The Rise of Nazi Germany: An Interactive Lesson
Reparations, Inflation & Depression:
The end of the First World War resulted in the Treaty of Versailles (Pronounced Ver-sigh). The treaty was very unfair to the losers. So much so that president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, withdrew from the proceedings as a form of protest. Because the Austro Hungarian Empire had collapsed as a result of the war, and because Germany was the only surviving country that was on that side of the war, the treaty was forced upon Germany without any concessions to that country. There wasn't even any representation for German during the proceedings in Versailles. The treaty was presented with an ultimatum of "sign this or else..." If the German government did not sign it there would be MAJOR sanctions, occupation, and more. Effectively they were coerced into agreeing to seriously damaging debt that would hold the German economy down for decades.
The treaty forced reparations on Germany in such high amounts that it economically hurt the country drastically even before the start of the Great Depression. Among other requirements was the forced payment of Germany's gold and silver reserves to the allied nations.
As a direct result, hyperinflation hit the nation. Hyperinflation is inflation of currency that is extremely high or "out of control". Inflation is an economic term defined as the rise in the general level of prices of goods and services (such as food or electricity) in an economy over a period of time.
The impact of this sort of inflation is awful for everyone, but especially the middle class and poor. As a result of this inflation, life savings were wiped out overnight. People who would have barely enough to get by one day would have nothing or next to nothing the next. It was so bad that it would cost thousands of Marks to buy a loaf of bread.
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Adolf Hitler, the Perceived Leader & Savior:
At the end of the First World War, then called the Great War, the Kaiser's government collapsed (fun fact, Kaiser is German for Ceaser). The economic woes that followed resulted in a very unstable and ever-changing government. The lack of leadership and political infighting worsened economic situation. The government at the time was called the Weimar Republic (pronounced Vi-mar), and was a slap-dash affair that was thrown together at the end of the First World War by political and military officials who had not fleed for fear of reprisals for the war.
As a result of this instability, Hitler’s combination of political manipulation and strong leadership brought him to power. He took over the previously existing Nazi party (which stands for the National Socialist Party in German) and only used its ideas to accomplish his goals. He used popular symbols and ideas to increase the popularity and image of his party.
Here is a Suggested Project: Research the original meaning of the swastika symbol. Are there any Non-Nazi/White Supremacist groups that still use it today? You may be surprised by what you find.
The Nazi Philosophy:
“Lebensraum” or Living Space:
One of the ideas that Hitler really pushed for was that there was a need for more room for the German "race" to grow. Initially, the idea was to regain territories lost due to World War One and the extremely unfair conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. But it didn't stop there. The idea of "racial superiority" justified the German move into areas that were occupied by so-called "non-Arian" peoples. Nazi philosophy viewed such people as good servants, workers, or potential slaves for the supposedly supreme race, while other races such as the Romani (also known as Gypsies), Jews, black Africans (and other dark-skinned races), the mentally or physically disabled, Jehovah's Witnesses (and other dissenters due to religion such as Latter-day Saints or Mormons), and homosexuals were viewed as sub-human and were imprisoned, experimented on, and eventually exterminated in large numbers. This was especially horrific for the Jewish peoples. The mass extermination is known as the Holocaust.
While Hitler's government initially started out as a parliamentary democracy, it quickly evolved into a military dictatorship. Since the Weimar Republic was not a natural evolution of German politics this left a very entrenched warrior class feeling disenfranchised and frustrated. Hitler was able to use this disenfranchisement and frustration to manipulate this class into supporting him. Add to this the constant changes in the republics political structure due to a lack of stability and the German people embraced strong leadership after living in relative chaos for several decades. Hitler was able to take power completely legally.