Rise of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust What do you know about Adolph Hitler? What do you know of Nazi Germany?

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Rise of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust
What do you know about Adolph Hitler?

What do you know of Nazi Germany?

Why did the Nazis carry out the Holocaust and who were its victims?

What questions do you have about any of the above?

The Rise of Nazi Germany

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 Jews 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 Fuehrer's will became the foundation for all legislation. Indeed, with the establishment of Hitler's dictatorship, the Fuehrer principle (Fuehrerprinzip) 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.


  1. What effect did the Reichstag fire have on Hitler’s rise to power?

  1. In what ways was Germany a “police state”?

  1. How did the Civil Service law strengthen Hitler’s power?

  1. What role did the Enabling Law play in the rise of the Nazi Party?

  1. With Hindenburg’s death, how much power did Hitler have and what was his title?

The Holocaust

At 3 p.m., January 27, 1945, Russian troops of the 100th and 107th divisions entered Auschwitz, a village in southern Poland 30 miles west of Cracow. There, inside Auschwitz's concentration camps, they found 7,600 inmates, including Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank--along with World War II's most terrible secret: the Holocaust. Two days later, the U.S. 7th Army liberated Dachau, another notorious Nazi death camp, located outside of Munich. The liberators could scarcely believe what they saw: starving prisoners, bones protruding from their skin, serial numbers tattooed on their arms; stacks of half-burned corpses; and piles of human hair.

Auschwitz was not the first Nazi concentration camp--that dubious distinction belonged to Dachau, which was set up in 1933--but it was the most infamous. At Auschwitz, 1.6 million people died. Of the victims, 1.3 million were Jews and 300,000 were Gypsies, Polish Catholics, and Russian prisoners of war. Altogether, people from 28 nations lost their lives there, including the disabled, homosexuals, political prisoners, and other deemed unfit to survive by Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

Auschwitz had two main areas. "Auschwitz I" contained a gas chamber and a crematorium, housing for prisoners used in slave labor, and Dr. Josef Mengele's medical experimentation station (where one experiment involved seeing how long babies survived without food).

"Auschwitz II-Birkenau" contained four gas chambers and crematoria. It was here that cattle cars dumped their exhausted passengers. Prisoners entered through a gate inscribed with the infamous words "Work Will Make You Free." SS guards directed each new arrival to the left or the right. The healthy and strong went to the right. The weak, the elderly, and the very young went up a ramp to the left--to the gas chambers, disguised as showers. Inmates were told that the showers were used to disinfect them, but they contained no plumbing and the shower heads were fake. Guards injected Zyklon B through openings in the ceilings and walls, then cremated the bodies. The ashes were used as road filler and fertilizer, or simply dumped into surrounding ponds and fields.

Auschwitz was a product of Adolf Hitler's demented belief that Germans constituted a master race which had a right to kill those they deemed inferior. "Nature is cruel, therefore we too may be cruel," Hitler stated in 1934. "If I can send the flower of the German nation into the hell of war...then surely I have a right to remove millions of an inferior race that breeds like vermin!"

In 1941 and 1942, the Nazi fuehrer initiated the "Final Solution to the Jewish Problem." The Nazis did their best to disguise their murderous scheme behind euphemisms and camouflage, but sometimes the truth slipped out. Heinrich Himmler, the official in charge of carrying out the final solution, explained to his top officers: "In public we will never speak of it. I am referring to the annihilation of the Jewish people. In our history, this is an unwritten and never-to-be written page of glory."

In the spring of 1944, four prisoners escaped from Auschwitz, carrying tangible proof of the Nazi's systematic program of mass murder. In mid-July, American and British leaders learned what was happening at Auschwitz, but they rejected pleas to bomb the gas chambers or the roads and rail lines leading to the camps. Military officials opposed bombing because it would divert "considerable air support essential to the success of our forces now engaged in decisive operations."

This was not the first time that western help failed to come. During the 1930s, the U.S. State Department blocked efforts by Jewish refugees to migrate to the United States. Between 1933 and 1945, the United States allowed only 132,000 Jewish refugees, just 10 percent of the quota allowed by law. This opposition to Jewish immigration, in turn, reflected widespread anti-Semitism. As late as 1939, opinion polls indicated that 53 percent of Americans agreed with the statement "Jews are different and should be restricted." In the end, less than 500,000 Jews (out of 6.5 million) survived in Nazi-occupied Europe.

The Holocaust was a singular and unique event in human history. Never before had a sovereign state, with the cooperation of bureaucrats, industrialists, and civilians, sought systematically to exterminate an entire people. Yet many wonder whether Auschwitz's terrible lesson has been learned. Despite the establishment of Israel, improved Christian-Jewish relations, and heightened sensitivity to racism, many remain ignorant of the past. A 1995 opinion poll found that 5 percent of Americans deny that the Holocaust occurred and 10 percent express doubts or ignorance. More than half a century after the liberation of Auschwitz, "ethnic cleansing" and the persecution of religious, racial, and ethnic groups continues in Bosnia, China, Guatemala, India, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and elsewhere.


  1. How many people were killed at Auschwitz and what groups of people were killed?

  1. What was the “Final Solution”?

  1. Why didn’t the Allies bomb the concentration camps?

  1. In what other ways, did Allies fail to help?

  1. In what ways was the Holocaust a unique event in history?

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