I know you probably don’t need me to tell you who Adolf Hitler was, but for good measure, Hitler was a German politician who was the leader of the Nazi Party and Führer (or leader) of Germany. He was Chancellor between January 1933 and 1945, after capitalising on German resentment at the loss of WWI and the unfairness of the Versailles Treaty (the peace treaty that brought WWI to an end).
Hitler basically swooped into power at a time when Germany was suffering from extreme hardship, high levels of unemployment, and still reeling from the hated Versailles Treaty. The country was also weakened by a loss of territories, the general threat of Communism, and non-existent national pride. Hitler was popular with German voters because he promised to end all these things at a time when Communism was seen as a real threat. This is how the Third Reich — or Nazi German Empire — came to be.
At the beginning of his reign, even Brits thought Hitler seemed alright – shocking, I know. Many people in both Britain and France believed the Treaty of Versailles had been unfair to Germany. They also thought many of Hitler’s demands were reasonable, and favoured him over the threat of the Communist Soviet Union.
Having been slighted by the Versailles Treaty and downtrodden by war, Germans craved a return to the days when their country was ruled by a strong leader, and this helps explain why so many bought into the idea of Hitler as an all-powerful leader who was the saviour of the German people – this is also known as the “Hitler Myth”. Hitler also famously hated Communism, and this is one of the reasons why the Nazis attracted so much support from German voters at first.
Shortly after being named Chancellor in January 1933, Hitler called fresh elections in a bid to cap off his legal revolution by achieving a Nazi majority in the Reichstag via legal means. It wasn’t until July of the same year that he banned all other political parties, and in the March elections the Nazis were unable to obtain a majority, despite the Nazi vote increasing to 43.9 per cent.
This must have pleased President Paul von Hindenburg, who had only agreed to allow Hitler to become Chancellor as he thought it would placate him, and as Hitler didn’t have enough support in the Reichstag to make the widespread changes he wanted. There were only three Nazis in the Cabinet upon Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor; Hitler himself, Hermann Göring and Wilhelm Frick.
The President held onto power for as long as he was able, but died just one year after naming Hitler Chancellor, which is when Hitler was able to combine the roles of President and Chancellor, and truly consolidate his position as the head of state of the German Reich, officially marking the creation of a dictatorship. This also marked the second major success of the Nazis’ goal of pursuing power through a legal revolution – a policy they had adopted following their failure to seize power forcefully via the Munich Putcsh in 1923.
With Hitler finally in place as Germany’s Führer, the Nazi Party set about creating a totalitarian state with Hitler as its leader and dictator. At this point, taking Lebensraum from Russia, rebuilding the military, and creating a racially pure Volksgemeinschaft were all significant aims of the Nazi Party and were prominent in their numerous propaganda campaigns.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Party despite Hitler’s role as Führer; the day-to-day governance of Nazi Germany was conducted by overlapping power structures, which included the established central government, the SS, the SA and the Nazi Party. Although the SA was not officially dissolved as an organisation until the end of WWII, its power and influence was all but removed on the Night of the Long Knives, when SA leaders including Ernst Röhm were executed. Hitler had decided to gut the SA out of fears over their independence and tendency towards violence.
Once the Führer had removed the threat posed by the SA with a series of executions, he became anxious to establish control over the German Army. Hitler did this by making them swear an oath of loyalty, pledging their allegiance to him in the process.
In terms of indoctrinating the rest of his kingdom, Hitler established the Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in 1933, which became responsible for controlling all media output and creating propaganda. Radio allowed Hitler’s speeches to be broadcast to the majority of the population, which helped indoctrinate everyday Germans with Nazi values and ideology. The ministry also installed loudspeakers in many public places and places of work, so that everyone would be able to hear Hitler’s messages. How considerate…
Hitler’s speeches were very popular as he was a brilliant orator who knew exactly how to appeal to German nationalism, and who gave Germans a scapegoat for their problems; the Nazi unflinchingly claimed Germany had been “stabbed in the back” by Jews and Communists in 1918.
Hitler’s seemingly all-pervasive leadership style allowed him to take long leaves of absence from Berlin, and also permitted him barely any contact with his ministers. In fact, Hitler didn’t actually play a huge role in the day-to-day governance of Germany. Because of this, his ministers had to try and interpret his will – which was known as “working towards the Führer”. This meant that, more often than not, the government was chaotic.
How did it all end for Hitler, you ask? The Führer committed suicide in a bunker in 1945, by a gunshot to the head, when he knew the jig was up.