|Germany: Establishment of the Nazi Dictatorship
The Nazi rise to power in Germany brought an end to the quasi-democratic system of presidential rule into which the leaders of the Weimar Republic slipped in response to the economic crisis of the Great Depression. Following his appointment as chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg on January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler began laying the foundations of the Nazi state. Guided by racist and authoritarian principles, the Nazis eliminated individual freedoms and pronounced the creation of a Volk Community (Volksgemeinschaft)—a society which would, in theory, transcend class and religious differences.
The Reichstag Fire Decree on February 28, 1933, permitted the suspension of basic civil rights—rights that had been guaranteed by the democratic Weimar Constitution. The Third Reich became a police state in which Germans enjoyed no guaranteed basic rights and the SS, the elite guard of the Nazi state, wielded increasing authority through its control over the police. Political opponents, especially those in the Communist Party of Germany and the Social Democratic Party of Germany, along with Jews, were subject to intimidation, persecution, and discriminatory legislation.
In the first two years of his chancellorship, Hitler followed a concerted policy of "coordination" (Gleichschaltung), by which political parties, state governments, and cultural and professional organizations were brought in line with Nazi goals. Culture, the economy, education, and law all came under Nazi control.
Using the Civil Service Law of April 1933, German authorities began eliminating Jewish people from governmental agencies, and state positions in the economy, law, and cultural life. The Nazi government abolished trade unions. Workers, employees, and employers were forced into the German Labor Front, which was under the control of Nazi leader Robert Ley. The Nazis also attempted to synchronize the Christian denominations and their affiliated youth groups, but were not entirely successful.
With the passage of the Enabling Law (March 23, 1933), the German parliament (Reichstag) transferred legislative power to Hitler's cabinet and thus lost its reason for being. By mid-July, the Nazi party was the only political party left in Germany. The other parties had been either outlawed by the government or had dissolved themselves under pressure. The Reichstag became a rubber stamp for Hitler's dictatorship.
The Führer's will became the foundation for all legislation. Indeed, with the establishment of Hitler's dictatorship, the Führer principle (Führerprinzip) came to guide all facets of German life. According to this principle, authority—in government, the party, economy, family, and so on—flowed downward and was to be obeyed unquestioningly.
Upon Hindenburg's death in August 1934, Hitler had himself designated as both Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor. Armed forces personnel swore an oath of loyalty to him in this function. While as Reich Chancellor Hitler's personal power remained limited by the laws of the German state, as Fuehrer his personal power was unlimited and his will was equated with the destiny of the German nation.
Third Reich: An Overview
The Nazi rise to power brought an end to the Weimar Republic, a parliamentary democracy established in Germany after World War I. Following the appointment of Adolf Hitler as chancellor on January 30, 1933, the Nazi state (also referred to as the Third Reich) quickly became a regime in which Germans enjoyed no guaranteed basic rights. After a suspicious fire in the Reichstag (the German Parliament), on February 28, 1933, the government issued a decree which suspended constitutional civil rights and created a state of emergency in which official decrees could be enacted without parliamentary confirmation.
In the first months of Hitler's chancellorship, the Nazis instituted a policy of "coordination"--the alignment of individuals and institutions with Nazi goals. Culture, the economy, education, and law all came under Nazi control. The Nazi regime also attempted to "coordinate" the German churches and, although not entirely successful, won support from a majority of Catholic and Protestant clergymen.
Extensive propaganda was used to spread the regime's goals and ideals. Upon the death of German president Paul von Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler assumed the powers of the presidency. The army swore an oath of personal loyalty to him. Hitler's dictatorship rested on his position as Reich President (head of state), Reich Chancellor (head of government), and Fuehrer (head of the Nazi party). According to the "Fuehrer principle," Hitler stood outside the legal state and determined matters of policy himself.
Hitler had the final say in both domestic legislation and German foreign policy. Nazi foreign policy was guided by the racist belief that Germany was biologically destined to expand eastward by military force and that an enlarged, racially superior German population should establish permanent rule in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Here, women played a vital role. The Third Reich's aggressive population policy encouraged "racially pure" women to bear as many "Aryan" children as possible.
Within this framework, "racially inferior" peoples, such as Jewish people and Gypsies, would be eliminated from the region. Nazi foreign policy aimed from the beginning to wage a war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, and the peacetime years of the Nazi regime were spent preparing the German people for war. In the context of this ideological war, the Nazis planned and implemented the Holocaust, the mass murder of the Jewish people, who were considered the primary "racial" enemy.
Open criticism of the regime was suppressed by the Gestapo (secret state police) and the Security Service (SD) of the Nazi party, but Hitler's government was popular with most Germans. There was, however, some German opposition to the Nazi state, ranging from nonconformity to the attempt to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944.
The Allies defeated Nazi Germany and forced a German surrender on May 8, 1945.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005143. Accessed on 4/12/14.