Terrorism is the best political weapon, as nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death

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Why did the NAZI party stay in power?
Hitler “ Terrorism is the best political weapon, as nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death”
Intimidation/ Fear

Some argue that the use of intimidation and fear made people too sacred to speak out and therefore ensured that the regime survived and didn’t face opposition.
Anyone who opposed the Nazis was persecuted.

  • The SA, SS and Gestapo ( Secret Police) organised all intimidation in Germany. The SS was a symbol of terror, using fear to ensure conformity.

  • Paid informants worked for the Gestapo. They infiltrated everyday life and created a climate of fear. People were too scared to speak out for fear of punishment.

  • By 1939 camps such as Buchenwald and Dachau were full of ‘political prisoners’. Over 250,000 entered the camps from 1933-39, including socialist, democrats, communists, trade unions, Jews Catholics, protestants, homosexuals. Thousands of political executions took place.

  • Rumours and stories made people aware of the dangers of speaking out against Nazis. This ensured a lack of opposition to regime.

  • Threatening propaganda was used in posters, newspapers, radio, films and theatre plays to discourage opposition.

  • Individual church ministers such as Bonhoeffer and Niemoller paid heavily for speaking out against the Nazis

Removal of opposition

Legally removing opposition made it harder to stand against the Nazis.

  • Reichstag Fire – Communist party banned. President passed the Decree for the Protection of the People and State. Banned many freedoms and allowed imprisonment without trial. Arrested 5,000 communists. Democracy is being destroyed.

  • 1933 Enabling Law allows Hitler to pass laws without discussion by Reichstag. Allows Hitler to establish a legal dictatorship.

  • June 1933 Social Democratic Party banned. Other parties dissolved themselves.

  • July 1933 Nazi Party declared the only lawful political party in Germany. Made legal political opposition impossible. Trade unions were banned, this meant workers were unable to demonstrate opposition legally.

  • Hitler makes sure that all individual states were ruled directly from Berlin. They had no political voice of their own which might provide opposition.

  • 1934 Night of the Long Knives, Hitler removes opposition from within the party. (Also a warning to opponents of the regime, showed how they dealt with their enemies, to ensure no opposition)

  • August 1934 Hitler makes himself Fuhrer on Hindenburg’s death. Army took an oath of loyalty to Hitler. This makes opposition even harder.

Weak and Divided opposition

  • The socialists and communists had been Hitler’s greatest opponents. Many were imprisoned after Reichstag fire. Those free set up anti-Nazi groups. But their secret headquarters were frequently raided by SA, SS and Gestapo.

The legal obstruction combined with intimidation made opposition extremely difficult.

Popular Policies (Kershaw/Layton)

Some historians argue that lack of opposition, didn’t come from fear but due to genuine support.
Hitler came to power when Germany was beginning to recover from the Great Depression. In what way did life get better?

  1. Businessmen profited from expansion of armed forces and public work schemes. They were freed from trade unions and communist threat.

  1. Membership of Nazi party grew 1933-1935 grew threefold. (x3) which would suggest a level of support. ( although reasons for this may have been due to popular policies or that it was difficult to gain promotion without being a member of the party – which really links to fear and intimidation, rather than genuine support. If you don’t actively disapprove or approve it is called acquiescence)

  2. Farmers benefited from self sufficiency policy. Prices of agriculture products were fixed, allowing a reasonable profit.

  3. Jobs created by re-armament, public work schemes, labour camps for school leavers and jobs in the NAZI party. Persecution of socialists and Jews created jobs. By 1938 Hitler unemployment was just 250,000.

  4. Although wages were low, hours long and strikes illegal. Workers were given ‘Strength through Joy’ activities which organised cheap holidays, car purchase, outings and evening classes.

  1. Nazis avoided unpopular policies such as heavy taxation or reduction in consumer goods.

  2. Improved social conditions, slums cleared and new housing built. Rent and food prices controlled so did not rise high.

  3. Olympic Games in Germany in 1936, and public building autobahns gave the Germans pride in their country.

  4. Many Germans supported policy towards the Jews, they provided a scapegoat for Germany’s problems.

  5. Foreign policy success, in overturning parts of hated Treaty of Versailles. E.g. 1935 rearming, 1936 entering Rhineland.


Used to create the illusion of support.

  • Goebbels used effective propaganda to make people believe everything was good. Rallies, radio, posters, films.

  • Propaganda made people believe that Hitler was vital for Germany’s success. This reduced opposition. Research shows that propaganda convinced people what they wanted to hear. E.g. Hitler was saving Germany. Many Germans willing to turn a blind eye to negative aspects of Nazi Germany.

  • Propaganda made those hostile to the regime believe that it was so powerful that resistance was futile, which might explain why there was little resistance.

  • Censorship was used to restrict what people knew about Germany and true facts about the economy. If people don’t have full access to facts, it makes it harder to oppose.

Education and Youth Movements

Hitler believed that the young could be more easily influenced than older Germans. Young people had to be educated to be loyal Nazis.

Ensure long term support.

  • All teachers had to be loyal Nazis and belong to the Nationalist Socialist Teachers’ League. The curriculum was changed to enforce Nazi beliefs.

  • Only Nazi youth movements were allowed. These taught loyalty to Hitler and Germany.

  • Children were encouraged to betray ‘disloyal. parents and children.

Possible questions
'The Nazi state relied on fear in order to survive.' How justified is this view?
To what extent did the Nazi regime depend on fear rather than popular support for their control of Germany 1933-39?
“Fascist rule could only exist by exploiting the fears of the masses” To what extent would you agree with reference to Germany up to 1939?

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