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Updated on August 31, 2012
Reichstag after it was burnt
Reichstag after it was burnt
Anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda
Anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda
Hitler youth
Hitler youth
Graham Coton's burning of Reichstag
Graham Coton's burning of Reichstag

German politics during the years 1918-1933 was the most difficult and uncertain period in its history. The newly formed Weimer republic was in an unenviable position. On the one side people associated this with the defeat of 1918 and the Versailles treaty. On the other hand it had to grapple with extremists of both the left and right. The outcome was that the majority catholic centrists, majority socialists and liberal people’s party were sandwiched between the ultra left communists and die hard nationalists of the right.


This was the period when, communist had made an unsuccessful attempt to seize power in 1918-1919 but failing which they became a spent force. The rightist too had unsuccessfully tried to seize power first in 1920 in the KAP PUTSCH and in 1923 in the BEER HALL PUTSCH. The second was a premature attempt by an upstart Hitler and owing to its failure was he was imprisoned. Though the Weimer republic diffused these crises, in 1924, after the general election it became precariously shaky. This was owing to the increased representation of both nationalists and communists in the Reichstag. With Field Marshall Hindenburg supporting the nationalist’s right, the days of Weimer republic were numbered.


While Hitler was cooling his heels in prison he dictated his experiences and thoughts which were later published as MIEN KAMPF (My struggle). More than a book it was a blue print of a Nazi state. Once out of prison, the innocuous Austrian painter Alois Schicklegruber (Hitler’s real name) was transformed into a power hungry demagogue. Many were mesmerized by his fiery speeches and he built a very loyal party which was highly organized and disciplined. Hitler was a showman, and he projected the image of a very orderly and patriotic party which was led by a strong leader called the Fuhrer. The disillusioned and disheartened German youth of that generation came under his spell.

To help him in consolidating his power he built a private army called the STURM ABTEILUNG (SA) this was an organization consisting of mostly ex-servicemen whose task was to beat up anyone who challenged Hitler and indulge in arson and rioting. The SA grew so large that it became larger than Germany’s standing army. Funding the private army was done by rich bankers and businessmen who were to later benefit from their proximity to Hitler. Though Hitler lost to Hindenburg in the presidential election of 1932, the Nazi party continued to grow in strength which he exploited to the hilt. There used to be continuous street fight between Hitler’s SA troops and the left wing parties. During this period of strife Hitler exploited an incident which he used to crack down on communist. This incident was the setting fire to Reichstag by a Dutch communist.

Hitler was able to seize power by adopting an apparently straightforward but devious strategy of seeking the support of the newly elected members of the Reichstag to hand over power to him for four years. Excepting the social democrats all the others fell to this bait. Hitler was able to lay the foundation of the Nazi dictatorship without any resistance. Immediately after that he took a number of crucial decisions which were intended to consolidate his hold on power. In May 1933 Hitler banned all trade unions and all industrial disputes were to be settled by Nazi mediators called ‘labor trustees’. His next repressive measure was targeted against Jews. He went to the extent of stripping Jews of their German citizenship and eliminating them from government services. After the death of Hindenburg, Hitler proclaimed himself to be the ‘Fuhrer’ (leader) of Germany and realizing that without the support of the German army his hold on power could not be complete. By this time, Hitler’s SA had become so large and strong that it was not only a rival to the German army but a threat to his own authority. He felt that the time had come for clipping the wings of SA.So on trumped up charges he not only dismissed all SA commanders and executed them but began to disband it.SA was then transformed into a much smaller but more vicious and brutal organization named SCHUTZ STAFFEL (SS).Hitler knew that his fountain head of power lay over his influence on the German youth. He therefore placed utmost priority to their education and youth organization. Hitler was also aware that a potential rival to him could be the Roman Catholic Church. So initially he befriended them and did not do anything to antagonize it. But soon he began accusing the church of harbouring homosexuals among monks and nuns and used this as an excuse to close down catholic youth clubs.


Hitler was conscious of the influence of art and literature on human psyche. So in order to extend his influence through them he banned museums from displaying works of art that were anti nationalists in nature and used his propaganda ministry under Goebbels to burn books that were anti-Nazi in character. In schools all teachers were expected to be staunchly loyal to Hitler and indoctrinate the pupils of Nazi ideology. Most of these schools were later to become feeder organizations to Hitler’s youth league. With these measures Hitler was able to consolidate his hold on the German people.


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