives scarcely comparable with any other episode in modern European history.

Nazi Germany examines the origins and development of Nazism, the establishment of the dictatorship and the impact on Germany's economy, society and culture of the regime's single-minded drive towards war and genocide. The view from above, reflected in the movement's ideology, policy and legislation is complemented by the many, often conflicting, views from below, as described in the reports smuggled out of Germany by Socialist dissidents or overheard by the regime's spies and policemen. Tim Kirk depicts a society divided, where most were initially wary of Hitler and sceptical about his party and its promises, and where even enthusiastic admirers quickly became disgruntled; but where the majority complied and few were inclined to oppose or resist the regime, or its brutalities, until disillusionment set in and the prospect of defeat was imminent.

Approachable and authoritative, this is an essential introduction to one of the most significant periods in German, and modern European, history.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Between October 1976 and April 1977 some 3000 pupils from schools across West Germany took part in a revealing exercise. They were all set the same essay title: ‘What I have heard about Adolf Hitler …. Most of the students were asked to complete the exercise in one period (45 minutes) in class, but the majority took about half an hour and produced on average three quarters of a page. Extracts from the results were published later the same year, following pre-publication features in Spiegel and Die Zeit. The widespread confusion, ignorance and even indifference about the history of Nazism and the Second World War revealed by the exercise prompted further headlines in Germany and abroad: few students knew exactly when Hitler had lived or when the Nazi dictatorship had been established, and most had little idea about the nature of the regime, its policies or the experience of those who had been persecuted.1 Equally revealing were some of the responses received by Dieter Bossmann, the organiser of the exercise and editor of the subsequent book, from teachers. Many were at a loss about how to approach the subject, and felt that they lacked adequate teaching materials or guidelines. The observations ill-informed, but not necessarily untypical, and it should be added that they reflect not so much what children were taught in school, as what they heard from their families or absorbed from popular discussion. At the height of the Cold War, when theories of ‘totalitarianism’, were popularised in the media, it is not surprising that some two dozen of the students stated emphatically that Hitler was a Communist or a Socialist.
Tim Kirk

Chapter 1. The Origins and Development of Nazism

Abstract
The long-term origins of Nazism are located in the late nineteenth century, when the advent of popular politics transformed all parts of the political spectrum, and all levels of the political process. Everywhere in Europe the existing order was being contested on an unprecedented scale by new forms of political organisation espousing new ideologies. More people were involved in politics, both as activists in political organisations and as voters. The turnout for elections increased dramatically from just over 50 per cent in the Bismarckian Germany of the 1870s to around 85 per cent in the last Reichstag elections before the First World War.1 The greatest, most obvious challenge came from workers’ movements, which attracted a mass membership — particularly in central Europe — and generated the greatest anxiety among Europe’s ruling elites. The Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) had a million members and was the largest party in the Reichstag after the 1912 election.
Tim Kirk

Chapter 2. The Nazi Dictatorship

Abstract
Hitler came to power as leader of a coalition cabinet largely made up of conservatives and nationalists, many of them aristocrats unaffiliated to any political party, who had served in the ‘cabinet of barons’ under Papen and then under Schleicher. Papen himself became vice-chancellor and Reich commissioner for Prussia. They lent the new government a spurious air of respectability, and created a false sense of continuity. Outside the cabinet room the true measure of the political watershed was evident in the torchlight procession of stormtroopers through Berlin: here the German Nationalist Stahlhelm was clearly in a minority, and had only been included belatedly at the insistence of Hindenburg.
Tim Kirk

Chapter 3. Nazism and the Economy

Abstract
The early Nazi party of post-revolutionary Munich made much of its opposition to ‘capitalism’, and several points in the party programme of 1920 might seem at first glance to bear out its claim to be a national ‘socialist’ party. It demanded the abolition of income unearned by work, the confiscation of war profits, the prohibition of speculation in land, and the punishment of profiteers and usurers. It also demanded state intervention to control big businesses, especially those that were held to damage the interests of the small firm. The programme further demanded land reform, the nationalisation of corporations, the placing of state contracts with small traders and the communalising of department stores. There was to be state spending on health and education, investment in old age pensions and the prohibition of child labour. This ostensibly radical social and economic agenda differed from that of the Republic — which had in any case already established the most progressive welfare state in Europe — in that it was a critique of capitalism from the right, and one that was not unusual in the early twentieth century.
Tim Kirk

Chapter 4. The Myth of the ‘National Community’: German Society under Nazism

Abstract
The Nazis did not merely want to win political power; they wanted to transform German society forever. Hitler’s appointment to the chancellorship in January 1933 was not simply a change of government; it was a change of regime, and signified a fundamental change in the political system. Winning power was not an end in itself, Hitler told the Nuremberg party rally in September 1933, the political revolution — which he had declared complete in July — must be followed by an ideological revolution. Yet the Nazis did not have a detailed ideological programme of social reform for achieving this; what they did have was a comprehensive critique of modern society and its perceived shortcomings. They wanted to create a ‘Volksgemeinschaft’, a national community of all the people, regardless of wealth or rank, that would transcend the divisions and conflicts of modern society. It was an idea with mythical qualities, promising the restoration of a shared sense of national purpose, and at the same time concealing the ‘conglomerate of disparities and contradictions’ that made up the Nazi programme in 1933.1 Many — most — of the Nazis’ preoccupations were shared with their conservative and nationalist allies, and embraced the usual targets of right-wing populism: emancipated women and working mothers; lack of discipline in the young and the decline in social deference; and all kinds of culture that offended middlebrow taste, whether pulp fiction and popular film (especially if it was American) or the experimental avant-garde.
Tim Kirk

Chapter 5. Culture, Leisure and Propaganda

Abstract
The Nazis’ approach to culture is associated with a handful of telling images illustrating their barbaric anti-intellectualism, such as the burning of books in Berlin in May 1933, the ransacking of the Bauhaus later the same year, the flight abroad of hundreds of Germany’s leading intellectuals and creative artists, or the exhibition of ‘degenerate art’ in Munich in July 1937, where the works of modernist artists were ridiculed with racist jibes. Beyond the first glance, however, the picture is more complicated.
Tim Kirk

Chapter 6. Consensus and Opposition in the Third Reich

Abstract
Nazi Germany was not merely a police state: it was the police state against which police states have been measured, and the image of a society terrorised by fear of the Gestapo dominates popular understanding of the relationship between society and political authority in the Third Reich. That relationship was far more complex and ambiguous, however, as we now know. The Nazis did not rely on coercion alone to maintain order, but sought to win acclamation and even approval, relying on propaganda as much as censorship, and attempting — albeit unsuccessfully — to manufacture an inclusive consensus around the ideal of the ‘national community’. This is not to diminish the extent to which the Nazis relied on terror, however: if the Volksgemeinschaft always remained a fond hope, the apparatus of the police state was a constant reality and threat.
Tim Kirk

Chapter 7. Reproduction, the Family and Racial Hygiene

Abstract
Racism was the fundamental guiding principle of Nazi ideology, and the effects of racial ideology on policy-making were pervasive. The focus of the regime’s obsessive racism was the relentless persecution of the country’s Jewish population, which culminated in the mass murder of European Jews; but the regime was also preoccupied with the improvement of the German race itself, and it was a preoccupation that underpinned its approach to the whole spectrum of Nazi policy from culture, education and health policies to the conduct of war. The nation itself was defined in racial terms, and its destiny was held to be dependent on good racial health, and that in turn required high standards of ‘racial hygiene’: only the fittest would survive and prevail.
Tim Kirk

Chapter 8. Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust

Abstract
Anti-Semitism was widespread in Europe from the Middle Ages, and was characterized by social, political and cultural discrimination, pogroms and expulsions. Jews were progressively emancipated in the wake of the Enlightenment, but anti-Semitic prejudice re-emerged strongly — in Russia and eastern and central Europe in particular — during the second half of the nineteenth century. Anti-Semitism in Germany was stimulated by the work of radical right-wing publicists at home (such as Wilhelm Marr, founder of the Anti-Semitic League) and abroad (notably Arthur, comte de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain) and found organizational form with the foundation of associations and political parties such as the Anti-Semitic League and the Anti-Semitic People’s Party. Explicitly anti-Semitic parties had little political success in Wilhelmine Germany; however, their candidates won 3 to 4 per cent of the vote in Reichstag elections during the 1890s and 1900s, and 16 anti-Semites sat in the parliaments of 1893 and 1907. Such groups were vocal and unpleasant, but remained marginal to the political culture of the empire, and although discriminatory measures were enacted first against Catholics and then against Socialists, there was no serious suggestion, beyond the marginal fringe of racial anti-Semites, that the emancipation of Jews should be reversed.
Tim Kirk

Chapter 9. Foreign Policy and the Second World War

Abstract
Foreign policy, war and territorial expansion were absolutely central to Nazism as a political movement. Its ideological roots were in the radical nationalist milieu of the late nineteenth century, while the NSDAP itself grew out of war and defeat. The early Nazi Party was one of a number of right-wing paramilitary groups that recruited demobilised soldiers, among them Hitler himself, and it profited as a political party from the widespread indignation prompted by the peace settlement — and this was a feeling shared by millions of Germans, by no means all of them Nazis, or even nationalists. The Third Reich existed for barely 12 years and for half of that time it was engaged in an aggressive expansionist war. Even during its 6 years of peace, the reality of everyday experience in Nazi Germany was shaped by preparations for war, and by the economic dislocations that resulted from the headlong drive for rearmament. The combination of rearmament boom. Hitler’s apparent success in restoring Germany’s international greatness and the military victories of the early war years all did much to reinforce the stability of the regime and the authority of its leadership. Conversely, the removal of the dictatorship came only with total military defeat.
Tim Kirk

Conclusion

Abstract
The defeat and unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945 was also the definitive defeat of Nazism. Although there had been little resistance within Germany, even up to the final days there was little effective resistance to the Allied occupation that now followed. In 1945 the Allies took control of Germany far more completely than in 1918, dividing Germany into four zones of occupation (British, French, Soviet and American), and Berlin into four sectors. Similar arrangements were put in place in Austria, which was separated from Germany and re-established as an independent state. All other territory acquired during the war was restored, and Germany’s own territorial losses were greater than in 1919. Most leading Nazis were either dead or had disappeared, and those that remained were arrested and tried for war crimes by a military tribunal at Nuremberg.1 In addition a more prolonged process of ‘denazification’ was inaugurated, although its success was limited. Above all, the shaping of post-war politics was in the hands of the Allies: there could be no myth-making about betrayal from within as there had been after the First World War.2
Tim Kirk
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