Quote Bank and Key Information The Second Reich 1900-1919 The Constitution of the Second Reich



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Geary/Kershaw compromise

  • Story of consent differs by policy, age, social class, region, genders and individuals

  • 90s viewpoint – Gellately took the plebiscites at face value, when really their integrity needs to be questioned

  • Geary: Consent can only exist when people are free to choose between alternative – not the case in Germany. No rule of law, legal system destroyed – survival strategies rather than consent. “Context rather than consent explains the collusion of many Germans with the regime.”

  • Kershaw – “ For most of the German population, Hitler stood for at least some things they admired”

Hitler – Strong dictator?

  • At the Nuremburg trials, senior Nazis defended themselves on the grounds that they were following Hitler’s orders

  • Intentionalist historians argue that the Nazi state was totalitarian (all within the state) and organised to carry out Hitler’s will

  • Bracher – “the dicatator held the key position precisely because of the confusion of conflicting power groups”

  • Carlton Hayes (1939) American historian – “a totalitarian dictatorship in which the will of the dictator was imposed on society through a highly disciplined Nazi Party.”

  • Ernst Fraenkel – “dictatorial power is exercised by the leader and Chancellor either personally or through his subordinate authorities.”

  • Richard Evans – “When the occasion demanded, he [Hitler] could intervene powerfully and decisively.”

  • N.Rich – “Hitler was master in the Third Reich.”

  • In 1936, Hitler took the decision to remilitarise the Rhineland against the advice of his generals, and he was instrumental in the Anschluss in 1938

  • It was Hitler’s decision to push forward with expaniosnit policy in Eastern Europe in the late 1930s, as can be seen in his 1936 4 year plan memorandum, urging the creation of a Wehrwirtschaft (war economy) to enable a large-scale war to be fought within four years, and in his war plans, known as Operation Green

  • Hitler’s power in this area can be seen in the removal of two senior military figures, Fritsch and Blomberg, who had expressed reservations about the plan for war that Hitler presented at the so-called Hossbach meeting in 1937

Hitler – weak dictator?

  • Brozat – “The authoritative Fuhrer’s will was expressed only irregularly, unsystematically and incoherently”

  • Mommsen – “Hitler delayed important decisions to disrupt the conduct of affair.”

  • Mommsen – “Hitler was just one extreme element of extensive malevolence of the Nazi system.”

  • David Welch – “Hitler had always found it difficult to make up his mind in times of crisis.”

  • There were no clear decision-making procedures, and structures were often overlapping. From 1936, for example, both the Office of the Four Year Plan and the Economics Ministry had authority over economic policy

  • Nazi Party bureaucracy sometimes competed with state institutions like government ministries and the independent Gauleiter who were only accountable to Hitler

  • The picture of a chaotic state has been characterised as ‘polycracy’. The idea that the state was too chaotic for Hitler to of been in full command of it (structuralist view of Mommsen and Broszat)

  • In 1935, the Nuremburg laws were introduced following pressure from local Nazi organisations for stronger action against Jews. At the Nuremburg Rally of 1935, Hitler announced the Laws: he had originally planned to discuss foreign policy in his speech

  • Kristallnacht November 1938 was orchestrated by Goebbels and much of the action occurred spontaneously at local level. Hitler had authorities the action however

  • Nazi official Philipp Bouhler brought Hitler’s attention to a letter from the father of a disabled child asking Hitler to allow his son to be killed. Hitler authorised this and a programme to kill mentally and physically disable children. This policy was known as Aktion T4

Working Towards the Fuhrer” – Ian Kershaw compromise view

  • Kershaw – Nazi officials took “initiatives to promote what were presumed to be Hitler’s aims and wishes.”

  • Kershaw “ initiatives were taken, pressures created, legislation instigated – all in ways which fell into line with what were taken to be Hitler’s aims,”

  • Goering was prepared to enact Hitler’s aim of a Wehrwirtschaft. He was given far-reaching powers by Hitler over economic policy as Plenipotentiary (full powers) of the Office of the Four Year Plan in 1936. In contrast, Schacht – Economics Minister, was sidelined after this time as he did not want to devote the level of resources to rearmament that Hitler wanted. He was ultimately replaced by Walther Funk

  • Goebbels orchestrated Kristallnacht partly because he was out of favour with Hitler following an affair with a racially inferior Czech actress. Kristallnacht was Goebbel’s attempt to win favour with Hitler by ‘working towards’ him

  • In pursuing the idea of murdering disabled children, Bouhler was ‘working towards the Fuhrer’: Hitler sought to create a racially ‘pure’ society in which people who were not fully fit and strong were eradicated from the ‘race’


Life in Wartime Germany, 1939-1945

Overview of the Second World War

  • 1ST September 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. On 3rd September, Britain and France declared war on Germany and the Second World War began

  • Causes?

  • Hitler’s aggressive foreign policy: his policy of Lebensraum led to expansion of the military, and invading Poland was one step too far

  • Weak military system….

  • USA and USSR were isolationist

  • Britain and France were not in a strong position to uphold international order as they both had problems resulting from the Depression

  • Britain appeased Hitler as they were keen to avoid war and felt that the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh

  • USSR signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which allowed Poland to be carved up between themselves and the Germans. Hitler could now attack Poland without fear of Soviet opposition

  • December 1941, after Pearl Harbour the USA join the war. After relative German success, this certainly was a turning point in the war

  • 30th April 1945, Hitler committed suicide when Soviet soldiers reached Berlin – war effectively over

Civilian Morale during the war

  • Nazis managed to maintain domestic supplies quite well…

  • While meat was rationed, it remained at the reasonable level of 500g until April 1942

  • Extra rations were given at Christmas and for those in strenuous jobs

  • Until 1944, rations were in excess of the minimum calories required

  • Early victories in Poland, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium and France helped maintain morale

  • After 1942, morale and support weakened…

  • Working conditions were difficult: hours at work increased, particularly in armaments factories

  • Some young people reacted negatively to the militarisation of the Hitler Youth after 1939

  • Defeat at Stalingrad could not be covered up by the regime as the scale of the losses was so great

  • Allied bombing killed 305,000 people, injured 780,000 and destroyed 2 million homes in Germany

  • The Soviet advance from 1943 and the consequent threat of Soviet invasion caused fear among the German public

  • The V1 and V2 in a 1944 rocket campaign against south-eastern England and Allied ports like Antwerp failed to have a decisive impact

  • Civilian morale did not collapse entirely, like it did in 1918. Goebbels famously called upon a crowd to support ‘total war’ in a speech at the Sportpalast in Berlin February 1943. Films such as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1943) and Kolberg (1945) tried to encourage patriotic feeling

Opposition during the war

  • The Catholic Church continued to speak out where they though their interests or values were threatened. E.g. Large protests against an order to remove crucifixes from Bavarian schools caused the order to be reversed

  • Individual Protestant churchmen attacked the regime. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against the regime and was arrested in 1943 and executed in 1945

  • The Youth – some Edelweiss Pirates became more active during the war, working with the left-wing underground and helping to smuggle out escaped prisoners of war. The leaders of the Pirates in Cologne were publicly hanged for their activities in 1944

  • The Youth – The White Rose student movement was formed in Munich in 1942. The movement of urged Germans to reject Nazi values on ethical grounds. The group distributed anti-Nazi letters and leaflets. Brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl were beheaded for their activities in the movement in 1943

  • Left Wing opposition – Robert Uhrig, established resistance cells in factories: in the summer of 1941, there were 89 of these in Berlin

  • Communist network Rote Kappelle, some of whose members had access to sensitive information, collected intelligence and engaged in the distribution of anti-Naxi leaflets. The network was uncovered and destroyed by the military intelligence in 1942. Other communist groups led by Wilhelm Knochel (umlaut) were broken up in 1943

  • Conservative opposition – The Kreisau Circle was a conservative group led by Junker Helmuth Graf von Moltke which by the end of the war had contacts with the left-wing opposition and opponents of the regime in the army

  • In the army some officers rejected the regime (after Stalingrad). In the 1944 Bomb Plot, an army group sought to assassinate Hitler and seize power. Assassin Stauffenberg’s bomb did not kill Hitler and the plot was uncovered. As a result, 22 generals were executed and Field Marshal Rommel was prevailed upon to commit suicide.

  • Opposition did not succeed in overcoming the regime as…

  • Lack of support – The Bomb Plot only involved 22 out of 2000 generals

  • Existence of terror state, capture meant execution or concentration camps

  • Acted too late, conservatives for example, only started to resist the regime once Nazi power was secure

  • No worked out plan

How efficient was the Nazi war economy?

  • Between 1939 and 1941, German military expenditure doubled

  • By 1941, 55% of the workforce was involved in war-related projects

  • German productivity was low however. Britain produced twice as many aircraft as Germany in 1941 and the USSR 2600 more tanks. Chaotic structure interfered with efficiency

  • Hitler appointed his trusted confident, Albert Speer, as Minister of Munitions in February 1942 following Fritz Todt’s death.

  • Speer took a number of vital actions, like: deploying production lines, trying to exclude military influence from economic planning and using concentration camp prisoners as labour

  • Speer had considerable success, as ammunition production rose by 97%, tank production rose by 25% and total arms production rose by 59%

  • Between 1942 and 1944, German war production trebled

  • Productivity per worker increased by 60% in munitions

The failures of the war economy

  • Although production increased, Germany was still out-produced by the USA and crucially also by the Soviet Union. The failings contributed to Nazi defeat

  • Goering was a main reason for the Nazi war economy performing so badly. He refused to introduce mass production into the aircraft industry and wasted resources on ersatz goods when cheaper imports were available. From 1939, he was off his nut on morphine all the time too, eating chocolate, shopping in Paris and tripping balls

  • State remained chaotic with some Gauleiters and the SS often acting against economic efficiency

  • Unlike in the Soviet Union, Britain and the USA, women were not fully mobilised

  • There was a heavy reliance on foreign labour (of whom there were 6.4 million by 1942). These were often little more than badly treated and underfed slave labourers: as a result, their productivity was 60-80% lower than that of the average German worker

  • Shortages of raw materials, especially coal and oil

  • The SS were often more preoccupied with implementing racial policy than effectively organising the territory that they held and plunder did not amount of efficient economic organisation

  • In the Soviet Union, Stalin’s scorched earth policy hindered the Nazis: in the Donbass region of the Ukraine, the output of Soviet coal mines was only 5% of pre-war levels in 1942, for example

  • Allied bombing reduced the capacity of the German economy to expand further: industry was targeted and the Germans had to divert crucial resources towards defensive measures

  • Only 52% of females worked at the time of outbreak of war

Victims of the Nazis

  • The Second World War caused more than 60 million deaths in total, including 26.6. million Soviet citizens

  • Around 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust (2/3’s of the Jewish population of Europe) along with 250,000-500,000 Roma people and 15,000 homosexuals

  • Over 1 million people (primarily Jews) were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen and their local collaborator’s in Eastern Europe and the USSR

  • Some 3 million Soviet prisoners of war were murdered or starved to death

Jewish Persecution

  • 1ST April, 1933 – boycott of Jewish shops

  • April 1933 – All Jews except war veterans removed from the civil service

  • September 1935 – The Nuremberg Laws banned Jews from German citizenship

  • November 1938 – Kristallnacht, some 20,000 Jewish men sent to concentration camps

  • September 1939 – Ghettos for Polish Jews established

  • 1941 – All forced to wear Star of David

  • January 1942 – The Wannsee Conference, where Nazis agreed upon the ‘Final Solution’

  • Spring 1942 – Death camps established at Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka

The Causes of the Final Solution

  • In Hitler’s speeches, the 25 Points of the Nazi Party (1920) and in Mein Kampf (1925), Hitler’s view that Jews should not be Germans was clear

  • Himmler’s diary entry explains how in December 1941, Hitler authorised or ordered that Jews should be “exterminated as partisans.”

  • However, most historians do not believe that Hitler had a clear plan for the ‘Final Solution’ that pre-dated the war

  • Another explanation is that the Final Solution was a consequence of the process of ever-growing extremism that occurred in the Third Reich as a result of the chaotic decision-making procedures. ‘Cumulative radicalisation’ led to escalating action

  • War also led to it. The invasion of Poland had created the problem of around 3 million Jews, the ghettos were far too overcrowded and something had to be done

  • As war went on, the cost of feeding Jews got too expensive

  • Tried alternatives, like the Madagascar Plan (1940) but these all failed



  • The Einsatzgruppen were SS Death squads who followed the German army as Germany conquered Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, carrying out mass killings of ideological and ‘racial’ enemies of the Nazis
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