German Government branches during World War 2

German Government branches during World War 2

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During World War 2, what government branches, if any, existed in Germany? I've always heard about the Third Reich and Hitler, but I never heard about the rest of the government.

The government of the Third Reich evolved and subverted the institutions of the parliamentary Weimar Republic established in 1919.

Before the ascension of the Nazi party in January 1933 the legislative branch of the government was comprised of the Reichsrat, representing the various Länder (German states) and the Reichstag, a parliament elected according to a system of proportional representation.

As soon as Hitler gained power he began undermining the power of these branches of government and working towards a centralist, totalitarian dictatorship. These changes occurred incrementally:

  • On the 23rd of March 1933, following the Reichstag fire, President Paul von Hindenburg passed the Enabling act. This effectively gave the cabinet (controlled by Hitler) the authority to enact laws without the participation of the Reichstag. From this point onwards the Reichstag only functioned as a body of ratification by acclamation, for the actions of the dictatorship.
  • On January 30, 1934 the Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reiches ("Law concerning the reconstruction of the Reich") abandoned the concept of a federal republic. The political institutions of the Länder were effectively abolished and all power was passed to the central government.
  • On February 14, 1934 the Reichsrat, the representation of the Länder at the federal level, was dissolved.
  • When Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg died on August 2nd, 1934, the government issued a law that prescribed that the office of Reichspräsident should be merged with that of the Reichskanzler. This effectively created a new office, Führer und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler.
  • After the 1938 purge of the military, Hitler was effectively the absolute dictator of Germany until his death in 1945.

So by 1938 local and state governments were controlled by Nazi Party leaders, known as Gauleiters. The central government itself was made up of competing, overlapping power structures all vying for personal power. The result was a convoluted and often divided administration with a tendency to implement the more radical and extreme elements of Hitler's ideology in order to gain favour with Hitler. They called it "working toward the Fuehrer." Because there was such competition to win favor (and power) by anticipating and implementing the Fuehrer's will, a process of "progressive radicalization" ensued.

To say that something like the Final Solution unfolded because the system was geared for progressively radical solutions to be dreamed up and tried out is called "functionalism" or "structuralism". When looking from a systems perspective, it is easy to overlook the fact that Hitler did stand at the top and that the Nazis had an ideology or "worldview". When you look at Mein Kampf and the Secret Book and look at how events unfolded, you can see enough correlation to think that Hitler was indeed masterminding the whole thing, and that all unfolded through Hitler pulling the puppet strings. Quite a fair amount of that happened. There was no progressive radicalization without the Fuehrer's approval. If you put Hitler's will and ideology at the top of the causal chain, that is "intentionalism".

There are two opposing opinions on the efficacy of this system (from Hitler's perspective). 'Intentionalists' believe Hitler created that system to ensure the total loyalty and deduction of his supporters and prevent conspiracy and betrayal. 'Structuralists' believe that the system evolved by itself and limited Hitler's totalitarian power. Now we know that the Nazi regime was a bit of both.

Source: Nazi Germany: Administration on Wikipedia


Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Wehrmacht, (German: “defense power”) the armed forces of the Third Reich. The three primary branches of the Wehrmacht were the Heer (army), Luftwaffe (air force), and Kriegsmarine (navy).

German Government branches during World War 2 - History

Part III-A: History of the World, and of World War 2
(1937-1941): WW2: From the invasion of China to the invasion of Soviet Russia
by Carl R. Littmann Part 3A, (8-1-2005) &hellipcontinued from Part 2

Introduction :

I have provided a primitive, elementary WW2 Military Encyclopedia , to aid amateurs, including myself, and to help with any confusing terms. Allow about a half-minute for its long &lsquoPDF&rsquo format to &lsquodownload&rsquo. Or use the Encyclopedia link found on my Homepage, under ' Other Websites to Visit '.

Regrets, my Timeline is not ready yet , but when it is, one can go directly to my WW2 TIMELINE. and temporarily, skip my 8-page discussion below. Or use link,
Or use the especially well-written link by David Lippman:

First, I think no major nationality is so naturally gifted that it can&rsquot ever engage in despicable behavior. That should be kept in mind, even though my article focuses on WW2 and the fortunate Allied victory over Japan and Germany.

Optional my further opinion on that : Even with our historic benefit of many anti-militaristic leaders, and in our present-day non-depression times, we sadly witnessed the &lsquoreelection&rsquo of a U.S. president who invaded Iraq, and, at this writing, still occupies it and controls its oil and resources. That President did that--based on his very false (panic-provoking) charges that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. To make his charges believed until he got his war going, or longer, that President coerced and rewarded the CIA and other big institutions into endorsing his false charges (or lies). And he launched and orchestrated a punitive, intimidating, and perfidious campaign against intelligent Americans trying to give us the truth and he continues that at this writing. ((In effect, the CIA and many other large government institutions were dragged into (or intimidated into) supporting the President and in his re-election bid. Great power, indeed! And with the same party controlling all 2 or 3 branches of government.))

Yet, the U.S. voters (who &lsquore-elected&rsquo their president), unlike the Japanese prior to WW2, were rather free from being trained by the State to have mental obedience to an Emperor or to government authority. Neither were those voters in dire economic straits or the like&mdashas Germany&rsquos population was&mdashwhen they resorted to voting for Hitler, and thus giving him &lsquoa big foot in the door&rsquo. So, my conclusion, relevant to this WW2 article, is that no major nationality is guaranteed to be perpetually immune from practicing a &lsquotyranny of the majority&rsquo. Nor from succumbing to propaganda generated by big government and by some huge commercial complexes benefiting from such government, and manipulated by it. Nor from the various forms of bigotry, perfidy or stilted education that often accompanies that.

SUMMARY: How the Allies Won and a Detailed WW2 Overview :

((Optional: I am writing this WW2 history, because, if the Allies had not prevailed, I would not have enjoyed various freedoms. And maybe not have survived at all. And worse still, many more deserving people than I would not have survived either.))

The overall strategy by which the U.S. &lsquowon&rsquo WW2 sounds simple, in principle. The U.S. had to harness its huge production potential and its citizens&rsquo abilities and use it, reasonably wisely, against its adversaries . That also meant efficiently and effectively cooperating with our &ldquoAllies&rdquo, and maintaining good communication with them. We had to understand that our &lsquoingenious&rsquo adversaries also had their unique strengths and in those areas they would remain superior for at least some time. That meant not denying that reality to ourselves, nor over-reacting to it but, instead, taking steps to minimize the harm resulting from the enemy&rsquos advantages, while working to be more competitive.

However, the enemy would successfully deliver some blows against us and that would be painful, bitter, and destructive and would have to be absorbed. And all the above would require some discipline, determination, and much focus, courage, patience, high morale and confidence, based upon the belief that one&rsquos goals were right, proper, achievable, and necessary. And that the future would likely be better, someday.

Some experts have said that most wars, including WW2, have consisted mainly of blunders and whoever made the fewest blunders won. We shall note many major blunders, as my timeline proceeds and that many of them were caused by arrogant complacency, prejudiced-based political and social attitudes, and overly stubborn protection of one&rsquos ego. Thus, despite the many brilliant intelligence achievements, especially by the Allies every nation also made numerous big blunders, and missed big opportunities, due to its stubborn refusal to accept simple facts, that appeared repeatedly, right before its very nose! Or the error of simply not communicating one&rsquos observations with one&rsquos associates and Allies, or not even taking a minimal action, after important observations were communicated.

Some books and articles assert that when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Japan&rsquos war fate was sealed, (i.e., doomed by the USA&rsquos great industrial power). And similarly, when Germany also declared war on the U.S., after &lsquoPearl Harbor&rsquo. Or maybe even before that, when Germany decided that both Britain and Soviet Russia must be attacked, before defeating the first. And after all, wasn&rsquot the U.S. going to develop the atomic bomb first, before the Axis, anyway?

Although I think the U.S. position made it likely that we could potentially develop the atomic bomb somewhat before the Axis it is far from obvious that we would have ended up militarily positioned close enough to the Axis&rsquo industrial cities, etc., to use it effectively. Nor obvious that the U.S. could have manufactured enough atomic bombs before the Axis started building them. For example suppose Hitler would have given appropriate and early priority to German submarines, including the &ldquosnorkel&rdquo submarine? Or given priority to the world&rsquos first significant &ldquoJet&rdquo plane, the Messerschmitt Me-262 fighter, which Germany also invented during WW2. And used the Jet wisely? Or had Germany been able to threaten to counter the horror of atomic bombs by efficiently re-introducing massive chemical warfare, etc.?

Suppose Germany had given undivided priority to conquering Britain (like Germany had previously given undivided priority to conquering France, until France was defeated)? Another words, had Germany avoided opening a second front against Soviet Russia, while Britain was still &ldquoalive and kicking&rdquo? Suppose that Germany had treated the peoples in the regions of Soviet Russia, which Germany had occupied, with some small degree of respect--rather than as sub-human slaves and in the spirit of &ldquoGerman racial superiority&rdquo? And suppose shortly thereafter, that Germany would have accepted an arrangement where many large Russian regions, like &ldquothe Ukraine&rdquo, would have remained semi-independent and detached from Soviet Russia. So that Germany would have just enjoyed a more dominate influence there&mdashin exchange for an armistice in the East? I.e., In other words, not very different than the &ldquobreak-up&rdquo of the historical &ldquoUSSR&rdquo that we and they accept today. Or had Hitler not gone quite as far as &ldquoCrystal Night&rdquo or the Holocaust, etc., and perhaps made use of certain scientists who, therefore, might not have fled to the West?

Suppose Japan would have first pursued a military expansion into the weak political semi-vacuum of Southeast Asia, instead of attacking the U.S. too early on! Such initial attack, against possessions of Britain, France, and the Netherlands would have gained for Japan access to oil, rubber, and tin, i.e., resources not much available from China in those days. Those Japanese actions would probably not have drawn the U.S. into war, immediately, despite FDR&rsquos aggressive impatience and his denying U.S. raw materials to Japan. Japan might have even partly withdrawn from China, welcomed German advisors back to China to help Chiang&rsquos conservative &lsquoNationalists&rsquo subdue the &lsquoChinese Communists&rsquo. And then Japan could have devoted its more concentrated power to helping Germany defeat Britain, by helping to clear a front from North Africa, the Middle East, India, and all the way through S.E. Asia, to Japan. Even if FDR had then gotten us into the war (thus before a &lsquoPearl Harbor&rsquo), it would have likely been a half-hearted entry and slower build-up. (It makes me &lsquosqueamish&rsquo to even think or mention such evil things and evil consequences, but that is the analysis-task of amateur historians.) Fortunately, most dictators and totalitarian leaders often bungle things, by their impatience, miscalculations, and their trying to hugely expand their empires too quickly.

Suppose Japan and Germany had cooperated more with each other or played more &lsquofootsy&rsquo, in a cunning manner, with U.S. &lsquoreactionary&rsquo political elements? (I.e., &lsquoreactionary&rsquo--being a relatively polite term for many prejudiced and gullible voters and other citizens in &lsquothose&rsquo days). And that Japan had understood American politics better and not rallied and solidified us with a &lsquoPearl Harbor&rsquo type attack at our &lsquobackdoor&rsquo? Or that Japan would have avoided making many stupid tactical mistakes which Japanese militarists should have recognized as very dubious and overly risky even in those old days? Or that the U.S. had not enjoyed even greater luck than expected in trying to take advantage of Japan&rsquos errors?

One of the few policies of Hoover, which President Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) very much continued, was the non-recognition of Japanese expansions into Chinese territory, such as expansion into Manchuria. FDR even retained Hoover&rsquos Secretary of State (Stimson) to highlight his opposition to Japanese expansionism. In fact, like Lincoln FDR constantly sought to unify and strengthen the U.S. for the likely coming war, by drawing into his administration many capable progressive leaders from the &lsquoother Party&rsquo (i.e., &lsquoRepublicans&rsquo who also opposed Axis aggression).

Optional : Somewhat similarly, Lincoln also had drawn &lsquoopposition&rsquo politicians into his administration, including for high army positions. Many Democrats, in those days, merely advocated strongly maintaining the Union and were not abolitionist&mdashi.e., they were tolerant of slavery. (That historical coalition and reality later irritated the WW2 nuclear physicist, Robert Oppenheimer but by the time the atomic bomb was built, he had become convinced that Lincoln was wise to let Union opinion gradually mature, one step at a time.) One major problem for Lincoln was that, although some of his politically-appointed generals made good politicians, they made poor generals and that problem almost caused the Union to lose the Civil War. I think FDR fared somewhat better there, but FDR also suffered somewhat from that &lsquopolitico-military&rsquo problem. In fact, I find that the parallels are awesome--between &ldquoLincoln & the Civil War&rdquo and &ldquoFDR & WW2&rdquo.

Somewhat like in WW1 times as WW2 evolved, many leaders only slowly and reluctantly chose which &lsquoside&rsquo they would align with. Some &lsquosmart&rsquo German military experts, who advised Chiang Kai-shek, would have preferred to continue helping &lsquoNationalist&rsquo China to resist Japan and to defeat the &lsquoChinese Communists&rsquo. They also likely feared that weak China might &ldquogo communist&rdquo. Finland was not thrilled to ultimately discover that her resistance to Soviet Russia&rsquos encroachment--was aligning Finland with Germany and against Britain, in its effect. Mussolini and many other Italians disliked becoming secondary, inferior, puppets under Hitler and the Nazis rather than being allowed to be independent co-expansionists. But, especially after Hitler rescued Mussolini from a coup in 1943 Mussolini and his Northern Italy became 100% puppets of Hitler.

Hitler would have much preferred England to be a co-partner with him, allowing Germany to co-dominate the world. Before Churchill continued to rebuff Hitler&rsquos ceasefire offers Hitler had apparently regarded the British as &lsquohigh up on the evolutionary scales&rsquo and rather compatible with his &lsquoadvanced&rsquo Germans.

Some countries, like Switzerland, would sway somewhat with the powerful winds, and thus avoid military engagement and possible occupation. Somewhat surprisingly, Spain was largely successful at resisting Hitler&rsquos intimidation even though Hitler had historically helped Franco defeat his opposition during Spain&rsquos Civil War, and even though Franco exercised an autocratic rule.

As for America (a sleeping and brooding giant) that is a long and complex story. But I think that FDR&rsquos alleged comment, immediately after Pearl Harbor, summarized the evolving feelings: --something like&hellip.&ldquoDo you think, after this attack, that our people and Congress will finally, finally, get truly serious about resisting the expansionist aggressors?&rdquo

Optional : In my opinion truly good historians will understand how the tragic history leading to WW2&mdashnecessitated that FDR be somewhat relegated to riding on the events of history and with only limited power to direct what would result. (Ref. my previous section, &ldquoPart 2&mdashHistory&hellip&rdquo.) And so FDR ended up needing lots of prolonged patience, despite the correctness of his many foresighted feelings, fears and plans. Does that sound a bit like Lincoln&rsquos history also? Wars are seldom won in a day nor fundamental misunderstandings and injustices corrected in a day, or even in a decade.

Description , Strengths and Weakness of WW2 Countries:

Despite Japan&rsquos seemingly successful military expansions deeper into China Japan was a very sick country, internally. And Japan&rsquos further expansions (from Manchuria to even deeper into China), did not even solve Japan&rsquos &ldquoneed&rdquo for an independent source of oil and rubber! Many of Japan&rsquos talented leaders had been earlier assassinated by the military extremists. The quality of Japan&rsquos leadership, especially the military autocracy, had declined since the time of Togo and the Russo-Japanese war. &ldquoChecks and balances&rdquo seemed to have failed in their system and much needed corrections were not made! (It seemed like one could only desperately hope that their incompetent leaders would just die-off in their battles to steal more, or by accident. (I hope all that does not &ldquoring too familiar&rdquo!!)

However, much of Japans&rsquo major military machinery was surprisingly superior to the U.S. counterparts for at least through 1942 or longer. Some fine examples are their &ldquoZero&rdquo airplane their Naval torpedoes&mdashespecially their long-range, high-explosive &ldquolong Lance&rdquo torpedo and their super long-range guns&mdashthe &ldquo18-inchers&rdquo, provided on a few super-sized Japanese battleships. Japan&rsquos advanced naval night-fighting theory and training further &lsquolevered&rsquo those advantages.

Nevertheless, I would rate the operational capability of Japan&rsquos "Generals and Admirals&rdquo as slightly below average, because of Tojo&rsquos and Japan&rsquos corrupt system. That often kept their best military leaders out of the most important military assignments and out of positions of great influence. And it prevented or interfered with the appropriate coordination between the different military branches, and prevented appropriate shifting of forces from one major military &lsquotheater of operation&rsquo to another. Also, Japan&rsquos intelligence gathering and Japan&rsquos analysis of that intelligence --was extremely poor. Similarly, with Japan&rsquos poor strategic planning. Despite Japanese partial industrialization, Japan had not yet developed the very high volume production capability of the U.S., Germany, or Britain, with regard to some war machines. And in a sense Japan still had a somewhat &ldquofeudal&rdquo society and system. Some of Japan&rsquos &ldquofeudal&rdquo practices interfered with directing its military forces as wisely as otherwise.

Germany had a few of the same problems as Japan. Hitler&rsquos strategic planning stunk, and his stilted doctrine of inferior and evil races greatly interfered with many of his biggest military operations, opportunities, and his atomic weapons development. But technically, unfortunately for the Allies, most of Hitler&rsquos generals ranged from superb down to very good. German troops, submariners, and fighter pilots were excellently trained, technically speaking and very effectively &lsquobrainwashed&rsquo. And they fought determinedly and skillfully. Germany&rsquos regular fighter plane, the Messerschmitt 109, was superior to anything the U.S. had for many years, although the British soon built the &ldquoSpitfire&rdquo which could match it. (Even more technically superior was Germany&rsquos FW190.)

The British later helped us design and improve our &ldquoMustang&rdquo fighter so that it was finally very competitive. ((In my opinion, it ultimately worked out very well for the West&mdashthat we did not greatly challenge Hitler&rsquos military operations against Western Europe or Poland, early on! Had we started rushing U.S. troops to France just before France was attacked, I think that we would have lost

20% or more of our troops to Germany&rsquos early successful submarines and air power, even before our troops arrived. And lost much of our inferior equipment, too. And with our inexperienced troops and some incompetent generals, against enemy troops led by generals as smart as &lsquodessert foxes&rsquo, we might have initially been driven into something worse than the British &ldquoDunkirk&rdquo. (I realize that my opinions differ from the mainstream, as they often do.)

The British Armed Forces were generally satisfactorily led, trained, and reliably and intelligently equipped. And they fought with determination and skill. That is, as long as Churchill did not let his imperial ambitions get in the way of rational tactical and strategic planning. But, in fact, Churchill did louse up much early on--until the U.S. began to strongly supply Britain. Then Churchill was finally able to &ldquoget his head on straight&rdquo and begin to make more relaxed, circumspect, and intelligent decisions&mdashand even more so after the U.S. entered the war! (Incidentally, the British invented &ldquoRadar&rdquo, clever mine-destroying techniques, and helped develop other technologies, including the world&rsquos first electronic computer for their already great Intelligence Operations.)

The U.S. generally had slightly below average Generals. And I think some U.S. troops in Europe and North Africa sometimes lagged slightly in morale and in cooperative communications and spirit, as a result. And thus our troops&rsquo military effectiveness sometimes suffered, somewhat. But the U.S. Navy (for reasons that I do not completely understand) had generally good Admirals, very good intelligence experts, and good sailors, as usual. (That was a plus, although our naval combat forces were greatly impeded by 1-1/2 years of defective torpedoes designed by the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordinance. And a few other disgraces.) But I still think that the U.S. Navy, the Marines, and our very great nuclear program and some other things--raised our overall military performance to over-average. (And synergistically super&mdashwith the continued technical help of the British.)

FDR and his top military and civilian leaders, by working together, were generally good strategic planners, in both military and civilian affairs. But they did not always have the discipline to follow their own plans consistently. So their very good results were still not quite as good as they could have been, and sometimes too risky. But often turned out lucky, fortunately. (General Grant and a few others once described fairly well--how wars are won and much of it is boring and unexciting, but requires focus, discipline, and yet flexibility. And I think Grant was especially right about the underlined.)

The U.S. started the war with below average military machines, especially fighter airplanes, and without significant anti-submarine equipment and training. And worse, with tragically defective torpedoes and still worse--a defective mindset, so that some of the defective equipment would not have been intelligently used even if it had been more reliable. (It fact, when the war began, many machines were not even used to their very limited capability -- even in cases where they did have some potential usefulness.)

In the beginning, much of our military machines lackedappropriate quality and potential usefulness! So it is my unusual opinion--that the main problem was not so much a lack of quantity, nor how much money was being spent for military needs but in the equipment&rsquos design, and in the &ldquomind-set&rdquo of the directors and users. ((The lesson for aggressors might be to just let the sleeping giant (America) lie and &ldquorot out at the core&rdquo. Don&rsquot disturb her, lest an intelligent, caring leadership accidentally arise and improve.))

During the course of WW2, the U.S. eventually improvised and improved many military gadgets and machines. And even pioneered the Atomic Bomb with very remarkable speed. Eventually the quantity of manufactured quality goods increased by staggering proportions including enough to help our allies substantially by &ldquoLend-lease&rdquo. Some experts say, that during the last year of WW2, that the U.S. had &lsquoalmost gotten warmed up&rsquo, i.e., had almost gotten into &lsquohigh gear&rsquo. Eventually the total amount of fine military equipment and the number of skilled, talented operators who could use it&mdashwas utterly awesome, especially compared to the enemy&rsquos and we even exceeded what we thought we were capable of.

The &ldquoU.S. & Britain&rdquo, and &ldquoFDR & Churchill&rdquo (despite differing political ideology), were willing to work very well together and did! (Generally, that worked out &lsquosynergistically&rsquo, meaning that the combined result is greater than the sum of the individual parts.) Germany, Japan, and Italy lacked such close cooperation for various reasons, and that will unfold in my Timeline. In my opinion great historically friction, clashes, and suspicion -- prevented quite as much cooperation between the West and Soviet Russia as there might have been but fortunately, the cooperation was still great.

Germany pioneered many awesome weapons, as previously mentioned. Some examples are the medium range, high-explosive, supersonic V-2 rocket the &ldquosnorkel&rdquo submarine (which could recharge its batteries without surfacing) and the world&rsquos first practical and great jet fighter plane, (the Messerschmitt Me-262). Fortunately for the Allies, Hitler interfered greatly with the efficient use and proper prioritizing of all that, especially the jet plane! ((In my opinion, Hitler&rsquos mind was poisoned by a stilted view of history, including the notion that the early 20th Century militaristic government of Germany wasn&rsquot as bad as (in fact) it was. And similarly with Germany&rsquos late 19th Century militarism, also.))

But I think many &ldquomilitarists&rdquo are right about one thing&mdashthat &lsquotreaties&rsquo and &ldquoother scraps of paper&rdquo rarely prevent wars, especially when they contradict a militarist&rsquos desire (or a would-be oil King, or even an arrogant majority&rsquos quest for theft). That is probably why Lao Tzu hesitated to write or speak a lot believing that that which is most intangible and spiritual determines so much of human behavior, anyway.

France and Italy actually had soldiers willing to fight with determination but they were generally poorly led, especially at the top. France&rsquos and her Allies&rsquo planning was initially poor and defective&mdashi.e., at the beginning of the war. And France&rsquos and Italy&rsquos military equipment was generally inferior.

Soviet Russia&rsquos military suffered from many of the same problems that France and the U.S. did, early on. But Russia&rsquos geography and large population gave Russia more space and time to correct things. However, Stalin was, perhaps, the worst strategic planner, especially regarding his contingency plans, in the event that Hitler launched a surprise attack against Soviet Russia. And Stalin&rsquos initial choice of generals for his Western front was generally terrible. One of Soviet Russia&rsquos strengths was her already well-developed plans to manufacture the fine T-34 tank! And eventually during the war the Russians designed and built some fine, highly maneuverable, light, well-armed fighter planes, also. But initially, the German offensive found Russia in a vulnerable time interval for example, with too many obsolete (formerly satisfactory) airplanes, and with no good airplanes ready to replace them. Stalin disbelieved good Soviet and British intelligence that Germany would attack Russia in June 1941. And Soviet Russia had angered many of her own neighbors, such as Finland.

The Chinese military generally had below average Generals and troops, uncompetitively equipped, and a government that generally grew more corrupt and incapable as the war progressed. Some historians believe that &ldquoGeneralissimo&rdquo Chiang Kai-shek meant well and was personally honest, but was just incompetent and reactionary. Occasionally China won a local or regional victory, but usually the more capable generals were shuffled to less important posts. The &lsquoChinese Nationalist&rsquo troops that faced the &lsquoChinese Communist&rsquo troops--had somewhat more capability and better equipment than Chiang&rsquos average and occasionally clashed with the Communists. But a simmering civil war did not help the Chinese resistance against Japan.

Very important and often forgotten too--is that the British and other Europeans still practiced a significant imperialism in China and Asia, which impeded China&rsquos industrial development. And unfortunately, that contributed to China&rsquos remaining very dependent upon &lsquothe West&rsquo for essential military supplies. That became a very vulnerable negative when the Japanese captured the main supply roads! Also, the history of Western imperialism resulted in China&rsquos hesitancy to fully cooperate with some of her Western WW2 &ldquoAllies&rdquo.

Regrets, my WW2 TIMELINE NOT ready yet )

Back to : Beginning of Part III-A (WW2 discourse and link to Military Encyclopedia)

(Readers&rsquo comments always welcome)
For my Email and address, see my Homepage

Military Resources: World War II

Archives Surviving from World War II
An excerpt copied with permission of the author, Gerhard Weinberg, from his book A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II.

Continuing the Fight: Harry S. Truman and World War II
This Truman Library website contains a collection of documents, photographs, and eyewitness accounts concerning the latter stages of World War II.

Day of Infamy Speech
Audio of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's speech to Congress the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"Getting the Message Out: The Poster Boys of World War II"
Prologue article by Robert Ellis about government-produced posters from World War II.

Holocaust Era Assets
Information about the records and research available in the National Archives and Records Administration regarding Holocaust Era Assets.

Information Concerning Philippine Army and Guerrilla Records
This NARA site gives in-depth information on the collection of records of World War II Philippine Army and Guerrilla members, which have recently been transferred to the National Personnel Records Center.

"Irving Berlin: This Is the Army"
This article by Laurence Bergreen is from the Summer 1996 issue of the NARA publication Prologue, and presents an in-depth look at Irving Berlin's production of This is the Army.

Japan Surrenders
On September 2, 1945, Japanese representatives signed the official Instrument of Surrender. Both pages of the short document are available as digital images.

"Jim Crow, Meet Lieutenant Robinson: A 1944 Court-Martial"
John Vernon's Prologue article about the court-martial of Second Lieutenant Jack (Jackie) Roosevelt Robinson

Journey of the Philippine Archives Collection
"The Philippine Archives Collection constitutes an invaluable source of information on the Pacific war during World War II, particularly concerning the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs) military operations in the Philippines, 1941-1942 guerrilla warfare in the Philippines and conditions in the Philippines under Japanese occupation."

"Let the Records Bark!: Personal Stories of Some Special Marines in World War II"
M. C. Lang's Prologue article about Dog Record Books of each canine who enrolled in the Army and Marine Corps from December 15, 1942, to August 15, 1945.

"The Lions' History: Researching World War II Images of African Americans"
An article from the Summer 1997 issue of NARA's publication, Prologue by Barbara L. Burger.

Memorandum Regarding the Enlistment of Navajo Indians
A Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan that provides background on the Marine Corps' decision to enlist and train the Navajos as messengers during World War II.

Mobilizing for War: Poster Art of World War II
A Truman Library online exhibit of a selection of posters illustrating such topics as "wartime security, enlistment, production of food and war materials, salvage and conservation, patriotic inspiration, relief efforts, and funding of the war through the sale of war bonds."

"The Mystery of the Sinking of the Royal T. Frank"
Prologue article by Peter von Buol describing the sinking of a U.S. Army transport ship off the coast of Hawaii by the Japanese in 1942.

"Nazi Looted Art: The Holocaust Records Preservation Project"
A three-part Prologue article by Anne Rothfeld about the Holocaust Records Project (HRP) which was tasked with "identifying, preserving, describing, and microfilming more than twenty million pages of records created by the Allies in occupied Europe regarding Nazi looted art and the restitution of national treasures."

Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group (IWG)
"The Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group (IWG) locates, identifies, inventories, and recommends for declassification, currently classified U.S. records relating to Nazi and Japanese Imperial Government war crimes."

"Remembering Pearl Harbor . . . 70 Years Later"
Prologue article by Lopez Matthews, Zachary Dabbs, and Eliza Mbughuni discusses deck logs of ships docked in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

"Return to Sender U.S. Censorship of Enemy Alien Mail in World War II"
Lois Fiset's Prologue article on the U.S. government's mail examination and censorship programs on the correspondence of enemy aliens during World War II.

"Safeguarding Hoover Dam during World War II"
Christine Pfaff's Prologue article on the measures taken during World War II to thwart potential sabotage of the Hoover Dam.

"'Semper Fidelis, Code Talkers'"
Adam Jevec's Prologue article on the impenetrable Navajo language code used by U.S. Marine Forces in World War II.

"Sixty Years Later, the Story of PT-109 Still Captivates"
Stephen Plotkin's Prologue article on the sinking of a Patrol Torpedo boat commanded by John F. Kennedy in the South Pacific in August 1943.

Veterans Gallery: Faces of the Men and Women Who Served during World War II
This collection of photographs of military servicemen and servicewomen was compiled by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library from submissions by the public.

"Wearing Lipstick to War: An American Woman in World War II England and France"
James H. Madison wrote this Prologue article about Elizabeth A. Richardson, who joined the American Red Cross and died in France in 1945.

World War II Photos
This collection of photographs of military servicemen and servicewomen was compiled by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library from submissions by the public.

World War II Remembered: Leaders, Battles & Heroes
"This multi-year exhibit commemorates the 70th anniversaries of WWII and will change often as we progress through the timeline of the war." From the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home.

"The 'Z Plan' Story: Japan's 1944 Naval Battle Strategy Drifts into U.S. Hands"
Greg Bradsher's Prologue article about "how the Z Plan drifted into American hands in one of World War II's greatest intelligence victories, leading to a crushing defeat for Japan in the Southwest Pacific in 1944."

Other Resources

After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor
"Approximately twelve hours of opinions recorded in the days and months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor from more than two hundred individuals in cities and towns across the United States."

Combat Chronicles of U.S. Army Divisions in World War II
"The following combat chronicles, current as of October 1948, are reproduced from The Army Almanac: A Book of Facts Concerning the Army of the United States, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1950, pp. 510-592."

FBIS Against the Axis, 1941-1945: Open-Source Intelligence From the Airwaves
Stephen Mercado's article provides extensive information on the establishment and operation of the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service, an agency devoted to monitoring and analyzing foreign radio broadcasts for intelligence purposes, during World War II.

A Guide to World War II Materials
"Links to World War II related resources throughout the Library of Congress Web site."

Hawaii War Records Depository Photos
"The HWRD includes 880 photographs taken by the U.S. Army Signal Corps and the U.S. Navy during World War II. These photographs, taken between 1941 and 1946, document the impact of World War II in Hawaii."

Historic Government Publications from World War II
This digital collection from Southern Methodist University Central University Libraries' Government Information Department "contains 343 Informational pamphlets, government reports, instructions, regulations, declarations, speeches, and propaganda materials distributed by the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) during the Second World War."

Hyperwar: U.S. Navy in World War II
Provides lists of ships, Naval Intelligence Combat Narratives, U.S. Naval Operations, Naval Stations and Facilities, U.S. Coast Guard members, and U.S. Navy Histories from World War II.

July, 1942: United We Stand
This is a companion web site for a Smithsonian Institution temporary exhibit that ran through October 2002. The exhibit highlights nearly 300 magazine covers featuring American flags, the slogan "United We Stand", and appeals to buy war bonds.

Medal of Honor Recipients: World War II
U.S. Army Center Center of Military History site that provides the names of Medal of Honor recipients and the actions that are commemorated.

Naval Aviation Chronology in World War II
Information compiled by the Naval History & Heritage Command.

Nuremberg Trials Project: A Digital Document Collection
Maintained by the Harvard Law School Library, this site provides access to trial documents and transcripts from the Medical Case held in 1946-1947 against 23 defendants accused of crimes against humanity in the form of harmful or fatal medical experiments and procedures. The site also provides a list of additional resources related to the Nuremberg Trials.

The OSS and Italian Partisans in World War II
Peter Tompkins, CIA, is the author of this article on the intelligence and operational support for the Anti-Nazi Resistance.

The Perilous Fight: America's World War II in Color
This PBS site is a companion to its program of the same name. It includes color photographs and videos that were shot to document the war.

Ration Coupons on the Home Front, 1942-1945
"Shows how the U.S. government controlled and conserved vehicles, typewriters, sugar, shoes, fuel, and food."

Stalag Luft I Online
The family of Dick Williams Jr., a prisoner of war during World War II, began this site as a tribute to his service. It now includes stories, photos, and letters that document the experiences of the POWs held at Stalag Luft I.

Student Voices from World War II and the McCarthy Era
A compilation of narratives from Brooklyn College students during World War II and the McCarthy era. Includes the oral histories of both participants in the school's Farm Labor Project and employees of the student newspaper.

Untold Stories of D-Day
This National Geographic site is an online gallery of stories and photographs telling the D-Day story.

The U. S. Coast Guard in World War II
The U. S. Coast Guard maintains this site, which includes Official Histories, Oral Histories of Coast Guard Veterans, and more.

U.S.-Russia Joint Commission Documents Database
The documents found in the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission Database consist mainly of translations of Russian-language documents retrieved from various archives in the Russian Federation pertaining to American personnel missing from World War II to the present.

Victory at Sea
From The Atlantic Monthly, this article describes the sea battles of World War II.

War Letters
This PBS website provides context to their film War Letters, based on Andrew Carroll's book of personal correspondence from the Revolutionary War through the Gulf War. Features letters, biographies, timelines, cartoons, and local resources.

World War II
Fordham University provides links to documents relating to World War II, including sections on the Lead Up to War, War In Europe, War In Asia, and After the War.

World War II: Documents
The Avalon Project's collection of World War II documents are available on this site, including British War Blue Book, Japanese Surrender Documents, Tripartite Pact and Associated Documents, and much more.

World War II Gallery
This site from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force includes descriptions and images of World War II era aircraft, engines, weapons, and more.

World War II History
From the Internet Public Library, this site includes print and Internet resources for high school and college students beginning research on World War II.

World War II Military Situation Maps
This Library of Congress collection "contains maps showing troop positions beginning on June 6, 1944 to July 26, 1945. Starting with the D-Day Invasion, the maps give daily details on the military campaigns in Western Europe, showing the progress of the Allied Forces as they push towards Germany."

World War II Poster Collection
The Government Publications Department at Northwestern University Library has a comprehensive collection of over 300 posters issued by U.S. Federal agencies from the start of the war through 1945.

World War II: The Photos We Remember
A collection of photographs published in Life Magazine during World War II.

World War II Time Line
Provides a timeline of the major events of World War II.

This page was last reviewed on October 28, 2019.
Contact us with questions or comments.

Total Population Losses 1939-1946 [ edit | edit source ]

Estimated total German population losses directly related to the war range between 5.5 to 6.9 million persons, the lower number are losses in 1937 borders, the higher figure of 6.9 million includes losses of the ethnic Germans in east-central Europe ⏚] In 1956 the West German government figures in the table below list an estimated about 5.5 million deaths (military and civilian) directly caused by the war within the borders of 1937. ⏛] A study by the German demographer Peter Marschalck put the total deaths directly related to the war both military and civilians at 5.2 million, plus an estimated decline in births of 1.7 million, bringing total population losses related to the war at 6.9 million persons within the borders of 1937. ⏜] There were additional deaths of the ethnic Germans outside of Germany in Eastern Europe, men conscripted during the war and ethnic German civilian deaths during post war expulsions.

A. Population Balance for Germany in 1937 borders: May 1939 to October 1946

According to West German Government 1956

Description Amount
Population May 1939 Census 69,310,000
Live Births 8,670,000
Net Immigration-German Refugees 4,080,000
Subtotal Additions 12,750,000
Civilians-Death by natural causes (7,130,000)
Civilians Killed in Air war (410,000)
Civilians Killed in 1945 Land Battles (20,000)
Military Dead (3,760,000)
POW held by Allies (1,750,000)
Germans remaining in Poland (1,750,000)
Germans Remaining Abroad (130,000)
Expulsion and Deportation Civilian Dead/Missing (1,260,000)
Emigrated & Murdered Jews (200,000)
Net Emigration of Foreign Population (200,000)
Other, Misc. (140,000)
Subtotal Reductions (16,750,000)
Population October 1946 Census 65,310,000

Sources for figures: Wirtschaft und Statistik October 1956, Journal published by Statistisches Bundesamt Deutschland. (German government Statistical Office)

1-Population May 1939 Census- Figures are for Germany in 1937 borders and does not include Austria and the ethnic Germans of East Europe. ⏝]

2-Live Births- are those actually recorded from May 1939 until June 1944 and from January to October 1946. The gap in vital statistics between the middle of 1944 and the end of 1945 was estimated. ⏝]

3-Net Immigration-German Refugees were ethnic Germans of Eastern Europe who lived outside Germany in 1937 borders before the war. ⏝]

4-Civilian Deaths- These are deaths due to natural causes not directly related to the war. Figure includes deaths actually recorded from May 1939 until June 1944 and from January to October 1946. The gap in vital statistics between the middle of 1944 and the end of 1945 was estimated. ⏝] The German government Statistical Office figures in the above table put the deaths due to natural causes at 7,130,000. A study by the German demographer Peter Marschalck estimated the expected deaths from natural causes based on the peacetime death rate would have been 5,900,000. ⏞] The German economist de:Bruno Gleitze from the German Institute for Economic Research estimated that included in the total of 7.1 million deaths by natural causes that there were 1,2 million excess deaths caused by an increase in mortality due to the harsh conditions in Germany during and after the war ⏟] In Allied occupied Germany the shortage of food was an acute problem in 1946–47 the average kilocalorie intake per day was only 1,600 to 1,800, an amount insufficient for long-term health., ⏠]

5-Killed in Air war - Figure for civilians only, does not include 23,000 police and military and 32,000 POW and foreign workers. ⏝]

6-Killed in 1945 Land Battles- This is a rough estimate made in 1956 for Germany in current post war borders, not including the former German territories in post war Poland. ⏝] However there is a more recent estimate of 22,000 civilians killed during the fighting in Berlin only. ⏡]

7-Military Dead - Includes Wehrmacht as well as SS/police and paramilitary forces. The Statistisches Bundesamt put the total at 3,760,000. ⏝] The Overmans study of German military casualties put the total at about 4.4 million. ⏢]

8-POW still held by Allies- 1,750,000 POW from Germany within in the 1937 borders were still held by the allies in October 1946. ⏝] Total German POW held at that time were about 2.5 million, including 300,000 men from other nations conscripted by Nazi Germany not included in the 1939 population ⏣] and 384,000 POW held in Germany who are included in the 1946 census figures. By 1950 almost all POW had been released except for 29,000 men held in forced labor in the USSR or convicted as war criminals.

9-Germans remaining in Poland in October 1946 were 1,750,000, but by 1950 the number had been reduced to 1,100,000 because of expulsions after October 1946. Those remaining in 1950 became Polish citizens but were German nationals in 1939. ⏝]

10-Germans Remaining Abroad-Includes expelled Germans who had emigrated to other countries or were in Denmark. ⏝]

11-Expulsion and Deportation Dead - This estimate is only for the Oder-Neisse region of Germany in the 1937 borders, not including the ethnic Germans of other Eastern European nations. Figure includes civilian deaths in the 1945 military campaign, the forced labor in the USSR as well as excess deaths due to post war famine and disease. ⏝] The German Church Service put the total of confirmed expulsion dead at about 300,000 for Germany in the 1937 borders, the balance of 960,000 were reported as missing and whose fate had not been clarified. ⏕]

12-Emigrated & Murdered Jews- The Statistisches Bundesamt(German government Statistical Office) gave a total of 200,000 Jews who had emigrated or were murdered, they did not estimate those actually who were murdered. ⏝] Most sources outside of Germany put the Holocaust death toll in Germany at about 150,000 Jews.

13-Net Emigration of Foreign Population - The Statistisches Bundesamt pointed out that this was a rough estimate. ⏝]

14-Other, Misc. - The Statistisches Bundesamt defined the others as "emigrated Germans, POW remaining abroad voluntarily, and German concentration camp deaths" (deutsche KZ-Opfer). ⏝]

15- Population October 1946 Census- Figure of 65,310,000 does not include 693,000 displaced persons (DPs) living in Germany. Figure includes 853,000 in the Saarland. ⏤]

B. Population Balance for Austria

The Austrian government provides the following information on human losses during the rule of the Nazis. For Austria the consequences of the Nazi regime and the Second World War were disastrous: During this period 2,700 Austrians had been executed and more than 16,000 citizens murdered in the concentration camps. Some 16,000 Austrians were killed in prison, while over 67,000 Austrian Jews were deported to death camps, only 2,000 of them lived to see the end of the war. In addition, 247,000 Austrians lost their lives serving in the army of the Third Reich or were reported missing, and 24,000 civilians were killed during bombing raids. ⏥]

C. Population Balance for the ethnic Germans of eastern Europe

In 1958 the West German government statistical office put the losses of the ethnic Germans at 1,318,000 (886,000 civilians in the expulsions and 411,000 in the German military and 22,000 in the Hungarian and Romanian military) ⏦] The research of Rűdiger Overmans puts military losses of ethnic Germans at 534,000 ⏧] Ingo Haar points out that of the 886,000 estimated civilian dead from east Europe only about 170,000 deaths have been confirmed the balance are considered unsolved cases. ⏕]


Common English terms for the German state in the Nazi era are "Nazi Germany" and "Third Reich". The latter, a translation of the Nazi propaganda term Drittes Reich, was first used in Das Dritte Reich, a 1923 book by Arthur Moeller van den Bruck. The book counted the Holy Roman Empire (962–1806) as the first Reich and the German Empire (1871–1918) as the second. [5]

Germany was known as the Weimar Republic during the years 1919 to 1933. It was a republic with a semi-presidential system. The Weimar Republic faced numerous problems, including hyperinflation, political extremism (including violence from left- and right-wing paramilitaries), contentious relationships with the Allied victors of World War I, and a series of failed attempts at coalition government by divided political parties. [6] Severe setbacks to the German economy began after World War I ended, partly because of reparations payments required under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. The government printed money to make the payments and to repay the country's war debt, but the resulting hyperinflation led to inflated prices for consumer goods, economic chaos, and food riots. [7] When the government defaulted on their reparations payments in January 1923, French troops occupied German industrial areas along the Ruhr and widespread civil unrest followed. [8]

The National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), commonly known as the Nazi Party, was founded in 1920. It was the renamed successor of the German Workers' Party (DAP) formed one year earlier, and one of several far-right political parties then active in Germany. [9] The Nazi Party platform included destruction of the Weimar Republic, rejection of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, radical antisemitism, and anti-Bolshevism. [10] They promised a strong central government, increased Lebensraum ("living space") for Germanic peoples, formation of a national community based on race, and racial cleansing via the active suppression of Jews, who would be stripped of their citizenship and civil rights. [11] The Nazis proposed national and cultural renewal based upon the Völkisch movement. [12] The party, especially its paramilitary organisation Sturmabteilung (SA Storm Detachment), or Brownshirts, used physical violence to advance their political position, disrupting the meetings of rival organisations and attacking their members as well as Jewish people on the streets. [13] Such far-right armed groups were common in Bavaria, and were tolerated by the sympathetic far-right state government of Gustav Ritter von Kahr. [14]

When the stock market in the United States crashed on 24 October 1929, the effect in Germany was dire. [15] Millions were thrown out of work and several major banks collapsed. Hitler and the Nazis prepared to take advantage of the emergency to gain support for their party. They promised to strengthen the economy and provide jobs. [16] Many voters decided the Nazi Party was capable of restoring order, quelling civil unrest, and improving Germany's international reputation. After the federal election of 1932, the party was the largest in the Reichstag, holding 230 seats with 37.4 percent of the popular vote. [17]

Nazi seizure of power

Although the Nazis won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they did not have a majority. Hitler therefore led a short-lived coalition government formed with the German National People's Party. [18] Under pressure from politicians, industrialists, and the business community, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933. This event is known as the Machtergreifung ("seizure of power"). [19]

On the night of 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set afire. Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch communist, was found guilty of starting the blaze. Hitler proclaimed that the arson marked the start of a communist uprising. The Reichstag Fire Decree, imposed on 28 February 1933, rescinded most civil liberties, including rights of assembly and freedom of the press. The decree also allowed the police to detain people indefinitely without charges. The legislation was accompanied by a propaganda campaign that led to public support for the measure. Violent suppression of communists by the SA was undertaken nationwide and 4,000 members of the Communist Party of Germany were arrested. [20]

In March 1933, the Enabling Act, an amendment to the Weimar Constitution, passed in the Reichstag by a vote of 444 to 94. [21] This amendment allowed Hitler and his cabinet to pass laws—even laws that violated the constitution—without the consent of the president or the Reichstag. [22] As the bill required a two-thirds majority to pass, the Nazis used intimidation tactics as well as the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to keep several Social Democratic deputies from attending, and the Communists had already been banned. [23] [24] On 10 May, the government seized the assets of the Social Democrats, and they were banned on 22 June. [25] On 21 June, the SA raided the offices of the German National People's Party – their former coalition partners – which then disbanded on 29 June. The remaining major political parties followed suit. On 14 July 1933 Germany became a one-party state with the passage of a law decreeing the Nazi Party to be the sole legal party in Germany. The founding of new parties was also made illegal, and all remaining political parties which had not already been dissolved were banned. [26] The Enabling Act would subsequently serve as the legal foundation for the dictatorship the Nazis established. [27] Further elections in November 1933, 1936, and 1938 were Nazi-controlled, with only members of the Party and a small number of independents elected. [28]

Nazification of Germany

The Hitler cabinet used the terms of the Reichstag Fire Decree and later the Enabling Act to initiate the process of Gleichschaltung ("co-ordination"), which brought all aspects of life under party control. [29] Individual states not controlled by elected Nazi governments or Nazi-led coalitions were forced to agree to the appointment of Reich Commissars to bring the states in line with the policies of the central government. These Commissars had the power to appoint and remove local governments, state parliaments, officials, and judges. In this way Germany became a de facto unitary state, with all state governments controlled by the central government under the Nazis. [30] [31] The state parliaments and the Reichsrat (federal upper house) were abolished in January 1934, [32] with all state powers being transferred to the central government. [31]

All civilian organisations, including agricultural groups, volunteer organisations, and sports clubs, had their leadership replaced with Nazi sympathisers or party members these civic organisations either merged with the Nazi Party or faced dissolution. [33] The Nazi government declared a "Day of National Labor" for May Day 1933, and invited many trade union delegates to Berlin for celebrations. The day after, SA stormtroopers demolished union offices around the country all trade unions were forced to dissolve and their leaders were arrested. [34] The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, passed in April, removed from their jobs all teachers, professors, judges, magistrates, and government officials who were Jewish or whose commitment to the party was suspect. [35] This meant the only non-political institutions not under control of the Nazis were the churches. [36]

The Nazi regime abolished the symbols of the Weimar Republic—including the black, red, and gold tricolour flag—and adopted reworked symbolism. The previous imperial black, white, and red tricolour was restored as one of Germany's two official flags the second was the swastika flag of the Nazi Party, which became the sole national flag in 1935. The Party anthem "Horst-Wessel-Lied" ("Horst Wessel Song") became a second national anthem. [37]

Germany was still in a dire economic situation, as six million people were unemployed and the balance of trade deficit was daunting. [38] Using deficit spending, public works projects were undertaken beginning in 1934, creating 1.7 million new jobs by the end of that year alone. [38] Average wages began to rise. [39]

Consolidation of power

The SA leadership continued to apply pressure for greater political and military power. In response, Hitler used the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Gestapo to purge the entire SA leadership. [40] Hitler targeted SA Stabschef (Chief of Staff) Ernst Röhm and other SA leaders who—along with a number of Hitler's political adversaries (such as Gregor Strasser and former chancellor Kurt von Schleicher)—were arrested and shot. [41] Up to 200 people were killed from 30 June to 2 July 1934 in an event that became known as the Night of the Long Knives. [42]

On 2 August 1934, Hindenburg died. The previous day, the cabinet had enacted the "Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich", which stated that upon Hindenburg's death the office of president would be abolished and its powers merged with those of the chancellor. [43] Hitler thus became head of state as well as head of government and was formally named as Führer und Reichskanzler ("Leader and Chancellor"), although eventually Reichskanzler was dropped. [44] Germany was now a totalitarian state with Hitler at its head. [45] As head of state, Hitler became Supreme Commander of the armed forces. The new law provided an altered loyalty oath for servicemen so that they affirmed loyalty to Hitler personally rather than the office of supreme commander or the state. [46] On 19 August, the merger of the presidency with the chancellorship was approved by 90 percent of the electorate in a plebiscite. [47]

Most Germans were relieved that the conflicts and street fighting of the Weimar era had ended. They were deluged with propaganda orchestrated by Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, who promised peace and plenty for all in a united, Marxist-free country without the constraints of the Versailles Treaty. [48] The Nazi Party obtained and legitimised power through its initial revolutionary activities, then through manipulation of legal mechanisms, the use of police powers, and by taking control of the state and federal institutions. [49] [50] The first major Nazi concentration camp, initially for political prisoners, was opened at Dachau in 1933. [51] Hundreds of camps of varying size and function were created by the end of the war. [52]

Beginning in April 1933, scores of measures defining the status of Jews and their rights were instituted. [53] These measures culminated in the establishment of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which stripped them of their basic rights. [54] The Nazis would take from the Jews their wealth, their right to intermarry with non-Jews, and their right to occupy many fields of labour (such as law, medicine, or education). Eventually the Nazis declared the Jews as undesirable to remain among German citizens and society. [55]

Military build-up

In the early years of the regime, Germany was without allies, and its military was drastically weakened by the Versailles Treaty. France, Poland, Italy, and the Soviet Union each had reasons to object to Hitler's rise to power. Poland suggested to France that the two nations engage in a preventive war against Germany in March 1933. Fascist Italy objected to German claims in the Balkans and on Austria, which Benito Mussolini considered to be in Italy's sphere of influence. [56]

As early as February 1933, Hitler announced that rearmament must begin, albeit clandestinely at first, as to do so was in violation of the Versailles Treaty. On 17 May 1933, Hitler gave a speech before the Reichstag outlining his desire for world peace and accepted an offer from American President Franklin D. Roosevelt for military disarmament, provided the other nations of Europe did the same. [57] When the other European powers failed to accept this offer, Hitler pulled Germany out of the World Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations in October, claiming its disarmament clauses were unfair if they applied only to Germany. [58] In a referendum held in November, 95 percent of voters supported Germany's withdrawal. [59]

In 1934, Hitler told his military leaders that a war in the east should begin in 1942. [60] The Saarland, which had been placed under League of Nations supervision for 15 years at the end of World War I, voted in January 1935 to become part of Germany. [61] In March 1935, Hitler announced the creation of an air force, and that the Reichswehr would be increased to 550,000 men. [62] Britain agreed to Germany building a naval fleet with the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement on 18 June 1935. [63]

When the Italian invasion of Ethiopia led to only mild protests by the British and French governments, on 7 March 1936 Hitler used the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance as a pretext to order the army to march 3,000 troops into the demilitarised zone in the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles Treaty. [64] As the territory was part of Germany, the British and French governments did not feel that attempting to enforce the treaty was worth the risk of war. [65] In the one-party election held on 29 March, the Nazis received 98.9 percent support. [65] In 1936, Hitler signed an Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan and a non-aggression agreement with Mussolini, who was soon referring to a "Rome-Berlin Axis". [66]

Hitler sent military supplies and assistance to the Nationalist forces of General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War, which began in July 1936. The German Condor Legion included a range of aircraft and their crews, as well as a tank contingent. The aircraft of the Legion destroyed the city of Guernica in 1937. [67] The Nationalists were victorious in 1939 and became an informal ally of Nazi Germany. [68]

Austria and Czechoslovakia

In February 1938, Hitler emphasised to Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg the need for Germany to secure its frontiers. Schuschnigg scheduled a plebiscite regarding Austrian independence for 13 March, but Hitler sent an ultimatum to Schuschnigg on 11 March demanding that he hand over all power to the Austrian Nazi Party or face an invasion. German troops entered Austria the next day, to be greeted with enthusiasm by the populace. [69]

The Republic of Czechoslovakia was home to a substantial minority of Germans, who lived mostly in the Sudetenland. Under pressure from separatist groups within the Sudeten German Party, the Czechoslovak government offered economic concessions to the region. [70] Hitler decided not just to incorporate the Sudetenland into the Reich, but to destroy the country of Czechoslovakia entirely. [71] The Nazis undertook a propaganda campaign to try to generate support for an invasion. [72] Top German military leaders opposed the plan, as Germany was not yet ready for war. [73]

The crisis led to war preparations by Britain, Czechoslovakia, and France (Czechoslovakia's ally). Attempting to avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain arranged a series of meetings, the result of which was the Munich Agreement, signed on 29 September 1938. The Czechoslovak government was forced to accept the Sudetenland's annexation into Germany. Chamberlain was greeted with cheers when he landed in London, saying the agreement brought "peace for our time". [74] In addition to the German annexation, Poland seized a narrow strip of land near Cieszyn on 2 October, while as a consequence of the Munich Agreement, Hungary demanded and received 12,000 square kilometres (4,600 sq mi) along their northern border in the First Vienna Award on 2 November. [75] Following negotiations with President Emil Hácha, Hitler seized the rest of the Czech half of the country on 15 March 1939 and created the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, one day after the proclamation of the Slovak Republic in the Slovak half. [76] Also on 15 March, Hungary occupied and annexed the recently proclaimed and unrecognized Carpatho-Ukraine and an additional sliver of land disputed with Slovakia. [77] [78]

Austrian and Czech foreign exchange reserves were seized by the Nazis, as were stockpiles of raw materials such as metals and completed goods such as weaponry and aircraft, which were shipped to Germany. The Reichswerke Hermann Göring industrial conglomerate took control of steel and coal production facilities in both countries. [79]


In January 1934, Germany signed a non-aggression pact with Poland. [80] In March 1939, Hitler demanded the return of the Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor, a strip of land that separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany. The British announced they would come to the aid of Poland if it was attacked. Hitler, believing the British would not actually take action, ordered an invasion plan should be readied for September 1939. [81] On 23 May, Hitler described to his generals his overall plan of not only seizing the Polish Corridor but greatly expanding German territory eastward at the expense of Poland. He expected this time they would be met by force. [82]

The Germans reaffirmed their alliance with Italy and signed non-aggression pacts with Denmark, Estonia, and Latvia whilst trade links were formalised with Romania, Norway, and Sweden. [83] Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop arranged in negotiations with the Soviet Union a non-aggression pact, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, signed in August 1939. [84] The treaty also contained secret protocols dividing Poland and the Baltic states into German and Soviet spheres of influence. [85]

World War II

Foreign policy

Germany's wartime foreign policy involved the creation of allied governments controlled directly or indirectly from Berlin. They intended to obtain soldiers from allies such as Italy and Hungary and workers and food supplies from allies such as Vichy France. [86] Hungary was the fourth nation to join the Axis, signing the Tripartite Pact on 27 September 1940. Bulgaria signed the pact on 17 November. German efforts to secure oil included negotiating a supply from their new ally, Romania, who signed the Pact on 23 November, alongside the Slovak Republic. [87] [88] [89] By late 1942, there were 24 divisions from Romania on the Eastern Front, 10 from Italy, and 10 from Hungary. [90] Germany assumed full control in France in 1942, Italy in 1943, and Hungary in 1944. Although Japan was a powerful ally, the relationship was distant, with little co-ordination or co-operation. For example, Germany refused to share their formula for synthetic oil from coal until late in the war. [91]

Outbreak of war

Germany invaded Poland and captured the Free City of Danzig on 1 September 1939, beginning World War II in Europe. [92] Honouring their treaty obligations, Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. [93] Poland fell quickly, as the Soviet Union attacked from the east on 17 September. [94] Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo Security Police) and Sicherheitsdienst (SD Security Service), ordered on 21 September that Polish Jews should be rounded up and concentrated into cities with good rail links. Initially the intention was to deport them further east, or possibly to Madagascar. [95] Using lists prepared in advance, some 65,000 Polish intelligentsia, noblemen, clergy, and teachers were killed by the end of 1939 in an attempt to destroy Poland's identity as a nation. [96] [97] Soviet forces advanced into Finland in the Winter War, and German forces saw action at sea. But little other activity occurred until May, so the period became known as the "Phoney War". [98]

From the start of the war, a British blockade on shipments to Germany affected its economy. Germany was particularly dependent on foreign supplies of oil, coal, and grain. [99] Thanks to trade embargoes and the blockade, imports into Germany declined by 80 per cent. [100] To safeguard Swedish iron ore shipments to Germany, Hitler ordered the invasion of Denmark and Norway, which began on 9 April. Denmark fell after less than a day, while most of Norway followed by the end of the month. [101] [102] By early June, Germany occupied all of Norway. [103]

Conquest of Europe

Against the advice of many of his senior military officers, in May 1940 Hitler ordered an attack on France and the Low Countries. [104] [105] They quickly conquered Luxembourg and the Netherlands and outmanoeuvred the Allies in Belgium, forcing the evacuation of many British and French troops at Dunkirk. [106] France fell as well, surrendering to Germany on 22 June. [107] The victory in France resulted in an upswing in Hitler's popularity and an upsurge in war fever in Germany. [108]

In violation of the provisions of the Hague Convention, industrial firms in the Netherlands, France, and Belgium were put to work producing war materiel for Germany. [109]

The Nazis seized from the French thousands of locomotives and rolling stock, stockpiles of weapons, and raw materials such as copper, tin, oil, and nickel. [110] Payments for occupation costs were levied upon France, Belgium, and Norway. [111] Barriers to trade led to hoarding, black markets, and uncertainty about the future. [112] Food supplies were precarious production dropped in most of Europe. [113] Famine was experienced in many occupied countries. [113]

Hitler's peace overtures to the new British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were rejected in July 1940. Grand Admiral Erich Raeder had advised Hitler in June that air superiority was a pre-condition for a successful invasion of Britain, so Hitler ordered a series of aerial attacks on Royal Air Force (RAF) airbases and radar stations, as well as nightly air raids on British cities, including London, Plymouth, and Coventry. The German Luftwaffe failed to defeat the RAF in what became known as the Battle of Britain, and by the end of October, Hitler realised that air superiority would not be achieved. He permanently postponed the invasion, a plan which the commanders of the German army had never taken entirely seriously. [114] [115] [k] Several historians, including Andrew Gordon, believe the primary reason for the failure of the invasion plan was the superiority of the Royal Navy, not the actions of the RAF. [116]

In February 1941, the German Afrika Korps arrived in Libya to aid the Italians in the North African Campaign. [117] On 6 April, Germany launched an invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece. [118] [119] All of Yugoslavia and parts of Greece were subsequently divided between Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Bulgaria. [120] [121]

Invasion of the Soviet Union

On 22 June 1941, contravening the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, about 3.8 million Axis troops attacked the Soviet Union. [122] In addition to Hitler's stated purpose of acquiring Lebensraum, this large-scale offensive—codenamed Operation Barbarossa—was intended to destroy the Soviet Union and seize its natural resources for subsequent aggression against the Western powers. [123] The reaction among Germans was one of surprise and trepidation as many were concerned about how much longer the war would continue or suspected that Germany could not win a war fought on two fronts. [124]

The invasion conquered a huge area, including the Baltic states, Belarus, and west Ukraine. After the successful Battle of Smolensk in September 1941, Hitler ordered Army Group Centre to halt its advance to Moscow and temporarily divert its Panzer groups to aid in the encirclement of Leningrad and Kyiv. [125] This pause provided the Red Army with an opportunity to mobilise fresh reserves. The Moscow offensive, which resumed in October 1941, ended disastrously in December. [126] On 7 December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Four days later, Germany declared war on the United States. [127]

Food was in short supply in the conquered areas of the Soviet Union and Poland, as the retreating armies had burned the crops in some areas, and much of the remainder was sent back to the Reich. [128] In Germany, rations were cut in 1942. In his role as Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan, Hermann Göring demanded increased shipments of grain from France and fish from Norway. The 1942 harvest was good, and food supplies remained adequate in Western Europe. [129]

Germany and Europe as a whole were almost totally dependent on foreign oil imports. [130] In an attempt to resolve the shortage, in June 1942 Germany launched Fall Blau ("Case Blue"), an offensive against the Caucasian oilfields. [131] The Red Army launched a counter-offensive on 19 November and encircled the Axis forces, who were trapped in Stalingrad on 23 November. [132] Göring assured Hitler that the 6th Army could be supplied by air, but this turned out to be infeasible. [133] Hitler's refusal to allow a retreat led to the deaths of 200,000 German and Romanian soldiers of the 91,000 men who surrendered in the city on 31 January 1943, only 6,000 survivors returned to Germany after the war. [134]

Turning point and collapse

Losses continued to mount after Stalingrad, leading to a sharp reduction in the popularity of the Nazi Party and deteriorating morale. [135] Soviet forces continued to push westward after the failed German offensive at the Battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943. By the end of 1943, the Germans had lost most of their eastern territorial gains. [136] In Egypt, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps were defeated by British forces under Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in October 1942. [137] The Allies landed in Sicily in July 1943 and in Italy in September. [138] Meanwhile, American and British bomber fleets based in Britain began operations against Germany. Many sorties were intentionally given civilian targets in an effort to destroy German morale. [139] The bombing of aircraft factories as well as Peenemünde Army Research Center, where V-1 and V-2 rockets were being developed and produced, were also deemed particularly important. [140] [141] German aircraft production could not keep pace with losses, and without air cover the Allied bombing campaign became even more devastating. By targeting oil refineries and factories, they crippled the German war effort by late 1944. [142]

On 6 June 1944, American, British, and Canadian forces established a front in France with the D-Day landings in Normandy. [143] On 20 July 1944, Hitler survived an assassination attempt. [144] He ordered brutal reprisals, resulting in 7,000 arrests and the execution of more than 4,900 people. [145] The failed Ardennes Offensive (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945) was the last major German offensive on the western front, and Soviet forces entered Germany on 27 January. [146] Hitler's refusal to admit defeat and his insistence that the war be fought to the last man led to unnecessary death and destruction in the war's closing months. [147] Through his Justice Minister Otto Georg Thierack, Hitler ordered that anyone who was not prepared to fight should be court-martialed, and thousands of people were put to death. [148] In many areas, people surrendered to the approaching Allies in spite of exhortations of local leaders to continue to fight. Hitler ordered the destruction of transport, bridges, industries, and other infrastructure—a scorched earth decree—but Armaments Minister Albert Speer prevented this order from being fully carried out. [147]

During the Battle of Berlin (16 April 1945 – 2 May 1945), Hitler and his staff lived in the underground Führerbunker while the Red Army approached. [149] On 30 April, when Soviet troops were within two blocks of the Reich Chancellery, Hitler, along with his girlfriend and by then wife Eva Braun committed suicide. [150] On 2 May, General Helmuth Weidling unconditionally surrendered Berlin to Soviet General Vasily Chuikov. [151] Hitler was succeeded by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as Reich President and Goebbels as Reich Chancellor. [152] Goebbels and his wife Magda committed suicide the next day after murdering their six children. [153] Between 4 and 8 May 1945, most of the remaining German armed forces unconditionally surrendered. The German Instrument of Surrender was signed 8 May, marking the end of the Nazi regime and the end of World War II in Europe. [154]

Popular support for Hitler almost completely disappeared as the war drew to a close. [155] Suicide rates in Germany increased, particularly in areas where the Red Army was advancing. Among soldiers and party personnel, suicide was often deemed an honourable and heroic alternative to surrender. First-hand accounts and propaganda about the uncivilised behaviour of the advancing Soviet troops caused panic among civilians on the Eastern Front, especially women, who feared being raped. [156] More than a thousand people (out of a population of around 16,000) committed suicide in Demmin on and around 1 May 1945 as the 65th Army of 2nd Belorussian Front first broke into a distillery and then rampaged through the town, committing mass rapes, arbitrarily executing civilians, and setting fire to buildings. High numbers of suicides took place in many other locations, including Neubrandenburg (600 dead), Stolp in Pommern (1,000 dead), [157] and Berlin, where at least 7,057 people committed suicide in 1945. [158]

German casualties

Estimates of the total German war dead range from 5.5 to 6.9 million persons. [159] A study by German historian Rüdiger Overmans puts the number of German military dead and missing at 5.3 million, including 900,000 men conscripted from outside of Germany's 1937 borders. [160] Richard Overy estimated in 2014 that about 353,000 civilians were killed in Allied air raids. [161] Other civilian deaths include 300,000 Germans (including Jews) who were victims of Nazi political, racial, and religious persecution [162] and 200,000 who were murdered in the Nazi euthanasia program. [163] Political courts called Sondergerichte sentenced some 12,000 members of the German resistance to death, and civil courts sentenced an additional 40,000 Germans. [164] Mass rapes of German women also took place. [165]

Territorial changes

As a result of their defeat in World War I and the resulting Treaty of Versailles, Germany lost Alsace-Lorraine, Northern Schleswig, and Memel. The Saarland became a protectorate of France under the condition that its residents would later decide by referendum which country to join, and Poland became a separate nation and was given access to the sea by the creation of the Polish Corridor, which separated Prussia from the rest of Germany, while Danzig was made a free city. [166]

Germany regained control of the Saarland through a referendum held in 1935 and annexed Austria in the Anschluss of 1938. [167] The Munich Agreement of 1938 gave Germany control of the Sudetenland, and they seized the remainder of Czechoslovakia six months later. [74] Under threat of invasion by sea, Lithuania surrendered the Memel district in March 1939. [168]

Occupied territories

Some of the conquered territories were incorporated into Germany as part of Hitler's long-term goal of creating a Greater Germanic Reich. Several areas, such as Alsace-Lorraine, were placed under the authority of an adjacent Gau (regional district). The Reichskommissariate (Reich Commissariats), quasi-colonial regimes, were established in some occupied countries. Areas placed under German administration included the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Reichskommissariat Ostland (encompassing the Baltic states and Belarus), and Reichskommissariat Ukraine. Conquered areas of Belgium and France were placed under control of the Military Administration in Belgium and Northern France. [170] Belgian Eupen-Malmedy, which had been part of Germany until 1919, was annexed. Part of Poland was incorporated into the Reich, and the General Government was established in occupied central Poland. [171] The governments of Denmark, Norway (Reichskommissariat Norwegen), and the Netherlands (Reichskommissariat Niederlande) were placed under civilian administrations staffed largely by natives. [170] [l] Hitler intended to eventually incorporate many of these areas into the Reich. [172] Germany occupied the Italian protectorate of Albania and the Italian governorate of Montenegro in 1943 [173] and installed a puppet government in occupied Serbia in 1941. [174]


The Nazis were a far-right fascist political party which arose during the social and financial upheavals that occurred following the end of World War I. [175] The Party remained small and marginalised, receiving 2.6% of the federal vote in 1928, prior to the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. [176] By 1930 the Party won 18.3% of the federal vote, making it the Reichstag's second largest political party. [177] While in prison after the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, which laid out his plan for transforming German society into one based on race. [178] Nazi ideology brought together elements of antisemitism, racial hygiene, and eugenics, and combined them with pan-Germanism and territorial expansionism with the goal of obtaining more Lebensraum for the Germanic people. [179] The regime attempted to obtain this new territory by attacking Poland and the Soviet Union, intending to deport or kill the Jews and Slavs living there, who were viewed as being inferior to the Aryan master race and part of a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy. [180] [181] The Nazi regime believed that only Germany could defeat the forces of Bolshevism and save humanity from world domination by International Jewry. [182] Other people deemed life unworthy of life by the Nazis included the mentally and physically disabled, Romani people, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and social misfits. [183] [184]

Influenced by the Völkisch movement, the regime was against cultural modernism and supported the development of an extensive military at the expense of intellectualism. [12] [185] Creativity and art were stifled, except where they could serve as propaganda media. [186] The party used symbols such as the Blood Flag and rituals such as the Nazi Party rallies to foster unity and bolster the regime's popularity. [187]


Hitler ruled Germany autocratically by asserting the Führerprinzip ("leader principle"), which called for absolute obedience by all subordinates. He viewed the government structure as a pyramid, with himself—the infallible leader—at the apex. Party rank was not determined by elections, and positions were filled through appointment by those of higher rank. [188] The party used propaganda to develop a cult of personality around Hitler. [189] Historians such as Kershaw emphasise the psychological impact of Hitler's skill as an orator. [190] Roger Gill states: "His moving speeches captured the minds and hearts of a vast number of the German people: he virtually hypnotized his audiences". [191]

While top officials reported to Hitler and followed his policies, they had considerable autonomy. [192] He expected officials to "work towards the Führer" – to take the initiative in promoting policies and actions in line with party goals and Hitler's wishes, without his involvement in day-to-day decision-making. [193] The government was a disorganised collection of factions led by the party elite, who struggled to amass power and gain the Führer's favour. [194] Hitler's leadership style was to give contradictory orders to his subordinates and to place them in positions where their duties and responsibilities overlapped. [195] In this way he fostered distrust, competition, and infighting among his subordinates to consolidate and maximise his own power. [196]

Successive Reichsstatthalter decrees between 1933 and 1935 abolished the existing Länder (constituent states) of Germany and replaced them with new administrative divisions, the Gaue, governed by Nazi leaders (Gauleiters). [197] The change was never fully implemented, as the Länder were still used as administrative divisions for some government departments such as education. This led to a bureaucratic tangle of overlapping jurisdictions and responsibilities typical of the administrative style of the Nazi regime. [198]

Jewish civil servants lost their jobs in 1933, except for those who had seen military service in World War I. Members of the Party or party supporters were appointed in their place. [199] As part of the process of Gleichschaltung, the Reich Local Government Law of 1935 abolished local elections, and mayors were appointed by the Ministry of the Interior. [200]

In August 1934, civil servants and members of the military were required to swear an oath of unconditional obedience to Hitler. These laws became the basis of the Führerprinzip, the concept that Hitler's word overrode all existing laws. [201] Any acts that were sanctioned by Hitler—even murder—thus became legal. [202] All legislation proposed by cabinet ministers had to be approved by the office of Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess, who could also veto top civil service appointments. [203]

Most of the judicial system and legal codes of the Weimar Republic remained in place to deal with non-political crimes. [204] The courts issued and carried out far more death sentences than before the Nazis took power. [204] People who were convicted of three or more offences—even petty ones—could be deemed habitual offenders and jailed indefinitely. [205] People such as prostitutes and pickpockets were judged to be inherently criminal and a threat to the community. Thousands were arrested and confined indefinitely without trial. [206]

A new type of court, the Volksgerichtshof ("People's Court"), was established in 1934 to deal with political cases. [207] This court handed out over 5,000 death sentences until its dissolution in 1945. [208] The death penalty could be issued for offences such as being a communist, printing seditious leaflets, or even making jokes about Hitler or other officials. [209] The Gestapo was in charge of investigative policing to enforce Nazi ideology as they located and confined political offenders, Jews, and others deemed undesirable. [210] Political offenders who were released from prison were often immediately re-arrested by the Gestapo and confined in a concentration camp. [211]

The Nazis used propaganda to promulgate the concept of Rassenschande ("race defilement") to justify the need for racial laws. [212] In September 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were enacted. These laws initially prohibited sexual relations and marriages between Aryans and Jews and were later extended to include "Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring". [213] The law also forbade the employment of German women under the age of 45 as domestic servants in Jewish households. [214] The Reich Citizenship Law stated that only those of "German or related blood" could be citizens. [215] Thus Jews and other non-Aryans were stripped of their German citizenship. The law also permitted the Nazis to deny citizenship to anyone who was not supportive enough of the regime. [215] A supplementary decree issued in November defined as Jewish anyone with three Jewish grandparents, or two grandparents if the Jewish faith was followed. [216]


The unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945 were called the Wehrmacht (defence force). This included the Heer (army), Kriegsmarine (navy), and the Luftwaffe (air force). From 2 August 1934, members of the armed forces were required to pledge an oath of unconditional obedience to Hitler personally. In contrast to the previous oath, which required allegiance to the constitution of the country and its lawful establishments, this new oath required members of the military to obey Hitler even if they were being ordered to do something illegal. [217] Hitler decreed that the army would have to tolerate and even offer logistical support to the Einsatzgruppen—the mobile death squads responsible for millions of deaths in Eastern Europe—when it was tactically possible to do so. [218] Wehrmacht troops also participated directly in the Holocaust by shooting civilians or committing genocide under the guise of anti-partisan operations. [219] The party line was that the Jews were the instigators of the partisan struggle and therefore needed to be eliminated. [220] On 8 July 1941, Heydrich announced that all Jews in the eastern conquered territories were to be regarded as partisans and gave the order for all male Jews between the ages of 15 and 45 to be shot. [221] By August, this was extended to include the entire Jewish population. [222]

In spite of efforts to prepare the country militarily, the economy could not sustain a lengthy war of attrition. A strategy was developed based on the tactic of Blitzkrieg ("lightning war"), which involved using quick coordinated assaults that avoided enemy strong points. Attacks began with artillery bombardment, followed by bombing and strafing runs. Next the tanks would attack and finally the infantry would move in to secure the captured area. [223] Victories continued through mid-1940, but the failure to defeat Britain was the first major turning point in the war. The decision to attack the Soviet Union and the decisive defeat at Stalingrad led to the retreat of the German armies and the eventual loss of the war. [224] The total number of soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht from 1935 to 1945 was around 18.2 million, of whom 5.3 million died. [160]

The SA and SS

The Sturmabteilung (SA Storm Detachment), or Brownshirts, founded in 1921, was the first paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party their initial assignment was to protect Nazi leaders at rallies and assemblies. [225] They also took part in street battles against the forces of rival political parties and violent actions against Jews and others. [226] Under Ernst Röhm's leadership the SA grew by 1934 to over half a million members—4.5 million including reserves—at a time when the regular army was still limited to 100,000 men by the Versailles Treaty. [227]

Röhm hoped to assume command of the army and absorb it into the ranks of the SA. [228] Hindenburg and Defence Minister Werner von Blomberg threatened to impose martial law if the activities of the SA were not curtailed. [229] Therefore, less than a year and a half after seizing power, Hitler ordered the deaths of the SA leadership, including Rohm. After the purge of 1934, the SA was no longer a major force. [42]

Initially a small bodyguard unit under the auspices of the SA, the Schutzstaffel (SS Protection Squadron) grew to become one of the largest and most powerful groups in Nazi Germany. [230] Led by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler from 1929, the SS had over a quarter million members by 1938. [231] Himmler initially envisioned the SS as being an elite group of guards, Hitler's last line of defence. [232] The Waffen-SS, the military branch of the SS, evolved into a second army. It was dependent on the regular army for heavy weaponry and equipment, and most units were under tactical control of the High Command of the Armed Forces (OKW). [233] [234] By the end of 1942, the stringent selection and racial requirements that had initially been in place were no longer followed. With recruitment and conscription based only on expansion, by 1943 the Waffen-SS could not longer claim to be an elite fighting force. [235]

SS formations committed many war crimes against civilians and allied servicemen. [236] From 1935 onward, the SS spearheaded the persecution of Jews, who were rounded up into ghettos and concentration camps. [237] With the outbreak of World War II, the SS Einsatzgruppen units followed the army into Poland and the Soviet Union, where from 1941 to 1945 they killed more than two million people, including 1.3 million Jews. [238] A third of the Einsatzgruppen members were recruited from Waffen-SS personnel. [239] [240] The SS-Totenkopfverbände (death's head units) ran the concentration camps and extermination camps, where millions more were killed. [241] [242] Up to 60,000 Waffen-SS men served in the camps. [243]

In 1931, Himmler organised an SS intelligence service which became known as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD Security Service) under his deputy, Heydrich. [244] This organisation was tasked with locating and arresting communists and other political opponents. [245] [246] Himmler established the beginnings of a parallel economy under the auspices of the SS Economy and Administration Head Office. This holding company owned housing corporations, factories, and publishing houses. [247] [248]

Reich economics

The most pressing economic matter the Nazis initially faced was the 30 percent national unemployment rate. [249] Economist Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, President of the Reichsbank and Minister of Economics, created a scheme for deficit financing in May 1933. Capital projects were paid for with the issuance of promissory notes called Mefo bills. When the notes were presented for payment, the Reichsbank printed money. Hitler and his economic team expected that the upcoming territorial expansion would provide the means of repaying the soaring national debt. [250] Schacht's administration achieved a rapid decline in the unemployment rate, the largest of any country during the Great Depression. [249] Economic recovery was uneven, with reduced hours of work and erratic availability of necessities, leading to disenchantment with the regime as early as 1934. [251]

In October 1933, the Junkers Aircraft Works was expropriated. In concert with other aircraft manufacturers and under the direction of Aviation Minister Göring, production was ramped up. From a workforce of 3,200 people producing 100 units per year in 1932, the industry grew to employ a quarter of a million workers manufacturing over 10,000 technically advanced aircraft annually less than ten years later. [252]

An elaborate bureaucracy was created to regulate imports of raw materials and finished goods with the intention of eliminating foreign competition in the German marketplace and improving the nation's balance of payments. The Nazis encouraged the development of synthetic replacements for materials such as oil and textiles. [253] As the market was experiencing a glut and prices for petroleum were low, in 1933 the Nazi government made a profit-sharing agreement with IG Farben, guaranteeing them a 5 percent return on capital invested in their synthetic oil plant at Leuna. Any profits in excess of that amount would be turned over to the Reich. By 1936, Farben regretted making the deal, as excess profits were by then being generated. [254] In another attempt to secure an adequate wartime supply of petroleum, Germany intimidated Romania into signing a trade agreement in March 1939. [255]

Major public works projects financed with deficit spending included the construction of a network of Autobahnen and providing funding for programmes initiated by the previous government for housing and agricultural improvements. [256] To stimulate the construction industry, credit was offered to private businesses and subsidies were made available for home purchases and repairs. [257] On the condition that the wife would leave the workforce, a loan of up to 1,000 Reichsmarks could be accessed by young couples of Aryan descent who intended to marry, and the amount that had to be repaid was reduced by 25 percent for each child born. [258] The caveat that the woman had to remain unemployed outside the home was dropped by 1937 due to a shortage of skilled labourers. [259]

Envisioning widespread car ownership as part of the new Germany, Hitler arranged for designer Ferdinand Porsche to draw up plans for the KdF-wagen (Strength Through Joy car), intended to be an automobile that everyone could afford. A prototype was displayed at the International Motor Show in Berlin on 17 February 1939. With the outbreak of World War II, the factory was converted to produce military vehicles. None were sold until after the war, when the vehicle was renamed the Volkswagen (people's car). [260]

Six million people were unemployed when the Nazis took power in 1933 and by 1937 there were fewer than a million. [261] This was in part due to the removal of women from the workforce. [262] Real wages dropped by 25 percent between 1933 and 1938. [249] After the dissolution of the trade unions in May 1933, their funds were seized and their leadership arrested, [263] including those who attempted to co-operate with the Nazis. [34] A new organisation, the German Labour Front, was created and placed under Nazi Party functionary Robert Ley. [263] The average work week was 43 hours in 1933 by 1939 this increased to 47 hours. [264]

By early 1934, the focus shifted towards rearmament. By 1935, military expenditures accounted for 73 percent of the government's purchases of goods and services. [265] On 18 October 1936, Hitler named Göring as Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan, intended to speed up rearmament. [266] In addition to calling for the rapid construction of steel mills, synthetic rubber plants, and other factories, Göring instituted wage and price controls and restricted the issuance of stock dividends. [249] Large expenditures were made on rearmament in spite of growing deficits. [267] Plans unveiled in late 1938 for massive increases to the navy and air force were impossible to fulfil, as Germany lacked the finances and material resources to build the planned units, as well as the necessary fuel required to keep them running. [268] With the introduction of compulsory military service in 1935, the Reichswehr, which had been limited to 100,000 by the terms of the Versailles Treaty, expanded to 750,000 on active service at the start of World War II, with a million more in the reserve. [269] By January 1939, unemployment was down to 301,800 and it dropped to only 77,500 by September. [270]

Wartime economy and forced labour

The Nazi war economy was a mixed economy that combined a free market with central planning. Historian Richard Overy describes it as being somewhere in between the command economy of the Soviet Union and the capitalist system of the United States. [271]

In 1942, after the death of Armaments Minister Fritz Todt, Hitler appointed Albert Speer as his replacement. [272] Wartime rationing of consumer goods led to an increase in personal savings, funds which were in turn lent to the government to support the war effort. [273] By 1944, the war was consuming 75 percent of Germany's gross domestic product, compared to 60 percent in the Soviet Union and 55 percent in Britain. [274] Speer improved production by centralising planning and control, reducing production of consumer goods, and using forced labour and slavery. [275] [276] The wartime economy eventually relied heavily upon the large-scale employment of slave labour. Germany imported and enslaved some 12 million people from 20 European countries to work in factories and on farms. Approximately 75 percent were Eastern European. [277] Many were casualties of Allied bombing, as they received poor air raid protection. Poor living conditions led to high rates of sickness, injury, and death, as well as sabotage and criminal activity. [278] The wartime economy also relied upon large-scale robbery, initially through the state seizing the property of Jewish citizens and later by plundering the resources of occupied territories. [279]

Foreign workers brought into Germany were put into four classifications: guest workers, military internees, civilian workers, and Eastern workers. Each group was subject to different regulations. The Nazis issued a ban on sexual relations between Germans and foreign workers. [280] [281]

By 1944, over a half million women served as auxiliaries in the German armed forces. [282] The number of women in paid employment only increased by 271,000 (1.8 percent) from 1939 to 1944. [283] As the production of consumer goods had been cut back, women left those industries for employment in the war economy. They also took jobs formerly held by men, especially on farms and in family-owned shops. [284]

Very heavy strategic bombing by the Allies targeted refineries producing synthetic oil and gasoline, as well as the German transportation system, especially rail yards and canals. [285] The armaments industry began to break down by September 1944. By November, fuel coal was no longer reaching its destinations and the production of new armaments was no longer possible. [286] Overy argues that the bombing strained the German war economy and forced it to divert up to one-fourth of its manpower and industry into anti-aircraft resources, which very likely shortened the war. [287]

Financial exploitation of conquered territories

During the course of the war, the Nazis extracted considerable plunder from occupied Europe. Historian and war correspondent William L. Shirer writes: "The total amount of [Nazi] loot will never be known it has proved beyond man's capacity to accurately compute." [288] Gold reserves and other foreign holdings were seized from the national banks of occupied nations, while large "occupation costs" were usually imposed. By the end of the war, occupation costs were calculated by the Nazis at 60 billion Reichsmarks, with France alone paying 31.5 billion. The Bank of France was forced to provide 4.5 billion Reichsmarks in "credits" to Germany, while a further 500,000 Reichsmarks were assessed against Vichy France by the Nazis in the form of "fees" and other miscellaneous charges. The Nazis exploited other conquered nations in a similar way. After the war, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded Germany had obtained 104 billion Reichsmarks in the form of occupation costs and other wealth transfers from occupied Europe, including two-thirds of the gross domestic product of Belgium and the Netherlands. [288]

Nazi plunder included private and public art collections, artefacts, precious metals, books, and personal possessions. Hitler and Göring in particular were interested in acquiring looted art treasures from occupied Europe, [289] the former planning to use the stolen art to fill the galleries of the planned Führermuseum (Leader's Museum), [290] and the latter for his personal collection. Göring, having stripped almost all of occupied Poland of its artworks within six months of Germany's invasion, ultimately grew a collection valued at over 50 million Reichsmarks. [289] In 1940, the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce was established to loot artwork and cultural material from public and private collections, libraries, and museums throughout Europe. France saw the greatest extent of Nazi plunder. Some 26,000 railroad cars of art treasures, furniture, and other looted items were sent to Germany from France. [291] By January 1941, Rosenberg estimated the looted treasures from France to be valued at over one billion Reichsmarks. [292] In addition, soldiers looted or purchased goods such as produce and clothing—items, which were becoming harder to obtain in Germany—for shipment home. [293]

Goods and raw materials were also taken. In France, an estimated 9,000,000 tonnes (8,900,000 long tons 9,900,000 short tons) of cereals were seized during the course of the war, including 75 percent of its oats. In addition, 80 percent of the country's oil and 74 percent of its steel production were taken. The valuation of this loot is estimated to be 184.5 billion francs. In Poland, Nazi plunder of raw materials began even before the German invasion had concluded. [294]

Following Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet Union was also plundered. In 1943 alone, 9,000,000 tons of cereals, 2,000,000 tonnes (2,000,000 long tons 2,200,000 short tons) of fodder, 3,000,000 tonnes (3,000,000 long tons 3,300,000 short tons) of potatoes, and 662,000 tonnes (652,000 long tons 730,000 short tons) of meats were sent back to Germany. During the course of the German occupation, some 12 million pigs and 13 million sheep were taken. The value of this plunder is estimated at 4 billion Reichsmarks. This relatively low number in comparison to the occupied nations of Western Europe can be attributed to the devastating fighting on the Eastern Front. [295]

Racism and antisemitism

Racism and antisemitism were basic tenets of the Nazi Party and the Nazi regime. Nazi Germany's racial policy was based on their belief in the existence of a superior master race. The Nazis postulated the existence of a racial conflict between the Aryan master race and inferior races, particularly Jews, who were viewed as a mixed race that had infiltrated society and were responsible for the exploitation and repression of the Aryan race. [296]

Persecution of Jews

Discrimination against Jews began immediately after the seizure of power. Following a month-long series of attacks by members of the SA on Jewish businesses and synagogues, on 1 April 1933 Hitler declared a national boycott of Jewish businesses. [297] The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service passed on 7 April forced all non-Aryan civil servants to retire from the legal profession and civil service. [298] Similar legislation soon deprived other Jewish professionals of their right to practise, and on 11 April a decree was promulgated that stated anyone who had even one Jewish parent or grandparent was considered non-Aryan. [299] As part of the drive to remove Jewish influence from cultural life, members of the National Socialist German Students' League removed from libraries any books considered un-German, and a nationwide book burning was held on 10 May. [300]

The regime used violence and economic pressure to encourage Jews to leave the country voluntarily. [301] Jewish businesses were denied access to markets, forbidden to advertise, and deprived of access to government contracts. Citizens were harassed and subjected to violent attacks. [302] Many towns posted signs forbidding entry to Jews. [303]

On 7 November 1938 a young Jewish man, Herschel Grynszpan, shot and killed Ernst vom Rath, a legation secretary at the German embassy in Paris, to protest his family's treatment in Germany. This incident provided the pretext for a pogrom the Nazis incited against the Jews two days later. Members of the SA damaged or destroyed synagogues and Jewish property throughout Germany. At least 91 German Jews were killed during this pogrom, later called Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. [304] [305] Further restrictions were imposed on Jews in the coming months – they were forbidden to own businesses or work in retail shops, drive cars, go to the cinema, visit the library, or own weapons, and Jewish pupils were removed from schools. The Jewish community was fined one billion marks to pay for the damage caused by Kristallnacht and told that any insurance settlements would be confiscated. [306] By 1939, around 250,000 of Germany's 437,000 Jews had emigrated to the United States, Argentina, Great Britain, Palestine, and other countries. [307] [308] Many chose to stay in continental Europe. Emigrants to Palestine were allowed to transfer property there under the terms of the Haavara Agreement, but those moving to other countries had to leave virtually all their property behind, and it was seized by the government. [308]

Persecution of Roma

Like the Jews, the Romani people were subjected to persecution from the early days of the regime. The Romani were forbidden to marry people of German extraction. They were shipped to concentration camps starting in 1935 and many were killed. [183] [184] Following the invasion of Poland, 2,500 Roma and Sinti people were deported from Germany to the General Government, where they were imprisoned in labour camps. The survivors were likely exterminated at Bełżec, Sobibor, or Treblinka. A further 5,000 Sinti and Austrian Lalleri people were deported to the Łódź Ghetto in late 1941, where half were estimated to have died. The Romani survivors of the ghetto were subsequently moved to the Chełmno extermination camp in early 1942. [309]

The Nazis intended on deporting all Romani people from Germany, and confined them to Zigeunerlager (Gypsy camps) for this purpose. Himmler ordered their deportation from Germany in December 1942, with few exceptions. A total of 23,000 Romani were deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, of whom 19,000 died. Outside of Germany, the Romani people were regularly used for forced labour, though many were killed. In the Baltic states and the Soviet Union, 30,000 Romani were killed by the SS, the German Army, and Einsatzgruppen. In occupied Serbia, 1,000 to 12,000 Romani were killed, while nearly all 25,000 Romani living in the Independent State of Croatia were killed. The estimates at end of the war put the total death toll at around 220,000, which equalled approximately 25 percent of the Romani population in Europe. [309]

Other persecuted groups

Action T4 was a programme of systematic murder of the physically and mentally handicapped and patients in psychiatric hospitals that took place mainly from 1939 to 1941, and continued until the end of the war. Initially the victims were shot by the Einsatzgruppen and others gas chambers and gas vans using carbon monoxide were used by early 1940. [310] [311] Under the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, enacted on 14 July 1933, over 400,000 individuals underwent compulsory sterilisation. [312] Over half were those considered mentally deficient, which included not only people who scored poorly on intelligence tests, but those who deviated from expected standards of behaviour regarding thrift, sexual behaviour, and cleanliness. Most of the victims came from disadvantaged groups such as prostitutes, the poor, the homeless, and criminals. [313] Other groups persecuted and killed included Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, social misfits, and members of the political and religious opposition. [184] [314]

Generalplan Ost

Germany's war in the East was based on Hitler's long-standing view that Jews were the great enemy of the German people and that Lebensraum was needed for Germany's expansion. Hitler focused his attention on Eastern Europe, aiming to conquer Poland and the Soviet Union. [180] [181] After the occupation of Poland in 1939, all Jews living in the General Government were confined to ghettos, and those who were physically fit were required to perform compulsory labour. [315] In 1941 Hitler decided to destroy the Polish nation completely within 15 to 20 years the General Government was to be cleared of ethnic Poles and resettled by German colonists. [316] About 3.8 to 4 million Poles would remain as slaves, [317] part of a slave labour force of 14 million the Nazis intended to create using citizens of conquered nations. [181] [318]

The Generalplan Ost ("General Plan for the East") called for deporting the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Siberia, for use as slave labour or to be murdered. [319] To determine who should be killed, Himmler created the Volksliste, a system of classification of people deemed to be of German blood. [320] He ordered that those of Germanic descent who refused to be classified as ethnic Germans should be deported to concentration camps, have their children taken away, or be assigned to forced labour. [321] [322] The plan also included the kidnapping of children deemed to have Aryan-Nordic traits, who were presumed to be of German descent. [323] The goal was to implement Generalplan Ost after the conquest of the Soviet Union, but when the invasion failed Hitler had to consider other options. [319] [324] One suggestion was a mass forced deportation of Jews to Poland, Palestine, or Madagascar. [315]

In addition to eliminating Jews, the Nazis planned to reduce the population of the conquered territories by 30 million people through starvation in an action called the Hunger Plan. Food supplies would be diverted to the German army and German civilians. Cities would be razed and the land allowed to return to forest or resettled by German colonists. [325] Together, the Hunger Plan and Generalplan Ost would have led to the starvation of 80 million people in the Soviet Union. [326] These partially fulfilled plans resulted in the democidal deaths of an estimated 19.3 million civilians and prisoners of war (POWs) throughout the USSR and elsewhere in Europe. [327] During the course of the war, the Soviet Union lost a total of 27 million people less than nine million of these were combat deaths. [328] One in four of the Soviet population were killed or wounded. [329]

The Holocaust and Final Solution

Around the time of the failed offensive against Moscow in December 1941, Hitler resolved that the Jews of Europe were to be exterminated immediately. [330] While the murder of Jewish civilians had been ongoing in the occupied territories of Poland and the Soviet Union, plans for the total eradication of the Jewish population of Europe—eleven million people—were formalised at the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942. Some would be worked to death and the rest would be killed in the implementation of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. [331] Initially the victims were killed by Einsatzgruppen firing squads, then by stationary gas chambers or by gas vans, but these methods proved impractical for an operation of this scale. [332] [333] By 1942 extermination camps equipped with gas chambers were established at Auschwitz, Chełmno, Sobibor, Treblinka, and elsewhere. [334] The total number of Jews murdered is estimated at 5.5 to six million, [242] including over a million children. [335]

The Allies received information about the murders from the Polish government-in-exile and Polish leadership in Warsaw, based mostly on intelligence from the Polish underground. [336] [337] German citizens had access to information about what was happening, as soldiers returning from the occupied territories reported on what they had seen and done. [338] Historian Richard J. Evans states that most German citizens disapproved of the genocide. [339] [m]

Oppression of ethnic Poles

Poles were viewed by Nazis as subhuman non-Aryans, and during the German occupation of Poland 2.7 million ethnic Poles were killed. [340] Polish civilians were subject to forced labour in German industry, internment, wholesale expulsions to make way for German colonists, and mass executions. The German authorities engaged in a systematic effort to destroy Polish culture and national identity. During operation AB-Aktion, many university professors and members of the Polish intelligentsia were arrested, transported to concentration camps, or executed. During the war, Poland lost an estimated 39 to 45 percent of its physicians and dentists, 26 to 57 percent of its lawyers, 15 to 30 percent of its teachers, 30 to 40 percent of its scientists and university professors, and 18 to 28 percent of its clergy. [341]

Mistreatment of Soviet POWs

The Nazis captured 5.75 million Soviet prisoners of war, more than they took from all the other Allied powers combined. Of these, they killed an estimated 3.3 million, [342] with 2.8 million of them being killed between June 1941 and January 1942. [343] Many POWs starved to death or resorted to cannibalism while being held in open-air pens at Auschwitz and elsewhere. [344]

From 1942 onward, Soviet POWs were viewed as a source of forced labour, and received better treatment so they could work. [345] By December 1944, 750,000 Soviet POWs were working, including in German armaments factories (in violation of the Hague and Geneva conventions), mines, and farms. [346]


Antisemitic legislation passed in 1933 led to the removal of all Jewish teachers, professors, and officials from the education system. Most teachers were required to belong to the Nationalsozialistischer Lehrerbund (NSLB National Socialist Teachers League) and university professors were required to join the National Socialist German Lecturers. [347] [348] Teachers had to take an oath of loyalty and obedience to Hitler, and those who failed to show sufficient conformity to party ideals were often reported by students or fellow teachers and dismissed. [349] [350] Lack of funding for salaries led to many teachers leaving the profession. The average class size increased from 37 in 1927 to 43 in 1938 due to the resulting teacher shortage. [351]

Frequent and often contradictory directives were issued by Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick, Bernhard Rust of the Reich Ministry of Science, Education and Culture, and other agencies regarding content of lessons and acceptable textbooks for use in primary and secondary schools. [352] Books deemed unacceptable to the regime were removed from school libraries. [353] Indoctrination in Nazi ideology was made compulsory in January 1934. [353] Students selected as future members of the party elite were indoctrinated from the age of 12 at Adolf Hitler Schools for primary education and National Political Institutes of Education for secondary education. Detailed indoctrination of future holders of elite military rank was undertaken at Order Castles. [354]

Primary and secondary education focused on racial biology, population policy, culture, geography, and physical fitness. [355] The curriculum in most subjects, including biology, geography, and even arithmetic, was altered to change the focus to race. [356] Military education became the central component of physical education, and education in physics was oriented toward subjects with military applications, such as ballistics and aerodynamics. [357] [358] Students were required to watch all films prepared by the school division of the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. [353]

At universities, appointments to top posts were the subject of power struggles between the education ministry, the university boards, and the National Socialist German Students' League. [359] In spite of pressure from the League and various government ministries, most university professors did not make changes to their lectures or syllabus during the Nazi period. [360] This was especially true of universities located in predominantly Catholic regions. [361] Enrolment at German universities declined from 104,000 students in 1931 to 41,000 in 1939, but enrolment in medical schools rose sharply as Jewish doctors had been forced to leave the profession, so medical graduates had good job prospects. [362] From 1934, university students were required to attend frequent and time-consuming military training sessions run by the SA. [363] First-year students also had to serve six months in a labour camp for the Reich Labour Service an additional ten weeks service were required of second-year students. [364]

Role of women and family

Women were a cornerstone of Nazi social policy. The Nazis opposed the feminist movement, claiming that it was the creation of Jewish intellectuals, instead advocating a patriarchal society in which the German woman would recognise that her "world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home". [262] Feminist groups were shut down or incorporated into the National Socialist Women's League, which coordinated groups throughout the country to promote motherhood and household activities. Courses were offered on childrearing, sewing, and cooking. Prominent feminists, including Anita Augspurg, Lida Gustava Heymann, and Helene Stöcker, felt forced to live in exile. [365] The League published the NS-Frauen-Warte, the only Nazi-approved women's magazine in Nazi Germany [366] despite some propaganda aspects, it was predominantly an ordinary woman's magazine. [367]

Women were encouraged to leave the workforce, and the creation of large families by racially suitable women was promoted through a propaganda campaign. Women received a bronze award—known as the Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter (Cross of Honour of the German Mother)—for giving birth to four children, silver for six, and gold for eight or more. [365] Large families received subsidies to help with expenses. Though the measures led to increases in the birth rate, the number of families having four or more children declined by five percent between 1935 and 1940. [368] Removing women from the workforce did not have the intended effect of freeing up jobs for men, as women were for the most part employed as domestic servants, weavers, or in the food and drink industries—jobs that were not of interest to men. [369] Nazi philosophy prevented large numbers of women from being hired to work in munitions factories in the build-up to the war, so foreign labourers were brought in. After the war started, slave labourers were extensively used. [370] In January 1943, Hitler signed a decree requiring all women under the age of fifty to report for work assignments to help the war effort. [371] Thereafter women were funnelled into agricultural and industrial jobs, and by September 1944 14.9 million women were working in munitions production. [372]

Nazi leaders endorsed the idea that rational and theoretical work was alien to a woman's nature, and as such discouraged women from seeking higher education. [373] A law passed in April 1933 limited the number of females admitted to university to ten percent of the number of male attendees. [374] This resulted in female enrolment in secondary schools dropping from 437,000 in 1926 to 205,000 in 1937. The number of women enrolled in post-secondary schools dropped from 128,000 in 1933 to 51,000 in 1938. However, with the requirement that men be enlisted into the armed forces during the war, women comprised half of the enrolment in the post-secondary system by 1944. [375]

Women were expected to be strong, healthy, and vital. [376] The sturdy peasant woman who worked the land and bore strong children was considered ideal, and women were praised for being athletic and tanned from working outdoors. [377] Organisations were created for the indoctrination of Nazi values. From 25 March 1939 membership in the Hitler Youth was made compulsory for all children over the age of ten. [378] The Jungmädelbund (Young Girls League) section of the Hitler Youth was for girls age 10 to 14 and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM League of German Girls) was for young women age 14 to 18. The BDM's activities focused on physical education, with activities such as running, long jumping, somersaulting, tightrope walking, marching, and swimming. [379]

The Nazi regime promoted a liberal code of conduct regarding sexual matters and was sympathetic to women who bore children out of wedlock. [380] Promiscuity increased as the war progressed, with unmarried soldiers often intimately involved with several women simultaneously. Soldier's wives were frequently involved in extramarital relationships. Sex was sometimes used as a commodity to obtain better work from a foreign labourer. [381] Pamphlets enjoined German women to avoid sexual relations with foreign workers as a danger to their blood. [382]

With Hitler's approval, Himmler intended that the new society of the Nazi regime should destigmatise illegitimate births, particularly of children fathered by members of the SS, who were vetted for racial purity. [383] His hope was that each SS family would have between four and six children. [383] The Lebensborn (Fountain of Life) association, founded by Himmler in 1935, created a series of maternity homes to accommodate single mothers during their pregnancies. [384] Both parents were examined for racial suitability before acceptance. [384] The resulting children were often adopted into SS families. [384] The homes were also made available to the wives of SS and Nazi Party members, who quickly filled over half the available spots. [385]

Existing laws banning abortion except for medical reasons were strictly enforced by the Nazi regime. The number of abortions declined from 35,000 per year at the start of the 1930s to fewer than 2,000 per year at the end of the decade, though in 1935 a law was passed allowing abortions for eugenics reasons. [386]


Nazi Germany had a strong anti-tobacco movement, as pioneering research by Franz H. Müller in 1939 demonstrated a causal link between smoking and lung cancer. [387] The Reich Health Office took measures to try to limit smoking, including producing lectures and pamphlets. [388] Smoking was banned in many workplaces, on trains, and among on-duty members of the military. [389] Government agencies also worked to control other carcinogenic substances such as asbestos and pesticides. [390] As part of a general public health campaign, water supplies were cleaned up, lead and mercury were removed from consumer products, and women were urged to undergo regular screenings for breast cancer. [391]

Government-run health care insurance plans were available, but Jews were denied coverage starting in 1933. That same year, Jewish doctors were forbidden to treat government-insured patients. In 1937, Jewish doctors were forbidden to treat non-Jewish patients, and in 1938 their right to practice medicine was removed entirely. [392]

Medical experiments, many of them pseudoscientific, were performed on concentration camp inmates beginning in 1941. [393] The most notorious doctor to perform medical experiments was SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Josef Mengele, camp doctor at Auschwitz. [394] Many of his victims died or were intentionally killed. [395] Concentration camp inmates were made available for purchase by pharmaceutical companies for drug testing and other experiments. [396]


Nazi society had elements supportive of animal rights and many people were fond of zoos and wildlife. [397] The government took several measures to ensure the protection of animals and the environment. In 1933, the Nazis enacted a stringent animal-protection law that affected what was allowed for medical research. [398] The law was only loosely enforced, and in spite of a ban on vivisection, the Ministry of the Interior readily handed out permits for experiments on animals. [399]

The Reich Forestry Office under Göring enforced regulations that required foresters to plant a variety of trees to ensure suitable habitat for wildlife, and a new Reich Animal Protection Act became law in 1933. [400] The regime enacted the Reich Nature Protection Act in 1935 to protect the natural landscape from excessive economic development. It allowed for the expropriation of privately owned land to create nature preserves and aided in long-range planning. [401] Perfunctory efforts were made to curb air pollution, but little enforcement of existing legislation was undertaken once the war began. [402]


When the Nazis seized power in 1933, roughly 67 percent of the population of Germany was Protestant, 33 percent was Roman Catholic, while Jews made up less than 1 percent. [403] [404] According to 1939 census, 54 percent considered themselves Protestant, 40 percent Roman Catholic, 3.5 percent Gottgläubig (God-believing a Nazi religious movement) and 1.5 percent nonreligious. [1] Nazi Germany extensively employed Christian imagery and instituted a variety of new Christian holidays and celebrations, such as a massive celebration marking the 1200th anniversary of the birth of Frankish emperor Charlemagne, who Christianized neighbouring continental Germanic peoples by force during the Saxon Wars. [405] Nazi propaganda stylized Hitler as a Christ-like messiah, a "figure of redemption according to the Christian model", "who would liberate the world from the Antichrist". [406]

Under the Gleichschaltung process, Hitler attempted to create a unified Protestant Reich Church from Germany's 28 existing Protestant state churches. [407] Pro-Nazi Ludwig Müller was installed as Reich Bishop and the pro-Nazi pressure group German Christians gained control of the new church. [408] They objected to the Old Testament because of its Jewish origins and demanded that converted Jews be barred from their church. [409] Pastor Martin Niemöller responded with the formation of the Confessing Church, from which some clergymen opposed the Nazi regime. [410] When in 1935 the Confessing Church synod protested the Nazi policy on religion, 700 of their pastors were arrested. [411] Müller resigned and Hitler appointed Hanns Kerrl as Minister for Church Affairs to continue efforts to control Protestantism. [412] In 1936, a Confessing Church envoy protested to Hitler against the religious persecutions and human rights abuses. [411] Hundreds more pastors were arrested. [412] The church continued to resist and by early 1937 Hitler abandoned his hope of uniting the Protestant churches. [411] Niemöller was arrested on 1 July 1937 and spent most of the next seven years in Sachsenhausen concentration camp and Dachau. [413] Theological universities were closed and pastors and theologians of other Protestant denominations were also arrested. [411]

Persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany followed the Nazi takeover. [415] Hitler moved quickly to eliminate political Catholicism, rounding up functionaries of the Catholic-aligned Bavarian People's Party and Catholic Centre Party, which along with all other non-Nazi political parties ceased to exist by July. [416] The Reichskonkordat (Reich Concordat) treaty with the Vatican was signed in 1933, amid continuing harassment of the church in Germany. [312] The treaty required the regime to honour the independence of Catholic institutions and prohibited clergy from involvement in politics. [417] Hitler routinely disregarded the Concordat, closing all Catholic institutions whose functions were not strictly religious. [418] Clergy, nuns and lay leaders were targeted, with thousands of arrests over the ensuing years, often on trumped-up charges of currency smuggling or immorality. [419] Several Catholic leaders were targeted in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives assassinations. [420] [421] Most Catholic youth groups refused to dissolve themselves and Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach encouraged members to attack Catholic boys in the streets. [422] Propaganda campaigns claimed the church was corrupt, restrictions were placed on public meetings and Catholic publications faced censorship. Catholic schools were required to reduce religious instruction and crucifixes were removed from state buildings. [423]

Pope Pius XI had the "Mit brennender Sorge" ("With Burning Concern") encyclical smuggled into Germany for Passion Sunday 1937 and read from every pulpit as it denounced the systematic hostility of the regime toward the church. [419] [424] In response, Goebbels renewed the regime's crackdown and propaganda against Catholics. Enrolment in denominational schools dropped sharply and by 1939 all such schools were disbanded or converted to public facilities. [425] Later Catholic protests included the 22 March 1942 pastoral letter by the German bishops on "The Struggle against Christianity and the Church". [426] About 30 percent of Catholic priests were disciplined by police during the Nazi era. [427] [428] A vast security network spied on the activities of clergy and priests were frequently denounced, arrested or sent to concentration camps – many to the dedicated clergy barracks at Dachau. [429] In the areas of Poland annexed in 1939, the Nazis instigated a brutal suppression and systematic dismantling of the Catholic Church. [430] [431]

Alfred Rosenberg, head of the Nazi Party Office of Foreign Affairs and Hitler's appointed cultural and educational leader for Nazi Germany, considered Catholicism to be among the Nazis' chief enemies. He planned the "extermination of the foreign Christian faiths imported into Germany", and for the Bible and Christian cross to be replaced in all churches, cathedrals, and chapels with copies of Mein Kampf and the swastika. Other sects of Christianity were also targeted, with Chief of the Nazi Party Chancellery Martin Bormann publicly proclaiming in 1941, "National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable." [432]

Resistance to the regime

While no unified resistance movement opposing the Nazi regime existed, acts of defiance such as sabotage and labour slowdowns took place, as well as attempts to overthrow the regime or assassinate Hitler. [433] The banned Communist and Social Democratic parties set up resistance networks in the mid-1930s. These networks achieved little beyond fomenting unrest and initiating short-lived strikes. [434] Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, who initially supported Hitler, changed his mind in 1936 and was later a participant in the July 20 plot. [435] [436] The Red Orchestra spy ring provided information to the Allies about Nazi war crimes, helped orchestrate escapes from Germany, and distributed leaflets. The group was detected by the Gestapo and more than 50 members were tried and executed in 1942. [437] Communist and Social Democratic resistance groups resumed activity in late 1942, but were unable to achieve much beyond distributing leaflets. The two groups saw themselves as potential rival parties in post-war Germany, and for the most part did not co-ordinate their activities. [438] The White Rose resistance group was primarily active in 1942–43, and many of its members were arrested or executed, with the final arrests taking place in 1944. [439] Another civilian resistance group, the Kreisau Circle, had some connections with the military conspirators, and many of its members were arrested after the failed 20 July plot. [440]

While civilian efforts had an impact on public opinion, the army was the only organisation with the capacity to overthrow the government. [441] [442] A major plot by men in the upper echelons of the military originated in 1938. They believed Britain would go to war over Hitler's planned invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Germany would lose. The plan was to overthrow Hitler or possibly assassinate him. Participants included Generaloberst Ludwig Beck, Generaloberst Walther von Brauchitsch, Generaloberst Franz Halder, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, and Generalleutnant Erwin von Witzleben, who joined a conspiracy headed by Oberstleutnant Hans Oster and Major Helmuth Groscurth of the Abwehr. The planned coup was cancelled after the signing of the Munich Agreement in September 1938. [443] Many of the same people were involved in a coup planned for 1940, but again the participants changed their minds and backed down, partly because of the popularity of the regime after the early victories in the war. [444] [445] Attempts to assassinate Hitler resumed in earnest in 1943, with Henning von Tresckow joining Oster's group and attempting to blow up Hitler's plane in 1943. Several more attempts followed before the failed 20 July 1944 plot, which was at least partly motivated by the increasing prospect of a German defeat in the war. [446] [447] The plot, part of Operation Valkyrie, involved Claus von Stauffenberg planting a bomb in the conference room at Wolf's Lair at Rastenburg. Hitler, who narrowly survived, later ordered savage reprisals resulting in the execution of more than 4,900 people. [448]

Around 1940 a resistance group formed around the priest Heinrich Maier. The group passed on locations of production facilities for V-2 rockets, Tiger tanks, and aircraft to the Allies from late 1943 onwards. Allied bombers used this information to carry out air attacks. The Maier group provided information about the mass murder of Jews very early on these reports were not initially believed by the Allies. The resistance group was uncovered and most of its members were imprisoned, tortured, or killed. [449] [450]

The regime promoted the concept of Volksgemeinschaft, a national German ethnic community. The goal was to build a classless society based on racial purity and the perceived need to prepare for warfare, conquest and a struggle against Marxism. [451] [452] The German Labour Front founded the Kraft durch Freude (KdF Strength Through Joy) organisation in 1933. As well as taking control of tens of thousands of privately run recreational clubs, it offered highly regimented holidays and entertainment such as cruises, vacation destinations and concerts. [453] [454]

The Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) was organised under the control of the Propaganda Ministry in September 1933. Sub-chambers were set up to control aspects of cultural life such as film, radio, newspapers, fine arts, music, theatre and literature. Members of these professions were required to join their respective organisation. Jews and people considered politically unreliable were prevented from working in the arts, and many emigrated. Books and scripts had to be approved by the Propaganda Ministry prior to publication. Standards deteriorated as the regime sought to use cultural outlets exclusively as propaganda media. [455]

Radio became popular in Germany during the 1930s over 70 percent of households owned a receiver by 1939, more than any other country. By July 1933, radio station staffs were purged of leftists and others deemed undesirable. [456] Propaganda and speeches were typical radio fare immediately after the seizure of power, but as time went on Goebbels insisted that more music be played so that listeners would not turn to foreign broadcasters for entertainment. [457]


Newspapers, like other media, were controlled by the state the Reich Press Chamber shut down or bought newspapers and publishing houses. By 1939, over two-thirds of the newspapers and magazines were directly owned by the Propaganda Ministry. [459] The Nazi Party daily newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter ("Ethnic Observer"), was edited by Rosenberg, who also wrote The Myth of the Twentieth Century, a book of racial theories espousing Nordic superiority. [460] Goebbels controlled the wire services and insisted that all newspapers in Germany only publish content favourable to the regime. Under Goebbels, the Propaganda Ministry issued two dozen directives every week on exactly what news should be published and what angles to use the typical newspaper followed the directives closely, especially regarding what to omit. [461] Newspaper readership plummeted, partly because of the decreased quality of the content and partly because of the surge in popularity of radio. [462] Propaganda became less effective towards the end of the war, as people were able to obtain information outside of official channels. [463]

Authors of books left the country in droves and some wrote material critical of the regime while in exile. Goebbels recommended that the remaining authors concentrate on books themed on Germanic myths and the concept of blood and soil. By the end of 1933, over a thousand books—most of them by Jewish authors or featuring Jewish characters—had been banned by the Nazi regime. [464] Nazi book burnings took place nineteen such events were held on the night of 10 May 1933. [458] Tens of thousands of books from dozens of figures, including Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Helen Keller, Alfred Kerr, Marcel Proust, Erich Maria Remarque, Upton Sinclair, Jakob Wassermann, H. G. Wells, and Émile Zola were publicly burned. Pacifist works, and literature espousing liberal, democratic values were targeted for destruction, as well as any writings supporting the Weimar Republic or those written by Jewish authors. [465]

Architecture and art

Hitler took a personal interest in architecture and worked closely with state architects Paul Troost and Albert Speer to create public buildings in a neoclassical style based on Roman architecture. [466] [467] Speer constructed imposing structures such as the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg and a new Reich Chancellery building in Berlin. [468] Hitler's plans for rebuilding Berlin included a gigantic dome based on the Pantheon in Rome and a triumphal arch more than double the height of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Neither structure was built. [469]

Hitler's belief that abstract, Dadaist, expressionist and modern art were decadent became the basis for policy. [470] Many art museum directors lost their posts in 1933 and were replaced by party members. [471] Some 6,500 modern works of art were removed from museums and replaced with works chosen by a Nazi jury. [472] Exhibitions of the rejected pieces, under titles such as "Decadence in Art", were launched in sixteen different cities by 1935. The Degenerate Art Exhibition, organised by Goebbels, ran in Munich from July to November 1937. The exhibition proved wildly popular, attracting over two million visitors. [473]

Composer Richard Strauss was appointed president of the Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber) on its founding in November 1933. [474] As was the case with other art forms, the Nazis ostracised musicians who were deemed racially unacceptable and for the most part disapproved of music that was too modern or atonal. [475] Jazz was considered especially inappropriate and foreign jazz musicians left the country or were expelled. [476] Hitler favoured the music of Richard Wagner, especially pieces based on Germanic myths and heroic stories, and attended the Bayreuth Festival each year from 1933 to 1942. [477]

Movies were popular in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, with admissions of over a billion people in 1942, 1943 and 1944. [478] [479] By 1934, German regulations restricting currency exports made it impossible for US film makers to take their profits back to America, so the major film studios closed their German branches. Exports of German films plummeted, as their antisemitic content made them impossible to show in other countries. The two largest film companies, Universum Film AG and Tobis, were purchased by the Propaganda Ministry, which by 1939 was producing most German films. The productions were not always overtly propagandistic, but generally had a political subtext and followed party lines regarding themes and content. Scripts were pre-censored. [480]

Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935)—documenting the 1934 Nuremberg Rally—and Olympia (1938)—covering the 1936 Summer Olympics—pioneered techniques of camera movement and editing that influenced later films. New techniques such as telephoto lenses and cameras mounted on tracks were employed. Both films remain controversial, as their aesthetic merit is inseparable from their propagandising of Nazi ideals. [481] [482]

The Allied powers organised war crimes trials, beginning with the Nuremberg trials, held from November 1945 to October 1946, of 23 top Nazi officials. They were charged with four counts—conspiracy to commit crimes, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity—in violation of international laws governing warfare. [483] All but three of the defendants were found guilty and twelve were sentenced to death. [484] Twelve Subsequent Nuremberg trials of 184 defendants were held between 1946 and 1949. [483] Between 1946 and 1949, the Allies investigated 3,887 cases, of which 489 were brought to trial. The result was convictions of 1,426 people 297 of these were sentenced to death and 279 to life in prison, with the remainder receiving lesser sentences. About 65 percent of the death sentences were carried out. [485] Poland was more active than other nations in investigating war crimes, for example prosecuting 673 of the total 789 Auschwitz staff brought to trial. [486]

The political programme espoused by Hitler and the Nazis brought about a world war, leaving behind a devastated and impoverished Europe. Germany itself suffered wholesale destruction, characterised as Stunde Null (Zero Hour). [487] The number of civilians killed during the Second World War was unprecedented in the history of warfare. [488] As a result, Nazi ideology and the actions taken by the regime are almost universally regarded as gravely immoral. [489] Historians, philosophers, and politicians often use the word "evil" to describe Hitler and the Nazi regime. [490] Interest in Nazi Germany continues in the media and the academic world. While Evans remarks that the era "exerts an almost universal appeal because its murderous racism stands as a warning to the whole of humanity", [491] young neo-Nazis enjoy the shock value that Nazi symbols or slogans provide. [492] The display or use of Nazi symbolism such as flags, swastikas, or greetings is illegal in Germany and Austria. [493]

Nazi Germany was succeeded by three states: West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany or "FRG"), East Germany (the German Democratic Republic or "GRD"), and Austria. [494] The process of denazification, which was initiated by the Allies as a way to remove Nazi Party members was only partially successful, as the need for experts in such fields as medicine and engineering was too great. However, expression of Nazi views was frowned upon, and those who expressed such views were frequently dismissed from their jobs. [495] From the immediate post-war period through the 1950s, people avoided talking about the Nazi regime or their own wartime experiences. While virtually every family suffered losses during the war has a story to tell, Germans kept quiet about their experiences and felt a sense of communal guilt, even if they were not directly involved in war crimes. [496]

The trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 and the broadcast of the television miniseries Holocaust in 1979 brought the process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coping with the past) to the forefront for many Germans. [492] [496] Once study of Nazi Germany was introduced into the school curriculum starting in the 1970s, people began researching the experiences of their family members. Study of the era and a willingness to critically examine its mistakes has led to the development of a strong democracy in Germany, but with lingering undercurrents of antisemitism and neo-Nazi thought. [496]

In 2017 a Körber Foundation survey found that 40 percent of 14-year-olds in Germany did not know what Auschwitz was. [497] The journalist Alan Posener attributed the country's "growing historical amnesia" in part to a failure by the German film and television industry to reflect the country's history accurately. [498]

Was Vichy France a Puppet Government or a Willing Nazi Collaborator?

On November 8, 1942, in the thick of World War II, thousands of American soldiers landed on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, while others amassed in Algeria, only to take immediate gunfire from the French. Needless to say, it marked the end of U.S. diplomatic relations with the Vichy government installed in France during WWII.

The invasion of North Africa—a joint venture between the United Kingdom and the United States known as Operation Torch—was intended to open up another front of the war, but the colonial power in the region was France, purportedly a neutral party in World War II. After all, France had signed an armistice with Adolf Hitler on June 22, 1940, within weeks of being overrun by German soldiers. Yet as the National Interest reports, “Instead of welcoming [the Americans] with brass bands, as one sergeant predicted, Vichy France’s colonial forces fought back with everything they had.”

Today the term “Vichy France” is bandied about in discussions of French politics, American politics, and Islamist extremism. But what exactly was the Vichy regime? Were they hapless puppets of the Nazis, or genocidal collaborators? Was it the lesser of two evils—the choice between partial and total occupation—or a government that reflected the will of the people? To answer these questions and more, dive into the story of Vichy France, the government that ruled from June 1940 till August 1944.

Adolf Hitler (right) shakes hands with Philippe Pétain (left), the leader of the Vichy government. (Wikimedia Commons)

How did Vichy France come to be?

When France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, following the German invasion of Poland, the French military spent eight months watching and waiting for the first strike. The so-called “Phoney War” ended abruptly in May, when Germany’s Blitzkrieg burst upon the French. Within weeks, the Germans had pushed their way deep into France, and the French government was forced to make an impossible decision: regroup in their North African colonies and keep fighting, or sign an armistice with Germany.

While Prime Minister Paul Reynaud argued they should keep fighting, the majority of government officials felt otherwise. On June 22, 1940, France signed an armistice with Germany, and by July 9 parliament had voted 569 to 80 to abandon the previous government, the Third Republic. The parliament also voted to give Chief of State Marshal Philippe Pétain, a World War I hero, full and extraordinary powers. As Julia Pascal writes in the Guardian, “The Republic’s liberté, égalité, fraternité was replaced with Pétain’s travail, famille, patrie (work, family, fatherland).” While parliament was essentially dissolved after this vote, the bureaucratic system in place from the Third Republic largely remained to enact the policies Pétain put in place.

The German troops occupied the northern half of the country, taking 2 million French soldiers as prisoners of war, while the French government worked from its new base in Vichy, a spa city in the center of the country. Most nations recognized the Vichy government as legitimate the U.S. sent William Leahy as an ambassador, and Leahy served in that position until May 1942. Meanwhile, Charles de Gaulle objected to the legitimacy of the Vichy government from London, where he began working for the Free French movement.

Was Vichy a fascist regime?

The break from the Third Republic came about in part due to the shock and humiliation of being so rapidly bested by the German military, and French leaders were looking everywhere for an explanation for their defeat. That blame fell squarely on the shoulders of Communists, socialists and Jews. Jewish people in particular had been experiencing animosity for decades, since the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890s. All three elements were believed to have taken advantage of the liberalization that occurred during the Third Republic, but France’s violent streak of anti-Semitism didn’t necessarily make Vichy a fascist regime.

“I think the best term for them is authoritarian,” says historian Robert Paxton, the author of Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944. “It doesn’t act like a fascist regime because traditionally elites have to give way, and in authoritarianism they retain power. But all the foreign Jews were put into camps, they cracked down on dissent, and it was in some ways increasingly a police state.”

Pétain wanted to return to a more conservative mode of life, and to that end there were strong prohibitions against divorce, abortion was made a capital offense, the press was censored, phone calls were monitored and critics of the government were imprisoned. He ruled with absolute power until 1942, when Germany took over the previously unoccupied “Free Zone” in southern France and began managing affairs more directly.

Did the regime collaborate with Nazis out of self-preservation, or did it have its own agenda?

The misconception that the Vichy Regime was the lesser of two evils endured only for the first few decades after the war. Since then, as more archival material has come to light, historians have gradually come to see the collaborators as willing participants in the Holocaust. Before the Nazis ever demanded the Vichy government participate in anti-Semitic policies, the French had enacted policies that removed Jews from civil service and began seizing Jewish property. “The Vichy French government participated willingly in the deportations and did most of the arresting,” Paxton says. “The arrests of foreign Jews often involved separating families from their children, sometimes in broad daylight, and it had a very powerful effect on public opinion and began to turn opinion against Pétain.”

One particularly notable roundup was July 1942’s Vel d’Hiv, the largest deportation of Jews from France that would occur during the war. Among the 13,000 Jews arrested and deported to Auschwitz were 4,000 children—removed with their parents for “humanitarian” reasons, according to French Prime Minister Pierre Laval. If they stayed behind, he reasoned, who would care for them? All told, the Vichy regime helped deport 75,721 Jewish refugees and French citizens to death camps, according to the BBC.

Did the French public support the Vichy leaders?

It’s a complicated question, since the Vichy government was in power for four years. As Michael Curtis writes in Verdict on Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime, “The Vichy regime seemed to have early popular support, while the Resistance was at first limited. If there had been a public referendum, the French people, in a state of confusion after the military defeat, concerned with material interests, and distressed by the German occupation of the north of the country, might well have approved of Vichy. At one extreme there was great brutality, especially by the violently anti-Semitic paramilitary Milice, while on the hand the number of protestors and heroic resistors against Vichy and the Nazis grew larger throughout the war.”

Paxton agrees that support waned over the course of the German occupation, but also points out the public overwhelmingly supported Pétain’s regime at the start. And while the Resistance began early on in the start of the war, “resisters were always a minority,” writes Robert Gildea in Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance.

What’s the legacy of Vichy France today?

As France has slowly come to terms with its role in the Holocaust and the willing collaboration of the Vichy government, citizens have struggled with what that legacy means for them. It wasn’t until 1995 that a French president (Jacques Chirac) acknowledged the state’s role.

“It’s an extremely emotional burden on the French people,” Paxton says. “[Vichy] is seen more negatively than before and affects almost every French family whose grandparents either supported it or held office.”

More recently, French president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech on France’s role in the genocide, denouncing his political opponents on the far right who dismiss the Vichy government. “It is convenient to see the Vichy regime as born of nothingness, returned to nothingness. Yes, it’s convenient, but it is false. We cannot build pride upon a lie,” Macron said in July.

51. America in the Second World War

The fear of an Axis victory drove production levels to new heights during World War II. To help motivate American workers the U.S. Government commissioned posters such as this.

For the second time in the 20th century, the United States became involved in a devastating world conflict.

The mobilization effort of the government in World War II eclipsed even that of World War I. With major operations in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, American industries literally fueled two wars simultaneously. The social and economic consequences were profound. The Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North was accelerated. New opportunities opened for women. Americans finally enjoyed a standard of living higher than the pre-Depression years.

But the war effort also had a darker side. Civil liberties were compromised, particularly for the 110,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly uprooted from their West Coast homes to be sent to remote relocation camps.

An atomic blast produces a distinctive "mushroom cloud." Developed by a top-secret U.S. government program dubbed the "Manhattan Project," the atomic bomb proved to be the weapon that ended World War II.

In both Europe and Asia, the Axis powers had established a firm foothold prior to American entry into the conflict. Slowly, but surely the Allies closed the ring on Nazi Germany after turning points at El Alamein and Stalingrad . Once Italy quit the Axis and the Allies landed successfully at Normandy , it was only a matter of time before the Nazi machine was smashed. Similar failures marked the early war in the Pacific, as the Japanese captured the Philippines. But once Japanese offensive capabilities were damaged at Midway, the United States "island hopped" its way to the Japanese mainland.

Shortly after America's entry into World War II, the patriotic song "Remember Pearl Harbor" hit the airwaves, urging America to "go on to victory."

New technologies emerged during the war as well. Radar helped the British locate incoming German planes, and sonar made submarine detection much more feasible. German V-1 and V-2 rockets ushered in a new age of long-range warfare. But no weapon compared in destructive capacity to the atomic bomb, developed after a massive, secret research project spearheaded by the United States government.

World War II was fought over differences left unresolved after World War I. Over 400,000 Americans perished in the four years of involvement, an American death rate second only to the Civil War. Twelve million victims perished from Nazi atrocities in the Holocaust . The deaths of twenty million Russians created a defensive Soviet mindset that spilled into the postwar era. After all the blood and sacrifice, the Axis powers were defeated, but the Grand Alliance that emerged victorious did not last long. Soon the world was involved in a 45-year struggle that claimed millions of additional lives &mdash the Cold War.

8 thoughts on &ldquo Recently Opened Series: German World War II Maps &rdquo

These maps on display are truly fascinating as full of tremendous historical information. For example, the last map showing the entirety of the Eastern Front at what would be the high-water mark for the Wermacht in Russia, from Dec 6, 1941 shows just how close the Nazi’s were to Moscow and that they had already isolated Leningrad. When one realizes that tens of millions of lives were lost on the area of this map in less than 4 years is very powerful and shows the magnitude of the greatest struggle of the largest war in Earth’s history.

These are remarkable sources, but are there plans to further digitize the collections of the captured documents beyond the few high-resolution images presented here? (I got all excited and visited the National Archives link only to discover that none of the materials are “Available Online.”)

We are keeping these maps in mind for future digitization. Thank you for your interest!

Can you clarify if the maps in the newly opened series are the originals or duplicates of the originals? Are there plans to place digitized versions online?

Sorry we missed your comment. These maps are not duplicates of other maps. We will certainly keep these series in mind for digitization in the near future.

I think lack of a single reply re. making the collection available online (apart from a couple of those here), is self-explanatory :/

We will be considering these maps for digitization in the near future. Thank you for letting us know that you’re interested!

Watch the video: Εισβολή των Γερμανών στην Αθήνα27-4-1941 (November 2022).

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