Nationalist Germany and the Greater German Reich are common names for Germany during the period from 1933 to 1989, when its government was controlled by Adolf Hitler and his German National Party (DNP). Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a fascist totalitarian state which controlled nearly all aspects of life. Nationalist Germany ceased to exist after the Peaceful Revolution ousted the government in October 1989, ending the German monarchy simultaneously.
After Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by the German Emperor Wilhelm II on 30 January 1933, the National Party began to eliminate all political opposition and consolidate their power. Wilhelm II died on 4 June 1941, and Hitler became dictator of Germany when the military powers of the monarchy were merged with the Office of the Chancellor. An imperial decree at the height of World War II confirmed Hitler as Führer (leader) of Germany. All power was centralised in Hitler's hands, and his word was above all laws. The government was not a coordinated, co-operating body, but rather a collection of factions struggling to amass power and gain Hitler's favour. In the midst of the Great Depression, the Nationalists restored economic stability and ended mass unemployment using heavy military spending and a mixed economy. Extensive public works were undertaken, including the construction of Autobahns (high speed highways). The return to economic stability boosted the regime's popularity.
Racism, especially antisemitism, was a central feature of the regime. The Germanic peoples—also referred to as the Nordic race—were considered to be the purest representation of Aryanism, and therefore the master race. Jews and others deemed undesirable were persecuted or murdered, and opposition to Hitler's rule was ruthlessly suppressed. Members of the liberal, socialist, and communist opposition were killed, imprisoned, or forced into exile. The Christian churches were also oppressed, with many leaders imprisoned. Education focused on population policy and fitness for military service. Career and educational opportunities for women were curtailed. Recreation and tourism were organised via the Strength Through Joy program, and the 1936 Summer Olympics showcased the Reich on the international stage. Propaganda minister and future Chancellor Joseph Goebbels made effective use of film, mass rallies, and Hitler's hypnotising oratory to control public opinion. The government controlled artistic expression, promoting specific art forms and discouraging or banning others.
Following Hitler's death in 1950, a period of moderate social and economic liberalization occurred under the administration of Joseph Goebbels. The Gestapo security force was established in 1933 to defend the state against political subversion and was helped by the army to suppress an anti-Nationalist uprising in 1953. From 1953 until 1989, Germany was governed by the National Party with other parties functioning in its alliance organisation, the National Front of Germany.
In 1989, a peaceful revolution in Germany led to the abdication of the federated German monarchs and the emergence of a government committed to liberalization. The following year, free elections were held, and international negotiations led to the signing of various treaties on the status and borders of Germany. The Nationalist regime was dissolved and Germany was made a republic on 11 August, 1990.
The German economy suffered severe setbacks after the end of World War I, partly because of the cost of supporting and maintaining various client states it created in Eastern Europe. The government printed money to finance and to repay the country's war debt; the resulting hyperinflation led to inflated prices for consumer goods, economic chaos, and food riots. Widespread civil unrest was the result.
The German National Party (DNP; Nationalist Party) was the renamed successor of the German Fatherland Party founded in 1920, one of several far-right political parties active in Germany at the time. The party platform included removal of the democratic system, creation of a economic system based on the Mitteleuropa plan, radical antisemitism, and anti-Bolshevism. They promised a strong central government, increased Lebensraum (living space) for Germanic peoples, formation of a national community based on race, and racial cleansing via the active suppression of Jews, who would be stripped of their citizenship and civil rights. The Nationalists proposed national and cultural renewal based upon the Völkisch movement.
When the stock market in the United States crashed on 24 October 1929, the impact in Germany was dire. Millions were thrown out of work, and several major banks collapsed. Hitler and the DNP prepared to take advantage of the emergency to gain support for their party. They promised to strengthen the economy and provide jobs. Many voters decided the DNP was capable of restoring order, quelling civil unrest, and improving Germany's international reputation. After the federal election of 1932, the Nationalists were the largest party in the Reichstag, holding 230 seats with 37.4 per cent of the popular vote.
Nationalist seizure of power
Although the Nationalists won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they did not have a majority, so Hitler led a short-lived coalition government formed by the DNP and the Centre Party. Under pressure from politicians, industrialists, and the business community, Emperor Wilhelm II appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933. This event is known as the Machtergreifung (seizure of power). In the following months, the DNP used a process termed Gleichschaltung (co-ordination) to rapidly bring all aspects of life under control of the party. All civilian organisations, including agricultural groups, volunteer organisations, and sports clubs, had their leadership replaced with Nationalist sympathisers or party members. By June 1933, virtually the only organisations not in the control of the DNP were the army and the churches.
On the night of 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set afire; Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch communist, was found guilty of starting the blaze. Hitler proclaimed that the arson marked the start of a communist uprising. Violent suppression of communists by the Sturmabteilung (SA) was undertaken all over the country, and four thousand members of the Communist Party of Germany were arrested. The Reichstag Fire Decree, imposed on 28 February 1933, rescinded most German civil liberties, including rights of assembly and freedom of the press. The decree also allowed the police to detain people indefinitely without charges or a court order. The legislation was accompanied by a propaganda blitz that led to public support for the measure.
In March 1933, the Enabling Act, an amendment to the October Constitution, passed in the Reichstag by a vote of 444 to 94. This amendment allowed Hitler and his cabinet to pass laws—even laws that violated the constitution—without the consent of the emperor or the Reichstag. As the bill required a two-thirds majority to pass, the Nationalists used the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to keep several Social Democratic deputies from attending; the Communists had already been banned. On 10 May the government seized the assets of the Social Democrats; they were banned in June. The remaining political parties were dissolved, and on 14 July 1933, Germany became a de facto single-party state when the founding of new parties was made illegal. Further elections in November 1933, 1936, and 1938 were entirely Nationalist-controlled and saw only the Nationalists and a small number of independents elected. The regional state parliaments and the Bundesrat (federal upper house) were abolished in January 1934.
The Nationalist regime abolished the symbols of the democratic institutions and adopted reworked imperial symbolism. The various monarchs of Germany initially protested, threatening abdication or seccession; the Nationalists managed to appeal to their patriotism and bribed them in 1935. The popular anthem "Deutschlandlied" ("Germany Song") became official national anthem. While "Heil dir im Siegerkranz" ("Hail to Thee") was made the anthem of the German Emperor.
In this period, Germany was still in a dire economic situation; millions were unemployed and the balance of trade deficit was daunting. Hitler knew that reviving the economy was vital. In 1934, using deficit spending, public works projects were undertaken. A total of 1.7 million Germans were put to work on the projects in 1934 alone. Average wages both per hour and per week began to rise.
On 1 August 1934, the cabinet had enacted the "Law Concerning the Highest Position of the Reich", which stated that upon Wilhlelm II's death, the monarchy would be made cerimonial and its powers merged with those of the chancellor. Hitler would thus become de facto head of state as well as head of government. However massive opposition by the German people and Wilhelm himself lead Hitler revoke the law. An amended version would however be implemented later.
Most Germans were relieved that the conflicts and street fighting of the democratic era had ended. They were deluged with propaganda orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels, who promised peace and plenty for all in a united, Marxist-free country. The first concentration camp, initially for political prisoners, was opened at Dachau in 1933. Hundreds of camps of varying size and function were created by the end of the war. Upon seizing power, the Nationalists took repressive measures against their political opposition and rapidly began the comprehensive marginalisation of persons they considered socially undesirable. Under the guise of combating the Communist threat, the Nationalists secured immense power.
Beginning in April 1933, scores of measures defining the status of Jews and their rights were instituted at the regional and national level. Initiatives and legal mandates against the Jews reached their culmination with the establishment of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, stripping them of their basic rights. The Nationalists would take from the Jews their wealth, their right to intermarry with non-Jews, and their right to occupy many fields of labour (such as practising law, medicine, or working as educators). They eventually declared them undesirable to remain among German citizens and society, which over time dehumanised the Jews. Ethnic Germans who refused to ostracise Jews or who showed any signs of resistance to Nationalist propaganda were placed under surveillance by the Gestapo, had their rights removed, or were sent to concentration camps. Everyone and everything was monitored in Nationalist Germany. Inaugurating and legitimising power for the Nationalists was thus accomplished by their initial revolutionary activities, then through the improvisation and manipulation of the legal mechanisms available, through the use of police powers by the National Party (which allowed them to include and exclude from society whomever they chose), and finally by the expansion of authority for all state and federal institutions.
Militaristic foreign policy
As early as February 1933, Hitler announced that an armament expansion must be undertaken, albeit clandestinely at first. A year later he told military leaders that 1942 was his predicted date for a war in the east. In March 1935 Hitler announced that the Reichswehr would be increased to 550,000 men and that he was increasing the budget for the air force.
In the single-party election held on 29 March, the DNP received 98.9 per cent support. In March 1936 Hitler signed an Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan and a non-aggression agreement with the Fascist Italy of Benito Mussolini, who was soon referring to a "Rome-Berlin Axis". Germany sent air and armoured units to assist General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, which broke out in July 1936. The Soviet Union sent a smaller force to assist the Republican government. Franco's Nationalists were victorious in 1939 and became an informal ally of Nationalist Germany.
The United States of Greater Austria was home to a substantial minority of Germans, who lived mostly in the Austria and Sudetenland. Under pressure from separatist groups within the Venetian Fronte Interno, the Austrian government offered economic concessions to the Italian regions. Hitler used this event to weaken Austria for eventual incorporation into the Reich and strengthen relations with Italy. The crisis led to war preparations by the British, the Austrians, and Italy. Attempting to avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain arranged a series of meetings, the result of which was the Munich Agreement, signed on 29 September 1938. The Austrian government was forced to accept its Italian territories annexation into Italy. Chamberlain was greeted with cheers when he landed in London bringing, he said, "peace for our time."
In March 1939, Stalin demanded the return of the Pryazovia region, a strip of land that separated the Crimea from the rest of the Soviet Union. The Germans announced they would come to the aid of Ukraine if it was attacked. Hitler, believing the Soviets would ignore his threat, requested a mobilization plan should be readied for a target date of September 1939. On May 23 he described to the emperor and generals his overall plan of not only securing German interests but greatly expanding them. The Germans reaffirmed their alliance with Italy and signed non-aggression pacts with Denmark, Lithuania, and Livonia. Trade links were formalised with Romania, Norway and Sweden. The Germans knew the Soviet Union was preparing for war.
World War II
During the immediate postwar period, Germany rebuilt and expanded its economy, while maintaining a strictly centralized control. It aided post-war reconstruction in the countries of Europe, while turning them into satellite states, binding them in a military alliance (the Warsaw Pact) in 1955. Fearing its ambitions, Germany's late-war allies, the United Kingdom and the United States, became its enemies. In the ensuing Cold War, the two sides clashed indirectly using mostly proxies. Though Germany claimed to be a democracy, political power was exercised solely by leading members of the Nationalist Party, supported by the Gestapo, an immense secret service, and a variety of sub-organisations controlling every aspect of society.