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Adolf Hitler and Nazism

1. Background

Nazism was a political ideology that talked about the need to revive the glorious past of the Germans. The Nazi ideology was an authoritarian state ideology. It urged people to contribute towards the growth of the state and did not appreciate any questioning of state policy by citizens. It also strongly hold anti-Communist and anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish). The Nazis often blamed Jews and Communists unjustifiably for the ills and weakness of Germany and the hardships faced by the German population in the aftermath of the World War 1.

2. Factors Responsible for the Emergence of Nazism

The humiliation imposed by the Treaty of Versailles (1919) fuelled the revengeful attitude in Germany.

Moreover, the weak and ineffective rule of the Weimar Republic also acted as a major factor which failed to revive the German economy or address its challenges. The Great Depression of 1929 further weakened the German economy and fuelled more discontent against the Weimar Republic.

A relatively weak and immature democracy that was established in Germany post-World war 1 also favoured the rise of Nazism, it failed to impose any effective checks and balances as Hitler tried to concentrate powers in his hand from 1932 – 1935.

To add, the Charismatic personality and the oratory skills of Hitler, and the lofty promises made by him  helped Nazism to flourish in Germany. Hitler had promised the restoration of the German pride to the nationalists, employment and better wages to the workers, limiting the communist powers to the capitalist class and more land to the farmers as he talked about Lebensraum.

Along with these factors, the Darwin’s concept of evolution & natural selection, and Herbert Spencer’s survival of fittest etc., were used by the racist thinkers and politicians to justify imperial rule over the conquered peoples. They felt that the Aryan race was the finest; it had to retain its purity, become stronger and dominate the world.

3. Events Leading to the Rise of Hitler

In 1919, after the end of World War 1, Germany was forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Versailles.

Further, the Weimar republic was established in Germany as Kaiser William II abdicated the throne. Hitler who had served in the German Army during World war 1 and subscribed to ‘Stab in the Back theory’, blamed German defeat in World war 1 on the German political class or the Weimar Republic. The theory suggested that the premature surrender by the German political class was responsible for the defeat in WW 1 rather than any inherent weakness of the army.

Image: German Workers party Logo; Reference:

In 1919, Hitler joined the DAP (German Worker’s Party), a newly emerging political party with strong views on the racial superiority of Germans and anti-Semitic, anti-Communist sentiments. By 1921, Hitler rose to the position of party President in DAP, which was now reconfigured as NSDAP (Nationalists, Socialists German Workers Party). (By Socialism, it only meant a stronger state).

Moreover, the Weimar Constitution was established based on the Proportional representation with the Semi Presidential system where the president would be elected directly and the prime minister from parliament.

From 1919 – 1923 the Weimar Republic failed to bring any effective resolution of the key economic challenges such as unemployment, shortages of goods and high prices etc. The weak and indecisive coalition government of the Weimar Republic, coupled with the economic mismanagement and the hyperinflation, led to a total collapse of the German economy and further fuelled the public discontent.

The handover of the SAAR and RUHR region between 1921 and 1925 to France to pay war indemnity was a further humiliation.

As a result of these actions, Hitler’s NSDAP (Nazi Party) blamed the Weimer Republic for the ills of Germany and argued for its overthrow. Further, Hitler being inspired by Mussolini’s March on Rome carried out in 1922 to capture state power.

Image: The Nazis;

In 1923, Hitler also attempted to carry out the Beer Hall Putsch to bring about an armed overthrow of the Weimar Republic. He failed and was imprisoned for 5 yrs. (of which he spent only ten months in prison), and the Nazi party was banned.

While in prison, during 1923 -24, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, in which he again blamed the Weimar Republic, Communists and Jews for the ills of Germany. The book was sold for more than 5 lakh copies during this period, and the popularity of Hitler soared. During 1925-1932, Hitler also gave a large number of speeches and his popularity increased further.

Further, in 1928 – Hitler’s Nazi party (National Socialist German Workers’ Party –NSDAP) received 3% of votes, and the Hung parliament came. However, in1929 – The Great Depression broke out and adversely impacted the German economy, which was witnessing a revival during this period.

In 1930 – Fresh parliamentary elections (Reichstag) were held, and Hitler’s Nazi party secured 18.5% of the votes emerging as 2nd most popular party after the Communist Party. However, it still remained a Hung parliament.

In 1932 Presidential elections, Hitler contested against General Von Hindenberg and came 2ndwith 36.5% of votes. Hindenbergbecame the President, however, the German Capitalist class intervened and argued that the president must appoint Hitler as the interim Prime Minister while Fresh elections could be held later.

In 1933, the Reichstag fire incident (burning of the parliament building in Berlin) was blamed by the Nazi party on the Communists. The Nazis also urged Hindenberg to impose an emergency. However, Hindenberg died in 1934, making Hitler became de-facto in charge of the German government and by ‘Enabling Act, 1933’, the dictatorship was already established in Germany. It gave all powers to side-line parliament & rule by decree to Hitler. All the political parties and trade unions were banned except for the Nazi party and its affiliates.

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4. Policies of Hitler

The state in Germany established complete control over the economy, media, army and the Judiciary. Moreover, special surveillance and security forces were created to control and order the society in the manner that the Nazis wanted. A Secret state police (Gestapo), SS (the protection squads), criminal police & the security service (SD) also made the Nazi state a dreaded criminal state.

In 1935, Hitler introduced the Military Conscription under which the teenagers were also inducted into the army. This largely increased the size of the German army and was a clear violation of the Treaty of Versailles.

Image: Hitler addressing the people

Further, Hitler launched a wider crackdown against a communist party which was banned. In 1935, The Night of Long Knives was unleashed as top Communist leaders and Hitler’s rivals in the Nazi party were eliminated. Thus, Hitler consolidated his hold over Germany.

Hitler also gave the orders for re-establishing the Navy and forming the Air Force, and sent troops to remilitarize the Rhineland region. Further in 1938, in a clear violation of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany annexed Austria. The League of Nations did not take any action.

The western portion of Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland region, which had a German-speaking population, was also captured by Germany. As a result, in 1938, Czechoslovakia appealed to the League of Nations and the Munich peace conference was called in which Germany agreed not to expand any further in Czechoslovakia while its control over the Sudetenland region would be recognized.

However, a couple of months later, Hitler broke the treaty to annex Czechoslovakia completely, while the League of Nations failed to take any swift action against it.

By 1939, despite the former professed strongly anti-Communist views, Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union as he sought to invade Poland to reunite Eastern Prussia for moving ahead with the creation of Greater Germany.

5. The Aftermath

Hitler’s foreign policy such as Pulling out of the league of Nations in 1933, reoccupation of Rhineland in 1936, Integrating Austria, and Germany in 1938 under ‘one people, one empire, one leader’ policy etc. played an important role in setting up the national and global actions. Further, his demand to wrest Sudetenland, a German-speaking region from Czechoslovakia also added fuel to the whole scenario.

England who also thought the Versailles treaty harsh always supported Germany. Hitler was advised on his huge expenses on the rearmament of the state, but he chose war as the way for accumulating resources and helping the economy.

Image: German invasion of Poland

As a result, in 1939, Germany invaded Poland and the 2nd World War started. In 1940 ‘Tripartite pact’ was also signed between Germany, Italy and Japan, strengthening Hitler’s claim to international power. Many puppet regimes supportive of Nazi Germany were installed in the large parts of Europe and by 1940, Hitler was at the pinnacle of his power.

Hitler, further, moved to the East Europe and attacked the Soviet Union in 1941. Soviet Red army inflicted a crushing and humiliating defeat on Germany at Stalingrad and established Soviet hegemony over the entire Eastern Europe for half a century thereafter.

Parallelly, Japan was also expanding its power in the east. It occupied French, Indo-China and with Hitler’s support, bombed the US base at pearl harbour. The war, at last, ended in 1945 with Hitler’s defeat and the US dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima in Japan.

6. Summary

The rise of Nazism both as an ideology and the form of state governance under Hitler can be attributed to the post World War conditions that were prevailing in Germany and the impositions made under the Treaty of Versailles.  Further, the 1929 Great Depressions and the deteriorating state of the economy also contributed to the rise of Hitler.

Hitler introduced several policy frameworks such as establishment of complete state control on the economy, introduction of the military conscription and secret police service etc. which made the Hitler to rise as an authoritarian leader. Furthermore, the holocaust of the Jews and the expansionist policies such as seen during the invasion of Poland, which made the occurrence of the Second World War as an irresistible fact.

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7. Multiple Choice Question

1] Nazism as an ideology promoted which of the following thing?
a) Need to revive the glorious past of the Germans.
b) Establish an authoritarian state control
c) Both a and b
d) None of the above

Show Answer

Ans: c) Both a and b

2] Which theory was subscribed by Hitler during the First world War?
a) Policy of blood and iron
b) Wolf warrior diplomacy
c) Stab in the back theory
d) Carrot and Stick policy

Show Answer

Ans: c) Stab in the back theory

3] What do you mean By DAP?
a) The German Parliament
b) Emerging political party based on the racial superiority
c) Alliance of the Central Powers
d) Weimar Constitution

Show Answer

Ans: b) Emerging political party based on the racial superiority

4] What is the Reichstag Fire Incident?
a) Burning of the Parliament building in Berlin
b) Formation of the Weimer Republic
c) Russian Invasion of Reichstag
d) Outbreak of the revolution against Hitler

Show Answer

Ans: a) Burning of the Parliament building in Berlin

5] Why the military conscription was introduced?
a) To plan the invasion of Poland
b) Re-establish the navy
c) To induct teenagers in the army
d) To capture Sudetenland

Show Answer

Ans: c) To induct teenagers in the army

6] The tripartite pact was signed between whom?
a) Germany, Italy and Japan
b) France and Germany
c) Britain, Russia and USA
d) Australia, Japan and Korea

Show Answer

Ans: a) Germany, Italy and Japan

7] Sudetenland was a part of which region?
a) Stalingrad
b) Poland
c) Belgium
d) Czechoslovakia

Show Answer

Ans: d) Czechoslovakia

8] Gestapo refers to which of the following?
a) Secret state police
b) Protection squad
c) Military force
d) Secret service

Show Answer

Ans: a) Secret state police

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A very good article