9.2.5 Hitler's Dictatorship -TEXT-VWO

9.2.5: Hitler's dictatorship

AGE 9. The Time of World Wars
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HistoryMiddelbare schoolhavo, vwoLeerjaar 3

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Items in this lesson

9.2.5: Hitler's dictatorship

AGE 9. The Time of World Wars

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What is this lesson about?
Because of the economic crisis of 1929, the Nazi Party became the biggest party in Germany. In 1933, Hitler was appointed as Reichskanzler. After the Reichstag Fire, he used the fear of the Germans to get dictatorial powers. Through propaganda, Hitler secured his power, indoctrinating the population and especially the youth. The SS and the Gestapo arrested Hitler’s political enemies and send them to concentration camps.

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people in this lesson
Paul von Hindenburg
(head of state) 

Heinrich Himmler
leader of the SS
and Gestapo

Adolf Hitler
(prime minister) 

Josef Goebbels
minister of 

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Word Duty

NSDAP: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or Nazi Party
Reichstag: German parliament
Enabling act: act through which Hitler obtained dictatorial power
SS: abbreviation for Schutzstaffel; security and military organisation controlled by the Nazi Party
Night of the Long Knives: purge used by Hitler to eradicate the critics of his regime in the SA 
nazification: measures taken by Hitler to turn Germany into a totalitarian state.
indoctrination: process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically
Hitler Youth: organisation in Nazi Germany for children aged 10 to 18
Gestapo: state secret police of Nazi Germany. A special branch within the SS
Führer: literally: Leader. The title Hitler adopted after president Hindenburg died in 1934.
concentration camp: camps were a government forces many people to live, sometimes under terrible conditions


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Important dates in this lesson:

1925:  founding of the SS
1929:  start economic crisis in Germany
          January: Hitler appointed Reichskanzler
           February: Reichstag Fire
           March: new elections + Enabling Act
           April: founding of the Gestapo
          June: Night of the Long Knives
           August: Hindenburg dies. Hitler becomes Führer.

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What you will learn in 
this lesson
  1. How the Great Depression affected the rise of Hitler
  2. How Hitler became Reichskanzler
  3. How Hitler used the Reichstag Fire and the Enabling Act to get dictatorial power
  4. what happened during the Night of the Long Knives
  5. How Hitler became Führer
  6. Which means were used to turn Germany into a totalitarian state
  7. How Hitler dealt with the German youth
  8. How Hitler dealt with his opponents

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Hitler had attempted a coup in 1923 but this failed and he was arrested. He was the leader of the Nazi Party, which was not very popular at that time. This changed in 1929, when the economic crisis struck the world and millions of Germans lost their jobs, money and houses.

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Hitler’s rise to power

German was hit hard by poverty during the crisis, but Hitler thought this was necessary to bring the real issues to people’s attention. Hitler put all the blame on the Treaty of Versailles: he promised to break up the Treaty, solve problems and make Germany proud and powerful again. He wanted the Germans to believe that he would defend them from communists, Jews and democrats. He also promised that he would give work to the unemployed. Thanks to the crisis, Hitler’s party grew. In 1928, they only had 12 seats in the Reichstag (the German parliament), but four years later they had 230, which had made the NSDAP the country’s largest political party. However, they did not have a majority, so needed to cooperate with other parties. Some conservatives, nationalists, rich landowners and industrialists believed that they could control Hitler and use him for their own plans. They convinced President Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Reichskanzler (Prime Minister) on 30th January 1933.

Hitler sitting next to the German head of state: president Hindenburg.
Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Hitler to be Reichskanzler (prime minister) because the Nazis had  become the largest party during the 1932 elections.
  1. start with the title of the lesson, then repeatedly the title of the paragraph / section you are summarizing
  2. Hitler's promises
  3. link the Great Depression to the rise of the Nazis
  4. How (and when) did Hitler get to be Chancellor
Under a "Presidential" government the chancellor is responsible to the president, and not the Reichstag. 
The "25/48/53 formula" was the three articles of the Constitution that could make a "Presidential government" possible:

Article 25 allowed the President to dissolve the Reichstag.
Article 48 allowed the President to sign into law emergency bills without the consent of the Reichstag. (The Reichstag could cancel any law passed by Article 48 by a simple majority within sixty days of its signing).
Article 53 allowed the President to appoint the Chancellor.

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Reichstag elections July 1932
Nazis (brown) are largest parties, but don't have an overall majority

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Hitler becomes a dictator

On 27th February 1933, fear spread in Berlin when the Reichstag building went up in flames. The Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested and he admitted his guilt. As soon as Hitler heard about the fire, he used it to his advantage: he blamed the communists for causing terror and trying to take power. A wave of anticommunist sentiment struck Germany: communists were arrested and Hitler banned their party. At new elections on 5th March 1933, the NSDAP and another nationalist party together gained 52% of all votes, which gave them a majority to rule.

  1. How did Hitler take advantage of the Rechstag Fire?
  2. How did the Reichstag Fire help Hitler to an overall majority in the Reichstag?

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Reichstag elections March 1933
Nazis (brown) , together with another nationalist party, have an overall majority

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Hitler reached for dictatorial power as soon as possible: riding the wave of fear in Germany, he convinced president Hindenburg to sign the Enabling Act on 23rd March 1933.
This enabled Hitler to make and pass laws without the involvement of the parliament. The Enabling Act opened up a path towards totalitarian control. Hitler altered the constitution to banish all political parties and labour unions, except the Nazi Party. He also divided the country up into provinces and shires, ensuring that each was ruled by a highly-placed Nazi that he could trust. In this way, Hitler was able to exert sole power and thus became a dictator.

  1. What was the Enabling Act and why was this important for Hitler?
  2. What measures did Hitler take to ensure his dictatorial power after the Enabling Act was passed?

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Night of the Long Knives

After Hitler came to power, he started to ‘purify’ the Nazi Party. For a long time, he wanted to get rid of some party members who, in his view, were disloyal. Now that Hitler controlled the government, he ordered his notorious personal lifeguards, the Schutzstaffel (SS), led by Heinrich Himmler, to eliminate all Nazi-members who had opposed or questioned him. Many leading SA figures (brownshirts) were murdered in cold blood. This event on 30th June 1934 was later called the Night of the Long Knives.
Hitler was now in full control of the Nazi Party. When president Von Hindenburg died on 2nd August 1934, Hitler cancelled the office of president and proclaimed that he now combined the presidency and Reichskanzler in the position of Führer. Hitler now ruled Germany alone, as a dictator.

  1. What happened during the Night of the Long Knives and how did this help Hitler to gain even more power?
  2. How did Hitler become Führer?

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Hitler relied on an effective system of propaganda to gain full support of all Germans. He wanted totalitarian control over every aspect of life and society. To drive this nazification, he appointed his loyal friend Joseph Goebbels as Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Goebbels was able to control the press, radio and film; he developed sophisticated ways to influence and even control the minds of the people. Goebbels was well aware of the power of radio broadcasting on people and encouraged the production and distribution of cheap radios to make sure everyone could hear his and Hitler’s speeches. People were even forced to listen to these speeches at work. To promote Aryan art production that was in line with the Nazi ideology, all artists such as painters, sculptors, writers and filmmakers were forced to become members of the ‘Chamber of Culture’.

  1. What was the function of propaganda for Hitler?
  2. What means of propaganda were used?
  3. How did Hitler make sure all arists and media would only propagate Nazi art and Nazi messages?

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Führer adoration

The propaganda proved to be effective: Hitler managed to unite the German people through a shared history and offered them a way to feel proud of their country again. Most important of all, he delivered on his promise to give them jobs. He ordered the building of a network of highways, created jobs in the war industry and hired unemployed men as soldiers. He was ignoring the Treaty of Versailles. Using techniques of indoctrination, deliberately putting certain ideas into people’s heads by repeating them again and again, he persuaded many Germans to perceive him as the saviour of their nation. He developed a huge cult of personality around himself. Even Germans who had not voted for the Nazi Party started to believe in Nazi ideology. Besides, everyone who was against Hitler was punished.

German girls cheer Hitler, who is passing by in an automobile, during a Nazi Party parade
  1. What measures did Hitler take to make the Germans idolise him?

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But Hitler wanted more; he was keen on making sure all children were educated as good Nazis. To achieve this, the school system was reformed. First communists, socialists, Jews and all other teachers that opposed Nazi rule, were fired. Race studies were introduced as a new school subject and students were taught to become nationalistic, aware of race differences, willing to fight for Germany and to obey the Führer’s orders without question. All teenagers from 10 to 18 years of age were forced to join the Hitler Youth. This organisation tried to indoctrinate the German youth, to make them believe in racism and prepare them for a soldier’s life.

  1. What measures did Hitler take to turn children into good nazis?

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Terror and concentration camps

In 1934, the Gestapo was founded, the Nazi secret police. The Gestapo was a branch within the SS with the task to defend the national-socialist state and eliminate all its opponents. At the start of Hitler’s rule, ten thousand of Communists had been arrested, many after the Reichstag Fire. Prisons soon proved to be too small and so many of the prisoners were send to abandoned areas. Here wooden barracks were set up, surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers. The SS took command of these concentration camps. At first, political adversaries, such as critical teachers, journalists and members of different political parties were locked up. But soon Hitler also ordered people who were inferior, according to his racial doctrine, to be send to these camps: Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and disabled people were sent prison, tortured and mistreated. Most of them did not survive.

  1. What were the SS and Gestapo used for?
  2. Which two groups were locked up in concentration camps?

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