Großdeutsches Reich
Greater German Reich
Flag Coat of arms
Flag National Insignia
"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"
Template:Color box Nazi Germany at its height in 1942
Template:Color box Italian territory
Template:Color box German allies and conquests
Capital Berlin
Language(s) German
Government Republic[1],
Single-party state,
Totalitarian autocratic national socialist dictatorship
 - 1933–1934 Paul von Hindenburg
 - 1934–1945 Adolf Hitler (as Führer)
 - 1945 Karl Dönitz
 - 1933–1945 Adolf Hitler
 - 1945 Joseph Goebbels
Legislature Reichstag
 - State council Reichsrat
Historical era Interwar period/WWII
 - Machtergreifung [2] 30 January 1933
 - Gleichschaltung 27 February 1933
 - Anschluss 13 March 1938
 - World War II 1 September 1939
 - Death of Adolf Hitler 30 April 1945
 - German Instrument of Surrender 7/8 May 1945
 - 1941 (Großdeutschland) [3] 696,265 km2 (268,829 sq mi)
 - 1941 (Großdeutschland) est. 90,030,775 
     Density 129.3 /km2  (334.9 /sq mi)
Currency Reichsmark (RM)

Preceded by
Succeeded by
20px Weimar Republic
20px Saar (League of Nations)
20px First Austrian Republic
20px Czechoslovak Republic
20px Klaipėda Region
20px Free City of Danzig
20px Second Polish Republic
20px Kingdom of Italy
20px Eupen-Malmedy
20px Luxembourg
20px Alsace-Lorraine
20px Drava Banovina
Flensburg government 20px
Allied-occupied Germany 20px
Allied-administered Austria 20px
Third Republic of Czechoslovakia 20px
Republic of Poland 20px
Alsace-Lorraine 20px
Eupen-Malmedy 20px
Luxembourg 20px
Kingdom of Italy 20px
Kaliningrad Oblast 20px
Saar protectorate 20px
People's Republic of Slovenia 20px
Democratic Federal Yugoslavia 20px
Elten and Selfkant 20px
Today part of Template:Flag

Nazi Germany and the Third Reich are the common English names for Germany under the government of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP), from 1933 to 1945. Third Reich (Drittes Reich) denotes the Nazi State as the historical successor to the mediæval Holy Roman Empire (962–1806) and to the modern German Empire (1871–1918). Nazi Germany had two official names, the Deutsches Reich (German Reich), from 1933 to 1943, when it became Großdeutsches Reich (Greater German Reich).

On 30 January 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. Although he initially headed a coalition government, he quickly eliminated his government partners. At this time the German national borders still were those established in the peace Treaty of Versailles (1919), between Germany and the Allied Powers (United Kingdom, France, the United States, Italy, Japan et alii.) at the end of the First World War (1914–18); to the north, Germany was bounded by the North Sea, Denmark, and the Baltic Sea; to the east, it was divided into two and bordered Lithuania, the Free City of Danzig, Poland, and Czechoslovakia; to the south, it bordered Austria and Switzerland, and to the west, it touched France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Rhineland, and the Saarland. These borders changed after Germany regained control of the Rhineland, Saarland and the Memelland and annexed Austria, the Sudetenland and Bohemia and Moravia. Germany expanded into Greater Germany during the Second World War, which began in 1939 after Germany invaded Poland, triggering the United Kingdom and France to declare war on Germany.

During the war, Germany conquered and occupied most of Europe and Northern Africa. The Nazis persecuted and murdered millions of Jews and other minorities in the Holocaust Final Solution. Despite an alliance with other nations, mainly Italy and Japan, the Axis, by 1945, Germany had been defeated and occupied by the Allied powers, the Soviet Union, UK, US, Canada, and France.[4]


Nazi Germany arose in the wake of the national shame, embarrassment, anger, and resentment resulting from the Treaty of Versailles (1919),[5] that dictated, to the vanquished Germans, responsibility for:

  • Germany's acceptance of and admission to sole responsibility for causing World War I[6]
  • The permanent loss of various territories and the demilitarization of other German territory[7]
  • The payment by Germany of heavy reparations, in money and in kind, such payments being justified in the Allied view by the War Guilt clause[8]
  • Unilateral German disarmament and severe military restrictions[9]

Other conditions fostering the rise of the Third Reich include nationalism and Pan-Germanism, civil unrest attributed to Marxist groups, the global Great Depression of the 1930s (consequent to the Wall Street Crash of 1929), hyperinflation, the reaction against the counter-traditionalism and liberalism of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of communism in Germany, i.e. the growth of the KPD ( Communist Party of Germany). Many voters, seeking an outlet for their frustrations, and an expression for their repudiation of parliamentary democracy, which appeared incapable of keeping a government in power for more than a few months, began supporting far right-wing and far left-wing political parties, opting for political extremists such as the Nazi Party, (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP, National Socialist German Workers' Party)[10]

File:Adolf Hitler cph 3a48970.jpg

The Nazis promised strong, authoritarian government in lieu of effete parliamentary republicanism, civil peace, radical economic policy (including full employment), restored national pride (principally by repudiating the Versailles Treaty), and racial cleansing, partly implemented via the active suppression of Jews and Marxists, all in name of national unity and solidarity, rather than the partisan divisions of democracy, and the social class divisiveness of Marxism. The Nazis promised national and cultural renewal based upon Völkisch movement traditionalism, and proposed rearmament, repudiation of reparations, and reclamation of territory lost to the Treaty of Versailles.

The Nazi Party claimed that through the Treaty, the Weimar Republic’s liberal democracy, the traitorous “November criminals” had surrendered Germany's national pride, by the inspiration and conniving of the Jews, whose goal was national subversion and the poisoning of the German blood.[5] To establish that interpretation of recent German history, the Nazi propaganda effectively used the Dolchstoßlegende (“Dagger-stab in the Back”) explaining the German military failure.

From 1925 to the 1930s, the German government evolved from a de jure democracy to a de facto conservative–nationalist authoritarian state under war hero-President Paul von Hindenburg, who disliked the liberal democracy of the Weimar Republic, and wanted to make Germany into an authoritarian state.[11] The natural ally for establishing authoritarianism was the German National People's Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP), "the Nationalists", but, after 1929, with the German economy floundering, more radical and younger nationalists were attracted to the revolutionary nature of the National Socialist Party, to challenge the rising popular support for communism. Moreover, the middle-class political parties lost support as the voters aggregated to the left- and right- wings of the German political spectrum, thus making majority government, in a parliamentary system, even more difficult.

In the federal election of 1928, when the economy had improved after the hyperinflation of the 1922–23 period, the Nazis won only 12 seats. Two years later, in the federal election of 1930, months after the US stock market crash, the Nazi Party won 107 seats, progressing from ninth-rated splinter group to second-largest parliamentary party in the Reichstag. After the federal election of 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag, holding 230 seats.[12] President Hindenburg was reluctant to confer substantial executive power to Adolf Hitler, but former chancellor Franz von Papen and Hitler concorded an NSDAP–DNVP party alliance that would allow Hitler’s chancellorship, subject to traditional-conservative control, for President Hindenburg to develop an authoritarian state. In the event, Hitler consistently demanded to be appointed chancellor, in exchange for Hindenburg’s receiving any Nazi Party support of the cabinets appointed under his authority.

On 30 January 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany, after General Kurt von Schleicher’s failure to form a viable government, (see the Machtergreifung seizure of power). By becoming the Vice Chancellor, Gen. Von Schleicher had expected to control Hitler, and by keeping the Nazis a cabinet minority. Hitler pressured Hindenburg through his son Oskar von Hindenburg, and via intrigue by former Chancellor Franz von Papen, leader of the Catholic Centre Party, whose politics were partly dictated by his anti-communism.[citation needed] Although the Nazis had won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they had no majority proper, just a slight parliamentary majority via the NSDAP–DNVP alliance that governed by Presidential Decree, per Article 48 of the 1919 Weimar Constitution.[13]

The National Socialist treatment of the Jews in the early months of 1933 marked the first step in a longer-term process of removing them from German society.[14] This plan was at the core of Adolf Hitler's "cultural revolution".[14]

Consolidation of powerEdit

The new government quickly installed a totalitarian dictatorship to Germany with legal measures establishing a co-ordinated central government, (see Gleichschaltung). On the night of 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set afire, and the Dutch council communist Marinus van der Lubbe was found inside; he was arrested, charged with arson, tried, and then decapitated. The fire immediately provoked the response of thousands of anarchists, socialists, and communists throughout the Reich; describing said free-speech exercises as insurrection, the Nazis imprisoned many to Dachau concentration camp. The public worried that the fire had been a signal meant to initiate communist revolution in Germany, as in 1919, so the Nazis exploited the arson with the Reichstag Fire Decree (27 February 1933), rescinding most German civil liberties, including habeas corpus, to so suppress their opponents.

In March 1933, with the Enabling Act, voted 444–94 (the remaining Social Democrats), the Reichstag conferred dictatorial (decree) powers to Chancellor Adolf Hitler; four years of political power authorizing him to deviate from the Weimar Constitution; in the event, Germany officially became a single-party state on 14 July 1933. Forthwith, throughout 1934, the Nazi Party ruthlessly eliminated all political opposition; the Enabling Act already had banned the Communists (KPD), the Social Democrats (SPD) were banned in June, despite appeasing Hitler, and, in the June-July period, the Nationalists (DNVP), the People's Party (DVP), and the German State Party (DStP) were like-wise obliged to disband. Moreover, at the urging of Franz von Papen, the remaining Catholic Centre Party, disbanded on 5 July 1933 after obtaining Nazi guarantees for Catholic religious education and youth groups. On 14 July 1933, Germany was officially declared a single-party state.

File:Flag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio).svg
File:Flag of Germany 1933.svg

In establishing the Dritte Reich, the Nazi régime abolished the Weimar Republic symbols, including the black-red-gold tricolour flag, and adopted new and old imperial symbolism representing the dual nature of Germany’s third empire. The previous, imperial black-white-red tricolour, mostly disused by the Weimar Republic, was restored as one of Germany's two, official, national flags; the second was the swastika flag of the Nazi party, which became the national German flag in 1935. The national anthem remained Deutschland über Alles (aka the Deutschlandlied, “Song of Germany”), yet the Nazis altered the lyrics, retaining only the initial verse, and appended to the Horst-Wessel-Lied (“Horst Wessel Song”), accompanied by the Hitler salute.

On 30 January 1934, Reich President and Chancellor Hitler formally centralised government power to himself with the Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reichs (Act to rebuild the Reich), by disbanding Länder (federal state) parliaments, and transferring states’ rights and administration to the Berlin central government. The centralization began soon after the March 1933 Enabling Act promulgation, when state governments were replaced with Reichsstatthalter (Reich governors). Local government also was deposed; Reich governors appointed mayors of cities and towns with populaces of fewer than 100,000; the Interior Minister appointed the mayors of cities with populaces greater than 100,000; and, in the cases of Berlin and Hamburg (and Vienna after the Anschluss Österreichs in 1938), President and Chancellor Adolf Hitler had personal discretion to appoint their mayors.

By spring of 1934, only the Reichswehr remained independent of government control; traditionally, it was separate from the national government, a discrete political entity. The Nazi paramilitary Sturmabteilung (SA, “Storm Detachment”) had expected to assume command of the German military; the Reichswehr opposed SA Leader Ernst Röhm’s ambition to subsume the Reichswehr to the SA. Moreover, Röhm also aimed to launch the “socialist revolution” to complement the “nationalist revolution” occurred with the political ascendancy of Adolf Hitler to German government. Röhm and the Sturmabteilung leaders wanted the regime to fulfill its campaign promise of enacting socialist legislation for Aryan Germans.


Possessing only virtual absolute power without the Reichswehr, and wanting to preserve good relations with them, and certain politicians and industrialists (weary of SA political violence), Hitler ordered the Gestapo and the Schutzstaffel (SS) to assassinate his political enemies in the Nazi Party with the “Night of the Long Knives” (30 June 1934) purges of Ernst Röhm, his SA cohort, the Strasserist, left-wing Nazis, and other political enemies.

File:Reichsparteitag 1935.jpg

Upon the death of Paul von Hindenburg, on 2 August 1934, the Nazi-controlled Reichstag consolidated the offices of Reichspräsident (Reich President) and Reichskanzler (Reich Chancellor), and reinstalled Adolf Hitler as Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Reich Chancellor). Until Hindenburg’s death, the Reichswehr did not follow Hitler, partly because the (multi-million-man) Sturmabteilung was larger than the German Army (limited to 100,000 soldiers by the Treaty of Versailles), and because the SA leaders sought to first subsume the Reichswehr to the SA, and then launch the Nazi socialist revolution. The assassination of Ernst Röhm and the SA leaders, fixed the Reichswehr’s position as the sole armed forces of the Reich, and the Führer’s imperial expansion promises guaranteed him military loyalty. Hindenburg’s death facilitated changing the German soldiers’ oath of allegiance from the Reich of the German Constitution to personal fealty to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of Germany.[15]

In the event, the Nazis ended the official NSDAP–DNVP government alliance, and began introducing Nazism and Nazi symbolism to public and private German life; textbooks were revised, or re-written to promote the Pan-German racist fantasy of Großdeutschland (Greater Germany) to be established by the Nazi Herrenvolk; teachers who opposed curricular Nazification were dismissed. Furthermore, to coerce popular obedience to the state, the Nazis established the Gestapo secret state police—independent of civil authority. The Gestapo controlled the German populace with some 100,000 spies and informers, thereby were aware of anti-Nazi criticism and dissent.

Happy with Nazi prosperity, most Germans remained silently obedient, while political opponents, especially the Communists, Marxists, and international socialists were imprisoned; “between 1933 and 1945, more than 3 million Germans had been in concentration camps, or prison, for political reasons”[16][17][18] “Tens of thousands of Germans were killed for one or another form of resistance. Between 1933 and 1945, Sondergerichte (Nazi "special courts") killed 12,000 Germans, courts martial killed 25,000 German soldiers, and civil justice killed 40,000 Germans. Many of these Germans were part of the government, civil, or military service, a circumstance which enabled them to engage in subversion and conspiracy, while involved, marginally or significantly, in the government’s policies.”[19]

World War IIEdit

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File:Second world war europe 1941-1942 map en.png

Conquest of EuropeEdit

The "Danzig crisis" peaked in early 1939, around the time that reports of controversy in the Free City of Danzig increased, the United Kingdom "guaranteed" to defend Poland's territorial integrity and the Poles rejected a series of offers by Nazi Germany regarding both the Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor. Then, the Germans broke off diplomatic relations. Hitler had learned that the Soviet Union was willing to sign a non-aggression pact with Germany and would support an attack on Poland. Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 and two days later, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany. World War II was underway, but Poland fell quickly, especially after the Soviets attacked Poland on 17 September. The United Kingdom proceeded to bomb Wilhelmshaven, Cuxhaven,[20] Heligoland[21] and other areas. Still, aside from battles at sea, no other activity occurred. Thus, the war became known as "the Phony War".

The year 1940 began with little more than the UK dropping propaganda leaflets over Prague and Vienna[22] but a German attack on the British High Seas fleet was followed by the British bombing the port city of Sylt.[23] After the Altmark Incident off the coast of Norway and the discovery of the United Kingdom's plans to encircle Germany, Hitler sent troops into Denmark and Norway. This safeguarded iron ore supplies from Sweden through coastal waters. Shortly thereafter, the British and French landed in Mid- and North Norway, but the Germans de facto defeated these forces in the ensuing Norwegian campaign.

File:British fisher boat dunkirk.png

In May 1940, the Phony War ended. Against the will of his advisors, Hitler ordered an attack on France through the Low Countries. The Battle of France ended with an overwhelming German victory. However, with the British refusing Hitler's offer of peace, the war continued.[24][25] Germany and Britain continued to fight at sea and in the air. However, on 24 August, two off-course German bombers accidentally bombed London – against Hitler's orders, changing the course of the war.[26] In response to the attack, the British bombed Berlin, which sent Hitler into a rage. The German leader ordered attacks on British cities, and the UK was bombed heavily during The Blitz.[27] This change in targeting priority interfered with the Luftwaffe's objective of achieving the air superiority over Britain necessary for an invasion and allowed British air defenses to rebuild their strength and continue the fight.

Hitler hoped to break British morale and win peace. However, the British refused to back down; eventually, Hitler called off the Battle of Britain strategic bombing campaign in favor of the long-planned invasion of the Soviet Union: Operation Barbarossa. Germany and its allies invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. On the eve of the invasion, Hitler's former deputy, Rudolf Hess, attempted to negotiate terms of peace with the United Kingdom in an unofficial private meeting after crash-landing in Scotland. By contrast, Hitler had hoped that rapid success in the Soviet Union would bring Britain to the negotiating table.

Operation Barbarossa was supposed to begin earlier than it did; however, failed Italian ventures in North Africa and the Balkans concerned Hitler. In February 1941, the German Afrika Korps was sent to Libya to aid the Italians and hold the British Commonwealth forces from British-held Egypt. As the North African Campaign continued, in spite of orders to remain on the defensive, the Afrika Korps regained lost Italian territory, pushed the British back across the desert and advanced into Egypt. In April, the Germans launched the invasion of Yugoslavia to aid friendly forces and restore order in the midst of what was believed to be a British-supported coup. This was followed by the Battle of Greece, again to bail out the Italians, and the Battle of Crete. Because of the diversions in North Africa and the Balkans, the Germans were not able to launch Barbarossa until late in June. Moreover, men and material were diverted to create the "fortified Europe" that Hitler wanted before Germany focused its attention on the East.

Nevertheless, Barbarossa began with great success. Only Hitler worried that the German Army and its allies were not advancing into the Soviet Union fast enough. By December 1941, the Germans and their allies were at the gates of Moscow; to the north, troops had reached Leningrad and surrounded the city.[28] Meanwhile, Germany and her allies controlled almost all of mainland Europe, with the exception of neutral Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Vatican City and Monaco.


On 11 December 1941, four days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. Not only was this a chance for Germany to strengthen its ties with Japan, but after months of anti-German hysteria in the American media and Lend-Lease aid to Britain, the leaking of Rainbow Five and the foreboding content of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor speech made it clear to Hitler that the US could not be kept neutral. Moreover, Germany's policy of appeasement towards the US, designed to keep the US out of the war, was a burden to Germany's war effort. Germany had refrained from attacking American convoys, even if they were bound for the United Kingdom or the Soviet Union. By contrast, after Germany declared war on the US, the German navy began unrestricted submarine warfare, using U-Boats to attack ships without warning.

The goal of Germany's navy, the Kriegsmarine, was to cut off Britain's supply line. Under these circumstances, one of the most famous naval battles in history took place, with the Template:Ship, Germany's largest and most powerful warship, attempting to break out into the Atlantic and raid supply ships heading for Britain. Bismarck was sunk – but not before sending Britain's largest warship, the battlecruiser Template:HMS, to the depths of the ocean. German U-Boats were more successful than surface raiders like Bismarck. However, Germany failed to make submarine production a top priority early on and by the time it did, the British and their allies were developing the technology and strategies to neutralize it. Furthermore, in spite of the submarines' early success in 1941 and 1942, material shortages in Britain failed to fall to their World War I levels. The Allied victory in the Battle of the Atlantic was achieved at a huge cost: between 1939 and 1945, 3,500 Allied ships were sunk (gross tonnage 14.5 million) at a cost of 783 German U-Boats.[29]


Persecution and extermination campaignsEdit

The persecution of racial, ethnic, and social minorities and "undesirables" continued in Germany and the occupied countries. From 1941, Jews were required to wear a yellow badge in public; most were kept in walled ghettos, where they remained isolated from the general populace. In January 1942, the Wannsee Conference, headed by Reinhard Heydrich (direct subordinate of SS Chief Heinrich Himmler), redacted the plans for the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" (Endlösung der Judenfrage). From then until the end of the war some six million Jews and many others, including homosexuals, Slavs, and political prisoners, were systematically killed. In addition, more than ten million people were put into forced labour. This genocide is called the Holocaust in English and the Shoah in Hebrew. Thousands were shipped daily to extermination camps and concentration camps.

Parallel to the Holocaust, the Nazis executed the Generalplan Ost (General Plan East) for the conquest, ethnic cleansing, and exploitation of the populaces of the captured Soviet and Polish territories; some 20 million Soviet civilians, 3 million gentile Poles, and 7 million Red Army soldiers were killed. The Nazis' aggressive war for Lebensraum (Living space) in eastern Europe was waged “to defend Western Civilization against the Bolshevism of subhumans”. Estimates indicate that, had the Nazis won the war, they would have deported some 51 million Slavs from Central and Eastern Europe.[30] Because of the atrocities suffered under Stalin, many Ukrainians, Balts, and other oppressed nationalities, fought for the Nazis. The populaces of Nazi-occupied Soviet Russia who racially qualified as of the Aryan race, or had no immediate Jewish ancestors, were not persecuted, and often were recruited to the Waffen Schutzstaffel (Waffen-SS) divisions; eventually, the Nazi regime meant to Germanize the racially acceptable volk of occupied eastern Europe.

Allied victoryEdit

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J16796, Rommel mit Soldaten der Legion "Freies Indien".jpg

In early 1942, the Red Army counter-attacked, and, by winter’s end, the Wehrmacht were no longer immediately outside Moscow. Yet the Germans and their fascist allies held a strong line, and, in the spring, launched a major attack against the petroleum fields of the Caucasus and the Volga River in south Russia. That established the conditions for the definitive Nazi–Soviet confrontation, the Battle of Stalingrad (17 July 1942 – 2 February 1943), wherein Germany and its allies were defeated. After winning a major tank battle at Kursk-Orel in July 1943, the Red Army progressed west, to Germany; henceforth, the Wehrmacht and allies remained on the defensive.

File:Americans cross Siegfried Line.jpg

In Libya, the Afrika Korps failed to break through the line at First Battle of El Alamein (1–27 July 1942), having suffered repercussions from the Battle of Stalingrad. Beginning in 1942, Allied bombing of Germany increased, resulting in the razing, among others, of the cities of Cologne and Dresden, killing thousands of civilians, and causing hardship for the survivors.[31] Contemporary estimates of Nazi German military dead is 5.5 million. [32]

In November 1942, the Wehrmacht and the Italian Army retreated to Tunisia, where they fought the Americans and the British in the Tunisia Campaign (17 November 1942 – 13 May 1943). The Allies invaded Sicily and Italy next, but met fierce resistance, particularly at Anzio(22 January 1944 – 5 June 1944) and Cassino (17 January 1944 – 18 May 1944), and the campaign continued from mid-1943 to nearly the end of the war. In June 1944, US and UK forces established the western front with the D-Day (6 June 1944) landings in Normandy, France. After the successful Operation Bagration (22 June – 19 August 1944), the Red Army was in Poland; and in East Prussia, West Prussia, and Silesia the German populaces fled en masse, fearing Communist persecution, atrocity, and death.

File:Reichstag flag original.jpg

Meanwhile, in the underground Führerbunker, Adolf Hitler, leader of Nazi Germany became psychologically isolated and detached, exhibiting the signs of mental illness;[citation needed] in meeting with military commanders, he began considering suicide, should Germany lose the war. In the event, the Red Army surrounded Berlin, leaving it incommunicado from Greater Germany; despite the losses of armies and lands, the Führer neither relinquished power, nor surrendered. Moreover, without communications from Berlin, Hermann Göring sent Hitler an ultimatum, threatening to assume command of Nazi Germany in April if he received no reply—which he would interpret as Hitler incapacitated. Upon receiving the ultimatum, the Führer ordered Göring's immediate arrest, and despatched an aeroplane delivering the reply to Göring in Bavaria. Later, in northern Germany, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler began communicating with the Western Allies about peace negotiations; Hitler responded violently, ordering the Reichsführer’s arrest and execution.

In spring of 1945, the Red Army was at Berlin; US and UK forces had conquered most of west Germany and met the Red Army at Torgau on the Elbe on 26 April 1945. With Berlin under siege, Hitler and key Nazi staff lived in the armoured, underground Führerbunker while aboveground, in the Battle of Berlin (16 April 1945 – 2 May 1945) the Red Army fought remnant German army forces, Hitler Youth, and the Waffen-SS, for control of the ruined capital city of Nazi Germany.

Capitulation of German forcesEdit

On 30 April 1945, as the Battle for Berlin raged and the city was being overrun by Soviet forces, Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker. Two days later, on 2 May 1945, German General Helmuth Weidling unconditionally surrendered Berlin to the Soviet General Vasily Chuikov.

Hitler was succeeded by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as Reich's President and Dr. Joseph Goebbels as Reich Chancellor. No one was to replace Hitler as the Führer, a position Hitler abolished in his will. However, Goebbels committed suicide in the Führerbunker a day after assuming office. The caretaker government Dönitz established near the Danish border unsuccessfully sought a separate peace with the Western Allies. On 4–8 May 1945 most of the remaining German armed forces throughout Europe surrendered unconditionally (German Instrument of Surrender, 1945). This was the end of World War II in Europe.

The war was the largest and most destructive in human history, with 60 million dead across the world,[33] including between 9 and 11 million people who perished during the Holocaust.[34] The Soviet Union lost around 27 million people during the war, about half of all World War II casualties.[35] Towards the end of the war, Europe had more than 40 million refugees.[36]

With the creation of the Allied Control Council on 5 July 1945, the four Allied powers "assume[d] supreme authority with respect to Germany" (Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany, U.S. Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series, No. 1520).

The Fall of the Third ReichEdit

The Potsdam Conference in August 1945 created arrangements and an outline for a new government for the post-war Germany as well as war reparations and resettlement. All German annexations in Europe after 1937, such as the Sudetenland, were reversed, and in addition subject to a peace settlement Germany's eastern border was shifted westwards to the Oder-Neisse line, effectively reducing Germany in size by approximately 25% compared to its 1937 border. The territories east of the new border comprised East Prussia, Silesia, West Prussia, two-thirds of Pomerania and parts of Brandenburg. Much of these areas were agricultural, with the exception of Upper Silesia, which was the second-largest center of German heavy industry. Many smaller and large cities such as Stettin, Königsberg, Breslau, Elbing and Danzig were cleansed of their German populations and taken from Germany as well.

France took control of a large part of Germany's remaining coal deposits. Virtually all Germans in Central Europe outside of the new eastern borders of Germany and Austria were subsequently, over a period of several years, expelled, affecting about 17 million ethnic Germans. Most casualty estimates of this expulsion range between one to two million dead. The French, US and British occupation zones later became West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany), while the Soviet zone became the communist East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, excluding sections of Berlin).

The initial repressive occupation policy in Germany by the Western Allies was reversed after a few years when the Cold War made the Germans important as allies against communism. West Germany recovered economically by the 1960s, in what was called the economic miracle (German term Wirtschaftswunder), mainly due to the currency reform of 1948 which replaced the Reichsmark with the Deutsche Mark as legal tender, halting rampant inflation, but also to a minor degree helped by economic aid (in the form of loans) through the Marshall Plan which was extended to also include West Germany. West German recovery was upheld thanks to fiscal policy and intense labour, eventually leading to the influx of Gastarbeiter ("guest workers").

The Allied dismantling of West German industry was finally halted in 1951, and in 1952 West Germany joined the European Coal and Steel Community. In 1955 the military occupation of West Germany was ended. East Germany recovered at a slower pace under communism until 1990, due to reparations paid to the Soviet Union and the effects of the centrally planned economy. Germany regained full sovereignty in 1991.


After the war, surviving Nazi leaders were put on trial by an Allied tribunal at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity. A minority were sentenced to death and executed, but a number were jailed and then released by the mid-1950s due to poor health and old age, with the notable exception of Rudolf Hess, who died in Spandau Prison in 1987 while in permanent solitary confinement. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, some renewed efforts were made in West Germany to take those who were directly responsible for "crimes against humanity" to court (e.g., Auschwitz trials). However, many of the less prominent leaders continued to live well into the 1980s and 1990s.

The victorious Allies outlawed the Nazi Party, its subsidiary organizations, and most of its symbols and emblems (including the swastika in most manifestations) throughout Germany and Austria; this prohibition remains in force. The end of Nazi Germany also saw the rise in unpopularity of related aggressive manifestations of nationalism in Germany such as Pan-Germanism and the Völkisch movement which had previously been significant political ideas there, and in other parts of Europe, before the Second World War. Those that remain are largely fringe movements. In all non-fascist European countries there were legal purges to punish the members of the former Nazi and Fascist parties. Even there, however, some of the former leaders found ways to accommodate themselves under the new circumstances.

Nuremberg Trials

Nazi German war crimes and crimes against humanity revived internationalism in Western Europe and the Eastern Bloc, resulting in the establishment of the United Nations (26 June 1945). One of the organization’s first orders of business was establishing war crimes tribunals to try Nazi officials in the Nuremberg Trials, held in the Nazis' (former) political stronghold, Nuremberg, Bavaria. The first, major and trial was the Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), of 24 key Nazi officials—including Hermann Göring, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer, Karl Dönitz, Hans Frank, and Julius Streicher. Many defendants were found guilty, 12 were sentenced to death by hanging. Many of those hanged praised Hitler in their last seconds of life, and a few officials evaded execution. Among them were Göring, who committed suicide by ingesting cyanide; Hess, (a formerly close confidant of Hitler's, sentenced to life in prison and stayed in Spandau prison until his death in 1987); Speer, (the state architect and later armaments minister who served 20 years despite his use of slave labour); Konstantin von Neurath, (a Third Reich cabinet minister who was in office before the advent of the Nazi regime); and another minister who also served in the pre-Nazi government, the economist Hjalmar Schacht. Nonetheless, some have accused the Nuremberg Trials of being “victor’s justice”, because no like action was taken to punish the war crimes and crimes against humanity of the victors.[37][38]


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To consolidate Adolf Hitler’s control of Germany, in 1935, the Nazi régime replaced the administration of the Länder (constituent states) with gaus (regional districts) headed by governors answerable to the central Reich government in Berlin. The reorganization politically weakened Prussia, which had historically dominated German politics. Moreover, despite having centralised and assumed the Gau governments, some Nazis retained leadership title to non-existent Länder; Hermann Göring, was and remained the Reichsstatthalter (Reich state governor) and Minister–President of Prussia until 1945, and Ludwig Siebert remained as Minister–President of Bavaria.

Regions and protectoratesEdit


In in the years leading to war, in addition to the Weimar Republic proper, the Reich came to include areas with ethnic German populations, such as Austria, the Czechoslovak Sudetenland, and the Lithuanian territory of Memel (the Klaipėda region). Regions conquered after war’s start, include Eupen-et-Malmédy, Alsace-Lorraine, Danzig, and territories of Poland (Second Polish Republic).

From 1939 to 1945, the Third Reich ruled Bohemia and Moravia as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, with its own currency; conquered, subjugated, and annexed before the war, like-wise, Czech Silesia was incorporated to the province of Silesia; and Luxembourg was a wartime annexation in 1942. Central Poland and Polish Galicia were governed by the protectorate General Government. Eventually, the Polish people were to be removed, and Poland proper then re-populated with 5 million Germans. By late 1943, Nazi Germany had conquered the Province of Bolzano-Bozen (South Tyrol) and Istria, which had been parts of Austria-Hungary before 1919, and seized Trieste after the (erstwhile Axis Ally) Italian Fascist government capitulated to the Allies.

Greater Germany: the ideaEdit

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Beyond the annexations were the Reichskommissariat (Reich Commissariat) administrative regions established in occupied lands; Nazi-occupied Soviet Russia included the Reichskommissariat Ostland (Eastland) and Reichskommissariat Ukraine. In northern Europe, there were the Reichskommissariat Niederlande (Netherlands) and the Reichskommissariat Norwegen (Norway), established for German colonization. In 1944, a Franco–Belgian Reichskommissariat derived from the previous Military Administration of Belgium and North France, again, established for German colonization.

The de facto borders of the Reich changed long before its vanquishment in May 1945; as the Red Army progressed westwards, the colonist German populaces fled to Germany proper, as the Western Allies advanced eastwards, from France. At war’s end, a small strip of land, from Austria to Bohemia and Moravia (and other isolated regions) was the only area not occupied by the Allies. Upon its defeat, some have historians propose that the Reich was in debellation. France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, established occupation zones. The prewar German lands east of the Oder-Neisse line and Stettin, and environs (nearly 25 per cent of pre-war German territory) were under Polish and Soviet administration, sundered for Polish and Soviet annexation; the Allies expelled the German inhabitants. In 1947, the Allied Control Council disestablished Prussia with Law No. 46 (20 May 1947); per the Potsdam Conference (6 July–2 Aug 1945), the Prussian lands east of the Oder-Neisse Line were divided and administered by Poland and the Kaliningrad Oblast, pending the final peace treaty Later, by signing the Treaty of Warsaw (1970) and the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany (1990), Germany renounced claims to territories lost during the Second World War (1939–45).[citation needed]


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In keeping with the political syncretism of fascism, the Nazi war economy was a mixed economy of free-market and central-planning practices; historian Richard Overy reports: “The German economy fell between two stools. It was not enough of a command economy to do what the Soviet system could do; yet it was not capitalist enough to rely, as America did, on the recruitment of private enterprise.”[39]

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When the Nazis assumed German government, their most pressing economic matter was a national unemployment rate of approximately 30 per cent;[40] at the start, Third Reich economic policies were the brainchildren of the economist Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, President of the Reichsbank (1933) and Minister of Economics (1934), who helped Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler implement Nazi redevelopment, reindustrialization, and rearmament of Germany; formerly, he had been Weimar Republic currency commissioner and Reichsbank president.[40] As Economics Minister, Schacht was one of few ministers who took advantage of the administrative freedom allowed by the removal of the Reichsmark from the gold standard—to maintain low interest rates, and high government deficits; the extensive, national public works, reducing the unemployment, were deficit-funded policy.[40] The consequence of Economics Minister Schacht’s administration was the extremely rapid unemployment-rate decline, the greatest of any country during the Great Depression.[40] Eventually, this Keynesian economic policy was supplemented by the increased production demands of rearmament, inflating military budgets, and increasing government spending; the 100,000-soldier Reichswehr expanded to millions, and renamed as the Wehrmacht in 1936.[40]


While the strict state intervention into the economy, and the massive rearmament policy, almost led to full employment during the 1930s (statistics didn't include non-citizens or women), real wages in Germany dropped by roughly 25% between 1933 and 1938.[41] Trade unions were abolished, as well as collective bargaining and the right to strike.[42] 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.[42]

Nazi control of business retained a diminished investment profit-incentive, controlled with economic regulation concording a company’s functioning with the Reich’s national production requirements. Government financing eventually dominated private investment; in the 1933–34 biennium, the proportion of private securities issued diminished from more than 50 per cent of the total, to approximately 10 per cent in the 1935–38 quadrennium. Heavy profit taxes limited self-financing companies, and the largest companies (usually government contractors) mostly were exempted from paying taxes on profits—in practice, however, government control allowed “only the shell of private ownership” in the Third Reich economy.[43]

In 1937, Hermann Göring replaced Schacht as Minister of Economics, and introduced the Four Year Plan that would establish German self-sufficiency for war—within four years—by curtailing foreign importations; fixing wages and prices (violators merited concentration-camp internment); stock dividends were restricted to six per cent on book capital, et cetera. Strategic goals were to be achieved regardless of cost (as in Soviet economics): thus the rapid construction of synthetic-rubber factories, steel mills, automatic textile mills, et cetera.[40]

The Four-Year Plan is discussed in the German-expansion Hossbach Memorandum (5 November 1937) meeting-summary of Hitler and his military and foreign policy leaders planning aggressive war. Nevertheless, when Nazi Germany started the Second World War, in September of 1939, the Four Year Plan’s expiry was not until 1940; to control the Reich economy, Economics Minister Göring had established the Office of the Four Year Plan. In 1942, the increased burdens of the war, and the accidental aeroplane-crash death of Reichsminister Fritz Todt, placed Albert Speer in economics ministry command; he then established a war economy in Nazi Germany, which required the large-scale employment of forced labourers. To supply the Third Reich economy with slaves, the Nazis abducted some 12 million people, from some 20 European countries; approximately 75 per cent were Eastern European.[44]


Through staffing of most government positions with Nazi Party members, by 1935 the German national government and the Nazi Party had become virtually one and the same. By 1938, through the policy of Gleichschaltung, local and state governments lost all legislative power and answered administratively to Nazi Party leaders, known as Gauleiters, who governed Gaue and Reichsgaue.


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Nazi Germany was made up of various competing power structures, all trying to gain favor with the Führer, Adolf Hitler. Thus many existing laws were stricken and replaced with interpretations of what Hitler wanted. Any high party/government official could take one of Hitler's comments and turn it into a new law, of which Hitler would casually either approve or disapprove. This became known as "working towards the Führer", as the government was not a coordinated, co-operating body, but a collection of individuals each trying to gain more power and influence through the Führer. This often made government very convoluted and divided, especially with Hitler's vague policy of creating similar posts with overlapping powers and authority. The process allowed the more unscrupulous and ambitious Nazis to get away with implementing the more radical and extreme elements of Hitler's ideology, such as anti-Semitism, and in doing so win political favor. Protected by Goebbels' extremely effective propaganda machine, which portrayed the government as a dedicated, dutiful and efficient outfit, the dog-eat-dog competition and chaotic legislation was allowed to escalate. Historical opinion is divided between "intentionalists", who believe that Hitler created this system as the only means of ensuring both the total loyalty and dedication of his supporters and the impossibility of a conspiracy; and "structuralists", who believe that the system evolved by itself and was a limitation on Hitler's supposedly totalitarian power.

Cabinet and national authoritiesEdit

Reich officesEdit

Reich ministriesEdit

State ideologyEdit

National Socialism had some of the key ideological elements of fascism which originally developed in Italy under Benito Mussolini; however, the Nazis never officially declared themselves fascists. Both ideologies involved the political use of militarism, nationalism, anti-communism and paramilitary forces, and both intended to create a dictatorial state.[citation needed] The Nazis, however, were far more racially oriented than the fascists in Italy, Portugal, and Spain. The Nazis were also intent on creating a completely totalitarian state, unlike Italian fascists who while promoting a totalitarian state, allowed a larger degree of private liberties for their citizens. These differences allowed the Italian monarchy to continue to exist and have some official powers. However the Nazis copied much of their symbolism from the Fascists in Italy, such as copying the Roman salute as the Nazi salute, use of mass rallies, both made use of uniformed paramilitaries devoted to the party (the SA in Germany and the Blackshirts in Italy), both Hitler and Mussolini were called the "Leader" (Führer in German, Duce in Italian), both were anti-Communist, both wanted an ideologically driven state, and both advocated a middle-way between capitalism and communism, commonly known as corporatism. The party itself rejected the fascist label, claiming National Socialism was an ideology unique to Germany.

The totalitarian nature of the Nazi party was one of its principal tenets. The Nazis contended that all the great achievements in the past of the German nation and its people were associated with the ideals of National Socialism, even before the ideology officially existed. Propaganda accredited the consolidation of Nazi ideals and successes of the regime to the regime's Führer ("Leader"), Adolf Hitler, who was portrayed as the genius behind the Nazi party's success and Germany's saviour.

To secure their ability to create a totalitarian state, the Nazi party's paramilitary force, the Sturmabteilung (SA) or "Storm Detachment" used acts of violence against leftists, communist, democrats, Jews and other opposition or minority groups. The SA "storm troopers" violently clashed with the Communist Party of Germany (German Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD) which created a climate of lawlessness and fear. In the cities, people were anxious over punishment or even death, if they displayed opposition to the Nazis. Given the frustrations of the people (after World War I and during the Great Depression) it was easy for the SA to attract large numbers of alienated (and unemployed) youth and working class people for the party.

The "German problem", as it is often referred to in English scholarship, focuses on the issue of administration of Germanic regions in Northern and Central Europe, an important theme throughout German history.[45] The "logic" of keeping Germany small worked in the favor of its principal economic rivals, and had been a driving force in the recreation of a Polish state.[citation needed] The goal was to create numerous counterweights in order to "balance out Germany's power".

The Nazis endorsed the concept of Großdeutschland, or Greater Germany, and believed that the incorporation of the Germanic people into one nation was a vital step towards their national success.[citation needed] It was the Nazis' passionate support of the Volk concept of Greater Germany that led to Germany's expansion, that gave legitimacy and the support needed for the Third Reich to proceed to conquer long-lost territories with overwhelmingly non-German population like former Prussian gains in Poland that it lost to Russia in the 1800s, or to acquire territories with German population like parts of Austria. The German concept of Lebensraum ("living space") or more specifically its need for an expanding German population was also claimed by the Nazi regime for territorial expansion.

Two important issues were administration of the Polish corridor and Danzig's incorporation into the Reich. As a further extension of racial policy, the Lebensraum program pertained to similar interests; the Nazis determined that Eastern Europe would be settled with ethnic Germans, and the Slavic population who met the Nazi racial standard would be absorbed into the Reich. Those not fitting the racial standard were to be used as cheap labour force or deported eastward.[46]

Racialism and racism were important aspects of society within the Third Reich. The Nazis combined anti-Semitism with anti-Communist ideology, regarding the leftist-internationalist movement—as well as international market capitalism—as the work of "Conspiratorial Jewry". They referred to this so-called movement with terminology such as the "Jewish-Bolshevistic revolution of subhumans".[47] This platform manifested itself in the displacement, internment, and systematic extermination of an estimated 11 million to 12 million people in the midst of World War II, roughly half of them being Jews targeted in what is historically remembered as the Holocaust (Shoah), 3 million ethnic Poles, and another 100,000–1,000,000 being Roma, who were murdered in the Porajmos. Other victims of Nazi persecution included communists, various political opponents, social outcasts, homosexuals, freethinkers, religious dissidents such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, the Confessing Church and Freemasons.[48]

Foreign relationsEdit

Foreign relations between Germany and the rest of Europe were riddled with political manuevres and opportunistic decisions. Fearing a second world war, Britain and France sought a policy of appeasement towards Germany, and refused aggressive foreign policies to satisfy the newly empowered Nazis. Hitler aims upon coming to power was threefold; destroy Versailles, re-unite lost German territories under the decrees of Versailles, and Lebensraum. It is said that Hitler eventually wanted Britain as an ally with eventual wars with the USSR, and eventually the USA. Hitler used the Appeasement policies of Britain and France to his opportunistic advantage when he announced in March 1935 that he would conscript men into his army and create the Luftwaffe; both a direct violation of Versailles. His foreign policies were designed to test the nerve of Britain and France so he could see what else he was able to get away with. His other concern was Italy, whom under Mussolini had become a similarly fascist country, but had so much internal civil disruption Hitler wanted a more stable and powerful ally.

Although Germany's relations with Italy improved with creation of the Rome-Berlin Axis, tensions remained high because the Nazis wanted Austria to be incorporated into Germany. Italy was opposed to this, as were France and Britain. In 1938, an Austrian-led Nazi coup took place in Austria and Germany sent in its troops, annexing the country. Italy and Britain no longer had common interests and, as Germany had stopped supporting the German speaking population under Italy's control in Bolzano-Bozen (South Tyrol), Italy began to gravitate towards Germany.

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Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in September 1938 came about during talks with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, in which Hitler, backed by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, demanded that the German territories be ceded. Chamberlain and Hitler came to an agreement when Hitler signed a piece of paper which said that with the annexation of the Sudetenland, Germany would proceed with no further territorial aims. Chamberlain took this to be a success in that it avoided a potential war with Germany. However, the Nazis helped to promote Slovakian dissention and declaring that the country was no more, seized control of the Czech part.

For quite some time, Germany had engaged in informal negotiations with Poland regarding the issue of territorial revision, but after the Munich Agreement and the reacquisition of Memel, the Nazis became increasingly vocal. Poland refused to allow the annexation of the Free City of Danzig.

Germany and the Soviet Union began talks over planning an invasion of Poland. In August 1939, the Molotov Pact was signed and Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to divide Poland along a mutually agreed set boundary. The invasion was put into effect on 1 September 1939. Last-minute Polish-German diplomatic proceedings failed, and Germany invaded Poland as scheduled. Germany alleged that Polish operatives had attacked German positions, but the result was the outbreak of World War II, as Allied forces refused to accept Germany's claims on Poland and blamed Germany for the conflict.

From 1939-1940, the so-called "Phony War" occurred, as German forces made no further advances but instead, both the Axis and Allies engaged in a propaganda campaign. However in early 1940, Germany began to concern that the British intended to stop trade between Sweden and Germany by bringing Norway into an alliance against Germany, with Norway in Allied hands, the Allies would be dangerously close to German territory. In response, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway ending the Phony War (leapfrogging the British invasion troops bound towards Norway by just 24 hours). After sweeping through the Low Countries and occupying northern France, Germany allowed French nationalist and war hero Philippe Petain to form a fascist regime in southern France known as the "French State" but more commonly referred to as Vichy France named after its capital in Vichy.

In 1941, Germany's invasion of Yugoslavia resulted in that state's splintering. In spite of Hitler's earlier view of inferiority of all Slavs, he supported Mussolini's agenda of creating a fascist puppet state of Croatia, called the Independent State of Croatia. Croatia was led by the extreme nationalist Ante Pavelić a long-time Croatian exile in Rome, whose Ustashe movement formed a government in modern-day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Ustashe were allowed to persecute Serbs, while Germany contributed to that goal in German-occupied Serbia.

From 1941 to the end of the war, Germany engaged in war with the Soviet Union in its attempt to create the Nazi colonial goal of Lebensraum "living space" for German citizens. The German occupation authorities set up occupation and colonial authorities called Reichskommissariats such as Reichskommissariat Ostland and Reichskommissariat Ukraine. The Slavic populations were to be destroyed along with Jews there to make way for German colonists.

As the fortunes of war changed, Germany was forced to occupy Italy when Mussolini was thrown out as Prime Minister by Italy's king in 1943. German forces rescued Mussolini and instructed him to establish a fascist regime in Italy called the Italian Social Republic. This was the last major foreign policy delivered. The remainder of the war saw the decline of German power and desperate attempts by Nazi officials such as Heinrich Himmler to negotiate a peace with the western Allies against the wishes of Hitler.

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Most of the judicial structures and legal codes of the Weimar Republic remained in use during the Third Reich, but significant changes within the judicial codes occurred, as well as significant changes in court rulings. The Nazi party was the only legal political party in Germany; all other political parties were banned. Most human rights of the constitution of the Weimar Republic were disabled by several Reichsgesetze ("Reich's laws"). Several minorities such as the Jews, opposition politicians and prisoners of war were deprived of most of their rights and responsibilities. The Plan to pass a Volksstrafgesetzbuch ("people's code of criminal justice") arose soon after 1933, but didn't come into reality until the end of World War II.

As a new type of court, the Volksgerichtshof ("people's court") was established in 1934, only dealing with cases of political importance. From 1934-September 1944, a total of 5,375 death sentences were spoken by the court. Not included in this numbers are the death sentences from 20 July 1944-April 1945, which are estimated at 2,000. Its most prominent jurist was Roland Freisler, who headed the court from August 1942-February 1945.


The military of the Third Reich – the Wehrmacht – was the name of the unified armed forces of Germany from 1935-1945 with Heer (Army), Kriegsmarine (Navy), Luftwaffe (Air Force) and a military organization Waffen-SS (Military branch of the Schutzstaffel, which was, de facto, a fourth branch of the Wehrmacht. The German Army furthered concepts pioneered during the First World War, combining Ground and Air Force assets into combined arms teams. Coupled with traditional war fighting methods such as encirclements and the "battle of annihilation", the German military managed many lightning quick victories in the first year of the Second World War, prompting foreign journalists to create a new word for what they witnessed: Blitzkrieg. The total number of soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht during its existence from 1935-1945 is believed to approach 18.2 million.

Racial policyEdit

The effects of Nazi social policy in Germany was divided between those considered to be "Aryan" and those considered "non-Aryan", Jewish, or part of other minority groups. For "Aryan" Germans, a number of social policies put through by the regime to benefit them were advanced for the time, including state opposition to the use of tobacco, an end to official stigmatization toward Aryan children who were born from parents outside of marriage, as well as giving financial assistance to Aryan German families who bore children.[49]

The Nazi Party pursued its racial and social policies through persecution and killing of those considered social undesirables or "enemies of the Reich".

Especially targeted were minority groups such as Jews, Romani (also known as Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses,[50] people with mental or physical disabilities and homosexuals.

In the 1930s, plans to isolate and eventually eliminate Jews completely in Germany began with the construction of ghettos, concentration camps, and labour camps which began with the 1933 construction of the Dachau concentration camp, which Heinrich Himmler officially described as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners."[51]

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In the years following the Nazi rise to power, many Jews were encouraged to leave the country and did so. By the time the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935, Jews were stripped of their German citizenship and denied government employment. Most Jews employed by Germans lost their jobs at this time, which were being taken by unemployed Germans. Notably, the government attempted to send 17,000 German Jews of Polish descent back to Poland, a decision which led to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a German Jew living in France. This provided the pretext for a pogrom the Nazi Party incited against the Jews on 9 November 1938, which specifically targeted Jewish businesses. The event was called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass, literally "Crystal Night"); the euphemism was used because the numerous broken windows made the streets look as if covered with crystals. By September 1939, more than 200,000 Jews had left Germany, with the government seizing any property they left behind.

The Nazis also undertook programs targeting "weak" or "unfit" people, such as the T-4 Euthanasia Program, killing tens of thousands of disabled and sick Germans in an effort to "maintain the purity of the German Master race" (German: Herrenvolk) as described by Nazi propagandists. The techniques of mass killing developed in these efforts would later be used in the Holocaust. Under a law passed in 1933, the Nazi regime carried out the compulsory sterilization of over 400,000 individuals labeled as having hereditary defects, ranging from mental illness to alcoholism.

Another component of the Nazi programme of creating racial purity was the Lebensborn, or "Fountain of Life" programme founded in 1936. The programme was aimed at encouraging German soldiers—mainly SS—to reproduce. This included offering SS families support services (including the adoption of racially pure children into suitable SS families) and accommodating racially valuable women, pregnant with mainly SS men's children, in care homes in Germany and throughout Occupied Europe. Lebensborn also expanded to encompass the placing of racially pure children forcibly seized from occupied countries—such as Poland—with German families.[citation needed]

The Nazis considered Jews, Romani people, Poles along with other Slavic people like the Russians, Ukrainians, Czechs and anyone else who was not an "Aryan" according to the contemporary Nazi race terminology to be Untermensch ("subhuman"). The Nazis rationalized that the Germans, being a super human (Übermenschlich) race, had a biological right to displace, eliminate and enslave inferiors.[53][54] After the war, under the "Big Plan", Generalplan Ost foresaw the eventual expulsion of more than 50 million non-Germanized Slavs of Eastern Europe through forced migration, as well as some of the Balts, beyond the Ural Mountains and into Siberia. In their place, Germans would be settled in an extended "living space" of the 1000-Year Empire. Herbert Backe was one of the orchestrators of the Hunger Plan - the plan to starve tens of millions of Slavs in order to ensure steady food supplies for the German people and troops.[55]

At the outset of World War II, the German authority in the General Government in occupied Poland ordered that all Jews face compulsory labour and that those who were physically incapable such as women and children were to be confined to ghettos.[56]

To the Nazis, a number of ideas appeared on how to answer the "Jewish Question". One method was a mass forced deportation of Jews. Adolf Eichmann suggested that Jews be forced to emigrate to Palestine.[57] Franz Rademacher made the proposal that Jews be deported to Madagascar; this proposal was supported by Himmler and was discussed by Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini but was later dismissed as impractical in 1942.[58] The idea of continuing deportations to occupied Poland was rejected by the governor, Hans Frank, of the General Government of occupied Poland as Frank refused to accept any more deportations of Jews to the territory which already had large numbers of Jews.[58] In 1942, at the Wannsee Conference, Nazi officials decided to eliminate the Jews altogether, as discussed the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question". Concentration camps like Auschwitz were converted and used gas chambers to kill as many Jews as possible. By 1945, a number of concentration camps had been liberated by Allied forces and they found the survivors to be severely malnourished. The Allies also found evidence that the Nazis were profiteering from the mass murder of Jews not only by confiscating their property and personal valuables but also by extracting gold fillings from the bodies of some Jews held in concentration camps.

Social PolicyEdit


Education under the Nazi regime focused on racial biology, population policy, culture, geography and especially physical fitness.[59] Anti-Semitic policy led to the expulsion of Jewish teachers and professors and officials from the education system.[60] All university professors were required to be a member of the National Socialist Association of University Lecturers in order to be able to be employed as professors.[61]

Social WelfareEdit

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Recent research by academics such as Götz Aly has emphasized the role of the extensive Nazi social welfare programs that focused on providing employment for German citizens and insuring a minimal living standard for German citizens. Heavily focused on was the idea of a national German community. To aid the fostering of a feeling of community, the German people's labour and entertainment experiences—from festivals, to vacation trips and traveling cinemas—were all made a part of the "Strength through Joy" (Kraft durch Freude, KdF) program. Also crucial to the building of loyalty and comradeship was the implementation of the National Labour Service and the Hitler Youth Organization, with compulsory membership. In addition to this, a number of architectural projects were undertaken. KdF created the KdF-wagen, later known as the Volkswagen ("People's Car"), which was designed to be an automobile that every German citizen would be able to afford. With the outbreak of the Second World War the car was converted into a military vehicle and civilian production was stopped. Another national project undertaken was the construction of the Autobahn, which made it the first freeway system in the world.


According to the research of Robert N. Proctor for his book The Nazi War on Cancer[62][63], Nazi Germany had arguably the most powerful anti-tobacco movement in the world. Anti-tobacco research received a strong backing from the government, and German scientists proved that cigarette smoke could cause cancer. German pioneering research on experimental epidemiology led to the 1939 paper by Franz H. Müller, and the 1943 paper by Eberhard Schairer and Erich Schöniger which convincingly demonstrated that tobacco smoking was a main culprit in lung cancer. The government urged German doctors to counsel patients against tobacco use.

German research on the dangers of tobacco was silenced after the war, and the dangers of tobacco had to be rediscovered by American and English scientists in the early 1950s, with a medical consensus arising in the early 1960s. German scientists also proved that asbestos was a health hazard, and in 1943—as the first nation in the world to offer such a benefit—Germany recognized the diseases caused by asbestos, e.g., lung cancer, as occupational illnesses eligible for compensation. The German asbestos-cancer research was later used by American lawyers doing battle against the Johns-Manville Corporation.

As part of the general public-health campaign in Nazi Germany, water supplies were cleaned up, lead and mercury were removed from consumer products, and women were urged to undergo regular screenings for breast cancer.[62][63]

Women's rightsEdit

The Nazis opposed women's feminist movement, claiming that it was Jewish-led, had a left-wing agenda (compared to Communism) and was bad for both women and men. The Nazi regime advocated a patriarchal society in which German women would recognize the "world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home."[64] Hitler claimed that women taking vital jobs away from men during the Great Depression was economically bad for families in that women were paid only 66 percent of what men earned.[64] This being said, Hitler never considered endorsing the idea of raising women's wages to avoid such a scenario again, but instead called for women to stay at home. Simultaneously with calling for women to leave work outside the home, the regime called for women to be actively supportive of the state regarding women's affairs. In 1933, Hitler appointed Gertrud Scholtz-Klink as the Reich Women's Leader, who instructed women that their primary role in society was to bear children and that women should be subservient to men, once saying "the mission of woman is to minister in the home and in her profession to the needs of life from the first to last moment of man's existence.".[64] The expectation even applied to Aryan women married to Jewish men—a necessary ingredient in the 1943 Rosenstrasse protest in which 1800 German women (joined by 4200 relatives) obliged the Nazi state to release their Jewish husbands.

The Nazi regime discouraged women from seeking higher education in secondary schools, universities and colleges.[65] The number of women allowed to enroll in universities dropped drastically under the Nazi regime, which shrank from approximately 128,000 women being enrolled in 1933 to 51,000 in 1938.[61] Female enrollment in secondary schools dropped from 437,000 in 1926 to 205,000 in 1937.[61] However with the requirement of men to be enlisted into the German armed forces during the war, women made up half of the enrollment in the education system by 1944.[61]

Organizations were made for the indoctrination of Nazi values to German women. Such organizations included the Jungmädel ("Young Girls") section of the Hitler Youth for girls from the age 10 to 14, the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM, "German Girls' League") for young women from 14 to 18.

On the issue of sexual affairs regarding women, the Nazis differed greatly from the restrictive stances on women's role in society. The Nazi regime promoted a liberal code of conduct as regards sexual matters, and were sympathetic to women bearing children out of wedlock.[49] The collapse of 19th century morals in Germany accelerated during the Third Reich, partly due to the Nazis, and greatly due to the effects of the war.[49] Promiscuity increased greatly as the war progressed, with unmarried soldiers often involved intimately with several women simultaneously.[49] Married women were often involved in multiple affairs simultaneously, with soldiers, civilians or slave labourers.[49] "Some farm wives in Württemberg had already begun using sex as a commodity, employing carnal favours as a means of getting a full day's work from foreign labourers."[49] Marriage or sexual relations between a person considered “Aryan” and one that was not were classified as Rassenschande were forbidden and under penalty (people found guilty could face concentration camp, while non-Aryans death penalty).

Despite the somewhat official restrictions, some women forged highly visible, as well as officially praised, achievements. Examples are aviatrix Hanna Reitsch and film director Leni Riefenstahl.

An example of the almost cynical way in which Nazi doctrines differed from practice is that, whilst sexual relationships among campers was explicitly forbidden, boys' and girls' camps of the Hitlerjugend associations were needlessly placed close together as if to make it happen. Pregnancy (including repercussions on established marriages) often resulted when fetching members of the Bund Deutscher Mädel were assigned to duties which juxtaposed them with tempted men.[66]

Abortion was heavily penalized in Nazi Germany unless on the grounds of "racial health"; from 1943 abortionists faced the death penalty.[67] Display of contraceptives was not allowed and Hitler himself described contraception as "violation of nature, as degradation of womanhood, motherhood and love." [68]


In 1935, the regime enacted the "Reich Nature Protection Act". While not a purely Nazi piece of legislation since parts of its influences pre-dated the Nazi rise to power, it nevertheless reflected Nazi ideology. The concept of the Dauerwald (best translated as the "perpetual forest") which included concepts such as forest management and protection was promoted and efforts were also made to curb air pollution.[69][70]

In practice, the enacted laws and policies met resistance from various ministries that sought to undermine them, and from the priority that the war-effort took to environmental protection.

Animal protection policyEdit

The Nazis had elements which were supportive of animal rights, zoos and wildlife,[71] and took several measures to ensure their protection.[72] In 1933 the regime enacted a stringent animal-protection law.[73][74] Many NSDAP leaders including Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring were supporters of animal protection. Several Nazis were environmentalists (notably Rudolf Hess), and species protection and animal welfare were significant issues in the regime.[75] Heinrich Himmler made efforts to ban the hunting of animals.[76] Göring was an animal lover and conservationist.[77] The current animal welfare laws in Germany are more or less modification of the laws introduced by the National Socialist regime.[78]


The regime sought to restore traditional values in German culture. The art and culture that came to define the Weimar Republic years was repressed. The visual arts were strictly monitored and traditional, focusing on exemplifying Germanic themes, racial purity, militarism, heroism, power, strength, and obedience. Modern abstract art and avant-garde art was removed from museums and put on special display as "degenerate art", where it was to be ridiculed. In one notable example, on 31 March 1937, huge crowds stood in line to view a special display of "degenerate art" in Munich. Art forms considered to be degenerate included Dada, Cubism, Expressionism, Fauvism, Impressionism, New Objectivity, and Surrealism. Literature written by Jewish, other non-Aryans, or authors opposed to the Nazis was destroyed by the regime. The most infamous destruction of literature was the book burnings by German students in 1933.


Despite the official attempt to forge a pure Germanic culture, one major area of the arts, architecture, under Hitler's personal guidance, was neoclassical, a style based on architecture of ancient Rome.[79] This style stood out in stark contrast and opposition to newer, more liberal, and more popular architecture styles of the time such as Art Deco. Various Roman buildings were examined by state architect Albert Speer for architectural designs for state buildings. Speer constructed huge and imposing structures such as in the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg and the new Reich Chancellery building in Berlin. One design that was pursued, but never built, was a gigantic version of the Pantheon in Rome, called the Volkshalle to be the semi-religious centre of Nazism in a renamed Berlin called Germania, which was to be the "world capital" (Welthauptstadt). Also to be constructed was a Triumphal arch several times larger than that found in Paris, which was also based upon a classical styling. Many of the designs for Germania were impractical to construct because of their size and the marshy soil underneath Berlin; materials that were to be used for construction were diverted to the war effort.

Cinema and mediaEdit

The majority of German films of the period were intended principally as works of entertainment. The import of foreign films was legally restricted after 1936 and the German industry, which was effectively nationalised in 1937, had to make up for the missing foreign films (above all American productions). Entertainment also became increasingly important in the later years of World War II when the cinema provided a distraction from Allied bombing and a string of German defeats. In both 1943 and 1944 cinema admissions in Germany exceeded a billion,[80] and the biggest box office hits of the war years were Die große Liebe (1942) and Wunschkonzert (1941), which both combine elements of the musical, wartime romance and patriotic propaganda, Frauen sind doch bessere Diplomaten (1941), a comic musical which was one of the earliest German films in colour, and Wiener Blut (1942), the adaptation of a Johann Strauß comic operetta. The importance of the cinema as a tool of the state, both for its propaganda value and its ability to keep the populace entertained, can be seen in the filming history of Veit Harlan's Kolberg (1945), the most expensive film of the era, for the shooting of which tens of thousands of soldiers were diverted from their military positions to appear as extras.[81]

Despite the emigration of many film-makers and the political restrictions, the German film industry was not without technical and aesthetic innovations, the introduction of Agfacolor film production being a notable example. Technical and aesthetic achievement could also be turned to the specific ends of the Greater German Reich, most spectacularly in the work of Leni Riefenstahl. Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935), documenting the Nuremberg Rally (1934), and Olympia (1938), documenting the 1936 Summer Olympics, pioneered techniques of camera movement and editing that have influenced many later films. Both films, particularly Triumph of the Will, remain highly controversial, as their aesthetic merit is inseparable from their propagandizing of Nationalsocialism ideals.[81]




Established in 1934, the Nationalsozialistischer Reichsbund für Leibesübungen (NSRL), (sometimes also known under the acronym NSRBL) was the umbrella organization for sports during the Third Reich.

Two major displays of Nazi German art and culture were at the 1936 Summer Olympics and at the German pavilion at the 1937 International Exposition in Paris. The 1936 Olympics was meant to display to the world the Aryan superiority of Germany to other nations. German athletes were carefully chosen not only for strength but for Aryan appearance. However, one common belief of Hitler snubbing African-American athlete Jesse Owens has recently been discovered to be technically incorrect—it was African-American athlete Cornelius Cooper Johnson who was believed to have been snubbed by Hitler, who left the medal ceremonies after awarding a German and a Finn medal. Hitler claimed it was not a snub, but that he had official business to attend to which caused him to depart. On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories, and had refused to shake his hand, Owens recounted:

"When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour in Germany." He also stated: "Hitler didn't snub me — it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram."

Hitler was criticized for this and the Olympic committee officials insisted that he greet each and every medalist, or none at all. Hitler did not attend any of the medal presentations which followed, including the one after Jesse Owens won his four medals, and met with German winners outside the stadium afterwards. [82][83]

See alsoEdit

Template:Wikiversity Template:Sisterlinks Template:Wikiatlas History






  1. The Weimar Constitution was never formally repealed. Sources : James Burnham, The Machiavellians, defenders of freedom‎, Blackstone, 1963, p. 123, Q & A at Nuremberg trial
  2. German election, 1933
  3. in 1939, before Germany acquired control of the last two regions which had been in its control before the Versailles Treaty, Alsace-Lorraine, Danzig and the part of West Prussia colloquially known as the "Polish Corridor", it had an area was 633786 sq. km., Statistisches Bundesamt (Federal Statistical Office), Statistisches Jahrbuch 2006 für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland, p. 34.
  4. Template:Citation
  5. The Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1919) concluded the Allies' peace with Austria, which was aligned with Germany during the war via the then-extant Austrian-Hungarian empire. Hungary, another principal belligerent aligned with Germany, was party to the Treaty of Trianon, a separate treaty distinct from St. Germain and Versailles. Hungary and Austria were both formed as republics after the dissolution of the Habsburg's Austrian-Hungarian empire.
  6. This was the notorious Article 231, the so-called War Guilt Clause
  7. All of Germany's foreign colonies were forfeited. The part of Germany known as the Rhineland, bordering France, was demilitarized: Germany was forbidden to have troops or military installations there.
  8. Article 231 of Versailles stipulated that Germany bore sole responsibility for the outbreak of the war.
  9. Germany would be limited to an army of 100,000 men, with mandatory lengthy terms of enlistment to prevent the establishment of reserves. The General Staff was to be dissolved along with certain military colleges. Tanks were forbidden. Limits were placed on the navy in the form of the size and types of ships permitted, including the prohibition of any submarines. A military air force was likewise forbidden.
  10. The letters Nati- in Nationalsozialist are pronounced much like "Nazi" in English. This type of syllabic shortening of words is common in German, for example Sozis for Sozialisten and Kitas for Kindertagesstätte ("day care centers").
  11. Mary Fulbrook. The Divided Nation: A History of Germany, 1918-1990. Oxford UP, 1992, 45
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    I listened to women leaders of the B.D.M.—they were invariably of the plainer type and usually unmarried—lecture their young charges on the moral and patriotic duty of bearing children for Hitler's Reich—within wedlock if possible, but without it if necessary.</span> </li>
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  82. Hyde Flippo, The 1936 Berlin Olympics: Hitler and Jesse Owens German Myth 10 from </li>
  83. Rick Shenkman, Adolf Hitler, Jesse Owens and the Olympics Myth of 1936 13 February 2002 from History News Network (article excerpted from Rick Shenkman's Legends, Lies and Cherished Myths of American History. Publisher: William Morrow & Co; 1st ed edition (November 1988) ISBN 0-688-06580-5). Ironically, it was US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who declined to invite Owens to the White House or to congratulate him in any way. See "Getting to Know the Racial Views of Our Past Presidents: What about FDR?" Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 38 (2002–2003, Winter), 44–46. </li></ol>

Further readingEdit

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