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Nazi Germany
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Nazi Germany

Nazi Germany or the Third Reich commonly refers to Germany in the years between 1933 and 1945, when it was under the firm control of Adolf Hitler's dictatorship and the totalitarian ideology of National Socialism (a variant of fascism).

The term Nazi is a short form of the German Nationalsozialismus; the ideology was institutionalized in the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or Nazi Party for short.

The Third Reich is an anglification of the German expression "Das Dritte Reich", and is used as a synonym for Nazi Germany. The term was introduced by Nazi propaganda, which counted the Holy Roman Empire as the first Reich, the 1871 German Empire the second, and its own regime as the third. This was done in order to suggest a return to alleged former German glory after the perceived failure of the 1919 Weimar Republic.

The Third Reich was sometimes also referred to as the "Thousand Year Reich", as it was intended by its founder, Adolf Hitler, to stand for one thousand years, as in the case of the Holy Roman Empire. The Nazi Party attempted to combine traditional symbols of Germany with Nazi Party symbols in an effort to reinforce the perception of them as being one and the same. Thus the Nazi Party used the terms "Third Reich" and "Thousand Year Reich" to connect the allegedly glorious past to its supposedly glorious future. Initially Hitler's plans seemed to be well on their way to fruition. At its height, the Third Reich controlled the greater part of Europe. However, due to the defeat by the Allied powers in World War II, the Thousand Year Reich in fact lasted only 12 years (from 1933 through to 1945).

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Table of contents
1 Chronology of events
2 Pre-War Politics 1933-1939
3 World War II
4 Aftermath
5 Organizations in The Third Reich
6 Related Articles
7 External links

Chronology of events

Pre-War Politics 1933-1939

On January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg after attempts by General Kurt von Schleicher to form a viable government failed and under heavy pressure from former Chancellor Franz von Papen. Even though the Nazi Party had gained the largest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they had no majority in parliament.

Consolidation of power

The new government installed dictatorship in a series of measures in quick succession (Gleichschaltung for details). On February 27, 1933 Hermann Göring orchestrated the Reichstag building fire, which was followed immediately with the Reichstag Fire Decree, which recinded Habeas corpus, and other protective laws. The next Reichstag elections on March 5, 1933, yielded 43,9 % of the vote for the NSDAP giving them a slight majority. The Reichstag drove the final nails in Weimar's coffin by passing the Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz) on March 23, 1933, which formally gave Hitler the power to govern by decree and in effect disbanded the remainders of the Weimar constitution altogether.

Further consolidation of power was achieved on January 30, 1934 with the Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reichs (act to rebuild the Reich). The act changed the highly decentralized federal Germany of the Weimar era into a centralized state. It disbanded state parliaments, transferred sovereign rights of the states to the Reich central government and put the state administrations under the control of the Reich administration. At the death of president Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, the Nazi controlled Reichstag merged the offices of Reichspräsident and Reichskanzler and reinstalled Hitler with the new title Führer und Reichskanzler.

The institution of the Gestapo, police to act outside of any civil authority, highlighted the Nazi's intention to hold powerful means of directly controlling German society. Soon, mirroring Stalin’s terror in the Soviet Union, an estimated army of about 100,000 spies and infiltrants operated throughout Germany, reporting to Nazi officials the activities of any critics or dissenters. Most ordinary Germans, happy with the improving economy and better standard of living remained obedient and quiet, but many political opponents, especially communists and socialists, were reported by omnipresent eavesdropping spies, and put in prison camps where they were severally mistreated, and many tortured and killed. Estimates of political victims range in dozens of thousands dead and dissapeared in the first few years of Nazi rule.

For political opposition during this period, see German resistance movement.

Social policy

The Nazi regime was characterized by political control of every aspect of society in a quest for racial (Aryan, Nordic), social and cultural purity. Modern abstract art and avant garde art was thrown out of museums, and put on special displays of “Degenerate art” where it was ridiculed.

The Nazi Party pursued its aims through persecution of those considered impure, especially against targeted minority groups such as Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals.

By the Nuremberg Laws passed in 1935, Jews were renounced from the German citizenship and denied government employment. Most Jews employed by Germans lost their jobs at this time, their jobs being taken by unemployed Germans. On November 9, 1938, the Nazi party organized a pogrom against Jewish businesses called the Kristallnacht ("Crystal Night"); the euphemism was used because the numerous broken windows made the streets look as if covered with crystal. The Nazis were no less cruel to their own population, as they carried out the T-4 Euthanasia Program which killed off dozens of thousands of disabled and sickly Germans in an effort to “maintain the purity of the German Master race (German: Herrenvolk)” as described by Nazi propagandists. These efforts would later lead to the Holocaust. Under a law passed in 1933, the Nazi regime carried out the compulsory sterilization of over 400,000 individuals labeled as having hereditary defects, ranging from mental illness to alcoholism.

See Racial policy of Nazi Germany (history of discrimination policies)

Economic Policy

The economic management of the state was given to respected banker Hjalmar Schacht. Under his guidance, a new economic policy to elevate the nation was drafted, limiting imports of consumer goods and focusing on producing exports. Massive loans and credits were issued by the Reichsbank to industries and the individuals. Under the leadership of Fritz Todt a massive public works project was started, rivaling the New Deal in both size and scope; its most notable achievement was the Autobahn. Once the war started, the massive organization that Todt founded was used in building bunkers, underground facilities and entrenchments all over Europe. Another part of the new German economy was massive rearmament with the goal being to expand the 100,000-strong German Army into a force of millions.

World War II

See: Military history of Germany during World War II

In 1939 Germany's actions lead to the outbreak of World War II in Europe. Poland, France, Denmark, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands were invaded, Initially, the United Kingdom could do little to come to the rescue of its European allies and Germany subjected Britian to heavy bombing during the Battle of Britain. After invading Greece and North Africa, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. It declared war on the United States in December of 1941 after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

The prosecution of minorities continued both in Germany and the occupied areas, from 1941 Jews were required to wear a yellow star in public and most were transferred to Ghettos, where they remained isolated from the rest of the population. In January 1942, at the Wannsee conference under the supervision of Reinhard Heydrich, a plan for the "Final solution for the Jewish question" (German: "Endlösung der Judenfrage") in Europe was hatched. During this period around 6 million Jews and sundry others (e.g. homosexuals, Slavs and political prisoners) were systematically killed and more than 10 million people were put in slavery. This genocide is referred to as the Holocaust in English, "Shoah" in Hebrew. (The Nazis used the euphemistic German term "Endlösung" -- the "Final Solution."). Thousands were shipped daily to the Death factories, concentration camps, German: Konzentrationslager, KZ; originally detention centers, later mass-murder factories; designed for the killing of their inmates.

Parallel to the Holocaust the Nazis conducted a ruthless program of “conquest, colonization and exploitation” over the captured Soviet territory and its Slavic population called Generalplan Ost. It is estimated 25 million Soviet civilians, Including 11 million Red Army soldiers died under the Nazi maltreatment in what the Russians call The Great Patriotic War. The Nazi plan was to extend the German Lebensraum "living space" eastward, but their public pretext for launching war on Eastern Europe was "defense from Bolshevism".

After losing the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943 and the Battle of Normandy in 1944, the regime started to disintegrate quickly, losing ground to the Allied forces in the west and south and the Red Army and the Polish Army in the east. By spring of 1945 the Allies had invaded German territory. In April, 1945, Hitler committed suicide and Germany finally surrendered in the first week of May.


The winning allies first split Germany into occupation zones, At the Potsdam conference German borders within the Soviet occupation zone were moved westward, most given to Poland while a half of East Prussia was annexed by Soviet Union, and up to about 10 million ethnic Germans expelled from those territories as well as Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania and Hungary. The French, US and British zones later became the future West Germany, while the Soviet zone became the communist East Germany. West Germany recovered by the 1960s, but East was not so lucky; it had to endure communist oppression until 1990.

See Expulsion of Germans after World War II

After the war, surviving Nazi leaders were put on trial by the Allied tribunal at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity. Although a minority was sentenced to execution, most were released by the mid 1950's “citing health and old age” reasons. Many continued to live well into the 1970's and 80’s;. In all non-fascist European countries there were established legal purges to punish the members of the former Nazi and Fascist parties. An uncontrolled punishment hit the Nazi children and the children fathered by German soldiers in occupied territories, including the so-called lebensborn children.

See Nuremberg Trials

Organizations in The Third Reich

The leaders of Nazi Germany created a large number of different organisations for the purpose of helping them in staying in power. They rearmed and strengthened the military, set up an extensive state security apparatus and created their own personal party army, the Wafen-SS.


(Wehrmacht -- Armed Forces)

See also: Wehrmacht

Paramilitary organisations

State police

Reich Central Security Office (RSHA - Reichssicherheitshauptamt)

Political organizations

Prominent persons in Nazi Germany

For a listing of Hitlers cabinet see : Hitler's Cabinet, January 1933 - April 1945

Nazi Party and government leaders and officials

For the full list, see also Nazi Party leaders and officials



Noted victims

Noted refugees

Related Articles

External links