The ambition to unite Germany under ein Volk, ein Reich (one people, one empire) was the primary goal of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party from the beginning of World War I to the end of World War II. This was not, however, a simple goal to achieve. Like most of Hitler's speeches, his road to power similarly began slowly and quietly. His speeches and rise of power were both carefully planned and the mass hysteria at the end of each was also planned and instrumental. Hitler did not instantly gain power in Germany by becoming Chancellor; he gained consolidation of power in Germany by using energy, by utilizing propaganda and by succumbing to the immediate material interests and difficulties of the German society.
After World War I, the "guilt clause" in the Treaty of Versailles caused Germany to lose not only territory and money, but German pride as well.
Weimar government members had to bear the disgrace of signing the treaty. This, in Hitler's view, was humiliating Germany. Moreover, he and the German army denied being defeated in the war and blamed the loss on cowardly politicians. The treaty restricted the size of the German army and forbid Germany to join together with Austria. Adding to Germany's already vast economic problems, the country had to pay financial reparations for the war. Hence, the Treaty of Versailles fueled nationalist propaganda and played a major role in collapsing the Weimar Republic in the early 1930s.
Besides the Treaty of Versailles, several other factors affected the Weimar Republic. Parties in the Weimar Republic were closely aimed at specific socioeconomic interest groups. For example, the Social Democrats (SPD) were concerned with representing the working class and the German People's Party (DVP) was interested in big business. The inability of the government to work together led to a period of presidential rule. Also, continuous economic and financial difficulty weakened the Weimar Republic after the World War I. Germans faced high unemployment and inflation, in the years to follow.
Hitler and the Nazi party made their first substantial gains during the depression. Hitler's energy towards the problems of agriculture fell on ready ears. From 1924 to 1928, the "golden years" of the Weimar Republic, inflation was conquered and economic output grew. However, Germany was dependent on foreign loans, especially from America. The Wall Street Crash of October 1929 collapsed already-falling agricultural prices in the depression of 1929 to 1933. Hitler and the Nazis reconsidered their strategy. Instead of directing propaganda towards the urban working class, which they had been doing, they concentrated on rural areas and agricultural problems. This proved somewhat helpful in the election of 1930.
Although Hitler and the NSDAP did not have a majority of the vote, they were gaining ground. Germans looked for "some kind of saviour to lead them out of the morass and found that saviour in the FÃÂ¼hrer" (p.23). Germans wanted someone who would be active instead of passive. They wanted to feel proud to be a German, and Hitler promised that. By July 1932, Nazi electoral support was strong in Protestant rural districts. The Nazis enjoyed more success in small to medium-sized towns then they did in large ones. The NSDAP did not gain votes from just the lower-middle class, however. Wealthier parts of Protestant towns and white-collar workers were prepared to cast their vote for Hitler by 1932. A substantial number of women also voted Nazi. With large numbers of Germans employed in agricultural, self-employed and white-collar jobs, Hitler and his party started to receive a substantial percentage of the vote. However, the unemployed were more likely to vote Communist instead of for the NSDAP. Nazi support was energetically increasing.
Propaganda played as extraordinary role by influencing different parts of society. Nazis promised the small man protection against big business and large stores. On the other hand, it promised big business the destruction of the Weimar Republic and the restoration of management's right to manage. Moreover, the Nazis pledged to women the return of traditional moral and family values. Although Nazis were promising different things to different people, they were able to get away with it for a couple of reasons. First, there was no media coverage, so one group had no idea what the NSDAP was promising to the other. Second, the Nazis targeted emotion with their propaganda. They attempted to explain the problems of society by blaming the problems on other factors in local society. The Nazis targeted specific interest groups with specific messages and their message reached parts of Germany other parties did not reach. Nazis gained support slowly but surely.
From 1930 to the beginning of 1933, Germany appointed Chancellors four times, the last one being Hitler. A lack of popular mandate proved to be problematic for previous Chancellors. Hitler, however, came to an agreement with conservatives which gave him a popular mandate for the NSDAP. The conservatives and the Nazis shared the same values. Former Chancellor Papen and a majority of conservatives and nationalists thought since Nazis were a minority in the new Cabinet, they would be able to control Hitler. Social Democrats hoped Hitler's period of office would be short-lived and finished by the following elections. This was not the case. The Nazis were able to consolidate power quickly in the months that followed, a consequence of Hitler being in the most powerful position. One month after being appointed Chancellor, Hitler got his conservative colleagues to agree to fresh elections with the promise that they would be the last for a long time.
Hitler's consolidation of power quickly increased. In the elections of 1933, Hitler had 44 percent of the vote, still not a majority vote. However, in March of 1933, forming a majority in the Reichstag through an alliance with the Nationalists (DNVP) enabled him a majority to pass the Enabling Act. This gave "Hitler's government rule without the need for action to be authorized either by the Reichstag or presidential decree" (p.38). This led to massive violence from Nazis. The Nazis' "seizure of power was anything but peaceful" (p.38).
The unpeaceful consolidation of Nazi control stretched to the state and society. "Independent pressure groups and political parties were dissolved or declared illegal" (p.39). This was to prevent any mobilization of action of one group against the Nazis. Hitler wanted complete control and did not want any interference in his plans. The only institution to remain untouched at the time was the army, chiefly because Hitler sought to win military loyalty rather than struggle for power. With these acts, Germany became a one-party state within six months of Hitler becoming Chancellor. Nazis sought to restrict and destroy all alternatives and to mobilize the minds of people behind the Fuhrer through active propaganda. The slightest show of dissension led to punishment, most likely in concentration camps. Nazi intervention into German life was becoming routine.
Nazi organizations penetrated private and public life. The Gestapo (Secret State Police) was the most intrusive organization. It gathered information of citizens in any way it could. Nazis and Hitler were obsessed with public opinion and they sent the Gestapo to find out public opinion. Children who were propagandized in the Hitler Youth told the Gestapo of their parents' opinions and beliefs, which left parents, schoolteachers and priests in fear of voicing their opinions. The secret organizations turned generation against generation and neighbor against neighbor. Hitler designed obvious competition between various agencies of state and party in order to strengthen his own distinctive position. As part of his plan, Hitler knew any competition between agencies would lead them to ask him for advice and support. Hitler, after President Hindenburg's death in 1934, hated to intervene where decisions might make him unpopular with the general public. Hitler was the only person who made the decisions. Although he made the decisions, he was rarely involved in day-to-day discussions which led to formulation of policy.
In late 1937, the Foreign Office under von Neurath voiced concern about Hitler's foreign policy aims fearing a fatal war. The German society feared a repeat of World War I. In early 1938, Hitler exploited an affair of Minister of War Blomberg which caused a shift of forces, one of which made Hitler commander in chief. This was yet another gain for Hitler. Hitler wanted to build a great military power, but he couldn't because of small-scale and incapable producers. The German economy showed signs of recovery in late-1932. Jobs were created between 1933 to 1935 in construction, road building and a majority of rearmament. By 1939, however, the economy was suffering from a shortage of skilled manpower, capital and materials.
Several problems in society begin the deterioration of Hitler and the Nazi Party. The real problem begins when the idea that the Nazis were successful in propaganda and ideology implies a change in values and beliefs of millions of Germans. The terroristic nature of the Nazi state cannot be ignored. The surveillance of the population (Ministry of Propaganda under Goebbels) controlled all forms of public expression. If citizens had expressed their views of society and of the Nazis or Hitler, they could have been killed. Another problem in society was that opponents of Nazis could not find jobs. However, the Hitler Youth and people of the Nazi Party received preferential treatment. The secured hold of Nazis on German society was growing during the Second World War. Moreover, resisting government in time of war was an opposition to particular policies and treason.
Hitler's end was in sight when tension was stacking against him. Pressure between NSDAP, Hitler and the army became inflamed when the FÃÂ¼hrer interfered in military matters. The fear was that intruding would lead to defeat. The German working class, opposite of what happened at the beginning of Nazism, bore the brunt of Nazi violence and constraint. Hitler emphasized racial purity and euthanasia to kill those who were not of the "pure" race. The Nuremberg Laws were enacted which prohibited the mixing of Jews and non-Jews. The "Final Solution" was the Holocaust, the extermination of millions.
Hitler had long-term aims of expansion eastward, especially into Russia. An attempt on Hitler's life in 1944 led to the execution of about 5,000 conspirators. Hitler became aged at the end of the war, showing physical and emotional stress. Hitler became detached from society and increasingly lost touch with reality. It became increasingly difficult to get a decision out of him as the Reich deteriorated.
Hitler's action caught the attention of the German society at the beginning. His political advancement made it easier for him to gain control, but his convincing speeches are what sold him to the people. Yet, at the end, society called his bluff and saw that his propaganda was a plethora of lies. Consequently, it is extremely important to remember that German silence during the FÃÂ¼hrer's reign should not be interpreted as acceptance but as a blind cry for help.
Reference: Dick Geary. Hitler and Nazism. London: Routledge, 1993.