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Hitler's Germany

Click on the above image to access an interactive BBC timeline of Hitler's life and career

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) is possibly the most infamous figure that human history has produced.  His authoritarian state, the 1000 Year Third Reich, had emerged in 1933 only to be razed to the ground in the burning ruins of Berlin in April 1945.  His brief stay in power however was to become the byword in abuse of power, genocide, persecution and for want of a better word, evil. 

An Austrian by birth, an artist by choice, it took the First World War to radicalise Hitler and create the fury that he would later unleash on the world. Although embracing the brotherhood of the Army, his anger at the treatment of his brothers-in-arms whilst fighting, and of Germany from 1918 onwards, led him to the extreme anti-Semitism and hatred of Communism that characterised his ideology.  The failures of his early attempts at revolution saw him compose his opus, Mein Kampf, whilst in prison, and the emergence of the political NSDAP that would see him rise to power.  Once there, his policies would create the apocalypse of WW2 and the Final Solution

Authoritarian State Checklist

Emergence of authoritarian states

  • Conditions in which authoritarian states emerged: economic factors; social division; impact of war; weakness of political system

  • Methods used to establish authoritarian states: persuasion and coercion; the role of leaders; ideology; the use of force; propaganda


Consolidation and maintenance of power

  • Use of legal methods; use of force; charismatic leadership; dissemination of propaganda

  • Nature, extent and treatment of opposition

  • The impact of the success and/or failure of foreign policy on the maintenance of power


Aims and results of policies

  • Aims and impact of domestic economic, political, cultural and social policies

  • The impact of policies on women and minorities

  • Authoritarian control and the extent to which it was achieved


Rise to Power 1919-33

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(l) Nazis : Warning from History ep 1 (BBC) - summary sheet attached; (r) Khan Academy

For many years following the end of World War Two, the rise of Hitler to the position of Führer was thought by the majority to be part of a highly organised masterplan launched by a political genius that meant his assumption of power was by large inevitable.  However, the successive reinterpretations of this widely held position from the 1960s onwards means it is this growth of multiple perspectives that allows us to introduce the concept of historiography in Year 13.


TOK Focus - What qualifies as historical knowledge?  How certain can we be of interpretation?

Historiography is the study of how historical knowledge evolves, and why these paradigm shifts happen.  Hitler's rise to power has inspired many different theories seeking to explain how the progressive liberal democracy of the Weimar Republic found itself at the mercy of a rabidly extremist anti-Semite and ultranationalist via its own political machinations.  Given the foundations the Weimar were forged on were upon a post-war environment consensus determined to keep the peace at all costs, it is this sudden volte face by those at the heart of the Weimar Republic that partly explains why there have been so many academic theories constructed about the rise of Hitler. 


As IB History students, your job is to examine these historical theories and assess their validity based upon who compiled them, when they did so and why they did it.  These assessments will introduce various schools of historical interpretation, and how these schools can be further classified along a chronological scale, both of which will prove important in developing historical analysis as we move through the course.  The use of these concepts in providing extra depth and rigour to analysis form the basis of academic history writing, and as such we aim to make sure that these skills become part and parcel of our developing skill-set.

Looking at the key causes which are identified with the rise of Hitler, it is clear that there are methods used and conditions which allow or promote his promotion as Chancellor.  The exercise illustrated below meant that these causes instead of just being assembled in a traditional linear fashion, are instead assembled in a causal pyramid allowing for more nuance in examining how far Hitler was responsible for his own good fortune.

The next step is for each individual to start to examine their own interpretation of events by highlighting them as methods or conditions, an exercise which will then allow comparison with the various historical schools of interpretation examined in the Powerpoint accessed by clicking on the icon to the right......

Various historical judgements about Nazi Germany can now be linked to these different schools and then in turn examined alongside original choices about the RTP of Hitler.  Overall, the conclusion reached was that Hitler's rise to power was overwhelmingly the result of socioeconomic conditions shaping the events of the early 1930s in Germany - but what about the role of the man himself....?    The podcast below introduces this very debate....


Questions to consider

 - What is meant by 'totalitarianism'?

 - Why did it emerge at the start of the 20thC?

 - Define intentionalism + structuralism

 - How did Hitler make his own luck?

 - Which socioeconomic forces helped?

 - What cultural dynamics were at play?

 - How was it possible that Hitler rose to power?

 - How did he stay there even when all was lost?

 - Was he evil?  Is that of any use to the historian?

"Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how history has struggled to explain the enormity of the crimes committed in Germany under Adolf Hitler: we have had theories of ‘totalitarianism’, and of ‘distorted modernity’, debates between ‘intentionalists’ and their opponents the ‘structuralists’. The great political philosopher Hannah Arendt said, “Under conditions of tyranny, it is far easier to act than to think”. But somehow none of these explanations has seemed quite enough to explain how a democratic country in the heart of modern Europe was mobilised to commit genocide, and to fight a bitter war to the end against the world’s most powerful nations."


With Ian Kershaw, historian and biographer of Hitler; Niall Ferguson, fellow and tutor in Modern History at Jesus College Oxford; Mary Fulbrook, Professor of German History at University College London.

Rise of the Nazis and transition to power - podcast
Hitler's Rise : In Colour - remastered original film footage of NSDAP's rise to power (C4) - summary sheets attached..

Consolidation + Maintenance of Power 

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'Power of the Idea' - Ian Kershaw

- In this chapter from his 'Hitler', IK details the origins of Hitler's ideology which found itself fully formed by 1924 in his book 'Mein Kampf'.

- By examining these ideas, we can better understand how the Third Reich was organised and why it operated in the way that it did, with its emphasis on war, social engineering and internal division

- Read the highlighted text below + create an annotated timeline such as on the board (left) to help explain the progression of Hitler's ideology base

Once the elites on the right, headed by von Papen and Hindenberg, had invited Hitler to become Chancellor on Jan 30 1933, he swiftly outmanoeuvred their attempts to 'tame' him.  An attempted arson attack on the Reichstag on 27 Feb saw Hitler use Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution in order to unravel the entire republic - it allowed him to declare martial law, arrest Communist politicians and so get his Enabling Act passed by the end of March.  This Act effectively meant the Reichstag voted itself out of existence with its granting of unprecedented powers to Hitler who could now rule without restraints.  Over the next year, this allowed the NSDAP to succeed in its policy of Gleichschaltung in which a single party state was established, and in which any opposition, whether actual or perceived, was quashed.  With the apparatus of the state in their hands, the NSDAP leadership then purged its own ranks on the Night of the Long Knives 31 June 34, whilst with the death of the old President Hindenburg in august, Hitler could now combine both of their roles into the new position of Fuhrer.  With the Wehmacht swearing an oath of loyalty, Fuhrerprinzip was operational...

With the advent of Fuhrerprinzip, one could assume that this would provide us as historians with an easy answer to the question where did the power lie within the 3rd Reich......however, history is never that easy!  Your research using the handout is to explore that very question, but in order to address that, your first enquiry must establish how useful Hitler was as leader.

Using the Powerpoint on historical interpretations (top left) and further explanation on Kershaw's ideas of charismatic domination via the the Hitler Myth (bottom left), your notes on Chaos + Consent (below) + your reading from Lynch, plan out notes using the summary sheet (right) which address this initial question + establish how effective was Hitler in being Fuhrer...

How effective was Gleichschaltung?

Gleichschaltung was the consolidation of the Nazification of how power was exerted within Germany.

The Weimar Republic had established a number of institutions that allowed for the political control of Germany along democratic lines, using Montesquieu's separation of powers structure

The requisition and subjagation of these institutions consolidated Nazi control, whilst at the same time never realising the revolution that Hitler had earlier promised....

Your job is to make a copy for  your notes of these board diagrams with explanations about how effectively the Nazis consolidated their power...

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Aims + success of policy

From New Plan to Four-Year Plan

- How effective was Nazi economic policy?

Hitler's Germany has often been associated with an economic miracle which saw the country recover from a catastrophic Great Depression in a matter of months.

This has often been attributed to the radical policies of Minister Schadt and later the drive to war.  This policy of rearmament in itself has been seen as a crucial decision in the recovery overall of German economic performance

Big business has likewise often been portrayed as being in the pocket of the NSDAP with Hitler seemingly in control of all these facets of the Third Reich's economic performance

However, given what we have already gathered about the debate over the Nazi's rise to power and consolidation, these assumptions clearly need investigation.


Your task is to use the Collier + Pedley and Lynch reading along with the resources here to determine the extent to which Nazi economic policy 'success' was :

- successful economically and in what areas

- part of a controlled plan or down to fortune

- a key component of authoritarian control

Click on the book icon on the right to access the googledoc worksheet to complete that will help you establish how effective Nazi economic policy really was..


Between February 1933 and the start of World War TwoNazi Germany underwent an ‘economic miracle’ – or so the leaders of Nazi Germany wanted

their people to believe. Not only was the idea of an economic miracle sold to the people of Germany,  the propaganda element also wanted the idea sold to Europe and to the wider world.  Was there really an economic miracle in Nazi Germany or was it merely a card trick – one that appeared to happen but really did not?


Using the most basic of statistics, Nazi Germany certainly underwent major economic change. Like most other countries in Europe, Weimar Germany 

had suffered from a very high unemployment record and Nazi Germany inherited this. By the time World War Two started the unemployment rate in Germany had tumbled: trade unions had been tamed, the work force had seemingly developed a positive work ethic and job prospects were better – on paper at least.  However, when certain data is factored into the equation, the issue of job creation is not quite as clear cut...


Between January 1933 and 1939, a series of laws were introduced that made it effectively impossible forJews to work in Nazi Germany. Those that fled abroad in fear of their lives left behind jobs that were filled. Those who remained in Germany simply could not work and once again their previous employment was taken over by ‘approved’ Germans.  Over time, many women were also excluded from many areas of work. Hitler had made it clear where his beliefs were: women true to the Aryan race should stay at home and look after children. This again reduced the unemployment rate.

Another ‘card trick’ was the introduction of compulsory military service for young men. If you wanted to attend a university, for example, you had to have done some form of either youth service or military training before attending university. Once again, those who were engaged in compulsory military service were removed from unemployment figures.


The final factor with regards to the huge drop in unemployment was fear – anyone who was found guilty of being ‘work shy’ could be condemned to the concentration camps that were found throughout Nazi Germany. While Hitler frequently referred to the “economic miracle” of Nazi Germany, people previously employed in what could be classed as professional employment ended up doing manual labour on the autobahns, for example. If such a job was refused, you could be accused of being ‘work shy’ with the known associated punishments.


Therefore, when the above is taken into account, it is true that unemployment figures tumbled. In 1932, in the dying days of the Weimar Republic, 5.6 million people were unemployed – many of whom gave their support to the Nazi Party as the only party that offered them hope. By 1934, this figure had fallen to 2.7 million – a seemingly impossible decrease. By 1936, only 1.6 million people were unemployed and by 1938 the figure was 0.4 million. Therefore in five years, unemployment had fallen by 5.4 million – 96%. No other west European country came anywhere near this figure – hence why it was labelled a “miracle”. Possibly the only surprise in this is that 400,000 remained unemployed.


Another issue that has to be studied to explain this ‘economic miracle’ is the simple fact that Hitler put Nazi Germany onto a war economy much earlier than the September 1939 outbreak of war. From 1935 on, a huge proportion of government spending was on the military. Therefore labour intensive industries such as steel production and coal mining prospered as there were needed in very large amounts to fuel the expansion of the military. In 1933, Krupp’s made a profit of 6.65 million Reichmarks. In just one year this had nearly doubled to 11.40 million Reichmarks. By 1937, the company had an annual profit of 17.80 million Reichmarks.


In 1933, Germany spent just 3% of her GDP on the military. By 1939, this had grown to 32% and 22% of the work force was directly employed in an industry somehow associated with military production. However, the production of consumer goods was not ignored – on the orders of Hitler. He wanted the German people to believe that they themselves were directly benefitting from the ‘economic miracle’ that he had fostered. For this reason there was a steady increase in consumer goods as 1939 approached, which continued into World War Two. It led to one unnamed general stating that Nazi Germany had to fight the war with refrigerators.


If Nazi Germany underwent an ‘economic miracle’ then a logical assumption was that the workers themselves benefitted in material terms. Many had employment under Hitler – but few dared to refuse what was offered. In fact if the figures are analysed in terms of the wages paid, workers were worse off under Hitler than they had been before the Wall Street Crash. 1934 was the only year from 1933 to 1939 when the wages paid to the workers equalled what an employed person earned in 1928. Other than this year, in every other year they got paid less. So while there was a steady increase in the production of consumer goods, how many workers could afford them? When compared to workers in America, the UK, Sweden and France, workers in Nazi Germany were paid the least.


However, in the area of imports/exports, Nazi Germany did quite well. In 1933, 1935, 1936 and 1937 there was a trade surplus while the annual trade deficit of 1934 and 1937 were relatively small.  This would suggest, whilst more consumer goods were being made, they were being sold abroad, maybe to ensure that resources needed for rearmament were being secured in sufficient numbers...?


In conclusion, whether Nazi Germany experienced an “economic miracle” depends on what stance you make. Was it merely a card trick whereby industry was mainly stimulated by the vast growth in the requirements of the military? Was it an “economic miracle” that the unemployment figures fell so drastically when groups were excluded from the data and others forcibly made to work in areas they were not trained for?  

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Nazi society and the People's Community, or Volksgemeinschaft
- How successful was the Third Reich's social engineering? 

Given the emphasis explored above of ideology on economic policy, was there any substantial difference in terms of social policy in the Third Reich?  was there a similar miracle in terms of indoctrination of the German people, the Volk?  Was Hitler able to ensure his vision of a 1000 Year Reich based upon racial purity and Social Darwinism had infiltrated all laysers of society?  Or were there limits to the impact his social policies had on the people and therefore his vision for the furure?

The task therefore must be to research those areas within society who were subject to the social engineering policies of Volksgemeinschaft and ascertain whether those policies succeeded or failed.....  Using the powerpoint below via the book icon, Lynch reading pp 95-109, and thefaculties lectures below, complete the googledoc on the left.

TWE did the social policies of the Third Reich achieve their aims?


Persecution of minorities

Why did Hitler hate the Jewish community so much?

Hitler's personal anti-Semitism certainly grew during his time as an impoverished art student before WWI when he was living in Vienna.  However, he was not alone with Europe as a whole having such a history anti-semitism that it has been coined a 'European disease' by figures such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel.  Hitler and those like him had always emerged at times of economic hardship such as before, during and after WWI. 


What has made, and continues to make Europe such an anti-Semitic continent? 

Read the book icon below right and answer the questions attached underneath via the question mark. 


Then watch thefaculties lecture below and add notes on how Hitler and the NSDAP manipulated existing anti-Semitic intolerance within Germany for their own ends...

What was Kristallnacht and why was 1938 so significant?
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Kristallnacht - 9-10 Nov 1938

Over the 'Night of Broken glass', SA and SS stormtroopers systematically and with government backing attacked the German Jewish community  burning 267 synagogues to the ground, looting and burning over 7 000 Jewish businesses, arresting over 30 000 people and leaving hundreds dead.  It is widely regarded as a crucial step towards the Holocaust with the tacit approval of murder as a tool to be used by the authorities

Left - sources

Far left top - ev summary

Far left btm - OPCVL table

What was the Final Solution + who was responsible?

Foreign policy 1933-45

     Walsh.     Move to Global war

Case study 2: German and Italian expansion (1933–1940)

Causes of expansion

  • Impact of Nazism on the foreign policy of Germany

  • Impact of domestic economic issues on the foreign policy of Germany

  • Changing diplomatic alignments in Europe;

  • The end of collective security; appeasement


  • German challenges to the post-war settlements (1933–1938) 

  • German expansion (1938–1939); Pact of Steel, Nazi–Soviet Pact and WW2


  • International response to German aggression (1933–1938)

  • International response to Italian aggression (1935–1936)

  • International response to German and Italian aggression (1940)

Perspectives on Hitler + the Third Reich

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