The Rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis Establishing the totalitarian state

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The Rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis

Establishing the totalitarian state

By 1933 Hitler was one large step closer to his goal of having complete control of Germany. Before the March elections of that year he had been made Chancellor - the second most powerful political job in Germany. Using the powers that the job gave him, he actively sought to increase his power even more.

Destroying the Reichstag

In February 1933, the Reichstag building was burned down. Hitler blamed the Communists for the fire and arrested the party's 81 officials. After the March elections, using the fire as an excuse, Hitler banned his greatest rivals, the Communist party.

The Enabling Law

At the March elections the Nazi party was the largest single political party. After suspending the Communists, and using his storm troopers (the SA) to intimidate members of the other parties, Hitler had the two-thirds majority in the parliament he needed to suspend the country's constitution.

This meant Hitler now had the power to issue new laws without consulting parliament.

  • He made the Nazis the only legal political organization in the country. The other parties were banned or dissolved themselves.

  • No one could now challenge the Nazis legally, which made opposition very dangerous. Opponents of the Nazis had to work in secret, and some fled abroad.

Suppressing all opponents

In April 1933, the parliaments of the German states (Lander) were replaced by Nazi governors who could appoint and dismiss officials and judges.

  • Anti-Nazis or Jews were removed from the civil service.

  • In May 1933, trade unions were banned and replaced by the Labour Front.

  • In June 1934, in the 'night of the long knives', Ernst Rohm, leader of Hitler's storm troops was killed, along with 400 of his men. This ensured the German army would be loyal to Hitler and showed that even Nazi supporters were not safe if Hitler doubted their absolute loyalty.

In August 1934, President Hindenburg died. With the support of the army, and with no one left to oppose him, Hitler combined the role of President with that of Chancellor and assumed the title of Fuhrer (Leader) of Germany.

Organizations of the totalitarian state

Hitler used a number of organizations to uphold and extend his control of Germany.

  • The SS (Hitler's personal body guard). This organization was made up of fanatical supporters of Hitler. Hitler used them as his execution squad to eliminate his opponents.

  • The SD (Security Service) and Gestapo (Secret State Police). The SD had an army of informants and hunted down, and also often eliminated, opponents.

  • The Police force and law courts. Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, was also in charge of the police. This meant no one investigated the crimes committed by the Nazis. Special 'people's courts' made sure that opponents of the Nazis charged with treason were found guilty, even if there was little or no evidence.

  • Concentration camps. Established in January of 1933. Opponents of the Nazis and undesirable members of the population, such as Jews, Communists and gypsies, were sent to the camps without trial. The SS, Hitler's most loyal organization, ran the camps.

  • The army. After the murder of Rohm, the army pledged their loyalty to Hitler. His plans to rearm the forces and his expansionist foreign policy were popular with them.

The visible evidence of control, seen in flags, symbols and uniforms on the streets, together with the use of informants, made people very cautious. However, the system was not as efficient as it appeared, with security forces often reporting "grumbling" among workers but unable to do much about it.

Social controls

The churches

Despite signing an agreement with the pope, The Catholic Youth League was broken up, Catholic priests arrested, and religious teaching banned. Hitler set up a Protestant Reich Church with Nazi bishops. Ministers, such as Martin Niemoller, who resisted were sent to concentration camps.


To brainwash the young, Jewish and anti-Nazi teachers were sacked and subjects were given a pro-Nazi bias so children would accept Nazi ideas without questioning them. The Nazi youth organization used physical activities to indoctrinate boys to glorify war while girls were taught to welcome their role as mothers.


Joseph Goebbels, as Minister for National Enlightenment, controlled the media and arts. He made sure that Germans were fed Nazi ideology while other ideas were censored. The glorification of Nazi Germany was emphasized by the Nuremberg rallies and the 1936 Berlin Olympics. These were a message to the world that Nazi Germany was here to stay.


Beginning in April of 1933, Jews were removed from public office and the professions. In September 1935, the Nuremberg Laws deprived them of citizenship. Persecution was gradually increased with boycotts of Jewish businesses until Kristallnacht in November 1938 when the SA looted over 7,000 Jewish shops and arrested 20,000 Jews.

Economic controls

The Nazis tried to make Germany self-sufficient - that is, to produce all the goods it needed without having to rely on external supplies. This could be achieved more easily for some types of goods than for others, so the need to obtain access to oil, for example, was part of the reason for Germany's aggressive foreign policy in Eastern Europe.


The Nazis implemented a major program of public works, such as building and repairing roads, railways and houses. This significantly helped reduce unemployment, as did large-scale military rearmament. With Germany building up its armed forces, thousands of jobs in iron, steel, aviation and shipbuilding were created. After 1935, conscription of men into the army also helped reduce the unemployment figures. This was seen as a benefit to the country and enabled many Germans to accept Nazi rule.

Workers' conditions

The Labour Front prevented strikes. Many Germans preferred low paid jobs to unemployment. Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) was an organization set up to make lives better. This meant loyal workers received benefits such as subsidized theatre visits, sports facilities as well as cheap cruises. Although some disliked being regimented even in their leisure pursuits, others enjoyed the better facilities.

The production of the people's car (the Volkswagen) from 1938 suggested Nazism was benefiting workers because they could put their name down for one of these cars and save money each week for two years to buy one.


The government controlled wages and prices but, despite this, the standard of living dropped under Nazi rule. Resources that might have gone towards improving supplies of goods for people to use were diverted into the public works program and into rearmament.

What this meant for ordinary people

It is easy to think that all Germans were affected by the Nazis in everything they did, but in practice many were able to continue with everyday life without much change, as long as they were not among the groups that the Nazis persecuted. They may have been irritated by the propaganda and censorship that restricted what they could read in newspapers or see in cinemas or the theatre, but for some there were compensations in Strength Through Joy, in regular employment or even in lower crime rates - as one historian has said, "if nothing else, dictatorships make good police".

There was also a good deal of support for the foreign policy that sought to overturn Versailles - events like the reoccupation of the Rhineland and the Anschluss with Austria were popular, and seen as evidence that Germany was recovering from the humiliations of Versailles.

This does not suggest that Nazi Germany was a pleasant place to live - unless of course you were one of the Nazi elite. There was always an undercurrent of fear, an element of unpredictability, and for persecuted groups it was a terrible tragedy. But many ordinary people learned to put these things in the background and to get on with their lives. Only a few, however, were brave and committed enough to take their resistance beyond "grumbling" and become active opponents of the Nazis.

Source: Adapted from


  1. Create a timeline in which you outline the major events leading to A. Hitler becoming the Fuhrer (Leader) of Germany. Your timeline should go from January 1933 to December 1935.

  • begin creating your timeline by selecting the appropriate events based on their date

  • place the events in chronological order based on their date

  • summarize the event in your own words

  • lay out your information on a properly titled timeline

  1. Hitler and the Nazis established a totalitarian state in Germany in the 1930s. Outline and describe in point form the various social, political and economic controls established by Hitler and the Nazis to accomplish this.

Impact of Nazi rule

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1 Complete the following paragraph by inserting the correct word in the spaces.

The Nazi Party was able to gain complete control of Germany because the __________ allowed Hitler to pass laws without consulting the __________. By July 1933 all other __________ had been banned. When Nazi __________ took control of the Lander they sacked ___________ and anyone who might oppose them. In 1934 the __________ showed no one was safe. Hitler used the __________ to arrest opponents and the people's courts sent them to __________.

2 Choose the statement which is the most appropriate answer to the question. How far do you agree that Hitler's domestic policies enjoyed widespread popularity between 1933 and 1939?
Identify the different aspects of domestic policy. Examine them to see which were popular and which were not. Come to a judgement on the question.

Describe Hitler's domestic policies and show how they were popular with most of the German people.

Describe the successful economic policies of the Nazis and explain how their policies towards children won them over and how propaganda convinced the adults.

3 The Nazis signed a concordat with the pope and let Roman Catholics carry on as normal.


4 The Nazis set up their own Reich church with bishops to rule it.


5 In schools teachers had to be pro-Nazi.


6 All subjects in the curriculum were taught in a way that made children agree with Nazi policies.


7 Goebbels used newspapers, films, radio and rallies to make the Nazis look powerful.


8 Persecution of the Jews did not begin until Kristallnacht in 1938.


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