The Nazification of Germany
With Adolf Hitler's ascendancy to the chancellorship, the Nazi Party quickly consolidated its power. Hitler managed to maintain a posture of legality throughout the Nazification process.

Domestically, during the next six years, Hitler completely transformed Germany into a police state. Germany steadily began rearmament of its military, in violation of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles . Internationally, Hitler engaged in a "diplomatic revolution" by skillfully negotiating with other European countries and publicly expressing his strong desire for peace.

Starting in 1938, Hitler began his aggressive quest for Lebensraum,or more living space. Britain, France, and Russia did not want to enter into war and their collective diplomatic stance was to appease the bully Germany. Without engaging in war, Germany was able to annex neighboring Austria and carve up Czechoslovakia. At last, a reluctant Britain and France threatened war if Germany targeted Poland and/or Romania.

In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France had no choice but to declare war on Germany. World War II had begun.

On January 30, 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor.

On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building went up in flames. Nazis immediately claimed that this was the beginning of a Communist revolution. This fact leads many historians to believe that Nazis actually set, or help set the fire. Others believe that a deranged Dutch Communist set the fire. The issue has never been resolved. This incident prompted Hitler to convince Hindenburg to issue a Decree for the Protection of People and State that granted Nazis sweeping power to deal with the so-called emergency. This laid the foundation for a police state.

This site covers the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor and the political infighting leading up to that event.

The Reichstag fire and the ensuing emergency decree restricting personal liberties are discussed.

Within months of Hitler's appointment as Chancellor, the Dachau concentration camp was created. The Nazis began arresting Communists, Socialists, and labor leaders. Dachau became a training center for concentration camp guards and later commandants who were taught terror tactics to dehumanize their prisoners. Parliamentary democracy ended with the Reichstag passage of the Enabling Act, which allowed the government to issue laws without the Reichstag.

As part of a policy of internal coordination, the Nazis created Special Courts to punish political dissent. In a parallel move from April to October, the regime passed civil laws that barred Jews from holding positions in the civil service, in legal and medical professions, and in teaching and university positions. The Nazis encouraged boycotts of Jewish-owned shops and businesses and began book burnings of writings by Jews and by others not approved by the Reich.

"The Burning of the Books in Nazi Germany, 1933: The American Response" by Guy Stern.

Nazi antisemitic legislation and propaganda against "Non-Aryans" was a thinly disguised attack against anyone who had Jewish parents or grandparents. Jews felt increasingly isolated from the rest of German society.

Fifteen photographs record Nazi indoctrination of Germany's youth.

The SA (Sturmabteilung) had been instrumental in Hitler's rise to power. In early 1934, there were 2.5 million SA men compared with 100,000 men in the regular army. Hitler knew that the regular army opposed the SA becoming its core. Fearing the power of the regular army to force him from office, Hitler curried their favor by attacking the leadership of the SA in the "Night of the Long Knives." Hitler arrested Ernst Röhm and scores of other SA leaders and had them shot by the SS , which now rose in importance.

This site recounts the events of the "Night of the Long Knives," Hitler's bloody action against the SA.

On August 2, 1934, President Hindenburg died. Hitler combined the offices of Reich Chancellor and President, declaring himself Führer and Reich Chancellor, or Reichsführer  (Leader of the Reich).

Hitler announced the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. These laws stripped Jews of their civil rights as German citizens and separated them from Germans legally, socially, and politically. Jews were also defined as a separate race under "The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor." Being Jewish was now determined by ancestry; thus the Germans used race, not religious beliefs or practices, to define the Jewish people. This law forbade marriages or sexual relations between Jews and Germans. Hitler warned darkly that if this law did not resolve the problem, he would turn to the Nazi Party for a final solution.

More than 120 laws, decrees, and ordinances were enacted after the Nuremburg Laws and before the outbreak of World War II, further eroding the rights of German Jews. Many thousands of Germans who had not previously considered themselves Jews found themselves defined as "non-Aryans."

This discussion of 1932-1935 includes Hitler's rise to power, the instruments of Nazi terror, and the Nuremberg Laws.

Read about the Hitlerjugend , a Nazi organization that counted 60% of Germany's youth among its members by 1935.

Jump to the Resource section to view photos of the Third Reich from 1933-39 including book burnings, Hitler, and Hitler Youth.

In 1936, Berlin hosted the Olympics. Hitler viewed this as a perfect opportunity to promote a favorable image of Nazism to the world. Monumental stadiums and other Olympic facilities were constructed as Nazi showpieces. Leni Riefenstahl was commissioned to create a film, Olympia, for the purpose of Nazi propaganda. Some have called her previous film in 1935, Triumph of the Will, one of the great propaganda pieces of the century. In it, she portrayed Hitler as a god.

International political unrest preceded the games. It was questioned whether the Nazi regime could really accept the terms of the Olympic Charter of participation unrestricted by class, creed, or race. There were calls for a U.S. boycott of the games. The Nazis guaranteed that they would allow German Jews to participate. The boycott did not occur.

While two Germans with some Jewish ancestry were invited to be on the German Olympic team, the German Jewish athlete Gretel Bergmann, one of the world's most accomplished high jumpers, was not.

The great irony of these Olympics was that, in the land of "Aryan superiority," it was Jesse Owens, the African-American track star, who was the undisputed hero of the games.

The Resource section offers photos from the 1936 Berlin Olympics showing street decorations, the arrival of the US team, and the Olympic stadium.

This Resource gallery consists of recent photos showing the Olympic stadium in Berlin.

Recent photos of sculptures on the grounds of the Olympic stadium in Berlin.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum offers a Web tour of its Olympics exhibit.

In March 1938, as part of Hitler's quest for uniting all German-speaking people and for Lebensraum, Germany took over Austria without bloodshed. The Anschluss occurred with the overwhelming approval of the Austrian people. No countries protested this violation of the Treaty of Versailles.

In September 1938, Hitler eyed the northwestern area of Czechoslovakia, called the Sudetenland , which had three million German-speaking citizens. Hitler did not want to march into the Sudetenland until he was certain that France and Britain would not intervene. First, he met with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and threatened to go to war if he did not receive the territory. Then at the Munich Conference, Hitler prevailed upon Britain, France and, Italy to agree to the cession of the Sudetenland. The Western powers chose appeasement rather than military confrontation. Germany occupied the Sudetenland on October 15, 1938.

These photographs show the German annexation of the Sudetenland. In Germany, open antisemitism became increasingly accepted, climaxing in the "Night of Broken Glass" (Kristallnacht) on November 9, 1938. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels initiated this free-for-all against the Jews, during which nearly 1,000 synagogues were set on fire and 76 were destroyed. More than 7,000 Jewish businesses and homes were looted, about one hundred Jews were killed and as many as 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps to be tormented, many for months. Within days, the Nazis forced the Jews to transfer their businesses to Aryan hands and expelled all Jewish pupils from public schools. With brazen arrogance, the Nazis further persecuted the Jews by forcing them to pay for the damages of Kristallnacht .

This Nazi order instigated Kristallnacht "measures."

This gallery shows the desecration of synagogues, some of which were damaged during Kristallnacht.

Movie clip documenting the violence of Kristallnacht.

An extended article on Kristallnacht including an introduction, fact sheet, personal profiles, documents, eyewitness accounts, and an epilogue.

On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, officially starting World War II. Two days later, Britain and France, now obliged by treaty to help Poland, declared war on Germany. Hitler's armies used the tactic of Blitzkrieg, or lightning war, a combination of armored attack accompanied by air assault. Before British and French power could be brought to bear, in less than four weeks, Poland collapsed. Germany's military conquest put it in a position to establish the New Order, a plan to abuse and eliminate so-called undesirables, notably Jews and Slavs.

These photographs document the invasion of Poland and the Nazi mistreatment of Polish Jews.

This discussion of Nazi Germany from 1936-1939 covers euthanasia, Aryanization, and Kristallnacht.

Interactive quiz on the Nazification of Germany

Lesson plans, discussion questions, term paper topics, reproducible handouts, and other resources for teaching about the Nazification of Germany are available here.

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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
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College of Education, University of South Florida © 2005.

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