As is typical in dictatorships, Hitler imposed relative social stability compared with the chaos of the Weimar Republic. Lower-class salaries dropped, while living costs rose. Strikes and protests died out. This social stability caused by terror increased profits for big businessmen. The reorganization of the entire socio-economic scene favored economic growth, which was sustained for several years. The massive rearmament around the Second World War threatened economic progress.
The effects of the Great Depression had begun to wane even before Hitler came to power. Germany was still in a difficult financial situation. When considering Hitler’s miraculous economic reforms, we must take into account the fact that industry and infrastructure were not destroyed in the First World War. Germany was rich in natural resources. None of this overshadows Hitler’s merits. The investments made in rearmament, in infrastructure and in industry put Germany back on its feet.
Hitler’s economic reform was framed in the context of the Nazification of Germany. The process was also influenced by the Fuhrer’s desire to change the economic, political and social systems.
Once Hitler had taken over Germany’s destiny, foreign policy turned towards destroying the diplomatic edifice of the Treaty of Versailles, which many Germans saw as a humiliating ‘Diktat’. The occupation of the demilitarized area of the Rhineland was a definitive failure of the collective security. It opened up the way for the Second World War.
According to the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was not permitted to maintain an army of more than 100,000 soldiers. Hitler ignored all provisions concerning armament. One year after his reaching power, the Wehrmacht had over 4.5 million soldiers. Most of these had entered the SA, a Nazi paramilitary organization. The introduction of obligatory conscription meant that Germany could train 300,000 soldiers each year. With the greatest population in Europe and an industrial base in the Ruhr region, the Nazis created a war machine in just a few years.
Events in the interwar period led Japan along the road of revisionism. Japan entered into a conflict of interest with the western colonial powers. The USSR had tense relationships with Japan. The Soviet Union wanted to extend its influence in the Far East, especially in Manchuria and Korea. In this context, Nazi Germany and militarist Japan became allies, by signing the Anti-Comintern Pact.
One year after the signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact, fascist Italy joined the deal. This act was a foreshadowing of the Tripartite Act, which constituted the Berlin-Tokyo-Rome Axis. The Axis powers provoked World War II. The alliance of these revisionist powers had its origin in the Anti-Comintern Pact.
In Hitler’s vision, the role of women must be limited. Their purpose was summarised in the expression: ‘Kinder, Kirche, Küche’, ie. ‘Children, church, kitchen’. Women must give birth to healthy and racially pure offspring. Nazi organizations for young women were subordinated to the boys’ organizations. During the war, these women helped in tending to the wounded and producing weapons in factories.
Taking advantage of the good faith of the English leaders, Hitler obtained the unification of Germany with Austria, called by historians ‘Anschluss’. The moment, very well planned by the Fuhrer, persuaded the others that through this act, a mistake made at Versailles had been righted. Then came Germany’s claims on a region in Czechoslovakia, in which Germans made up a majority of the population. The great powers decided to give in to these demands through the Munich Accord. This was the peak of appeasement.
During his rule, Hitler employed scientists to produce new devastating weapons. When it became clear that the ratio of force was not in Germany’s favor, the Fuhrer hoped that the discovery of nuclear weapons would change the fate of the war. Besides the nuclear bomb, the German scientists had many projects which were remarkable for that time, for example gas-based weapons, tanks of absurd dimensions and long-range rockets.
After the Munich accord, Czechoslovakia was forced to cede 11,000 km2 of territory, inhabited by 2,800,000 Germans and 800,000 Czech nationals. Germany offered guarantees concerning the protection of the remaining territory. In truth, it didn’t stop at that. At first, the Germans supported the independence of Slovakia in order to weaken the rest of Czechoslovakia. In the next phase, Nazi Germany entered Prague. Again, the Allies did not intervene.
At first, Germany’s objective concerning Poland was limited to the port town of Danzig. Besides its strategic and commercial importance, Danzig also offered a corridor uniting Germany with the region of eastern Prussia. Even before the Nazis, the Weimar Republic had claimed the region. Hitler began negotiations with the Poles in this direction. After repeated refusals, the Fuhrer planned the invasion of Poland. The occupation of Poland was the final straw for the democratic powers. They declared war on Germany.
Even before he came to power, Hitler controlled the educational system and the dissemination of information. He made a real effort to indoctrinate youth. ‘Hitler Youth’ were present at all important parades. Less remembered is the fact that Nazi Germany conscripted minors to fight in the war. At the beginning it was a relatively isolated phenomenon. In the last year of the conflict, the number of ‘boys’ in the army’s database was 8.8 million. Most of these fought a guerilla war, opposing the invasion of the Red Army.
The Nazi-Soviet pact was a secret deal between Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR. This pact has remained in history as ‘The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact’, after the names of the foreign secretaries of the two countries. The deal had a considerable impact on the history of international relations. It was at the foundation of the start of World War II. Both countries received guarantees that they would not attack, dividing Central and Eastern Europe into zones of influence.
The Himmler Operation was the act which began the Second World War. The Nazis tried to stage an act of aggression carried out by the Poles, against Germany. A radio station called Sender Gleiwitz was apparently occupied. The Nazi propaganda thus tried to justify the invasion of Poland to international public opinion. It was claimed that 21 attacks were made by the Poles in one night. The mission has remained in history as the Gleiwitz incident.
The fate of World War II was played out for Nazi Germany on the eastern front. The analysis of any major war always includes a military aspect and an economic one. Looking at both perspectives, there were two decisive moments which affected this conflict. Hitler’s defeat was caused by military errors during ‘Operation Barbarossa’ and by the entry into the war of the United States. The American participation tipped the balance of material resources. The element of latent power became decisive in any conflict of duration in history.
The conversation between the German chancellor and the Finnish leader, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, is the only audio recording remaining, in which Hitler was speaking in an informal setting. The Fuhrer was not aware that he was being recorded - he was opposed to this. After approx. 10 minutes, the recording is interrupted. Officer Thor Damen was discovered. Hitler did not order the destruction of the cassette, which remained in the country’s archives. It was re-discovered in 1957, and published one year later.
The bombing of Dresden was another controversial episode in the history of Nazi Germany. The Allies organized a strategic bombing of the city, even though this was not an industrial center capable of furnishing the Fuhrer with weapons. Estimates vary depending on the source, but between 35,000 and 135,000 civilians were killed in less than 48 hours. As in the case of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some historians have considered that the bombing of Dresden was unjustified.
The battle for the defence of Berlin was the last bastion of Nazi resistance. When the troops of the Red Army approached his bunker, Hitler decided to commit suicide together with his mistress, Eva Braun. His most loyal officers received his last order. In order to avoid being mocked by the Russians, his body was incinerated by German soldiers. Thus, the odyssey of the Third Reich ended, an empire which was supposed to last for a thousand years, according to Nazi propaganda, but which only lasted 12.
In causing a new war on two fronts, Germany had to acknowledge defeat. The mistakes made in the eastern campaign wiped out the elite of the German army. In contrast to World War I, the stubbornness of the Fuhrer did not permit an armistice which would have saved many lives. Together with human losses, most of the civil economy was destroyed. The Holocaust had left a black mark in the history of the Germans. It sabotaged any natural diplomatic relations with the civilized world, for a significant period of time. Germany was split into four occupation zones. Those in the east waited almost half a century to be reunited with their relatives.
Hitler was the most written-about historical figure. Controversies among historians are not limited to factual happenings. The archives of Nazi Germany were captured, offering an immense volume of material for analysis. The intentions of the architect of the Third Reich are what have stirred up the greatest passions in debate. There are two main camps. The first, and largest, consider that Hitler was a malefic person. The criminal Nazi ideology was what led to war. The second opinion, shared by many intellectuals outside the historical discipline, claims that Hitler, in his foreign policy, simply continued the tradition maintained by Germany up until that time. The German chancellor followed the imperative of realpolitik, the fight for power.