To what extent did the Nazi Party rely on force to stay in power?
In Nazi Germany, many would argue that force was relied on to an extent to gain and then remain in power. To what extent it was relied on is difficult to establish as the country was very controlled with no free speech. For example, in November 1932, only 33% of the population supported the Nazis, however merely 7 months later they had secured a one party state. So how important was Hitler’s use of force in regard to achieving this? The dictionary definition of force concludes that it force “is a physical power or strength possessed by a living being; however in reference to force of character it is also a mental or moral strength”. Historians argue that force can be applied to a number of things; therefore mental force can be included. Burleigh has argued that when examining Nazi Germany you have to look beyond the actual use of “terror” and force and examine as he stated “the demise of the rule of law”. If this is applied then the use of force was applied to stay in power. The following points will be discussed in this essay; how he established a one party state, more open force in 1934, control of the German people and also the force used against the Jews and other minorities. These points aim to prove that the Nazi party did use force to stay in power.
When Hitler came to power his regime brought many advantages to the German population. He brought strength and prosperity to a country that had lost it all, creating jobs for a vast number of the population so that there was ultimately full employment. So in some ways there was an element of popularity here. Hitler realised that “popular” policies one way of keeping control over the German people. The difference between the Weimar Republic and Hitler was immense. Hitler restored stability and order and introduced the Gestapo and the SS: these military uniforms suggested strength at a time of weakness. This made the Nazi regime seem extremely appealing in comparison to that of the weak Weimar Republic.
However force was another key element to keeping the Nazis in power. One historian, Gordon Craig thinks that “The force that prevented the regime from dissolving into chaos was terror and its instrument was the SS” (talking in reference about the Police State). The SS were the state’s internal security service; their purpose was to root out any real or imagined opposition to the will of the Fuehrer. It was set up in 1925, to act as Hitler’s personal body guard. In the period to 1933 it grew into a far more powerful and disciplined force, fanatically loyal to Hitler and ably led by Heinrich Himmler. The Gestapo’s (Geheime Staatspolizei – The Secret Police) job was report back to Hitler if they found someone going against the Nazi Regime. These crimes could vary from listening to the BBC or not wearing the type of clothes Hitler wanted them to wear. We can see here the mental force that is used in Nazi Germany to maintain their rule. Their uniform was distinctive: threatening black uniforms and lightning flash collar symbols, striking fear into the minds of Germans. Many people claimed that the police state frightened them into going along with Hitler’s policies instead of speaking out against them.
We can also see the force Hitler used in his process of establishing a one party state. Previously, Hitler’s power was completely misjudged and highly underestimated as Franz Von Papen and General Von Schliecher tried to manipulate him themselves. Franz Von Papen had said “In two months we’ll have pushed Hitler into a corner so hard that he will be squeaking”. This was not the case and a year later, once in power he began the process of creating a totalitarian state. We can clearly see that Hitler does this by use of force however, before he is even in power. Talking after the failure of the Beer-Hall putsch Hitler stated; “the road to power lay not through force alone but through legal subversion of the Weimar Constitution, the building of a mass movement and the combination of parliamentary strength with extra parliamentary street terror and intimidation”. He decided he would never again confront the army or police until they were under his command and he saw the best way to do this was through subversion. With the help of Joseph Goebbels and Herman Goering he would succeed in rebuilding the movement and followers of the Nazi party, which had disintegrated in his absence. Before Hitler is in power he gives a clear indication as to how he will achieve it and in hindsight we can see that this is how he also intended to carry on. Once in power, Hitler began taking steps to a Nazi Dictatorship, the most significant being the introduction of the Enabling Act, March 23rd 1933. This gave Hitler the power to create laws for a period of four years without the approval of the Reichstag and the President. Hitler led them to believe the aim of it was to prevent violence and to “alleviate the distress of the people”. He needed a 2/3 majority and to achieve this he would need to use persuasion along with violence and intimidation. Hitler intimidated the deputies by inviting SS troops into the building of the temporary Reichstag and ordering them to shout “We want the enabling act and we won’t wait!” They also made it very clear what would happen if they voted against it. These threats scared many and it resulted in 444 voting for and only 94 voted against the Enabling Act. This is one of the first times we see Hitler’s force enabling him to get what he wants.
In 1933 Hitler’s force is much more exposed as we see the first of many concentration camps initiated at Dachau in March. Originally these were established to hold torture or kill only political prisoners such as Communists and Social Democrats. This shows us the extent to which Hitler’s strength has reached. The process of law and imprisonment were manipulated for their own ends; people could be sent to concentration camps with no trial or tried for minor “political” offences (remarks about the government). Hitler uses extreme force on June 30th 1934, also known as “The Night of the Long Knives”. Hitler was becoming increasingly annoyed with Ernst Rohm the commander of the SA. By 1933 he was no longer a strong, loyal character. Rohm was exploiting his own homosexuality, but also wanted to take the Nazi “revolution” further. He wanted the SA to replace the Germany Army however, the Generals declined as they despised Rohm and the SA. The German Army had the power to demote Hitler and so he wanted to do as little as possible to anger them. Hitler’s position was being threatened because of this and to eliminate them was the only way to avoid being demoted. The SA was banned and Rohm shot. Hitler claimed that on that night “77 people had been executed as enemies of the state” the true number actually being three times that. This is a very evident use of force as when Hitler feels weakened he takes the situation very seriously and uses extreme force to not only remove these people, but kill them. In the November 1937 Hossbach Memorandum he says that “Germany’s problem could only be solved by means of force and this was never without risk.”
Hitler’s power and force strengthen even more when he begins to control the German people. With the formation of the People’s Court in 1934, Hitler removed any anti-Nazi judges and police officers and replaced them with Nazis. This was a simple use of force that led to giving Hitler the power to arrest those who spoke out against him, including priests. Hitler then introduced “The Acts Hostile to the National Community” in which he could punish those who deserved it (in his eyes) quickly and quietly – usually by means of the concentration camps, now shown to have had a different use. Because Hitler uses such extreme force, no one will actively or openly oppose his decisions as they don’t want to be dealt with in the same way as many others. This force led to the behaviour of the German people that Hitler desired.
However another aspect to the Nazi state was also its use of propaganda to retain its control. In many cases propaganda went hand in hand with the use of force. An example of this can be found in the creation of the Hitler Youth. In 1933 Hitler created the Hitler Youth, making it compulsory to join in 1939. In this instance, not everyone did as they were told, and Hitler takes actions by force. The parents who disallowed their children to attend were put in jail and the children were put into care. Those children who do join the Hitler Youth are then indoctrinated into believing that Nazism is the correct and only party that is beneficial for Germany. These ideas are forced into their minds and we can see Hitler’s use of mental force. By relating all good things to the Nazism, children began to associate Nazism with greatness. The strength the Nazis used mentally forces the children to grow up believing and behaving exactly how Hitler wanted.
Hitler again uses a mixture of propaganda and force to control the lives of the German people but very subliminally. He establishes the Strength through Joy programme (Kraft durch Freude) by making them think what they are being given is, again beneficial to them. He tells them that together they will make Germany strong through happiness and reinforces this when he says: “I wish that the worker be granted a sufficient holiday and that everything is done, in order to let this holiday as well all other leisure time to be truly recreational. I wish this, because I want a determined people with strong nerves, for truly great politics can only be achieved with a people that keeps its nerves.” Those workers who worked hard were given these rewards. Mostly these rewards were Nazi orientated so when they believed they were being given these bonuses, really what Hitler wanted to succeed in doing was to force the idea into their minds that Nazism is the best way there is. He takes this further when he then aims to control the people’s religions. Hitler introduces his own church, the Reich Church. This again revolved around himself and Nazism and the greatness of it all. Few spoke out against this, but some Catholic and Protestant priests did speak out against the situation, but those brave enough to do so were arrested then executed. Again Hitler uses force to maintain his Nazi ideology and continuously force the German nation to do as he wants.
The most frightening and extreme use of force employed by Hitler in Nazi Germany was that Hitler used was against the Jews. Throughout Nazi Germany Jews were abused and discriminated against - merely because of their religion - using extreme methods in an attempt to result in the Final Solution. In April 1933 it was made illegal to go into Jewish shops. This was insured by use of terror and intimidation. Nazi police officers and soldiers were placed outside shops with Jewish owners to stop the citizens going in and buying their products. Also all Jewish lawyers, doctors, teachers and policemen were dismissed and only the doctor’s were still allowed use medicine on other Jews. Hitler wanted the outcome to be the Final Solution in which there would be the total extinction of the Jews. “Workers associated with left wing parties were thrown into concentration camps in their thousands. Industrialists, landowners (until 1944) and bankers were left untouched. Jews an unloved minority, were terrorised.” Hitler now uses extreme force to do so as he introduces the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935. Under these laws, Jews were stripped of their German citizenship and reduced to second class citizens. The Jews were made to be illegal immigrants in their own country. Things worsened more in November 1938 as Germans got ‘revenge’ on the Jews on Kristallnacht (the night of the broken glass). A German Diplomat was murdered in Paris – the excuse for the vicious attack that resulted in 100 Jews dead and 20,000 sent to concentration camps. Hitler’s power was undoubted, and his next stage was to deport all 500,000 Jews back to where they came from. For those who did not leave, things became exceedingly worse. The Final Solution that Hitler hoped was nearly imminent was for total extinction of the Jews. His first written utterance dating from this period emphasized that what he called "the anti-Semitism of reason" must lead "to the systematic combating and elimination of Jewish privileges. Its ultimate goal must implacably be the total removal of the Jews." This makes it clear that that he wants minorities dealt with harshly, in particularly the Jews.
The evidence suggests that Hitler used a large amount of force to gain and then stay in power. This was demonstrated in more than one way; although especially physically and mentally. Even the use of propaganda manipulates the minds of the German people, and in doing so, they are forced into sharing the same thoughts as Hitler. Hitler uses this mental force to gain support and indoctrinate the Germans. Those minorities that Hitler believed Germany would be better off without had force applied to them by a much more serious method. This shows that the Nazis used a great deal of force to remain in power by the control they had over the German’s and how they were able to do so. The extent of force can never be fully justified due to the control Nazi had over the population although we can be sure there was a lot of force used.