The Rise Of The Third Reich Essay

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After the fall down of Hitlers dictatorship, as the full degree of the German catastrophe became obvious, the need to explain it was possibly felt even more strongly than throughout the Nazi period itself. The view of German history as a straight path to devastation was strongly opposed by Gerhard Ritter, perhaps at that time the most extremely reputed German historian of the contemporary period (for example, in Europa und die deutsche Frage, Munich, 1948). Ritter was a conventional who had been in touch with the wartime resistance and had been offended after the coup of 20 July 1944.

He drew a sharp line between Hitlers Third Reich and the rest of German and Prussian history, looking for the roots of Nazism to a certain extent in the democratic Jacobinism of European development since the French Revolution. Additionally he repeatedly emphasized the demonic quality of Hitlers personality as a influential factor in formative the course of German and international affairs from 1933 to 1945.

Another group of historians, belonging to the grossdeutsch tradition, rejected the exterior schema of a necessary continuity stretching back indefinitely into the past, but at the same time contrasting Ritters tendency to treat the Third Reich as a secluded phenomenon in German history.

As there is rise of the Third Reich the household lost its leading role in the rearing and training of children. The school became a mechanism for the diffusion of racial propaganda, helped to win young minds for the organization and made them open to militaristic ideas and practices. The Hitler Youth expressed ideals that extended beyond the terms of reference of the customary village upbringing.

The time children formerly would have spent working on the land was taken up with keep-fit, survival and other Para-military exercises which the youngsters consideration was a lot of fun. Young men and women were conscripted into military or labor services, and this influenced the households capability to cope at peak periods of the agricultural cycle and caused anger against both the younger generation and the political system.

However, generational conflict did not make open resistance because people were caught in an ideological trap. The Nazi State acceptable the introduction of these changes in the same terms in which a head of household would have rationalized using everyones labor to provide the household and uphold its good name. In both cases the inability to authoritarian rule and the use of cheap labor were acceptable by the claim that everyones welfare was at stake; concern with the individuals requirements was regarded as synonymous with frivolity.

The Nazi regime also brought great changes to the lives of women in the village. The Nazis initiated village women to public life; they founded separate womens organizations; and they established a form of national service for girls. The National Socialist Organisation of Women (Frauenschaft), the League of German Girls (BDM) and the Labor Service had not only an ideological retraining function. They also allowed women to travel beyond the fine confines of the village, brought them in contact with women from other regions and made them traverse social class-boundaries. Furthermore, military and labor service helped to loosen up the principally endogamous marriage patterns which had reigned in the village. In short, Nazism brought certain liberation from the customary confines of village life.

Though, in numerous other spheres the changes brought about by Nazism were far from invigorating. In fact, demands on women increased throughout the Third Reich. As the regime moved towards war, women were estimated increasingly to combine the roles of mother, housewife, Party member and industrial worker. The reintroduction of mobilization and later on war service deprived households of their male agricultural labour. Women, children and the old had to fill up the gap. Throughout the war, women took over the management of most farms (with the exemption of those of the horse farmers, who were freed from military service so as to produce food).

Before 1934 none of the girls who left school had taken an apprenticeship or conventional vocational training; after 1935 this happened ever more. Girls took up urban employment and brought home added wages. Though, the war brought changes here as well. On the one hand, the extra cash brought to the household kitty by women working in the city was rendered irrelevant when the economy came to be subjugated by barter and black-market rules after 1943. Conversely, women factory workers were ever more subjected to military discipline as they worked alongside with prisoners-of-war and were managed by armed guards. For the first time village women experienced the full power of undisguised State power.

Before the war, the villages always had resisted the invasion of large numbers of outsiders, which they feared would intimidate the integrity and identity of their community. The war, and the organizational measures of the Nazi State, changed this and forced them to recognize strangers. From 1939 onwards, every household in the village had to accommodate evacuees (from bomb-threatened cities) and refugees, who were owed by a commission appointed by the Nazi mayor. This commission examined each house and determined how much space had to be made available. The removal of power over ones own property was met not with keen patriotism, but with acceptance and silent anger.

The interruption into the house, the most significant symbol of a households independence and self-esteem, together with the reports being received from surviving relatives at the front and the efforts of the State to control food production, convinced most villagers that the Third Reich had survived its usefulness. From 1944 onwards some people openly began to defy the officials of the government by not declaring food which they had produced. In a few cases villagers even hid soldiers on the run. However, Nazi power did not crumble entirely in the village; as late as March 1945 the local school teacher intervened to make sure the arrest of some army deserters.

By May 1945 the social and political composition of the village had changed for good. The old order had been broken up by the managerial and military intrusions of the Nazi organizations. The structure of K¶rles population also had considerably altered. Virtually every household had suffered a loss at the front, the majority of the dead were young men, and the percentage of older people and women in the population thus had increased. The immense influx of evacuees and refugees, as an outcome of the bombings and the forceful evacuation of Germans from eastern Germany, meant that the numeral of people living in K¶rle had doubled, though the available housing had not.

The drift away from agricultural to industrial occupations, particularly for women, was accelerated by the obligation of the war economy and the large number of war widows. The political landscape of the village was twisted upside down as the Allies finally restored democratic institutions and as the political stranglehold of the customary lites (the horse farmers who were disgraced by their association with Nazi organizations and their shameless profiteering on the wartime black market) was lastly broken. Far from ensuring that a German rural way of life based on Blut und Boden (blood and soil) would suffer, the Nazis had unleashed forces which efficiently destroyed the traditional structure of village life.

The outbreak of war in 1939 is one of the most well-known issues to divide intentionalist and functionalist historians of the Third Reich. The former stress the individual accountability of Hitler and his ministerial and party support in framing and carrying out a programme of foreign expansion, whose ultimate goal was the achievement of world power[1].

The latter, while not overlooking the Nazis foreign-policy objectives, underline the primacy of structural or functional pressures in explaining the German push for war in 1939. Such pressures are accessible as the product of an more and more bankrupt political system, which sought to stave off the usual social tensions between masses and leaders brought concerning by rapid rearmament and ensuing economic crisis. In this sense the situation is comparable to that which aggravated the old ruling class into risking European war in 1914, and at least one German historian has argued that the dominance of Innenpolitik is a key and continuous clarification for the nature of German foreign guidelines in the era of the world wars[2].

These are not by any means elite historical categories, and there can be few historians of contemporary Germany who do not find them striking some kind of investigative balance between stated intention and the situation and pressures which limited or diverted it. In an article, Tim Mason has argued that there is a half-way house, that Hitlers declared objectives and their flawed understanding are evidence of a dialectical relationship between actors and historical framework which gives primacy to neither. In Hitlers case he decides to call this relationship struggle, the interaction between Hiders crude and literal idealism and the realism of economic and organizational circumstances in the Germany of the 1930s[3].

But in the case of the eruption of war Mason argues that Hitler could not, for once, determine this tension, so that circumstances got the better of him. He had to choose war in 1939 because of domestic pressures and restraints which were economic in origin and also spoken themselves in discriminating social and political tension. Hitler, Mason argues, did not want to fight the war he was faced with in September 1939, but he had little choice: These were the actions of a man who had lost power of his policies.'[4]

This is still a extensively held explanation for the origins of the Second World War, and certainly has been so since these ideas were first devised some twenty years ago. In the compound politics of the Third Reich two key elements have been observed: first, the attempt to push through a programme of rearmament in a short period of time to satisfy the demands of the military lites, the party hawks, and Hitlers own expansionist dreams; secondly, the need that rearmament must not be compromised by provoking the masses into political antagonism by reducing living standards and courting economic crisis. It is argued that the administrative puzzlement and political disagreements of the Nazi system made it ever more difficult to deliver both arms and consumer goods/food and formed instead regular crises (foreign exchange and food in 1936, labor and the balance of payments in 1938).

By 1938-9 the crisis is implicit to have reached a climax, with trade, finance, labor, and agriculture all producing incompatible pressures for an economy habituated by full employment and an overvalued mark. Knowing that economic stability, and thus domestic political serenity, could not be maintained under these conditions, and yet reluctant to cut back sharply on government expenses and rearmament, Hitler launched war in 1939 so as to gain plunder with which to stave off a crisis in living standards, permit further rearmament, and redirect domestic political conflicts to a patriotic effort against a new encirclement.[5]

The product of this strain between economic reality and military planning was the strategy of Blitzkrieg. Short wars would mean fewer arms and the preservation of living standards; and would also hold the constraints on the military economy produced by the contending party and administrative hierarchies which, it is claimed, made it intrinsically difficult to prepare efficiently for any larger military effort, while at the same time making war more likely.

The stress here is on the dominance of domestic politics and economic circumstances as instructive approaches to the outbreak of war[6]. These arguments have not been without their critics. Blitzkrieg, for instance, as a coherent military and economic concept, has established to be a difficult strategy to defend in the light of the evidence. This conclusion alone should throw increasing doubt on current analyses of the relationship between domestic affairs as well as foreign policy in the Third Reich.

The Third Reich is not the awful destroyer of human beings and moral values, but their protector; the German soldier is not Hitlers instrument of genocide, but a type of Germanic St. George spearing the communist dragon. Postwar knowledge of the real essence of the Nazi despotism seems to have had little collision on such men, who in any case must have known a great deal concerning the regimes murderous nature long before it was finally destroyed.

Rudels pronouncements, which are moderately representative of the memoir literature of the first two decades following the ending of the war, are a good indication of the way in which men whose minds had been pervaded by Nazi ideas retained these views in spite of the observable consequences of Hitlers policies.

But the Nazi Weltanschauung had a substantial effect on some of the regimes domestic opponents as well, reflecting as it did in a more fundamental form some of the aspirations and hopes of German nationalism as it had been molded at least since Bismarck. This in turn has meant that several of the key arguments and terms employed by the regime throughout the war have recently resurfaced in the Federal Republic under the pretext of an attempt to give the Germans back their history and permit them to get back their national identity by recognizing the optimistic aspects of even the murkiest periods in their past.

Most distressingly, ideological, geopolitical, and nationalist validations for the role played by the Third Reich, and particularly by the Wehrmacht, in stemming the Bolshevik flood, have appeared in works by numerous eminent and reputable scholars, thereby legitimizing a historical understanding which deliberately or not credited Nazism with the same sort of achievements it had asserted for itself in the last phases of the war. The most pertinent example of this scholarly deformation of the past in the name of the future as regards the Wehrmacht was a little book published in 1986 by Andreas Hillgruber[7].

To his mind, while observing the winter-catastrophe of 1944/45, that is, the Red Armys dispersion into East Prussia, and the (apparently German) historian must recognize with the concrete fate of the German populace in the East and with the desperate and costly [opferreichen] efforts of the German Ostheer and the German navy in the Baltic Sea, which sought to protect the population of the German East from the orgy of revenge of the Red Army, from the mass rapes, the arbitrary murders and the numerous deportations, and to keep open the flight routes to the West over land or sea for the East Germans in the very last phase [of the war]. [8]

Thus, from the viewpoint of racial and political homogeneity as a prerequisite for the requested unity of the will not only the obliteration of the Jews and their complete deportation from the Reich, but also the purification of German society of former opponents or dissidents came to be of critical importance. This completely a-historic and arbitrary position is hard to understand, but it lay at the very foundation of the perception of politics by the Nazi leadership. In a way this position should be regarded as nostalgia for the Nazis pseudo-idealist inheritance, but it was also prejudiced by Nietzschean philosophy, which terminated in the cult of the will and the idea that only through a decisionist break with the past could the vision of the Third Reich be brought to reality[9].


[1] K. Hildebrand, The Foreign Policy of the Third Reich (London, 1973), 91-104.

[2] F. Fischer, B¼ndnis der Eliten: Zur Kontinuit¤t der Machtstruktur in Deutschland 1871-1945 ( D¼sseldorf, 1979).

[3] T. W. Mason, Intention and Explanation: A Current Controversy about the Interpretation of National Socialism', in G. Hirschfeld and L. Kettenacker (eds.), The F¼hrer State: Myths and Realities ( Stuttgam 1981), 23-40.

[4] T. W. Mason, conference abstract, Zur Funktion des Angriffskrieges 1939², 3 (conference on R¼stung und Wirtschaft am Vorabend des 2. Weltkrieges, Freiburg, 1974).

[5] Mason, Intention and Explanation', 38-9; id., Some Origins of the Second World War', Past and Present, 10 ( 1964), 67-87; id., Innere Krise und Angriffskrieg', in F. Forstmeier and H.-E. Volkmann (eds.), Wirtschaft und R¼stung am Vorabend des Zweiten Weltkrieges ( D¼sseldorf, 1975), 158-88

[6] A. S. Milward, Hitlers Konzept des Blitzkrieges, in A. Hillgruber (ed.), Probleme des Zweiten Weltkrieges ( Cologne, 1967), 19-40

[7] M. Stiirmer, Geschichte in geschichtslosem Land, FAZ, 25.4.86; E. Nolte , Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will, FAZ, 6.6.86; but see also idem., Between Myth and Revisionism?, in Aspects of the Third Reich, ed. W. Koch ( London, 1985), pp. 17-38. For a more complex revisionist position, see Broszat, Pl¤doyer. The first and most devastating, though not unproblematic attack on this approach is J. Habermas, Eine Art Schadensabwicklung, Die Zeit, 11.7.86.

[8] Hillgruber (ed.), Probleme des Zweiten Weltkrieges ( Cologne, 1967), pp. 24-25.

[9] Peter Stern, The Fuehrer and the People, London 1975

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