The success of Hitler and the Nazi party did not come from nowhere. The party developed and established itself in a Germany devastated by defeat in World War One and suffering an economic crisis.
Antisemitism was present in societies across Europe, and there was a rise in pseudo-scientific ideas of eugenics and ‘race theory’. The newly established democratic government of Germany, the Weimar Republic, was under attack from other political groups. Right-wing extremists blamed the country’s defeat in World War One on a conspiracy between communists and Jews.
1918 – The end of World War One. The Weimar Republic is established as a new democratic government for Germany.
1919 – The Treaty of Versailles is signed. Germany is required to accept full responsibility for the war, and must pay reparations to cover all civilian damage caused by the war – amounting to $33 billion US dollars.
The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP – abbreviated to Nazi) is established, combining right wing nationalism with socialist economic ideas. Dominant themes in Nazi ideology were a racist and antisemitic German nationalism, fierce opposition to communism, rejection of liberal democratic government structures, and opposition to big business.
1921 – Adolf Hitler became Party Chairman.
1921-1922 – Support for the Nazis grows due to the appeal to young unemployed men who were suffering due to the economic crisis under the Weimar Republic.
1922 – Inspired by the Fascist Party in Italy, Hitler introduced the straight-armed salute, which became synonymous with the Nazi party, and is still used by Neo-Nazi and Fascist groups today.
1923 – The Nazi Party carried out an unsuccessful coup against the government which resulted in Hitler’s arrest. He used his trial as a platform to talk about his Nazi ideologies, gaining much greater notoriety. Whilst in prison Hitler wrote his manifesto Mein Kampf (My Struggle) in which he outlined his ideology and violent antisemitism.
1925-29 – After his release from prison in 1924, Hitler announced that the Party would take a legal path to power, and despite poor results in elections, support was developed. Mein Kampf was published in 1925.
1929 – On the eve of the Great Depression, the Nazi Party had around 130,000 members. The Nazis gained support during the economic crisis by promoting the idea that Germany’s problems were the fault of Jewish financiers, building on existing antisemitic sentiment.
1930 – Nazi electoral support surged to 18% as traditional right wing and centrist parties struggled to respond to spiraling unemployment and business failures.
1932 – The Nazis became the largest party in the German parliament, winning over 37% of the vote. Stable government became impossible with the Nazi Party and the Communist Party both opposing the democratic constitution, and controlling over half the seats in parliament between them. A second election also proved inconclusive, though the Nazi majority was reduced.
January – The traditional right wing President, Paul Von Hindenburg, was persuaded to appoint Hitler as Chancellor (German equivalent of Prime Minister) with a cabinet with a minority of Nazi ministers. Once in office, Hitler quickly secured almost unlimited power through manipulation and terror, though he remained publicly respectful to the President.
February – When a fire destroyed the German parliament in February 1933, Hitler claimed the country faced a communist plot. He used the situation to justify an ‘Enabling Act’ which gave him dictatorial powers.
March – The first concentration camp was set up in Dachau, southern Germany. Communists, Social Democrats, trade unionists, and other political opponents of the Nazi regime were imprisoned there.
July – The Nazi Party was declared the only legal political party in Germany.
1934 – In June 1934 Hitler ordered a ruthless purge of political rivals – resulting in the murder of over 80 individuals. This was primarily aimed at the Sturmabteilung (SA) – the Nazi’s paramilitary wing – which threatened the traditional German military, and which presented a potential alternative power structure to those loyal to Hitler. The defeat of the SA allowed Himmler’s Schutzstaffel (SS) – the Nazi paramilitary group most loyal to Hitler – to assert itself as the most powerful and feared organisation in Nazi Germany. ‘The Night of the Long Knives’ also targeted other political opponents such as left-wing Nazis and traditional conservatives – cementing Hitler’s political dominance. When President Hindenburg died a couple of months later Hitler proclaimed himself Führer – supreme leader of Germany.