National Socialism, commonly called Nazism, German political movement initiated in 1920 with the organization of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also called the Nazi Party. The movement culminated in the establishment of the Third Reich, the totalitarian German state led by dictator Adolf Hitler from 1933 to 1945.
National Socialism emerged from consequences of the German defeat in World War I (1914-1918). Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was charged with sole responsibility for the war, stripped of its colonial empire, and forced to pay heavy reparations.
Severe inflation all but destroyed the German middle class in the 1920s, leaving many of its impoverished and despairing members vulnerable to the appeals of radical political groups formed in the postwar years. The worldwide economic crisis that began in 1929 then plunged Germany into an apparently hopeless depression, and the democratic government, known as the Weimar Republic, proved unable to cope effectively with the country’s desperate condition.
The National Socialist Party originated in the German Workers’ Party, formed in Munich in 1919.
Adolf Hitler joined that year and soon became a party leader.The party program consisted of exaggerated nationalistic demands, corruptions of socialist ideas, and racist and anti-Semitic doctrines. Hitler’s party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and grew slowly.
Convinced of the necessity of violence to achieve its ends, the party soon organized the so-called storm troopers to defend its meetings; to disrupt the meetings of liberal democrats, socialists, Communists, and trade unionists; and to persecute Jews. In 1921 Hitler was elected the party’s “unlimited chairman. ” In 1923 he established the newspaper Racial Observer as the official daily party voice.The National Socialists concentrated much of their propaganda against Bolshevism, which they characterized as a conspiracy of international Jewish financiers.
They also proclaimed their contempt for parliamentary democracy and agitated for a dictatorship. After a 1923 attempt to take over the national government using 600 armed storm troopers, Hitler received a five-year prison sentence, and the party was outlawed. In prison Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, a statement of National Socialist doctrines, propaganda techniques, and plans for conquest. Hitler was released from prison in less than a year, but his party had virtually dissolved.
During the following years, with the aid of loyal associates, Hitler slowly rebuilt the party. In 1926 he established himself as the party’s F hrer (leader) and organized the armed Schutzstaffeln (protective units), or SS, to supervise and control the party and the storm troopers. The movement grew rapidly, recruiting thousands of people frustrated and embittered by the economy. The 1930 elections established the National Socialists as one of the strongest parties in Germany.
Hitler twice refused a place in a coalition government and demanded sole power, prompting President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint him chancellor in 1933.The party then began the creation of the National Socialist state. The Nazis suppressed and outlawed all other parties. The Enabling Act of 1933 granted Hitler dictatorial powers, ending the Weimar Republic.
Loyal Nazis soon held most high government offices. Party membership was ostensibly voluntary, and millions willingly joined, but a great many others were compelled to become members against their will. At its peak, party membership numbered about 7 million. From 1933 to 1935 the democratic structure of Germany was replaced with a completely centralized state.
All private organizations of business, labor, and agriculture, as well as education and culture, were subjected to party control. Under its chief, Heinrich Himmler, the secret state police, known as the Gestapo, suppressed all working-class and liberal democratic opposition to the Hitler regime. Meanwhile, the espionage agency of the party operated concentration camps. Hitler’s solution to unemployment was to create the “new order,” a restoration of German industry, raw materials, and transportation systems.
He recognized that disregarding the Treaty of Versailles would ultimately result in war.Thus, the economy was reorganized essentially as a war economy. By transforming trade associations into organs of state control, the regime eliminated competition. Some of these enterprises eventually used millions of prisoners of war as slave laborers in German industry.
The industries also supplied materials for the government’s systematic and scientific extermination of millions of Jews, Poles, Russians, and others, in what is called the Holocaust. As they constructed their “new order” in Germany, the Nazis pressed forward politically and diplomatically to increase Germany’s size.In the process, they annexed Austria, destroyed the Czechoslovak state, and invaded Poland. This precipitated World War II (1939-1945).
That National Socialism transformed the weak republic into an industrially and politically powerful state is a matter of record. However, the cost of that transformation included the horror of World War II, from which Germany emerged beaten, divided, and impoverished. Also costly was suffering endured by German and other European peoples under Hitler and after his death. The most tragic aspect of the Nazi reign was the systematic murder of approximately 6 million Jews.
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