Evaluate Hitler’s social, economic and religious policies between 1933 and 1939 Hitler’s major social, economic and religious policies were determined by the concept of a people’s community or Volksgemeinschaft. Nazi ideology aimed to restructure German society to incorporate only the ‘pure’ elements of the community. The desire was to create a new social order, based on the peasantry, which was essentially racist and stood for an exclusive policy of ‘blood and soil’, linking Aryanism to hereditary functions and beliefs. Although Hitler sought for a classless society, which was clearly not possible, it was “the most consistent, coherent and revolutionary aspect of Nazism”.
In Nazi Germany, women were seen as a crucial focus in social policies. Their roles in society could be resumed to being mothers and wives, and though this degraded their positions, it was compensated by giving them economic security. Hitler himself stated that men and women were from two different worlds, two ‘separate spheres’ whose biological functions were incompatible. This ideology was reinforced by means of extensive propaganda and indoctrination, summarized in the slogan ‘Kinder, Kirche, Kuche’ which emphasized the restrictions imposed upon women. Young girls in the German Girls’ League were taught domestic skills and the values of traditional upbringing. Yet, this policy faced opposition from female emancipation movements of the time which invoked the liberty of women. Once rearmament was given priority in the economy, women were allowed to vote and were employed in sectors of industry and commerce. However, their liberty remained unequal to men and they continued to be excluded from senior positions in government. In order to encourage motherhood, incentives and restrictions were made: grants were given to newly married couples, anti-abortion laws were introduced, family allowances were given, and the Honour Cross was distributed according to the number of children. Overall, birth rates showed that these measures were not successful and indicate that the initial rise was probably due to the end of the Depression and a younger marriage age. In the larger picture, twentieth century trends and Nazi rearmament aims conflicted with restraining women to traditional child-bearing roles. The failure of this ideology can also be attributed to the contradictions within it such as the inconsistency in excluding women from the workforce, seeing as military needs prevented this from happening.
The attention given towards educating the youth was primordial in order to project for the ‘Thousand Year Reich’. School curriculums were adapted to fit Nazi ideology and this produced many contradictions between teachings at school and at home. Yet the Nazi’s were determined and prepared to take children away in order to achieve their goals. An emphasis was put on producing strong, healthy bodies causing the quality of academic learning to decline in turn. The youth was brought up thinking they were racially superior and that the Fuhrer was their conscience, therefore this did not encourage independent thought. Instead, this produced a hard core of Nazi fanatics blindly following the Fuhrer’s orders, even if 10% of young boys managed to avoid youth group memberships.
One of the major aspects which characterized Volksgemeinschaft was its racial policy. In its determination to achieve racial purity, the regime succeeded in eliminating the ‘impure’ elements of its community drastically. At the beginning of the regime, Jews had relative freedom as Hitler directed the regime’s effort into consolidating power. Policies were restricted to prohibiting Jews from certain professions, yet with the 1935 Nuremberg Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour, they could no longer marry Aryan citizens and were banned from voting. Yet signs of a more radical response appeared in 1937 when industrialists wished to ‘Aryanise’ the economy as well. In 1938, the Kristallnacht culminated the anti-Semitic attitude. Jewish people were murdered, their property was destroyed, and many were sent to concentration camps until they were completely isolated from society. This radicalization can not only be given to Hitler’s influence but also to political changes in the Nazi party, which supports a structuralist view of the argument. For instance, Schacht was replaced by Goring, a harsher more anti-Semitic minister. Yet in 1939 Hitler’s determination to destroy the Jewish population confirmed the intentionalist view. In that year only, more than 78,000 Jews were forced out of Germany. The regime’s eugenics policy further affected the mentally and physically handicapped. The 1933 Sterilization Law played a decisive role in the ethnic cleansing policy, followed by the euthanasia programme in 1939. The handicapped were persecuted due to a fear of the deterioration of the race as hereditary diseases would be passed on. Though in fact, these laws were equally a way of getting rid any unwanted members of society.
The period 1933-36 in Nazi economic history was denominated by the minister for economy, Schacht, who refused to pay reparations and intended to meet the immediate needs of the population. By focusing on deficit financing, money would be spent on public works in order to create jobs and stimulate the market. There was a need for pleasing people, yet consolidating power was as essential for the Nazi regime to establish its aims. It is important to note that Nazi ideology was fundamentally racist and volkish and so economic factors were almost always subordinate. Hitler intended for a Nationalist economy which would “abandon class, economic and religious differences” to serve the state first. In 1936, Hitler used Schacht’s initial policies as a base for power and took action by introducing the Four Year Plan, increasing expenditures on armaments rather than essential raw materials. First and foremost, Hitler wished to create an autarkic or self-sufficient state by creating a trading community under German dominance. He also aimed to expand German territory to the East under the policy of lebensraum. To sustain this campaign, the economic infrastructure would have to accommodate an increase of military expenditure. Autarky would underpin the future economy whilst lebensraum would give autarky geographical cohesion. Additionally, a defence economy Wehrwirtschaft would complement the focus on rearmament by gearing peacetime budget to preparation for war. Hitler had diverged by making the economy essentially a war economy. This way, his long term aims would support the future projection of the ‘Thousand Year Reich’. The problem with Hitler’s actions was that they were both state and capitalist driven, meaning that it was overall a mixed, contradictory economy. It constantly bordered the line between a command economy and a corporate one, swaying on Fascist ideology too.
The rise of Nazism posed a profound problem to the Christian Church. Firstly, it can be undoubtedly said that Nazism was an anti-Christian based philosophy. This opposition already presented a conflict between the State and a major social/political force. Nazism supported violence and war whereas the Church valued love, forgiveness and respect. As Hitler put it, this clash meant that ‘one is either a Christian or a German’. The Germans were further taught that their religion was their nationalist pride, and their sole devotion should be to the state, the people and Hitler: ‘One Reich, One Volk, One Fuhrer’. Though the regime sought to weaken religion, as it was seen as a direct rival, it held a conciliatory stance towards the Church. In 1933 a Concordat was singed giving the Church religious freedom for a distancing from political activities. Hitler did not try to overrun the Church, but rather use its influence in order to gain support and further consolidate his position. However, control over the Church remained limited and soon a war of attrition was set between the Nazi’s and the Christians. An attempt for alternative religion was set, known as the German Faith Movement, which cultivated a racial paganism and united in one body the Nazi ideology of Blood and Soil and the anti-Christian standpoint. Though this never achieved significant support, it was evidence for the attempt to suppress the Church. Overall, if Hitler’s religious policy failed, then it can be said that the Church failed as well. The conservatism of the Church led them to accommodate themselves to the regime rather than sacrifice their influence. The Nazi’s on the other hand, were resentful about the papal supremacy in a foreign country, ie the Vatican in Italy, which came in direct contest with the Fuhrer.
Overall, Volksgemeinschaft was indeed a coherent policy, which followed a line of logic in the spirit of Nationalist Socialism throughout. It was also revolutionary in all aspects, having affected the lives of ordinary people and changed relationships between the population, the government, the Fuhrer and religion. However, with the increased focus on rearmament it seemed that the control over the lives of women could not be achieved as planned, since increased employment and emancipation movements prevented this. Yet, the indoctrination of youths for the future was achieved successfully, producing a legion of young men faithful to Hitler. The policy of ethnic cleansing and social ‘purification’ was also successfully put into motion and preceded the fatal events of 1940-45 and the ‘final solution’ to the Jewish question. In the economic sphere, the policies were congruent yet not realistic enough. The ideal of self-sufficiency was not quite achieved, though the step towards rearmament helped Germany recover its economy rapidly and undo the Treaty of Versailles gradually. Lebensraum expanded German territory and proved successful as Hitler slowly conquered the land in the East he desired- Poland, Anschluss with Austria and Czechoslovakia in the period of 1933-39. Finally, the relationship with the Church, a significant rival to the regime, was not favourable causing a war of attrition between the Nazi’s and the Christians yet created an environment of mutual fear, and a stalemate ultimately protecting each side.