Deutsches Reich
German Reich
1933 –
Flag of the NSDAP (1920–1945) Reichsadler der Deutsches Reich (1933–1945)
Flag Coat of Arms

Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer
"One People, one Reich, one Leader"


Das Lied der Deutschen (official)

First stanza of
Das Lied der Deutschen
followed by Horst-Wessel-Lied

Map of the Greater German Reich
Map of Germany.
Capital Berlin
Official languages German
Government Totalitarian dictatorship, Single-party state
- 1933–1934 Paul von Hindenburg
- 1934– Adolf Hitler1
- 1933– Adolf Hitler
Legislature Reichstag2
- 1937 633,786 km2
- 1930 est. 69,314,000
- Machtergreifung January 30, 1933
- Gleichschaltung February 27, 1933
- Anschluss March 13, 1938
- Invasion of Czechoslovakia October 1, 1938
Currency Reichsmark (ℛℳ)
1: Office formally vacant. Adolf Hitler styled himself Führer und Reichskanzler from August 1934.
2: Through the Enabling Act of 1933, the German government was vested with legislative powers, although the Reichstag formally continued to exist as a law-making body.

Nazi Germany refers to Germany from the start of Adolf Hitler's government in 1933. After Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, the country was governed by the National Socialist German Workers Party, or "Nazi Party" (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), led by Adolf Hitler as chancellor in 1933, and, from 1934, as Führer (Leader). In Germany, the common term is the Third Reich (Drittes Reich). Nazi Germany is perceived as a depreciative expression to denominate this period, which is officially the German Reich ("Deutsches Reich").

The policies pursued during this period were based on the concept of Lebensraum, among them "Aryan" racial purity, anti-Semitism, revenge for Germany's territorial losses at the Treaty of Versailles and the perceived loss of pride because of it, and anti-communism directed at the Soviet Union; also the Nazi regime's systematic mass murder of Jews, political opponents, and other minorities like homosexuals and gypsies in a genocide known as the Holocaust.

Under the Nazi regime, Germany became one of the major states in Europe by early 1939 from a military, territorial and to some degree economical standpoint. After the annexation of Austria in 1938, Nazi Germany became the first united German state since the Holy Roman Empire to include Austria within its boundaries.

Following the no compliance by the Czechoslovak government regarding the secession of the Sudetenland as demanded in the Munich Agreement signed by Hitler, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier and Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini on September 29, 1939, Hitler launched his military powers on Czechoslovakia, initiating Operation Fall Grün on October 1, 1938. On October 20, Hungary entered the war on Hitler's side, and following a bloody campaign, the Germans and the Hungarians finally conquered Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939.

On May 1, 1939, the territories of Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia was formally annexed into the German Reich.


In the wake of the loss of land and perceived national embarrassment imposed through the Treaty of Versailles, civil unrest, the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s spurred by the stock market crash in the U.S., the counter-traditionalism of the Weimar period, and the threat of communism in Germany, many voters began turning their support towards the Nazi Party, which promised strong government, cessation of civil unrest, radical changes to economic policy, cultural renewal based on traditionalism, military rearmament in opposition to the Treaty of Versailles, and restored national pride that the Nazis claimed was lost in the Treaty of Versailles and in the liberal democracy of the Weimar Republic. The Nazis also endorsed the Dolchstoßlegende ("Stab in the back legend") which figured prominently in their propaganda as it did in propaganda of most other nationalist-leaning parties in Germany.

From 1925 to the 1930s, the German government devolved from a democracy to a de facto conservative-nationalist authoritarian state under President and war hero Paul von Hindenburg, who opposed the liberal democratic nature of the Weimar Republic and wanted to find a way to make Germany into an authoritarian state. The natural ally of the foundation of an authoritarian state had been the German National People's Party (DNVP or "the Nationalists"), but increasingly, after 1929, more fanatic and younger-generation nationalists were attracted to the revolutionary nature of the Nazi party, to challenge the rising support for communism as the German economy floundered. By 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag. Hindenburg was reluctant to give any substantial power to Hitler, but worked out an alliance between the Nazis and the DNVP which would allow him to develop an authoritarian state. But Hitler consistently demanded on being appointed chancellor in order for Hindenburg to receive any Nazi Party support of his administration.

On 30 January 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany by Hindenburg after attempts by General Kurt von Schleicher to form a viable government failed. Hindenburg was put under pressure by Hitler through his son Oskar von Hindenburg, as well as intrigue from former Chancellor Franz von Papen, leader of the Catholic Centre Party following his collection of participating financial interests and his own ambitions to combat communism. Even though the Nazis had gained the largest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they had no majority of their own, and just a slim majority in parliament with their Papen-proposed Nationalist DNVP-NSDAP coalition. This coalition ruled through accepted continuance of the Presidential decree, issued under Article 48 of the 1919 Weimar constitution.

The Nazi attacks on the Jews in the early months of 1933 marked the first step in a longer-term process of removing them from German society. By the summer of 1933, this process was on its way to becoming quite disastrous. This process also marked the core of Adolf Hitler's "cultural revolution" whereby the Nazi mind had begun to transform in a manner conducive to anti-Semitism, anti-communism, and anti-liberalism, or in general anti-everything but the Nazis themselves.

Consolidation of power

Following the appointment of Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany, the new government (under NSDAP) installed a totalitarian dictatorship in a series of measures in quick succession.

On the night of 1933 February 27, the Reichstag building was set on fire and Dutch council communist Marinus van der Lubbe was found inside the building. He was arrested and charged with starting the blaze. The event had an immediate effect on thousands of anarchists, socialists and communists throughout the Reich, many of whom were sent to the Dachau concentration camp. The unnerved public worried that the fire had been a signal meant to initiate the communist revolution, and the Nazis found the event to be of immeasurable value in getting rid of potential insurgents. The event was quickly followed by the Reichstag Fire Decree, rescinding habeas corpus and other civil liberties.

The Enabling Act was passed in March 1933, with 444 votes, to the 94 of the remaining Social Democrats. The act gave the government (and thus effectively the Nazi Party) legislative powers and also authorized it to deviate from the provisions of the constitution for four years. With these powers, Hitler removed the remaining opposition and turned the Weimar Republic into the "Third Reich".

For Hitler to create the Nazi dictatorship, Germany had to become a one party state. This was achieved by the Nazis as by June 1933 the Social Democrats had been banned, the Communists had been banned and the German Nationalists (DNVP), German People's Party (DVP) and German Democratic Party (DDP) had all been forced to disband. The remaining Catholic Centre Party, at Papen's urging, disbanded itself on 5 July 1933 after guarantees over Catholic education and youth groups. On 14 July 1933 Germany officially declared a one-party state with the passing of the Law against the formation of parties.

Symbols of the Weimar Republic, including the black-red-gold flag (now the present-day flag of Germany), were abolished by the new regime which adopted both new and old imperial symbolism to represent the dual nature of the imperialist-Nazi regime of 1933. The old imperial black-white-red tricolour, almost completely abandoned during the Weimar Republic, was restored as one of Germany's two officially legal national flags. The other official national flag was the swastika flag of the Nazi party. It became the sole national flag in 1935. The national anthem continued to be "Deutschland über Alles" (also known as the "Deutschlandlied") except that the Nazis customarily used just the first verse and appended to it the "Horst Wessel Lied" accompanied by the so-called Hitler salute.

Further consolidation of power was achieved on 30 January 1934, with the Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reichs (Act to rebuild the Reich). The act changed the highly decentralized federal Germany of the Weimar era into a centralized state. It disbanded state parliaments, transferring sovereign rights of the states to the Reich central government and put the state administrations under the control of the Reich administration.

In the spring of 1934 only the army remained independent from Nazi control. The German army had traditionally been separated from the government and somewhat of an entity of its own. The Nazi paramilitary SA expected top positions in the new power structure and wanted the regime to follow through its promise of enacting socialist legislation for Aryan Germans. Wanting to preserve good relations with the army and the major industries who were weary of more political violence erupting from the SA, on the night of 30 June 1934, Hitler initiated the violent Night of the Long Knives, a purge of the leadership ranks of Röhm's SA as well as hard-left Nazis (Strasserists), and other political enemies, carried out by another, more elitist, Nazi organization, the SS.

At the death of president Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, the Nazi-controlled Reichstag merged the offices of Reichspräsident and Reichskanzler and reinstalled Hitler with the new title Führer und Reichskanzler. Until the death of Hindenburg, the army did not follow Hitler, partly because the paramilitary SA was much larger than the German Army (limited to 100,000 by the Treaty of Versailles) and because the leaders of the SA sought to merge the Army into itself and to launch the socialist "second revolution" to complement the nationalist revolution which had occurred with the ascendance of Hitler. The murder of Ernst Röhm, leader of the SA, in the Night of the Long Knives, the death of Hindenburg, the merger of the SA into the Army, and the promise of other expansions of the German military wrought friendlier relations between Hitler and the Army, resulting in a unanimous oath of allegiance by all soldiers to obey Hitler. The Nazis proceeded to scrap their official alliance with the conservative nationalists and began to introduce Nazi ideology and Nazi symbolism into all major aspects of life in Germany. Schoolbooks were either rewritten or replaced, and schoolteachers who did not support Nazification of the curriculum were fired.

The inception of the Gestapo, police acting outside of any civil authority, highlighted the Nazis' intention to use powerful, coercive means to directly control German society. Soon, an army estimated to be of about 100,000 spies and informants operated throughout Germany, reporting to Nazi officials the activities of any critics or dissenters. Most ordinary Germans, happy with the improving economy and better standard of living, remained obedient and quiet, but many political opponents, especially communists and Marxist or international socialists, were reported by omnipresent eavesdropping spies and put in prison camps where many were tortured and killed. It is estimated that tens of thousands of political victims died or disappeared in the first few years of Nazi rule.


The government of Nazi Germany in September 1938 was the following:

Cabinet of Adolf Hitler
Title Name
Head of State and Government
   Führer und Reichskanzler:       Adolf Hitler   
   Deputy Führer:       Rudolf Heß   
   Minister of Foreign Affairs:       Joachim von Ribbentrop   
   Minister of the Interior:       Wilhelm Frick   
   Minister of Propaganda:       Joseph Goebbels   
   Minister of Economics:       Walter Funk   
Military High Command
   Head of the OKW:       Generaloberst Wilhelm Keitel   
   Commander-in-Chief of the OKH:       Generaloberst Walther v. Brauchitsch   
   Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine:       Generaladmiral Erich Raeder   
   Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe:       Feldmarschall Hermann Göring   

Foreign policy

Adolf Hitler speech on Invasion of Czechoslovakia

Adolf Hitler holding a speech condemning a staged Czechoslovak murder on Sudeten Germans and declaring war on Czechoslovakia, October 1, 1938.

Upon coming to power in 1933, the Nazi regime was faced with the implications of the Treaty of Versailles which restricted Germany's presence on the international stage. The treaty forbade Germany to build war machines deemed to be aggressive, such as aircraft, submarines, and large battleships. Further Germany was not allowed to have any political union with German-populated Austria or Danzig.

During the 1930s, Hitler and the Nazi regime performed a number of political maneuvers to increase German power. The regime demanded that the international community allow Germany to increase the size of its navy so that it could adequately defend itself, this was agreed to in 1935, with the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. The regime also pursued defying the Treaty of Versailles further by endorsing a plebiscite in German-populated Saar which resulted in it returning to Germany in 1935, after being held by France as a protectorate since 1919. In 1936, with no British or French forces remaining in the Rhineland (which was to be permanently demilitarized of German forces), Germany once again defied Versailles by sending military forces into the Rhineland.

From 1936 onward, Germany steadily proceeded on an interventionist foreign policy approach, beginning by supporting the fascist nationalist forces of Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War against the republican forces which were supported by the Soviet Union. German aircraft took part in attacks on Spanish republican forces as well as the infamous bombing of civilians in the Basque town of Guernica in 1937.


Hitler with Mussolini 1934

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during Hitler's visit to Venice from 14-16 June 1934.

The regime also pursued defying the Treaty of Versailles with a expansionist foreign policy. With plans for Lebensraum for the German people, they annexed territories with a German-speaking population.

On July 25, 1934, eight Austrian Nazis who entered the Chancellery building shot and killed Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuß in an attempted Nazi coup d'état (the so-called July Putsch) as a prelude to the Anschluss. The Vienna murder was accompanied by Nazi upheavals in the Salzkammergut and southern Styria regions, resulting in further dozens of dead. Immediately after the assassination Italian armed forces mobilized at the Austrian-Italian border to deter any German invasion of Austrian territory. However, the Nazi assassins in Vienna surrendered and were executed. Kurt Schuschnigg became the new chancellor and dictator of Austria.

They switched focus and turned to the German-populated Saarland. In January 1935 they endorsed a plebiscite in the protectorate which resulted in Saarland returning to Germany in 1935, after being held by France as a protectorate since 1919. On March 7, 1936, with no British or French forces remaining in the Rhineland (which was to be permanently demilitarized of German forces), Germany once again defied Versailles by sending military forces into the Rhineland.

After Italy became isolated in 1936 due to sanctions by the League of Nations following their invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, the Italian government had little choice but to work with Germany to regain a stable bargaining position in international affairs. Germany, as a non-member of the League of Nations, was not compelled to establish sanctions on Italy, showed solidarity by increasing trading and support their military action, and soon became the Italians main trading partner and ally. The two nations proceeded to form the Rome-Berlin Axis, more commonly known as the Axis Pact, in 1936. Italy's earlier protests of the Nazi regime's intentions to annex Austria quelled as the Nazis and the Italian Fascists exchanged essential concessions to secure good relations.

On March 11, 1938, German troops entered Austria and annexed it in the Anschluss, this time without protest from Italy.

Munich Agreement

From left to right: Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Count Gian Galeazzo Ciano pictured before signing the Munich Agreement.

During the summer of 1938, tensions rose between Nazi Germany and Czechoslovakia over the Sudetenland. Hitler claimed that the Czechs suppressed the German minority living there, and demanded that the Czech government should cede Sudetenland to Germany, or else they would take it by force. While both sides mobilised for war, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain feared that war was looming over Europe, and wished for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

Chamberlain met Hitler in Godesberg on September 22 to confirm the agreements. Hitler however, aiming at using the crisis as a pretext for war, now demanded not only the annexation of the Sudetenland but the immediate military occupation of the territories, giving the Czechoslovakian army no time to adapt their defence measures to the new borders. To achieve a solution, Italian prime minister Benito Mussolini suggested a conference of the major powers in Munich and on September 29, Hitler, Daladier and Chamberlain met and agreed to Mussolini's proposal (actually prepared by Hermann Göring) and signed the Munich Agreement accepting the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland. At about 1:30 AM on September 30, Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini and Édouard Daladier signed the Munich Agreement.

Following the Czech refusal to cede the Sudetenland, Hitler initiated the invasion of Czechoslovakia on October 1, 1939, without meeting resistance from the French and British governments. On March 15, Nazi Germany along with Hungary had defeated Czechoslovakia, and the territories of Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia was formally annexed on May 1, 1939.

In the early hours of 23 March 1939, after a oral ultimatum had made a Lithuanian delegation travel to Berlin, the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Juozas Urbšys and his German counterpart Joachim von Ribbentrop signed the Treaty of the Cession of the Memel Territory to Germany in exchange for a Lithuanian Free Zone for 99 years in the port of Memel, using the facilities erected in previous years. Hitler had anticipated this aboard a Kriegsmarine naval ship, and at dawn sailed into Memel (Klaipėda) to celebrate the return heim ins Reich of the Memelland. German forces seized the territory even before the official Lithuanian ratification. The United Kingdom and France, as after the revolt of 1923, did not actively protect the autonomy of the territory. It was under these conditions that the Seimas was forced to approve the treaty, hoping that Germany would not press any other territorial demands upon Lithuania. The reunion with Germany was welcomed by the majority of the population, both by Germans and by Memellanders.

Relations with Italy

Hitler and Mussolini

Adolf Hitler with Italian leader Benito Mussolini.

Hitler had attempted to befriend Mussolini in the past to no avail, as Mussolini had little interest in his political activity. Also, Mussolini opposed Hitler's anti-Semitic beliefs, for a number of Fascists were Jewish, including Mussolini's mistress Margherita Sarfatti, the director of Fascist art and propaganda. Furthermore, there was little support amongst Italians for anti-Semitism.

On July 25, 1934, eight Austrian Nazis who entered the Chancellery building shot and killed Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuß in an attempted Nazi coup d'état (the so-called July Putsch) as a prelude to the Anschluss. The Vienna murder was accompanied by Nazi upheavals in the Salzkammergut and southern Styria regions, resulting in further dozens of dead. Immediately after the assassination Mussolini promised the Austrians military support if Germany were to interfere. The Italian armed forces therefore mobilized at the Austrian-Italian border to deter any German invasion of Austrian territory. However, the Nazi assassins in Vienna surrendered and were executed. Kurt Schuschnigg became the new chancellor and dictator of Austria. This promise helped save Austria from annexation in 1934.

After Italy became isolated in 1936 due to sanctions by the League of Nations following their invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, the Italian government had little choice but to work with Germany to regain a stable bargaining position in international affairs. Germany, as a non-member of the League of Nations, was not compelled to establish sanctions on Italy, showed solidarity by increasing trading and support their military action, and soon became the Italians main trading partner and ally. The two nations proceeded to form the Rome-Berlin Axis, more commonly known as the Axis Pact, in 1936. Italy's earlier protests of the Nazi regime's intentions to annex Austria quelled as the Nazis and the Italian Fascists exchanged essential concessions to secure good relations, by Germany abandoning support of Germans in South Tyrol and Italy introducing anti-Semitic laws.

Public appearances and propaganda constantly portrayed the closeness of Mussolini and Hitler and the similarities between Italian Fascism and German National Socialism. While both ideologies had significant similarities, Italian Fascism only became closely linked with Nazism because of Italy’s need to have Germany as a partner to avoid international isolation and to pursue a war to expand the Italian Empire.

Relations with Hungary

Hitler with Horthy

Adolf Hitler with Hungarian regent Miklós Horthy.

The German-Hungarian relations was among the most important foreign relations of the Reich, which began as early as 1935.

Along with Germany, Hungary had particular interests in parts of Czechoslovakia's territory. For years they had wanted a revision of the Treaty of Trianon, which included the unification of the Hungarian-populated parts of the ČSR, if not the whole of Slovakia, with Hungary.

But the attitude of its neighbours decisively influenced Hungary's attitudes towards an action against the ČSR. The ČSR, Yugoslavia and Romania formed the "Little Entente" in 1920 and 1921, an alliance with the purpose of common defense against Hungarian irredentism and the prevention of a Habsburg restoration. France supported the alliance by signing treaties with each member country. Even in peacetime status the superiority of the Yugoslav army with 148,000 men in 16 divisions and the Romanian army with 225,000 men in 24 divisions oppressive, although the Hungarian army in the summer of 1938 had achieved a peace strength of 85,000 men.

One could not exclude that an Hungarian aggression against ČSR would enable the contracts of the "Little Entente" and would lead the two countries into war against Hungary. Since 1937 Hungary had wished at least to reach the level of neutrality of Yugoslavia, for then to waiver of a border revision and thus be entitled to the Hungarian minorities living there. But for this Yugoslavia was not ready.

The first contacts for joint operations against the ČSR arose during the visit of Göring to the Hungarian Regent Horthy and Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös de Jákfa in Budapest in June 1935. A few days later the Hungarian Chief of the General Staff, General Somkuthy, visited the German War Minister von Blomberg and the Chief of the Staff Ludwig Beck. Even then the continuation of the discussion between the interests of Hungary's revision of its neighbors and Germany's economic interests with the same states were clear. And so the Hungarians Blomberg recommended waiving revisions, only Hungary was an action against the ČSR. Amazingly the Hungarian General described Czechoslovakia, the most well-equipped and well-trained nation of the "Little Entente", as "our most vulnerable enemy." Despite intensive Hungarian wishes they came no closer to a agreement on German-Hungarian military cooperation. However the OKH included in the 1936 war games that Hungary would participate in an attack on ČSR with a strength of 12 brigades and two cavalry divisions.

In September 1937, War Minister v. Blomberg took up discussions with the Hungarian Minister of Defence during his visit of the German Autumn Manouevres about the prospects of their common war goals against ČSR. The following spring the Hungarian envoy v. Stojay said that these talks were "somewhat dull." Ribbentrop knew the intentions of Hitler and behaved cautiously. On March 31 the Hungarian envoy asked the the Foreign Office, when "the general staff meetings for possible joint actions" against the ČSR would begin. Although the Germans wanted not to be specific on the matter, Göring recommended in early June the Hungarian envoy for Hungary's early participation in a war between Germany and the ČSR. The chief of OKW Gen. D. Art Keitel, who visited Budapest on June 14, would clarify things further.

When the Chief of the Yugoslav General Staff in the spring of 1938 met with his with his Czechoslovak colleagues in Brno, the Hungarian Chief of General Staff v. Rácz saw this as proof of the effectiveness of the alliance between the two countries. And in early May, the heads of operational departments of the "Little Entente" gathered to discuss possible reactions against Hungary. The Yugoslavs did not wish to enter a conflict against Germany, because they expected that Italy would enter the war on the side of Germany. On August 23 a conference between the "Little Entente" and Hungary took place in the Yugoslav town of Bled. Here Hungary and the "Little Entente" (including the ČSR) acknowledged each other's armed forces and renounced the use of armed force on the condition that the questions of each ethnic minorities would be satisfactorily resolved. Hungary were very demanding towards Czechoslovakia. The result of the conference in Bled had unsettled the German Foreign Office there. Such a stance would make Hungary neutralize against ČSR, and they meant that "a relaxation in favor of Czechoslovakia would be undesirable for us (Germany)."

At the same time the Hungarian Regent Admiral Miklós Horthy visited Berlin and Kiel. There were several partial parallel meetings. In an interview with Hitler Horthy presented the idea of "restoring the old Hungary in a big war in a few years with the help of German troops". Hitler was not interested, saying "that neither wishes nor claims (of Hungary)," and "whether it wants to participate (in the action against ČSR) or not lies with them." Finally Horthy concluded that Hungary would be prepared to intervene two weeks after a war had begun - provided by the unrealistic condition that the powers of the "Little Entente" were not active and prepared to intervene in the conflict on the side of Czechoslovakia.

However, despite the discussions between Horthy and Hitler, the Hungarian Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister remained cautious. They were unsure whether Yugoslavia would remain neutral in case of Hungarian aggression against Czechoslovakia, and they knew the Hungarian rearmament program needed at least a period of 1-2 years to prepare for war. Therefore the Hungarian General Staff returned to discussions over the military readiness and the military stockpiles of the armed forces. In meetings between the German and Hungarian ministers there was no clarity about the timing of a Hungarian intervention in a German-Czech conflict.

The talks requested by the General Staff were finally initiated on 6 September between the new Chief of the General Staff Halder and the Hungarian General Staff. Halder was doing at the express wish of Hitler no hints about the timing of the action. The attitude to win allies was strange, and the Hungarians were not better than Mussolini, who claimed they were not ready for a major European war. No wonder that Jodl already two days later noted that Hungary was "was at least in a good mood." In any event, the Hungarians were on the Reich Party Congress in "an angry mood, ... because the previous talks in Berlin had ended with no results."

When the Hungarian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister visited Hitler again on September 20, Hitler criticized Hungary for their "indecisive attitude." Two days later the British envoy to Hungary in Budapest warned against a military action. Even Ciano exhorted on September 26 Hungary to show maximum restraint towards the ČSR, so that the Yugoslavs would not be obliged to abide by the agreements of the "Little Entente" to support Czechoslovakia.

But despite this, the Hungarians mobilised between 200,000 and 350,000 ill-trained and ill-equipped men on the Slovak and Ruthenian borders, ready to invade Czechoslovakia in case of war between Germany and Czechoslovakia. After Munich, the Hungarians had remained poised threateningly on the Slovak border.

Anti-Comintern Pact

Anti-Comintern Pact

Watched by the Japanese signatory, Japanese ambassador to Nazi Germany Viscount Kintomo Mushakoji, Hitler's foreign affairs adviser Joachim von Ribbentrop signs the Anti-Comintern Pact, November 25, 1936.

The Anti-Comintern Pact was concluded between Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan on November 25, 1936 and was directed against the Communist International (Comintern) in general, and the Soviet Union in particular.

"recognizing that the aim of the Communist International, known as the Comintern, is to disintegrate and subdue existing States by all the means at its command; convinced that the toleration of interference by the Communist International in the internal affairs of the nations not only endangers their internal peace and social well‑being, but is also a menace to the peace of the world desirous of co‑operating in the defense against Communist sub­versive activities"

In case of an attack by the Soviet Union against Germany or Japan, the two countries agreed to consult on what measures to take "to safeguard their common interests". They also agreed that neither of them would make any political treaties with the Soviet Union, and Germany also agreed to recognize Manchukuo.

On November 6, 1937, Italy also joined the pact, thereby forming the group that would later be known as the Axis Powers.

Pact of Steel

Pact of Steel

The signing of the Pact of Steel on May 22, 1939.

The Pact of Steel, known formally as the Pact of Friendship and Alliance between Germany and Italy, was an agreement between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany signed on May 22, 1939, by the foreign ministers of each country and witnessed by Count Galeazzo Ciano for Italy and Joachim von Ribbentrop for Germany.

The Pact consisted of two parts: the first section was an open declaration of continuing trust and cooperation between Germany and Italy while the second, a 'Secret Supplementary Protocol' encouraged a joint military and economic policy.

The Pact of Steel obliged Germany and Italy to aid the other country immediately, militarily or otherwise, in the event of war being declared, and to collaborate in military and wartime production. The Pact ensured that neither country was able to make peace without the agreement of the other. The agreement was based on the assumption that a war would occur within three years.

Non-Aggression Pacts

Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the Republic of Poland on January 26, 1934 and with the Kingdom of Denmark in May 1939.


Reichmark Nazi Germany

German Reichmark notes and coins made under Adolf Hitler's regime.

When the Nazis came to power the most pressing issue was an unemployment rate of close to 30%. The economic policies of the Third Reich were in the beginning the brainchildren of Hjalmar Schacht, who assumed office as president of the central bank under Hitler in 1933, and became finance minister in the following year. Schacht was one of the few finance ministers to take advantage of the freedom provided by the end of the gold standard to keep interest rates low and government budget deficits high: massive public works funded by large budget deficits. The consequence was an extremely rapid decline in unemployment - the most rapid decline in unemployment in any country during the Great Depression. Eventually this Keynes-like policy was to be supplemented by the boost to demand provided by rearmament and swelling military spending.

Hjalmar Schacht was replaced in September 1936 by Hitler's lieutenant Hermann Göring, with a mandate to make Germany self-sufficient to fight a war within four years. Under Göring imports were slashed. Wages and prices were controlled--under penalty of being sent to the concentration camp. Dividends were restricted to six percent on book capital. And strategic goals to be reached at all costs (much like Soviet planning) were declared: the construction of synthetic rubber plants, more steel plants, automatic textile factories.

While the strict state intervention into the economy, and the massive rearmament policy, led to full employment during the 1930s, real wages in Germany dropped by roughly 25% between 1933 and 1938. Trade unions were abolished, as well as collective bargaining and the right to strike. The right to quit also disappeared: Labour books were introduced in 1935, and required the consent of the previous employer in order to be hired for another job.

Another part of the new German economy was massive rearmament, with the goal being to expand the 100,000-strong German Army into a force of millions. The Four-Year Plan was discussed in the controversial Hossbach Memorandum, which provides the "minutes" from one of Hitler's briefings.

Racial policies

One of the foundations of Hitler's and the NSDAP's social policies was the concept of racial hygiene. It was based on the ideas of Arthur de Gobineau, eugenics, and social Darwinism. Applied to human beings, "survival of the fittest" was interpreted as requiring racial purity and killing off "life unworthy of life." The first victims were children with physical and developmental disabilities; those killings occurred .in a program dubbed Action T4. After a public outcry, Hitler made a show of ending this program, but the killings in fact continued.

In 1935, Hitler introduced the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped German Jews of their citizenship and deprived them of all civil rights. In his speech introducing the laws, Hitler said that if the "Jewish problem" cannot be solved by these laws, it "must then be handed over by law to the National-Socialist Party for a final solution (Endlösung)." The expression "Endlösung" became the standard Nazi euphemism for the extermination of the Jews.

Many scholars date the start of the Holocaust to the anti-Jewish riots of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, on November 9, 1938, in which Jews were attacked and Jewish property was vandalized across Germany. Approximately 100 Jews were killed, and another 30,000 sent to concentration camps, while over 7000 Jewish shops and 1668 synagogues (almost every synagogue in Germany) were damaged or destroyed. Similar events took place in Austria, particularly Vienna.


See also: German Order of Battle - September 30, 1938
Flag of the Oberbefehlshaber der Oberkommando der Wehrmacht

Flag for the Commander-in-Chief of the German Armed Forces.

The Wehrmacht was the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany. Established in 1935, the intention of the name was to combine all functions of the General Staff in a single management organisation, and therefore Wehrmacht consisted of the Wehrmacht Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air force).

On September 30, 1938, the German army consisted of 2,200,000 mobilized men, 2606 tanks and 2850 aircraft.

The Heer entered the war with a minority of its formations motorized; infantry remained approximately 90% foot-borne throughout the war, and artillery primarily horse-drawn. Despite this, the German army was heavier motorised and mechanised than most other military powers at that time.

The OKW was also tasked with central economic planning and procurement, but the authority and influence of the OKW's war economy office (Wehrwirtschaftsamt) was challenged by the procurement offices (Waffenämter) of the single branches of service as well as by the Ministry for Armament and Munitions (Reichsministerium für Bewaffnung und Munition).


Military Strength 1938

The military strength of Germany in September 1938.

The German Army furthered concepts pioneered during the First World War, combining ground (Heer) and Air Force (Luftwaffe) assets into combined arms teams. Coupled with traditional war fighting methods such as encirclements and the Vernichtungsgedanken ("battle of annihilation"), the German military doctrine focused on the use of manoeuvre rather than attrition to defeat an opponent and using combined arms, concentration of mobile assets at a focal point, armour closely supported by mobile infantry, artillery, and close air support assets. These tactics required sheer speed, specialized support vehicles, new methods of communication, new tactics, and an effective decentralized command structure. German forces avoided direct combat in favor of interrupting an enemy's communications, decision-making, logistics and morale. In combat, this doctrine left little choice for the slower defending forces but to clump into defensive pockets that were encircled and then reduced by slower-moving German infantry reserves.

Pz.Kpfw. I Ausf. A Berlin

Pz.Kpfw. I Ausf. A light tanks lined up during a military parade in Berlin.

Once the point of attack was identified, the 'schwerpunkt' ('focus point', literally 'heavy point' or 'center of gravity'), tactical bombers, and motorized artillery units struck at enemy defenses. This avoided the setup time and revealing nature of field artillery. These bombardments were then followed by probing attacks to reveal defensive detail and allow the most effective employment of the main armoured spearhead and combined arms groups. The goals were the deepest possible penetration and minimal engagement, while avoiding an enemy counterattack. Once the main force broke through the designated strike area, motorized infantry would then fan out behind the armoured spearhead to capture or destroy any enemy forces encircled by panzer (tanks) and mechanized infantry units, and to prevent flanking attacks. Less mobile infantry were designated for “mopping up” operations or to participate in the initial breakthrough.

The German General Heinz Guderian was probably the first person who fully developed and advocated the principle of Blitzkrieg. He summarized the tactics of Blitzkrieg as the way to get the mobile and motorized armored divisions to work together and support each other in order to achieve decisive success. Guderian believed that certain development in technology must be developed in conjunction with Blitzkrieg to support the entire theory; especially in communications with which the armored divisions, and tanks especially should be equipped (Wireless Communications). Guderian insisted in 1933 to the high command that every tank in the German armored force must be equipped with radio.

Command structure

Reichsparteitag 1935

German soldiers lined up during the Reichsparteitag (Party Day of the Nazi Party) of 1935.

Legally, the Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht was Adolf Hitler in his capacity as Germany's head of state, a position he gained after the death of President Paul von Hindenburg in August 1934. In the reshuffle in 1938, Hitler became the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Administration and military authority initially lay with the war ministry under Generalfeldmarschall Werner von Blomberg. After von Blomberg resigned in the course of the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair (1938) the ministry was dissolved and the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW) under Generaloberst Wilhelm Keitel was put in its place. It was headquartered in Wünsdorf near Zossen, and a field echelon (Feldstaffel) was stationed wherever the Führer's headquarters were situated at a given time. Army work was also coordinated by the German General Staff, an institution that been developing for more than a century and which had sought to institutionalize military excellence.

The OKW coordinated all military activities but Keitel's sway over the three branches of service (army, air force, and navy) was rather limited. Each had its own High Command, known as Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH, army), Oberkommando der Marine (OKM, navy), and Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL, air force). Each of these high commands had its own general staff. In practice the OKW had operational authority over the Western Front whereas the Eastern Front was under the operational authority of the OKH.

Command structure
Title Name
OKW — the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces
   Head of OKW:       Generaloberst Wilhelm Keitel   
OKH — the Supreme Command of the Army
   Commander-in-Chief of the OKH:       Generaloberst Werner von Fritsch (1935 - 1938)
Generaloberst Walther v. Brauchitsch (1938-)   
   Chief of Staff:       General Ludwig Beck (1935 - 1938)
General Franz Halder (1938-)   
OKH — the Supreme Command of the Army
   Commander-in-Chief of the OKH:       Generaloberst Werner von Fritsch (1935 - 1938)   
Generaloberst Walther v. Brauchitsch (1938-)   
   Chief of Staff:       General Ludwig Beck (1935 - 1938)   
General Franz Halder (1938-)   
OKM — the Supreme Command of the Navy
   Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine:       Generaladmiral Erich Raeder (1928-)   
OKL - the Supreme Command of the Air Force
   Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe:       Feldmarschall Hermann Göring (1935-)   

Conflict with Czechoslovakia

Main article: Invasion of Czechoslovakia
Fall Grun Victory Parade

German soldiers enters Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) during a military parade celebrating the German victory over Czechoslovakia, March 15, 1939.

Adolf Hitler was furious by the Czech refusal. As the Czechoslovaks in his mind had disobeyed an agreement between Germany, France and the United Kingdom, he could now declare war on Czechoslovakia without risking an escalation of the conflict with the west. As a result, he ordered that the Fall Grün, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, should be initiated the following morning.

On October 1, 1938, German troops crossed the Czechoslovak-German border, initiating Operation Fall Grün. On October 20, Hungary decided to enter the conflict on the side of Germany. With the support from the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia fought a brave, but in the end, hopeless war against the Germans and the Hungarians, inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers.

On March 12, the German reached the Prague suburbs, During the night between the 14 and 15 of March, 1939 the commanding officer of the 1st Army and the defence of Prague, General of the Army Sergěj Vojcechovský, was given an ultimatum: Either capitulate to the German armed forces, or the Luftwaffe would initiate an aerial bombardment of Prague which would turn the capital into a pile of ruins. Having no real chance to defend the capital for a longer period of time, and to avoid further damage on the capital, Gen. Vojcechovský capitulated to the Germans, and the Germans entered the capital the following day.

On March 15, Czechoslovakia capitulated to Nazi Germany and Hungary. On May 1, the territories of Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia was formally annexed, and turned into Gaue.

Reich Gaue

The Reich was divided into Gaue, which were the de facto administrative sub-divisions of the country following the suppression of the individual Länder (states) in 1934.

Gau name Headquarters
Baden Karlsruhe
Bayerische Östmark Bayreuth
Berlin Berlin
Köln-Aachen Köln
Düsseldorf Düsseldorf
Östpreußen Königsberg
Öst-Hannover Lüneburg
Electoral Hesse / Kurhessen Kassel
Essen Essen
Franconia Nürnberg
Halle-Merseburg Halle
Hamburg Hamburg
Hesse-Nassau Frankfurt am Main
Koblenz-Trier Koblenz
Niederschlesien Breslau
Magdeburg-Anhalt Dessau
Main-Franconia Würzburg
March of Brandenburg Berlin
Mecklenburg Schwerin
München-Oberbayern München
Pommern Stettin
Saar-Palatinate Neustadt an der Weinstraße
Sachsen Dresden
Schleswig-Holstein Kiel
Süd Hannover-Brunswick Hannover
Schwaben Augsburg
Thuringia Weimar
Oberschlesien Kattowitz
Weser-Ems Oldenburg
Westfalen-Nord Münster
Westfalen-Süd Dortmund
Württemberg-Hohenzollern Stuttgart

Gaue formed of the federal states of Austria, the so-called "Alpengaue"

Gau name Headquarters
Wien Wien
Niederdonau Wien
Oberdonau Linz
Styria Graz
Carinthia Klagenfurt
Tirol und Vorarlberg Innsbruck

Gaue formed of the Czechoslovakia

Gau name Headquarters
Böhmen Prag
Mähren Brünn
Sudetenland Karlsbad