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“”"You are right. He (Hitler) did not, but millions of Germans did betray their selves. That was the tragedy; not that one man had the courage to be evil but that millions had not the courage to be good.”
|—John Fowles, The Magus|
| A lunatic Chaplin imitator|
and his greatest fans
|First as tragedy|
|Then as farce|
Nazi Germany is the period of German history between 1933 and 1945 during which one of the most evil men in the history of the world became German Chancellor, took over most of Europe, and started the most devastating war in human history, which flattened entire cities and cost tens of millions of lives. Besides killing civilians in war, he also had a pet project of building death camps, which killed an additional six million Jews, three million non-Jewish Poles, 700,000 Soviet prisoners of war, as well as Romani, homosexuals, and anyone else who got in the way of the German geopolitical strategy of seizing Lebensraum in Eastern Europe.
Like other fascist movements, the Nazis were intensely nationalistic and thus obsessed with achieving ethnic homogeneity within claimed national territory. Unlike most other fascist movements of the time, "Germanness" was given a racial bent, and thus provided the nonsense about Blut und Boden[note 1] for an ideological gloss on the geopolitical strategy of territorial aggrandizement.
A brief history
“”Even after the triumph of the 1930 election, many intelligent and informed observers of the German political scene felt that the Nazi party was bound sooner or later to collapse and break up into its component parts. Its social base was diffuse – that of an out and out protest party; it had no clear political programme to offer, only a contradictory amalgam of social revolutionary rhetoric and reactionary impulses; and not least it was heavily dependent on the personality cult surrounding the demagogue Hitler – seen as the mouthpiece of petty-bourgeois resentments, but ultimately a dilettante who, despite temporary success in the conditions of severe economic and political crisis, was bound in the end to succumb to the real power bastions and traditional ruling elites.
The early 1930s was a pretty lousy time for most the world, what with the Great Depression and all; this led to increased support for extremism, such as communism and fascism as well as the fall of most liberal governments across the world. After the Nazi's meteoric rise in popularity that left them as one of the largest parties in the Reichstag (Parliament) and a failed attempt to channel support away from him, Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933.. Shortly thereafter, the German Reichstag building was burned and left-wing extremists were blamed for it (although the Nazis may have done it themselves). An "emergency" was declared and Hitler was able to harass voters into voting for him and his right-wing allies. This coalition government gained a slim supermajority in the Reichstag and wasted little time granting him dictatorial powers less than a month later in the infamous 1933 Enabling Act, leading to him rewarding his political allies by banning their existence in favor of a one party state.External dissent removed, internal Nazi opposition was crushed in 1934 in the Night of the Long Knives, cleansing the party of both the SA paramilitary and most left-wing Nazis that might have hurt Hitler's alliance with the Right-Wing. Finally, with the death of German president Paul von Hindenburg, he consolidated the offices of Chancellor and President to create the position of "Fuhrer" in order to remove the last legal opposition to his rule.
His home front mostly secured, Hitler used the western allies desire to avoid another World War (as well as their lack of desire to start one when they weren't ready to do so) to convince Britain and France that his re-militarization of the Rhineland, annexation of Austria and his occupation of the Sudetenland would be all he wanted. After his invasion of the rest of Czechoslovakia, they wised up and by the time he ordered the (successful) invasion of western Poland in 1939 decided war was better to letting him do whatever he wanted. That ultimately touched off WWII in Europe and after six years of fighting and the death of 25 million Europeans (mostly Russians and other East European populations), Hitler, together with many other senior Nazi leaders, chose suicide.
In the postwar settlement, the Soviet Union got the eastern half of Germany that was not slated for inclusion in a redrawn Poland (gaining territory after the Soviets took the lands they invaded in 1939) while the United States and its (now junior) allies, the UK and France, got the remaining two-thirds of Germany. West Germany prospered while East Germany continued to suffer Stalinist oppression. A divided Germany was a Germany that could be deemed safe by all of the victorious allies. But it all worked out in the end, and now Germany has a nice democracy where extremism is against the law and Scientology discouraged. Also, Berlin ended up dominating most of Europe economically anyway.
"A Third Reich"
In one of the biggest propaganda moves by the Nazis, they declared Germany under their reign to be a "Drittes Reich" (Third Reich). It was largely a move by propagandists trying to legitimize their rule by linking their "empire" with historical German empires that they considered to be terrific such as "First Reich" known to most sane people as the "Holy Roman Empire (900's - 1806) and the "Second Reich" which was the German Empire as it existed from 1871 until 1918.[note 2] According to the Nazis, Hitler's new "German Empire" would be the third and greatest of these. Instead, it lasted for twelve years and ended with the utter ruin and defeat of Germany.
In a regime known for making grandiose proclamations, this was likely one of the biggest, and with the least support. First, stepping back a bit, the official name of the German Empire (1871-1918) was the Deutsches Reich ("German Realm" or "German Empire"). Following defeat in World War I and the abdication and removal of the various German monarchs (Imperial Germany being a federation of various monarchs under the head of one single emperor), a republic was declared; however, the official name of Germany remained "Deutsches Reich". Although this period is known by historians, much in the same way the Byzantine Empire has that name, as the Weimar Republic and the public themselves mostly took to calling it the Deutsche Republik by the mid 20's, the name (and identity) of the nation never really stopped being the "Second Reich". Going back even further, the identity of the Holy Roman Empire, famously stated to be "neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire", as a German "First Reich" is strained at best. Although it helped set the stage for what would become Germany, up until the very end it was primarily a claim by whomever was emperor to be the Roman Empire. In the end, both terms have fallen out of favor for either and most people who use them are looked down upon for accepting Nazi historiography.
As time went on and they acquired more land, the Nazis themselves stopped using the term and even banned it in 1939 in favor of "Großdeutsches Reich' (Greater German Empire) and "nationalsozialistischer Staat" (National Socialist State). Ultimately, the Nazis dreamed of an even more grandiose goal: "Großgermanisches Reich Deutscher Nation", or the "Greater Germanic Reich of the German Nation" which would encompass most of the Germanic areas of Europe such as non-Finnish Scandinavia and the Netherlands in one single state ruled from "Welthauptstadt Germania", Hitler's rebuilt Berlin that would have sunk into the ground from the sheer weight of its material[note 3].
About the word "Reich"
Reich is a German word that does not translate easily into English. It is related to the English word "rich" (meaning "wealthy"), and when "reich" is used as an adjective, means exactly that in German. However, as a noun, it more correctly translates as "realm", although it is often translated into English as "empire". The German word for "empire" (a monarchy ruled by an emperor) is Kaiserreich ("emperor's realm"), while a kingdom is a Königreich ("king's realm"). A good translation for the English word empire (besides the obvious choice of "Imperium") would be either "Großreich" meaning roughly big-realm or "Weltreich" meaning world-realm. Notice how the term "Großdeutsches Reich" also alludes to the term "Großreich" while also invoking the old term for a "Germany" that includes Austria. By the way, the English word "rich" used to have a similar meaning as a noun, and this is retained in the compound English word bishopric - a place where a bishop is in charge, i.e. a bishop's realm. As for pronunciation, the Germans say the "ch" almost like the beginning of the English word "hue"—it sounds like a hiss, suggesting a "shush" or "should" sound but without bringing the teeth together. The "ei" is pronounced like the "i" in "like".
“”Suppose that Hitler's programme could be put into effect. What he envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state of 250 million Germans with plenty of 'living room' (i.e. stretching to Afghanistan or there-abouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder."
As mentioned previously, the Nazis believed themselves to be the start of a new, endless era of greatness for Germany, and generously wanted to share this greatness by way of conquering a lot of land and forcing the places they didn't outright annex into a subservient status. This plan: expansion of Germany and exploitation of the rest of the world for Germany's benefit was the major driving force of both Nazi militarism and the War itself that would bring them down. Although most of it was not implemented, the parts that were showcased just what kind of horrible world we would live in had the Nazis won the war.
See our article on The Holocaust for more.
The main goal of pretty much every Nazi action after annexing the German areas of Europe around it was to acquire all that land to the east of them so they could "relocate" and enslave at best, exterminate at worst, the local Slavic (and non-Slavic) populations in favor of German colonization. Only partially implemented, the brutality of the Nazi occupation would be a key factor in turning the population against them and into the arms of the Soviets, because while the Soviets were little better politically and Stalin was a right fucker, he wasn't so stupid as to try and kill everybody in those non-Russian republics while also still fighting a war.
The primary categories people already living here would have found themselves in was split between "Germanization " and "undesirable" - those deemed acceptable to the Nazi ideology for "better treatment" or assimilation and those who would be killed or deported to more eastern territories (such as the ever popular Western Siberia).
For some, this was implemented essentially during the war, and for others, it would be implemented afterward, with the idea that most areas in the first zone (west of the dotted line) would be "Germanized" in 20 or so years. Poland, being the first nation to fall after the Nazis no longer had to pretend to care what the Allies thought, took the brunt of the implementation with much of its political, cultural and religious leadership imprisoned or murdered, and it was planned that ultimately the Polish would be wiped out, through assimilation in Siberia and being forced to not marry and produce children for those left in Poland as German slaves. The Baltic, in comparison to Poland and Ukraine, were planned to ultimately lose their statehood but, with the exception of the Lithuanians, only face about half of a population removal for incoming German settlers (obsession with blood purity meant that the Lithuanians, with high rates mixed marriages with Slavic people, were not acceptable to "become Germans.") Ukraine, due to its prime land, was to face higher rates than the Baltic and had to endure a second famine after the Holodomar in order to help along its impending colonization, but overall faced fewer deportation rates than some other areas.. Ukraine was also one of the areas most welcoming to Germany and yet also against it, as Ukrainian nationalism was prevalent before Soviet occupation and rose up again when it became apparent that the Nazis were not any better than the Soviets.
In the areas further east, the plan gets more fuzzy as the ongoing state of the war and ever-shifting front lines meant that any real implementation of the plan was ad-hoc and subject to interruptions. However, as everything up to the Ural mountains was slated to become part of Germany, in the end, it was to face the same treatment. Two administrative divisions were planned, one for the broad area of Russia and the other for the area of the Caucasus up to around Stalingrad. Populations to not be enslaved or Germanized would be deported or killed, and Germany would stretch from Alsace in the west to the Ural mountains in the East, with a permanent guard keeping the former inhabitants from crossing back in and ruining "German Civilization".
Europe, the Middle East and Africa
Hitler viewed the United States of America as a rising global power and Germany's likely rival for hegemony in the post-New Order world. The Nazi plan to seize land in Eastern Europe and Russia was partly motivated by a desire to have a resource base that would leave Germany competitive against a presumably hostile the United States. The nature of the future conflict between America and the Greater Germanic Reich, however, remained vague. German planners were more occupied with work in the east to devote time to it, and Hitler believed that he would be dead before it would manifest. The problem of the United States would be one that a future Führer would deal with.
What planning there was amounted not to an impractical invasion of the American mainland (as is often shown in media), but long range bombers (such as the Amerika Bomber) destroying eastern cities and forcing submission (much in the way the Battle of Britain), ending a "war of the Old and New World" where the Nazis would assume global leadership by simply having the stronger position, even if it never truly "took over" the American dominated sphere. If it did come to a fight, however, which the Nazis made all attempt to put off even into 1941, with America all but officially part of the allied side , Nazi plans focused on splitting American society up, such as encouraging Native American resistance to fighting Germany, even going so far as declaring that Natives were Aryan (making them somehow better than the country ruling them as inferiors to be assimilated into Society or excluded on reservations) and possibly even handing out land from a defeated America to tribes.. While there was some Fascist support among Indians, overall, most Indians seemed to find America a better deal than Germany and hopes that they would rather fight the US than fight Germany never materialized.
Outside of the United States, the Nazis gave little thought to the rest of the Western hemisphere beyond "Economic opportunity" and "land to get ethnic Germans back from" while warning their own people to the "dangers" that comes from racially mixed societies.  Like the rest of Europe, Africa, and Western Asia, Latin America was to become simply a source of resources and power for the German Empire, ruled by local fascist groups.
Japan and East Asia
Germany was, in a move of realpolitik, allied with the Empire of Japan, a fellow militaristic nation seeking to exploit the world for its own Benefit. Unlike Italy, which was in the end never going to be anything more than a subordinate partner in the German world, Japan was to be given free reign in the territories allocated to it - A line including everything east of the Yenisei river, running along the border of China and then British India to the Indian Ocean. . Germany was also prepared to give up Oceania to Japan, including former colonies it had lost after the First War, in the name of Japanese help defeating the allies. The Nazis were not really happy about this, though, as it meant that the Japanese would replace and remove the existing white populations there , and most expected Japan to use Australia in the same way Germany was planning to use Eastern Europe: a base for colonial population expansion.
Long term, Germany planned to fight Japan, its current alliance thought of in the same way it had allowed Soviet conquests in Eastern Europe before invading the country, although it was expected this future conflict "would be centuries down the line" . At the least, Hitler looked at Japanese military aims as a saving move for German plans: just as German annexation of Europe would take time, Japanese integration of Asia into a Japan-centered system would "take 50 to a 100 years" In the end, an "apocalyptic fight" between "Culture Generators" (The Aryans) and "Culture Bearers" (The Japanese) was expected, with the possibility Germany could lose due to simple Population differences, and that "this would be a bad thing."
How could they be so popular?
Despite its current status as a reviled stock villain with only extreme fringe support, the Nazi Party was extremely popular in Germany and among Germans across the world in the 1930's and 40's. Often forgotten alongside the militaristic foreign policy and ultra-racist domestic policy is the fact that for most Germans life seemed to be improving, although some research shows that Nazi pre-war German economic growth was primarily state expenditure (rearmament), and the actual standard of living declined under Nazi rule. At least, until the war started, that is. Something that is often overlooked as well is that Antisemitism was surprisingly widespread and even popular in Europe. The Dreyfus affair in France was just one example of that. And the willing, sometimes eager collaboration of occupied populations in the murder of the local Jews goes to show that Germany was not the only country with a huge antisemitic sentiment back then. The fact that the Danish resistance while militarily hapless managed to save all but a few hundred Danish Jews just goes to show how much more help for the Jews of Europe would have been possible. Politically, Germany in the 1920s and early 30s was divided into two bitterly hostile camps. On the left, the social democrats and the communists were calling for an international socialist revolution (yes, even the social democrats, although they envisioned their "revolution" taking place at the ballot box), they were committed to abolishing capitalism, and they had a very strong following among the working class. How strong? Well, Germany had the second largest communist party in the world after the Soviet Union itself. Meanwhile, on the right, there stood the nationalists and conservatives, who longed for the good old days of the monarchy and the German Empire from before World War I, wanted to preserve as much of the old order as possible, and were terrified at the prospect that Germany might go communist. Into this environment stepped the Nazis, shocking everyone by calling themselves "National Socialists" (basically, "right-wing left-wingers"), and promising to unite all Germans and bridge the deep political divisions in society. Eventually, they ended up playing politics as usual anyway, and made an alliance with the conservatives, but a lot of the Nazi appeal came from their image as a non-partisan alternative for all Germans. (Does it sound familiar?)
Like many parties, especially ones bent on dominating the lives of a population, the Nazis established a myriad of special clubs and organizations for party members, that were intended as alternatives to the public organizations used by everyone else. So, for example, they had their own welfare program, sporting organization, "Women's League" and most famously, the Hitler Youth, which was the Nazi version of the boy scouts and girl scouts (the main "Hitler Youth" was a young boys' association, but there was also a girls' association alongside it). Using these - which later became the only legal organizations one could join after the Nazis took power - the party could project its image and propaganda into almost every part of a person's life while influencing children from the beginning to support Nazi ideology.
The Nazis were also responsible for the recovery of Germany after the depression; taking a nation broken by both the depression and punitive restrictions placed on it by World War I and making it a world power again would make its population willing to overlook the loss of liberty. When the Nazis came to power, Germany was deep in the Great Depression, with many millions of people unemployed. After changing the rules on what made a person "unemployed" (such as not counting Jews, people under conscription and women), as well as mass public works programs (such as the construction of Germany's Autobahn) and restrictions on workplace ability to fire workers, Germany did report record low unemployment by the time the war began. Besides cheating to report mass spikes in employment, the Nazis also propagated the Stab-in-the-back legend to discredit the Weimar-era republic and left-leaning ideology in general.
For many Germans, though, what helped improve the image of the Nazis was the military pride and the dismantling of the Treaty of Versailles. At the end of World War I, Germany was slapped with various punitive sanctions for "causing the war", such as the entire Rhineland area being demilitarized (as well as restrictions on the German military), various areas of the nation being given to other countries, and mass financial reparations to the allied powers. After initial enforcement of the treaty with a heavy hand, Germany was allowed to have breathing room and plans were set up that would actually allow them to pay the reparations owed. With the Depression, though, repayments were ended and, with the coming of Hitler, denounced entirely. Free from monetary obligation, the Nazis also ran roughshod over other portions of the treaty, such as the military buildup, end of the Rhineland occupation, the annexation of Austria (which was something many had wanted to do in 1918), and the reacquisition and expansion of German territory in Poland following the beginning of the second war. Even early in the second war, Nazi success, particularly the sudden and swift defeat of France and initial victories in the East, facilitated acceptance of the Nazis and a weakness in the German Resistance, forcing various groups to shelve plans to overthrow Hitler. By the time the tide had turned against Germany in 1943 and Germans began to sour on Nazi Loyalty, it was too late to really salvage the situation.
By the end of 1944 and into 1945, Germany was obviously beaten and it was only a question of how long it would take. This was a different ending to World War I, where Germany still had troops in enemy territory and no real occupation of German territory had taken place; instead, allied armies overwhelmed almost every German attempt at defense. Throughout, the Nazis played up fears of what would come post-war: rape, theft, murder, to both drive Germans to continue the fight and to drive many to suicide to escape the defeat. By the end, children were being used to fight in armies who had grown up knowing nothing or almost nothing but Nazi Propaganda telling them their lives were less important than the use of them by the State and that the world after defeat was not worth living. Adults had internalized this message with fanatical enthusiasm, and fears of both imagined and real war crimes by allied (especially Soviet) forces against Germans, often in retaliation for the war-crimes the Germans committed during their occupation, drove many to die "before the enemy hordes could get to them." Hitler himself even issued an order, subverted and ignored by the minister he put in charge of it, to essentially destroy what was left of the nation so that the allies would have nothing to occupy but rubble and ash. In the end, Hitler killed himself as Berlin fell around him, and was followed in this path by Nazi figures fearing Allied trials for war crimes as well as fanatics who wanted to follow their leader into death. 
- Blood and soil, in case you were wondering
- Notice how the Weimar Republic that also called itself "Deutsches Reich" is not counted? That was deliberate on the part of the Nazis
- The fact that Berlin is mostly built on loose sand and gravel from the ice ages wouldn't have helped...
- The personality cult surrounding the demagogue
- Hitler appointed Chancellor on the History Channel website
- The burning of the Reichstag is one of the most hotly debated events in history. Currently scholarly consensus indicates that Marinus van der Lubbe did set it on fire and that he possibly acted alone. But the issue is far from resolved
- "Law to Remove the Distress of the People and the State" Hah.
- George Orwell's short review of Mein Kampf: In 1940 no less
- Rich, Norman (1972). Hitler's War Aims: Ideology, the Nazi State and the Course of Expansion, pp. 237-246.
- Franco, Jere Bishop (1999). Crossing the pond: the Native American effort in World War II. University of North Texas Press. p. 21. ISBN 1-57441-065-2.
- Leitz (2004), pp. 118-119
- Rich (1974), p. 329.
- Leitz, Christian (2004). Nazi foreign policy, 1933-1941: the road to global war. Routledge. p. 114. ISBN 0-415-17423-6.
- Weinberg, Gerhard L. (2005). A World at Arms:a Global History of World War II. Cambridge University Press. p. 13. ISBN 0-521-61826-6.
- Rich (1974), p. 415
- Echternkamp, Jörg. ed. Germany and the Second World War Volume IX/I: German Wartime Society 1939-1945: Politicization, Disintegration, and the Struggle for Survival (2008). p. 331
- Rich (1974), p. 415.
- German Cooking the books
- Bessel page 188
- Goeschel page 157
- Goeschel page 158, 162