Rise of The Third Reich
The moment the pen hit the paper and the ink was dry on the Treaty of Versailles, the weight of the excessive sanctions began to take its toll on the German economy and people. The elite of German society, dissatisfied with the interim government and the subsequent Weimar Republic, started to gather in beer halls and backrooms in an effort to rile the German people up and invigorate them to save Germany and bring back its honor.
One of these individuals was Dietrich Eckart, who was a well-known playwright and journalist. He, along with other members of his political circle, had been looking for a confident and charismatic individual to lead the German Workers’ Party since its inception in 1919. Little did Eckart know that the German military was going to send him the perfect candidate.
In September of 1919, the German military was hearing more and more about extremist meetings taking place in several of the Munich beer halls. This kind of rhetoric would never do. These extremists were spewing anti-republic statements and socialist points of view aimed at undermining the Weimar Republic. In order to get a handle on these radicals that seemed to be gaining steam with the German people, the military intelligence division began inserting spies into the proceedings.
One of these was a young man named Adolf Hitler. As young Adolf sat and listened to what the party leaders were saying, he found himself agreeing with them and unable to complete his mission. Then one night in a fever of excitement, Adolf set his notepad down, stood up from the table, and began to speak.
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The party leader, Anton Drexler, and Dietrich Eckart, Drexler’s right hand, watched on. Eckart was mesmerized and soon realized he had found what he had been looking for in this disheveled but passionate young man. Drexler, though, wasn’t convinced, but Eckart’s excitement about this boy’s future pushed the idea anyway. Soon, Adolf was not only a member of the German Workers’ Party but a vital tool used to spout its propaganda and the party’s 25-point plan to elevate and transform Germany back to its former glory.
Hitler rose through the ranks of the party quickly, and by July of 1921, he became the head of the party, removing Anton Drexler as the party leader. Along with this new leader came new ideas, and the first thing would be a new name. Hitler, encouraged by his new place in the hierarchy, would urge his comrades to adopt the name National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), and this version of the GWP would become the Nazi Party that would lead Germany into a war with the rest of the world.
Europe was changing, and with that change came a surge of nationalism and socialism—why shouldn’t Germany be riding the wave? For instance, in Italy, Benito Mussolini had seen an opening and seized power. Hitler was intrigued by the way Benito Mussolini had used division and Italian nationalism to work his way into power. (Later, in Hitler’s push for European dominance, Mussolini would become an ally).
Hitler would encourage his party to follow suit and attempt a coup. The party would have to start small, and why not in their very own corner of Germany, Bavaria. Then once they had a hold of the government in Bavaria, they could turn their attention to the capital, Berlin. There had been rumblings of the leaders of Bavaria talking of a fight for independence. Hitler and his inner circle knew if they were going to make their move, it would have to be soon.
However, though Hitler had been leading the party well, the inner circle of the party wasn’t sure the old guard politicians of the Bavarian province would be convinced by this upstart. They sought support from a German war hero, Erich Ludendorff. Once Ludendorff had signed on, the plan was formulated.
On the night of November 9th, 1921, the Nazi Party would march on one of the Munich beer halls where the leaders of the city were allegedly meeting to discuss Bavarian succession from the German state. Along with this location, the plan was to take control of other key sites, like the police station, to ensure the turnover of power went without a hitch.
The Nazi SA brownshirts and Hitler himself would take the beer hall while more brownshirts and their leader, Ernst Rohm, would concentrate on the police station. Once Hitler had secured the beer hall, Ludendorff would arrive and appeal to the German politicians on behalf of the party.
The plan was sound and may have worked if all had happened as discussed. Hitler railed at the captured Munich leaders, insisting they relinquish control, and that there needed to be a change in Germany for the state to gain its once former glory. It seemed as if they would all stick to their convictions even after Hitler, in a fit of rage, pointed a gun at one of their heads. The wheels were coming off this plan, and someone desperately needed to get them back on.
The one tool the party had that could sway these stubborn elitists was Ludendorff, and unfortunately, he was running late. Ludendorff finally arrived, and seeing that Hitler was clearly struggling to convince his comrades to join the cause, he took over the negotiations. Tired of dealing with the high and mighty politicians, Hitler left to address other issues that had arisen while Ludendorff pleaded with the captured leaders to change their minds. Seeing that it was going to take more effort to get the politicians on the side of the party, Hitler ordered the rest of the missions scrapped for now. The party still had one big move up their sleeve, but first, Ludendorff would have to do the job he was hired to do.
Ludendorff would appeal to the captured leaders’ German pride and better judgment. After all was said, one of the men would stand up, shake hands, and agree to stand on the side of Hitler and the Nazi Party. However, this was a lie, and he never intended to back Hitler’s play for power. The moment they were free, he planned to take down this right-wing extremist group and free Germany from their insane ideology.
The following morning, Hitler and Ludendorff, along with members of the Nazi Party, gathered once again and, with conviction, marched to the center of town, intent on claiming their vestry and announcing they were now in power. Unfortunately for Hitler and his cronies, that was not what happened. The three thousand plus Nazis that marched were met with a volley of fire from the Munich police. Mayhem ensued, and several Nazis were killed or injured, including Hermann Goring—this would send him into the arms of an addiction that would plague the rest of his life. Hitler escaped. After two days of searching the city from top to bottom, the Munich police finally found and arrested Hitler.
After Hitler and several of his inner circle, including Rudolph Hess and Ernst Rohm, were imprisoned, the Bavarian state looked to make an example of them. The only way to show the people they were not going to take this was a very public trial. Making this a public spectacle would mean inviting the media to be part of the proceedings, and once this was done and the stage set, the trial pushed on.
Hitler saw the media as a way to get his name and message out to the whole of Germany. Seizing the free press, Hitler prepared to go off on tirades that would be nothing more than his beer hall speech. These tirades were effective, though. Not only was this right-wing extremist now known throughout Germany, but he had been able to sway many of the very people that had put him here—there was validity in what he was saying.
Many historians feel that was why when all was said and done, Hitler was given a mere five-month sentence.
Though the verdict was more like a vacation as he was given not only a personal assistant—Rudolf Hess—but also anything he asked for. His cell was littered with books, a gramophone, and looked more like an office than a prison cell. Hitler was even allowed guests and continued working with the party throughout his sentence.
As Hitler and his assistant wiled away their time, Hess began to stroke Hitler’s ego, raving about his leader’s genius. Eventually, at the behest of Hess, Hitler would begin to jot down his thoughts and ideas, and when he was released in December of 1924, he had the beginning of his famous but vitriolic novel “Mein Kampf.” The final manuscript would not be finished until the middle of 1925. With the publishing of this book, the personal ideologies of Hitler were laid out in great detail. Many of these ideas would form the base for the horrific and evil machinations of the Third Reich.
While Hitler had been in prison, the party had begun to rebuild and started to turn away from much of the ideology of pre-beer hall putsch Nazis. Even with this pivot from the party’s initial platform, Hitler would soon find his footing within the party once again and steer it toward a less bloody form of a coup.
When Hitler emerged from his cell, he knew where the party had gone wrong. The use of force and violence would not work in this country as it did in Italy. Instead, the Nazis’ way into power would be to take control of the political institution. Over the next several years, Hitler and his Nazi Party would begin working their way into the Reichstag. Their views, however, were still hard to get the German people to back, as the country was riding a wave of prosperity. But fate would soon bring them the misfortune they needed to gain the attention of the German people.
In 1924, the Dawes Plan was enacted, which tied Germany’s economy directly to the economy of the U.S., and in 1929, when the stock market crashed, so did Germany’s economy. Over the next several years, the Nazi Party would work their way to a majority rule in the Reichstag. They would also find ways to introduce censorship as well as remove the German people’s civil liberties.
By July of 1933, Hitler had passed the Enabling Act, making him a dictator for four years and allowed for the dissolution of all other political parties, leaving the Nazi Party the only legal political party left. Hitler’s power was almost absolute except for the presence of President Hindenburg.
On August 2nd, 1934, that last obstacle was removed when the mighty WWI war hero, President Hindenburg, died. After this tragedy, amidst the mourning for the beloved leader, Hitler would merge the president and chancellor post and become the supreme leader of the German state. The Nazi plan could now be freely implemented, and there was no one to stop them!
1935-1939: WWII Begins
With the power firmly in Hitler and the Nazis’ hands, they were free to begin putting their ultimate plan in motion. The scheme started in the spring of 1935, with the institution of their first assault on the Jewish community of Germany. Over the following months, the party would take away the right for German Jews to fly the flag, to serve in the military, and they outlined a way to define what it was to be Jewish, as well as stripped those they deemed Jewish of their German citizenship.
The culmination of these acts would lead to the Nuremberg Laws, which were the tool by which the atrocities of the Holocaust would be propagated. Amidst the flurry of anti-Jewish laws and decrees, Hitler also announced the reformation of the German military. The German industrial complex would start the race to rearmament—though this was already being done in secret—and building the German military into a machine that would unleash its wrath four years later.
If 1935 was the launch of their war on the Jewish population of Europe, then 1936 was the consolidation of power in regards to the police and control of the overall German populace. The state police would be merged and placed under the control of two of Hitler’s inner circle, Hermann Goring and Henrich Himmler.
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For the police forces in the Prussian province, they would report to Goring’s Gestapo, while the remainder of Germany would fall under Himmler’s Schutzstaffel, otherwise known as the SS. Hitler, and his leadership knew if they were going to control the narrative and bend the people to their will, they were going to need control of all military forces, and this included local police. Alliances would also play a part in 1936. The Reich needed to form partnerships with like-minded individuals as well as other empires that might throw a hitch in their expansionist plans.
Hitler started with his neighbor to the south and fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. The Pact of Steel was an agreement initially meant to be with Italy and Japan but would eventually just be between the two European nations. To solidify support when the war broke out, Hitler knew that having Mussolini on his side would be beneficial. Plus, Hitler respected and admired Mussolini for his leadership and control over his people. Japan would be left out of the actual signing of the treaty as they did not have the same focus as the two other nations. Japan, having had years of confrontation with the Russians, wanted to focus the conflict on that front, but Germany and Italy knew that Britain was far more dangerous.
Along with these treaties and agreements, Hitler also sided with Spain’s fascist leader, Franco. It seemed like Hitler was quietly moving his pieces into place to begin his push back against the Allied forces that had forced Germany into signing the Treaty of Versailles. The first shot across the bow would be the re-entry into the Rhineland of German troops.
That same year in August, Hitler’s new Reich would be under the scrutiny of the world as Berlin would be the stage for the Olympics. The months leading up to this event were filled with concealment of what had been occurring in Germany over the last two years. Hitler took money from the coffers to build new and exciting buildings to enforce the economic solvency and physical strength of the new German Reich.
The propaganda and atrocities committed against the Jewish citizens of Germany were wiped away and hidden. He wanted the world to know that they had not defeated the German people, that they were strong, proud, and ready to be a force in the world economic stage. Hitler wanted to make a statement and took significant measures to do so.
Under the world’s watchful eyes, Hitler had managed to build the German Army up with no push back from Britain or France, and in January of 1937, he made his intentions very clear. Standing in front of the Reichstag, Hitler called for Germany to withdraw from the Treaty of Versailles. This decree would send ripples throughout Europe, and yet still, there was no retaliation or push back from the Allied forces. With his intentions out in the open just 11 months later, Hitler would gather his military leaders and plot out the plans for German expansion—or reclamation of German lands as he called it—and war.
The push would begin in the spring of 1938. Hitler’s campaign to reunite all German-speaking people of Europe would commence with the annexation or Anschluss of his homeland, Austria. Word of the German’s intention to take Austria found its way into the ear of the Austrian chancellor. Knowing he had only one chance, Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg immediately asked for a meeting with the Fuhrer. He hoped to keep Austria as an autonomous state, but this would not be the case. Instead, Hitler, using his power, urged the chancellor to appoint Nazis to his cabinet and call for a national vote on the Anschluss. The vote would not take place, though. The Austrian chancellor, under pressure from the Reich’s leader, resigned from his post just two days after the meeting. The chancellor knew his nation would not stand a chance against the Nazi forces and so he stood before his people and pleaded for them to offer no resistance. The people listened, and on March 12th, German forces led by Hitler moved into the country, greeted by adoring throngs of Austrians. The next day, the annexation was made official, and Hitler had been successful in the first step of his plan.
Once Hitler rolled into Austria, the next target was the Sudetenland, which was part of Czechoslovakia. The Sudeten Germans had been helping the Nazis prepare this maneuver for quite a while. In 1919, with the Treaty of St. Germain, the strip of land that includes Bohemia and Moravia was given to Czechoslovakia. The native Germans that were left behind this new border felt as if they were disconnected from their heritage, and many felt persecuted by the native Czech population. When Germany and the Nazi Party began its rise, they initiated preparations for reunification with their motherland.
In the fall of 1938, it was time, and Hitler demanded that the German-speaking region of Czechoslovakia be returned to Germany. Its people were set free from the persecution they had been exposed to. Germany moved troops into the Sudetenland, and finally, the world took notice.
The Allied forces felt that Hitler had pushed the envelope just a little too far, and the leaders of Italy, France, and Britain joined Hitler in Munich—the Czech people were not represented in the meeting—to discuss Hitler’s demands. In the end, the Treaty of Munich was signed. In this, it was decided that the land would be returned to Germany. The agreement was made with the understanding that the area in question was all Hitler and Germany wanted. With a peace treaty signed, the leaders returned home to their countries, looking like heroes. With the matter settled, Hitler’s forces rolled into the Sudetenland, occupied in the spring of 1939.
While the German troops stood their ground in the Sudetenland, Hitler moved on to his next land grab. He felt there was another nation that had received quite a bit of land that was German by right, Poland. In January of 1939, Hitter declared that the city of Danzig to be German and proclaimed its people would soon be reunited with their brethren.
The statement ignited a flurry of anxiety in Britain and France. The two countries now feared that German aggression was all but a forgone conclusion. Not ready to begin his assault on Poland yet, Hitler turned his attention back to Czechoslovakia and marched deeper into the country, occupying its entirety and breaking the Treaty of Munich. Now with a sufficient foothold in Czechoslovakia, he could focus all his attention on Poland.
Worried that the Russians would attack his troops from the east if he pushed too far into Poland, Hitler and his military leaders decided that the only way to stop that was to enter into a treaty with Russia. Although Hitler was bitterly opposed to the idea of communism, he knew this was the only way to ensure that his efforts to push into Poland would be successful.
In August of 1938, Hitler and Stalin met and signed a non-aggression pact in which there was a detailed clause on how Poland would be divided between the two mighty empires. With that taken care of, Hitler was now free to send his troops into Poland, and that is precisely what he did.
With this blatant disregard for the laws laid out in the Treaty of Versailles, France and Britain now had no other choice but to declare war, and WWII began!