Hitler and Nazi Germany
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Hitler and Nazi Germany

A History

Jackson J. Spielvogel, David Redles

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eBook - ePub

Hitler and Nazi Germany

A History

Jackson J. Spielvogel, David Redles

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About This Book

Hitler and Nazi Germany: A History is a brief but comprehensive survey of the Third Reich based on current research findings that provides a balanced approach to the study of Hitler's role in the history of the Third Reich.

The book considers the economic, social, and political forces that made possible the rise and development of Nazism; the institutional, cultural, and social life of the Third Reich; World War II; and the Holocaust. World War II and the Holocaust are presented as logical outcomes of the ideology of Hitler and the Nazi movement. This new edition contains more information on the Kaiserreich (Imperial Germany), as well as Nazi complicity in the Reichstag Fire and increased discussion of consent and dissent during the Nazi attempt to create the ideal Volksgemeinschaft (people's community). It takes a greater focus on the experiences of ordinary bystanders, perpetrators, and victims throughout the text, includes more discussion of race and space, and the final chapter has been completely revised. Fully updated, the book ensures that students gain a complete and thorough picture of the period and issues.

Supported by maps, images, and thoroughly updated bibliographies that offer further reading suggestions for students to take their study further, the book offers the perfect overview of Hitler and the Third Reich.

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The advent of Nazism in the 1920s and 1930s shocked many Europeans who believed that World War I had been fought to make the “world safe for democracy.” Indeed, Nazism was only one, although the most important, of a number of similar-looking fascist movements in Europe between World War I and World War II. While Nazism, like the others, owed much to the impact of World War I, it also needs to be viewed in the context of developments in Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Europe in the Nineteenth Century

Many Europeans perceived the nineteenth century as an age of progress based on the growth of rationalism, secularism, and materialism. One English social philosopher claimed that progress was not an “accident, but a necessity,” which would enable humans to “become perfect.” By the end of the nineteenth century, however, there were voices who challenged these optimistic assumptions. They spoke of human irrationality and the need for violence to solve human problems. Nazism would later draw heavily upon this antirational mood and reject the rationalist and materialist views of progress.
The major ideas that dominated European political life in the nineteenth century seemed to support the notion of progress. Liberalism professed belief in a constitutional state and the basic civil rights of every individual citizen, although what qualified one for full citizenship often broke down along gender, class, and racial lines. French emperor Napoleon attempted to spread liberalism in the lands he conquered, including many German territories in the former Holy Roman Empire, which had been dissolved in 1806. This liberalization included beginning the process of emancipating German Jews. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, the Congress of Vienna, which met to settle the peace and restore Europe to its pre-Napoleonic power structure, decided to let the emancipation stand in the newly formed Germanic Confederation, a loose association of 39 mostly German-speaking states and free cities. Moreover, the Congress called for “parity” among the confessional faiths of Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism. However, the Congress allowed individual states to make their own decisions on “regulating” their Jewish populations. In many cases this led to a roll back of liberties for the newly emancipated Jews, often excluding them from political office, entrance into the military, or at least the officer corps, as well as forbidding Jews from being teachers and professors in schools and universities. When the state of Bavaria attempted to extend liberal policies regarding Jews to the city of Würzburg in 1819, anti-Semitic riots broke out. These so-called Hep-Hep riots began in August and continued until October, spreading throughout much of the Confederation. Similar riots broke out after the failed liberal revolutions of 1830 and 1848. Where emancipation did proceed, many non-Jewish Germans expected the new Jewish citizens to fully assimilate into German culture, including converting to Christianity. The process of emancipation and assimilation was not easy, but by the end of the century most Jewish Germans were fully integrated into Germany society, yet without abandoning Judaism.
While Napoleon had hoped to spread liberalism throughout Europe, his heavy-handed tactics also spread nationalism. Most German liberals of the early nineteenth century were also ardent nationalists, dreaming of a future unified Germany, a common Fatherland for all ethnic Germans, yet one based on guaranteed civil liberties and representative government. After losing to Napoleon, Freikorps (Free Corps) voluntary militia units were formed to continue the fight to liberate German lands from the French. One of the most famous units, Freikorps Lützow, made up of students, professors, craftsmen, and laborers, became the very model of the nationalistic volunteer soldier, willing to sacrifice his life for love of Volk (nation, people, or race) and Fatherland. Although such nationalism was often a liberalizing force in the first half of the nineteenth century because of its stress on the freedom and right of separate peoples to have their own nations, in the second half of the century it became a chauvinistic force that encouraged the right of some nationalities, often deemed racially superior, to dominate other inferior or “backward” peoples. Tied to the new mass politics, popular nationalism came to destroy nineteenth-century liberal values, fostering fanaticism and violence at the expense of reasoned debate and compromise. Along with this extreme nationalism came a virulent racism, commonly in the form of anti-Semitism, that insisted on the right of a race to maintain its purity by excluding the Jews. Nazism would champion nationalism and place anti-Semitism at the heart of its own ideology. Advocating leadership and hierarchy, Nazism would also react against the nineteenth- and twentieth-century development of political democracy with its practice of universal manhood suffrage. The granting of political rights to the masses by the upper- and middle-class leaders of society had been intended to prevent the radicalization of the masses from below. But the advent of new demagogues who knew how to manipulate mass sentiment created the potential for strong antidemocratic movements. Another nineteenth-century political ideology, conservatism, played only a moderate role in the development of Nazism, which generally allied itself with conservative forces for purely opportunistic reasons.
Nineteenth-century European civilization underwent a tremendous transformation as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Industrialization led to increased urbanization, a new class structure, and new values. By the end of the nineteenth century, 50 percent of Europeans lived in cities, which were seen by many as places of alienation and depersonalization. A new industrial middle class emerged and soon allied itself with the traditional conservative landed aristocratic classes. Moreover, the industrial factory system created a huge urban working class. Many workers were eventually attracted to the Marxian socialist movement in the hope of bettering their condition. It is no accident that Nazism would try to win over workers by appealing to both nationalism and socialism (Nazi = National Socialist German Workers’ Party), even though its brand of socialism was far removed from Marxian socialist doctrines. Finally, the products of industrialism dazzled Europeans and led to an increased faith in science and technological achievements, further reinforcing the feeling of progress. The Industrial Revolution, however, led to social discontent as well. The workers had their socialist trade unions and parties to work for better conditions, but often members of the middle class, and especially the lower middle class, felt threatened by the rapid changes in society. Their fear of economic decline and loss in social status to the proletariat would lead many of them to support the Nazis as champions of a hierarchical social order that would preserve traditional class positions. The lower middle class would be one source of support for Nazism, although ultimately they would draw support from all strata of society.
Internationally, Europeans saw themselves as experiencing an age of progress in the nineteenth century. Since 1815, wars had been localized or contained by agreement of the great powers. Europe developed a balance-of-power politics based on alliances that kept the peace but at the same time increased rivalry among the states. After 1870, imperialism added to the competition. European technological progress enabled Europeans to carve up almost all of Africa and dominate much of the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific. Germany too would attempt to extend its empire around the world, especially in German Southwest Africa (now Namibia) and German East Africa (now Tanzania). When local tribes such as the Herero and the Nama rebelled against German authority from 1904 to 1908, a bloody campaign to annihilate the tribes involving the use of machine guns, deliberate starvation, concentration camps, and forced labor killed tens of thousands of men, women, and children. The campaign against the “rebels” was led by General Lothar von Trotha, a racist who had previously fought in colonial wars in Tanzania and China. He envisioned the coming struggle this way:
Von Trotha subsequently declared a state of war in the colony and defeated the out-gunned Herero on the battlefield on August 11, 1904. As Herero refugees fled into the Omaheke desert hoping to reach safety in British Botswana, von Trotha issued the following order:
It is not a surprise then that many scholars consider this the first genocide of the twentieth century. Importantly, von Trotha had the complete support of Emperor Wilhelm II and Chief of the General Staff Alfred von Schlieffen in his use of such brutal tactics. Imperialism, militarism, and racism, including anti-Semitism, often went hand in hand. Indeed, Germany’s anti-Semitic political parties were also ardent supporters of the Second Reich’s colonial ambitions. Such imperialistic adventures led to new rivalries, culminating in World War I. It was the results of World War I that spurred the rise of Nazism in Germany, a movement that hoped to not only to settle the supposed Jewish Question once and for all, but also to extend the Third Reich’s dominion throughout eastern Europe.

Imperial Germany: The Kaiserreich

Germany entered the nineteenth century as a divided state and did not become united until 1871. An earlier attempt at unification in the revolution of 1848, when the forces of liberalism and nationalism were combined, failed miserably. Unification was finally accomplished under the militaristic north German state of Prussia, whose policies were dominated by its strong and confident minister-president, Otto von Bismarck.

Bismarck and the New Germany

Bismarck unified Germany by force, using the methods of Realpolitik—a policy of realism. One of the great practitioners of Realpolitik, he gave a compelling explanation of the term in his famous address to the Prussian parliament in 1862: “The great questions of the day will not be settled by speeches and majority decisions—that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by blood and iron.”2 After isolating each of them, Bismarck and Prussia successively defeated Denmark, Austria, and France to achieve a united German state in 1871, with the Prussian king as the new German emperor. Bismarck managed to separate nationalism from liberalism and wed it to his own conservatism, but even German liberals were not unhappy because of his success. One old liberal proclaimed:
Prussian leadership also meant the victory of authoritarian over liberal-democratic, constitutional sentiments in the creation of the German state. Moreover, since most Prussians, including Bismarck and the emperor, were Protestant, suspicions quickly arose that Catholic Germans were not truly loyal to the new unified nation. Liberal Protestants had successfully pushed for the secularization of the government and the educational systems for decades, and the papacy famously responded with the encyclical Mirari vos in 1832, which condemned liberalism, free press, and free thought, and in 1864 published the “Syllabus of Errors,” which further rejected freedom of religion, separation of church and state, civil marriage, and the sovereignty of the people, which therefore led to a condemnation of both democracy and socialism. The Vatican also opposed the liberal revolutions of 1848–1849, and later supported France and Austria against Prussia during Bismarck’s wars. The declaration of Papal Infallibility in 1870, the same year the Catholic Center Party was founded in Germany, especially worried Bismarck. This led to the infamous Kulturkampf (Culture Struggle) between Bismarck, supported by German liberals, and the Vatican. From 1872 to 1876 a series of laws were enacted that made it illegal for clerics to make political statements from the pulpit, outlawed the Jesuits, abolished church oversight of primary school education, and mandated civil marriage. While most of the laws were eventually repealed, the Kulturkampf further divided religious conservatives and more secular liberals. That German Jews were often equated with both liberalism and socialism, indeed, modernism in general, also led to an increase in anti-Semitism during this period. Medieval accusations of ritual murders and blood libels reappeared as old antagonisms reemerged during the Kulturkampf.
Despite this contentious start, the new German state established in 1871 began with a constitution that provided for a federal system with a bicameral legislature. The upper house, or Bundesrat, contained representatives from the 25 states that made up the German Empire. Individual states, such as Prussia and Bavaria, kept their own kings, post offices, and armies in peacetime. The lower house, known as the Reichstag, was elected on the basis of universal manhood suffrage, which created the potential for the growth of political democracy. This potential remained unfulfilled, however, until Germany’s defeat in World War I. Ministerial responsibility, an important component part of political democracy, was excluded from the German system. Ministers of government, among whom the chancellor (a position held by Bismarck until 1890) was the most important, were held accountable not to the Reichstag but to the German emperor. The emperor also controlled the armed forces, foreign policy, and internal administration. As chancellor, Bismarck worked to maintain the strong position of the emperor and to prevent the growth of a functional parliamentary system and responsible political parties. The German army, a powerful institution, supported the traditional monarchical and aristocratic institutions and operated under a general staff responsible only to the emperor. Thus, the army was independent of the chancellor and the Reichstag, virtually a state within the state and a hindrance to the evolution of German democracy.

The Reign of Wilhelm II

The new imperial German state established by Bismarck continued as an authoritarian, conservative, “military–bureaucratic power state” during the reign of Kaiser (Emperor) Wilhelm II (1888–1918). The young emperor, who cashiered Bismarck in 1890, was politically unskilled, intellectually unstable, and prone to verbal aggressiveness and tactless remarks, as evidenced in his rejoinder to young recruits that they must shoot at their parents when their emperor commanded them to do so. The emperor was joined by a small group (about 20) of powerful men who determined government policy.
During Wilhelm’s reign, Germany became the greatest industrial and military power on the Continent. Its population rose dramatically from 41 million in 1871 to almost 68 million in 1914. New social configurations emerged rapidly. By 1910, over 50 percent of German workers were employed in industry; only one-third of the workforce remained in agriculture. As large numbers of workers fled from rural to urban areas in search of jobs, cities mushroomed in size and number. But rapid changes in Wilhelmine Germany led to serious strains, producing a society torn between modernization and traditionalism.
With industrial and urban expansion came demands for more political participation and a noticeable shift to the left politically. Two of the major parliamentary groups of imperial Germany, the liberals and conservatives, experienced a decline in Reichstag seats from 1890 to 1912. While the Center Party, dedicated to Catholic interests, maintained a steady 20 percent of Reichstag delegates, it was the So...

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Citation styles for Hitler and Nazi Germany
APA 6 Citation
Spielvogel, J., & Redles, D. (2020). Hitler and Nazi Germany (8th ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1506612/hitler-and-nazi-germany-a-history-pdf (Original work published 2020)
Chicago Citation
Spielvogel, Jackson, and David Redles. (2020) 2020. Hitler and Nazi Germany. 8th ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/1506612/hitler-and-nazi-germany-a-history-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Spielvogel, J. and Redles, D. (2020) Hitler and Nazi Germany. 8th edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1506612/hitler-and-nazi-germany-a-history-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Spielvogel, Jackson, and David Redles. Hitler and Nazi Germany. 8th ed. Taylor and Francis, 2020. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.