The National Socialist German Workers' Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (help–info), abbreviated NSDAP), commonly known in English as the Nazi Party (from the German Nazi, abbreviated from the pronunciation of Nationalsozialist), was a political party in Germany between 1919 and 1945. It was known as the German Workers' Party (DAP) prior to a change of name in 1920.
The party's last leader, Adolf Hitler, was appointed Chancellor of Germany by president Paul von Hindenburg in 1933. Hitler rapidly established a totalitarian regime known as the Third Reich.
Nazi ideology stressed the failures of communism, liberalism, and democracy, supported the "racial purity of the German people" and that of other Northwestern Europeans, and claimed itself as the protector of Germany from Jewish influence and corruption. The Nazis persecuted those they perceived as either race enemies or Lebensunwertes Leben, that is "life unworthy of living". This included Jews, Slavs, Roma, and so-called "Mischlinge" along with Communists, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, and others. The persecution reached its climax when the party and the German state which it controlled organized the systematic murder of approximately six million Jews and six million other people from the other targeted groups, in what has become known as the Holocaust. Hitler's desire to build a German empire through expansionist policies led to the outbreak of World War II in Europe.
Origins and early existence: 1918'1923
The party grew out of smaller political groups with a nationalist orientation that formed in the last years of World War I. In the early months of 1918, a party called the Freier Ausschuss für einen deutschen Arbeiterfrieden ("Free Committee for a German Workers' Peace") was created in Bremen, Germany. On 7 March 1918, Anton Drexler, an avid German nationalist, formed a branch of this league in Munich called the Committee of Independent Workmen. Drexler was a local locksmith in Munich who had been a member of the militarist Fatherland Party during World War I, and was bitterly opposed to the armistice of November 1918 and to the revolutionary upheavals that followed in its wake. Drexler followed the typical views of militant nationalists of the day, such as opposing the Treaty of Versailles, having anti-Semitic, anti-monarchist and anti-Marxist views, as well as believing in the superiority of Germans whom nationalists claimed to be part of the Aryan "master race" (Herrenvolk), but he also accused international capitalism of being a Jewish-dominated movement and denounced capitalists for war profiteering in World War I. Drexler saw the situation of political violence and instability in Germany as the result of the new Weimar Republic being out-of-touch with the masses, especially the lower classes. Drexler emphasized the need for a synthesis of völkisch nationalism, a strong central government movement, with economic socialism in order that a popular, centrist nationalist-oriented workers movement might be created that could challenge the rise of Communism, as well as the internationalist left and right in general.
On 5 January 1919, Drexler created a new political party based on the political principles which he endorsed by combining combining his Committee of Independent Workmen with a similar group, The Political Worker's Circle, led by newspaper reporter Karl Harrer. Drexler proposed that the party be named the German Socialist Worker's Party, but Harrer objected to using the term "socialist" in the name; the issue was settled by removing the term from the name, and it was agreed that the party be named the German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, DAP). To ease concerns among potential middle-class nationalist supporters, Drexler made clear that unlike Marxists, the party supported middle-class citizens, and that the party's socialist policy was meant to give social welfare to German citizens deemed part of the Aryan race. They became one of many völkisch movements that existed in Germany at the time. Like other völkisch groups, the DAP advocated the belief that through profit-sharing instead of socialisation Germany should become a unified "national community" (Volksgemeinschaft) rather than a society divided along class and party lines. This ideology was explicitly anti-Semitic as it declared that the "national community" must be judenfrei ("free of Jews"). As early as 1920, the party was raising money by selling a tobacco called Anti-Semit.
From the outset, the DAP was opposed to non-nationalist political movements, especially on the left, including the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the newly formed Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Members of the DAP saw themselves as fighting against "Bolshevism" and anyone considered to be part of or aiding so-called "international Jewry". The DAP was also deeply apposed to the Versailles Treaty. The DAP did not attempt to make itself public, and meetings were kept in relative secrecy, with public speakers discussing what they thought of Germany's present state of affairs, or writing to like-minded societies in Northern Germany.
The DAP was a comparatively small group with fewer than 60 members. Nevertheless, it attracted the attention of the German authorities, who were suspicious of any organisation that appeared to have subversive tendencies. A young corporal, Adolf Hitler, stationed in Munich, was sent by Captain Mayr, head of press and propaganda in the Bavarian section of the army to investigate the DAP. While attending a party meeting on September 12, 1919, where Gottfried Feder was speaking on 'How and by what means is capitalism to be eliminated?', Hitler got involved in a heated political argument with a visitor who questioned the soundness of Feder's arguments and who proposed that Bavaria should break away from Prussia and found a new South German nation with Austria. In vehemently attacking the man's arguments he made an impression on the other party members with his oratory skills and, according to Hitler, the "professor" left the hall acknowledging unequivocal defeat. According to August Kubizek, Drexler was so impressed that he whispered to a neighbour, "My he's got a gift of the gab. We could use him." He was invited to join, and after some deliberation, chose to accept. Among the party's earlier members were Ernst Röhm of the Army's District Command VII; well-to-do journalist Dietrich Eckart; student at the University of Munich and later deputy of the party Rudolf Hess; Freikorps soldier Hans Frank; and Alfred Rosenberg, often credited as the philosopher of the movement. All of the above were later prominent in the Nazi regime.
Hitler became the DAP's 55th member and received the number 555, as the DAP added '500' to every member's number to exaggerate the party's strength. He later claimed to be the seventh party member (he was in fact the seventh executive member of the party's central committee; he would later wear the Golden Party Badge number one). Hitler's first speech was held in the Hofbräukeller, where he spoke in front of a hundred and eleven people as the second speaker of the evening. He later declared that this was when he realised he could really "make a good speech". At first Hitler only spoke to relatively small groups on behalf of the party, however in early 1920 he took over the propaganda work for the Party and began to take a more prominent role in its organisation; consequently, his public speaking began to attract larger audiences. Hitler began to make the party much more public, and he organised the party's biggest meeting yet of two thousand people, for 24 February 1920 in the Staatliches Hofbräuhaus in München. Such was the significance of this particular move in publicity that Harrer resigned from the party in disagreement. It was in this speech that Hitler, for the first time, enunciated the twenty-five points of the German Worker's Party's manifesto that had been drawn up by Drexler, Feder, and Hitler. Through these points he gave the organisation a much bolder stratagem with a clear foreign policy (abrogation of Versailles, a Greater Germany, Eastern expansion, exclusion of Jews from citizenship), and among his specific points were: confiscation of war profits, abolition of unearned incomes, the State to share profits of land, and land for national needs to be taken away without compensation. In general, the manifesto was anti-Semitic, anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist, and anti-liberal. On 24 February 1920[dubious ], the party also added "National Socialist" to its official name, in order to appeal to both nationalists and socialists, becoming the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) (or Nazis for short), although Hitler earlier suggested the party to be renamed the "Social Revolutionary Party"; it was Rudolf Jung who persuaded Hitler to follow the NSDAP naming. Hitler quickly became the party's most active orator, and he appeared in public as a speaker thirty-one times within the first year after his self-discovery. Hitler always spoke about the same subjects: The Treaty of Versailles and the Jewish question. This deliberate technique and effective publicising of the party contributed significantly to his early success, about which a contemporary poster wrote 'Since Herr Hitler is a brilliant speaker, we can hold out the prospect of an extremely exciting evening'. Over the following months, the DAP continued to attract new members, while remaining too small to have any real significance in German politics. By the end of 1920, the party numbered three thousand, many of whom Hitler and Röhm had brought into the party personally, or whom Hitler's oratory had been their reason for joining.
Hitler discovered that he had talent as an orator, and his ability to draw new members, combined with his characteristic ruthlessness, soon made him the dominant figure. Drexler recognized this, and Hitler became party chairman on 28 July 1921. When the party had been established, it consisted of a leadership board elected by the members, which in turn elected a chairman. Hitler scrapped this arrangement. He acquired the title Führer ("leader") and, after a series of sharp internal conflicts, it was accepted that the party would be governed by the Führerprinzip ("leader principle"): Hitler was the sole leader of the party, and he alone decided its policies and strategy. Hitler at this time saw the party as a revolutionary organization, whose aim was the violent overthrow of the Weimar Republic, which he saw as controlled by the socialists, Jews and the "November criminals" who had betrayed the German soldiers in 1918. The SA ("storm troopers", also known as "Brownshirts") were founded as a party militia in 1921, and began violent attacks on other parties.
Unlike Drexler and other party members, Hitler was less interested in the "socialist" aspect of "national socialism" beyond moving Social Welfare administration from the Church to the State. Himself of provincial lower-middle-class origins, he disliked the mass working class of the big cities, and had no sympathy with the notions of attacking private property or the business class (which some early Nazis such as the Strasser brothers espoused). For Hitler the twin goals of the party were always German nationalist expansionism and Antisemitism. These two goals were fused in his mind by his belief that Germany's external enemies ' Britain, France and the Soviet Union ' were controlled by the Jews, and that Germany's future wars of national expansion would necessarily entail a war against the Jews. For Hitler and his principal lieutenants, national and racial issues were always dominant. This was symbolised by the adoption as the party emblem of the swastika or Hakenkreuz, at the time widely used in the western world. In German nationalist circles, the swastika was considered a symbol of an "Aryan race". The Swastika symbolized the replacement of the Christian Cross with allegiance to a National Socialist State.
During 1921 and 1922, the Nazi Party grew significantly, partly through Hitler's oratorical skills, partly through the SA's appeal to unemployed young men, and partly because there was a backlash against socialist and liberal politics in Bavaria as Germany's economic problems deepened and the weakness of the Weimar regime became apparent. The party recruited former World War I soldiers, to whom Hitler as a decorated frontline veteran could particularly appeal, as well as small businessmen and disaffected former members of rival parties. Nazi rallies were often held in beer halls, where downtrodden men could get free beer. The Hitler Youth was formed for the children of party members, although it remained small until the late 1920s. The party also formed groups in other parts of Germany. Julius Streicher in Nuremberg was an early recruit, and became editor of the racist magazine Der Stürmer. Others to join the party around this time were WW I flying ace Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler. In December 1920 the party acquired a newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, of which NSDAP ideological chief Alfred Rosenberg became editor.
In 1922, a party with remarkably similar policies and objectives came into power in Italy, the National Fascist Party under the leadership of the charismatic Benito Mussolini. The Fascists, like the Nazis, promoted a national rebirth of their country; opposed communism and liberalism; appealed to the working-class; opposed the Treaty of Versailles; and advocated the territorial expansion of their country. The Italian Fascists used a straight-armed Roman salute and wore black-shirted uniforms. Hitler was inspired by Mussolini and the Fascists, borrowing their use of the straight-armed salute as a Nazi salute. When the Fascists came to power in 1922 in Italy through their coup attempt called the "March on Rome", Hitler began planning his own coup which would materialize one year later.
In January 1923 France occupied the Ruhr industrial region as a result of Germany's failure to meet its reparations payments. This led to economic chaos, the resignation of Wilhelm Cuno's government, and an attempt by the German Communist Party (KPD) to stage a revolution. The reaction to these events was an upsurge of nationalist sentiment. Nazi Party membership grew sharply, to about 20,000. By November, Hitler had decided that the time was right for an attempt to seize power in Munich, in the hope that the Reichswehr (the post-war German army) would mutiny against the Berlin government and join his revolt. In this he was influenced by former General Erich Ludendorff, who had become a supporter ' though not a member ' of the Nazis.
On the night of 8 November, the Nazis used a patriotic rally in a Munich beer hall to launch an attempted putsch (coup d'état). This so-called Beer Hall Putsch attempt failed almost at once when the local Reichswehr commanders refused to support it. On the morning of 9 November the Nazis staged a march of about 2,000 supporters through Munich in an attempt to rally support. Troops opened fire, and 16 Nazis were killed. Hitler, Ludendorff and a number of others were arrested, and were tried for treason in March 1924. Hitler and his associates were given very lenient prison sentences. While Hitler was in prison, he wrote his semi-autobiographical political manifesto Mein Kampf ("My Struggle").
The Nazi Party was banned, though with support of the nationalist Völkisch-Social Bloc ("Völkisch-Sozialer Block"), continued to operate under the name of the "German Party" (Deutsche Partei or DP) from 1924 to 1925. The Nazis failed to remain unified in the German Party, as in the north, the right-wing Volkish nationalist supporters of the Nazis moved to the new German Völkisch Freedom Party, leaving the north's left-wing Nazi members, such as Joseph Goebbels retaining support for the party.
Rise to power: 1925'1933
Adolf Hitler was released in December 1924. In the following year he re-founded and reorganized the Nazi Party, with himself as its undisputed Leader. The new Nazi Party was no longer a paramilitary organization, and disavowed any intention of taking power by force. In any case, the economic and political situation had stabilized and the extremist upsurge of 1923 had faded, so there was no prospect of further revolutionary adventures. The Nazi Party of 1925 was divided into the "Leadership Corps" (Korps der politischen Leiter), appointed by Hitler, and the general membership (Parteimitglieder). The party and the SA were kept separate, and the legal aspect of the party's work was emphasized. In a sign of this, the party began to admit women. The SA and the SS (founded in April 1925 as Hitler's bodyguard, commanded by Himmler) were described as "support groups", and all members of these groups had first to become regular party members.
The party's nominal Deputy Leader was Rudolf Hess, but he had no real power in the party. By the early 1930s the senior leaders of the party after Hitler were Himmler, Goebbels and Göring. Beneath the Leadership Corps were the party's regional leaders, the Gauleiters, each of whom commanded the party in his Gau ("region"). There were 98 Gaue for Germany and an additional seven for Austria, the Sudetenland (in Czechoslovakia), Danzig and the Saarland (then under French occupation). Joseph Goebbels began his ascent through the party hierarchy as Gauleiter of Berlin-Brandenburg in 1926. Streicher was Gauleiter of Franconia, where he published his anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer. Beneath the Gauleiter were lower-level officials, the Kreisleiter ("county leaders"), Zellenleiter ("cell leaders") and Blockleiter ("block leaders"). This was a strictly hierarchical structure in which orders flowed from the top, and unquestioning loyalty was given to superiors. Only the SA retained some autonomy. Being composed largely of unemployed workers, many SA men took the Nazis' socialist rhetoric seriously. At this time, the Hitler salute (borrowed from the Italian fascists) and the greeting "Heil Hitler!" were adopted throughout the party.
The Nazis contested elections to the national parliament, the Reichstag, and to the state legislatures, the Landtags, from 1924, although at first with little success. The "National-Socialist Freedom Movement" polled 3% of the vote in the December 1924 Reichstag elections, and this fell to 2.6% in 1928. State elections produced similar results. Despite these poor results, and despite Germany's relative political stability and prosperity during the later 1920s, the Nazi Party continued to grow. This was partly because Hitler, who had no administrative ability, left the party organization to the head of the secretariat, Philipp Bouhler, the party treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz and business manager Max Amann. The party had a capable propaganda head in Gregor Strasser, who was promoted to national organizational leader in January 1928. These men gave the party efficient recruitment and organizational structures. The party also owed its growth to the gradual fading away of competitor nationalist groups, such as the DNVP. As Hitler became the recognized head of the German nationalists, other groups declined, or were absorbed.
The party expanded in the 1920s beyond its Bavarian base. Catholic Bavaria maintained its right-wing ennui for a Catholic monarch; and Westphalia, along with working-class "Red Berlin", were always the Nazis' weakest areas electorally, and even during the Third Reich itself. The areas of strongest Nazi support were in rural Protestant areas such as Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg, Pomerania and East Prussia. Depressed working-class areas such as Thuringia also gave a strong Nazi vote, while the workers of the Ruhr and Hamburg largely remained loyal to the SPD, the KPD, or the Catholic Centre Party. Nuremberg remained a party stronghold, and the first Nuremberg Rally was held there in 1927. These rallies soon became massive displays of Nazi paramilitary power, and attracted many recruits. The Nazis' strongest appeal was to the lower middle-class ' farmers, public servants, teachers, small businessmen ' who had suffered most from the inflation of the 1920s, so who feared Bolshevism more than anything else. The small business class were receptive to Hitler's anti-Semitism, since they blamed Jewish big business for their economic problems. University students, disappointed at being too young to have served in World War I and attracted by the Nazis' radical rhetoric, also became a strong Nazi constituency. By 1929, the party had 130,000 members.
Despite these strengths, the Nazi Party might never have come to power, had it not been for the Great Depression and its effects on Germany. By 1930 the German economy was beset with mass unemployment and widespread business failures. The SPD and the KPD parties were bitterly divided and unable to formulate an effective solution: This gave the Nazis their opportunity, and Hitler's message, blaming the crisis on the Jewish financiers and the Bolsheviks, resonated with wide sections of the electorate. At the September 1930 Reichstag elections the Nazis won 18.3% of the vote, and became the second-largest party in the Reichstag after the SPD. Hitler proved to be a highly effective campaigner, pioneering the use of radio and aircraft for this purpose. His dismissal of Strasser and appointment of Goebbels as the party's propaganda chief was a major factor. While Strasser had used his position to promote his own leftish version of national socialism, Goebbels was totally loyal to Hitler, and worked only to burnish Hitler's image.
The 1930 elections changed the German political landscape by weakening the traditional nationalist parties, the DNVP and the DVP, leaving the Nazis as the chief alternative to the discredited SPD and the Zentrum, whose leader, Heinrich Brüning, headed a weak minority government. The inability of the democratic parties to form a united front, the self-imposed isolation of the KPD, and the continued decline of the economy, all played into Hitler's hands. He now came to be seen as de facto leader of the opposition, and donations poured into the Nazi Party's coffers. Some major business figures such as Fritz Thyssen were Nazi supporters and gave generously, as well as alleged involvement of Wall Street figures; but many other businessmen were suspicious of the extreme nationalist tendencies of the Nazis, and preferred to support the traditional conservative parties instead.
During 1931 and into 1932, Germany's political crisis deepened. In March 1932 Hitler ran for President against the incumbent President Paul von Hindenburg, polling 30.1% in the first round and 36.8% in the second against Hindenburg's 49 and 53%. By now the SA had 400,000 members, and its running street battles with the SPD and KPD paramilitaries (who also fought each other) reduced some German cities to combat zones. Paradoxically, although the Nazis were among the main instigators of this disorder, part of Hitler's appeal to a frightened and demoralised middle class was his promise to restore law and order. Overt anti-Semitism was played down in official Nazi rhetoric, but was never far from the surface. Germans voted for Hitler primarily because of his promises to revive the economy (by unspecified means), to restore German greatness and overturn the Treaty of Versailles, and to save Germany from communism.
On 20 July 1932, the Prussian government was ousted by a coup ' the Preussenschlag, and a few days later at the July 1932 Reichstag election the Nazis made another leap forward, polling 37.4% and becoming the largest party in the Reichstag by a wide margin. Furthermore, the Nazis and the KPD between them won 52% of the vote and a majority of seats. Since both parties opposed the established political system, and neither would join or support any ministry, this made the formation of a majority government impossible. The result was weak ministries governing by decree. Under Comintern directives, the KPD maintained its policy of treating the SPD as the main enemy, calling them "social fascists", thereby splintering opposition to the Nazis. Later, both the SPD and the KPD accused each other of having facilitated Hitler's rise to power by their unwillingness to compromise.
Chancellor Franz von Papen called another Reichstag election in November, hoping to find a way out of this impasse. The electoral result was the same, with the Nazis and the KPD winning 50% of the vote between them and more than half the seats, rendering this Reichstag no more workable than its predecessor. But support for the Nazis had fallen to 33.1%, suggesting that the Nazi surge had passed its peak ' possibly because the worst of the Depression had passed, possibly because some middle-class voters had supported Hitler in July as a protest, but had now drawn back from the prospect of actually putting him into power. The Nazis interpreted the result as a warning that they must seize power before their moment passed. Had the other parties united, this could have been prevented, but their shortsightedness made a united front impossible. Papen, his successor Kurt von Schleicher, and the nationalist press magnate Alfred Hugenberg spent December and January in political intrigues that eventually persuaded President Hindenburg it was safe to appoint Hitler Reich Chancellor at the head of a cabinet including only a minority of Nazi ministers ' which he did on 30 January 1933.
Federal election results
The details of these election results are available in Kolb, Eberhard. The Weimar Republic, p. 224. Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0415344417.
In power: 1933'1945
On 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire (possibly deliberately started by Nazi agents under Göring's orders and control to further the Party's own ends, or by communist agents). Whatever the case, this Reichstag fire was conveniently blamed on a communist conspiracy: One Marinus Van der Lubbe was summarily blamed, arrested, convicted and executed; the KPD's offices were closed, its press banned, and leaders arrested. The fire also gave Hitler the perfect excuse to persuade and convince President von Hindenburg to sign the "Reichstag Fire Decree", suspending most of the human rights provided for by the 1919 constitution of the Weimar Republic. A further decree enabled preventive detention of all communist leaders, amongst many thousands of others.
Since the new government lacked a majority in parliament, Hitler held a new election in March 1933. With the communists eliminated, the Nazis dominated the election with 43.9%, and with their Nationalist (DNVP) allies, achieved a parliamentary majority (51.8%).
A further decisive step in the Nazi seizure of power (Gleichschaltung) was the "Enabling Act", which granted the cabinet (and therefore Hitler) legislative powers. The Enabling Act effectively abolished the separation of powers, a principle enshrined in the German Constitution. As such, the Act represented an amendment to the Constitution and required a two-thirds majority in parliament in order to pass. Hitler needed the votes of the Centre Party, which he obtained after promising certain guarantees to the Centre's chairman (Ludwig Kaas). The Centre Party's 31 votes, added to the votes of the fragmented middle-class parties, the Nationalists, and the NSDAP itself, gave Hitler the right to rule by decree and to further suspend many civil liberties. The communists were opposed to the Enabling Act; but the KPD could not vote against it, since it had been banned. This left the SPD as the sole party in the Reichstag who stood against the Act, but their votes were not sufficient to block the Act's passage. As punishment for their dissent, the Social Democrats became the second party banned by the Nazis (on 22 June), following the move of their leadership to Prague.
The Enabling Act, termed for four years, gave the government the power to enact laws without parliamentary approval, to enact foreign treaties abroad, and even to make changes to the Constitution. The Nazis did not keep their promises to their political allies, banning all other parties just as they had banned the communists and socialists. Following this, the Nazi government banned the formation of new parties on 14 July 1933, turning Germany into a single-party state. Hitler kept the Reichstag as a rubber-stamp parliament, while the Reichsrat, though never abolished, was stripped of any effective power. The legislative bodies of the German states soon followed in the same manner, with the German federal government taking over most state and local legislative powers.
Hitler used the Catholic Church to dissolve the Centre Party. On 23 March 1933 he had called Churches "most important factors" for the maintenance of German well-being. In regard to the Catholic Church, he proposed a Reichskonkordat between Germany and the Holy See, which was signed in July. In regard to the Protestant Churches, he signed concordats and used church elections to push the Nazi-inspired "German Christians" to power. This, however, provoked the internal opposition of the "Confessing Church".
Membership in the Hitler Youth was made compulsory for German teenagers, and served as a conveyor belt to party membership. Meetings were held on Sunday mornings in a conscious effort to shift young people from Church to State. But the Nazi Party did not immediately purge the State administration of all opponents. The career civil service was left in place, and only gradually were its senior levels taken over by Nazis. In some places, people who were opposed to the Nazi regime retained their positions for a long time. Examples included Johannes Popitz, finance minister of the largest German state, Prussia, until 1944 and an active oppositionist; and Ernst von Weizsäcker, under-secretary of state at the Foreign Ministry, who protected a resistance network there. The armed forces banned party membership, and retained their independence for some years.
The Nazi Party and the German state gradually fused in 1933'39, as the party arrogated more and more power to itself at the expense of professional civil servants. This led to increasing inefficiency and confusion in administration, which was compounded by Hitler's deliberate policy of preventing any of his underlings accumulating too much power, and of dividing responsibility among a plethora of state and party bureaucracies, many of which had overlapping functions. This administrative muddle later had severe consequences. Many party officials also lapsed rapidly into corruption, taking their lead from Göring, who looted and plundered both state property and wealth appropriated from the Jews. By the mid-1930s the party as an institution was increasingly unpopular with the German public, although this did not affect the personal standing of Hitler, who maintained a powerful hold over the great majority of the German people until at least 1943.
The SA under Röhm's leadership became a major problem for the Party. Powerful supporters of Hitler had been complaining about Röhm for some time. Industrialists who had provided the funds for the Nazi victory were unhappy with Röhm's socialistic views on the economy and his claims that the real revolution had still to take place. Although Hitler had no real sympathy for Röhm's view beyond transferring power from churches to the State, many of the well-armed working-class militia of the SA, and others such as the Strasser brothers Otto and Georg, took this "socialist" element of "national socialism" seriously. They demanded that the Nazi regime broaden its attack from SPD and KPD activists and Jews to include the capitalist system. The generals were fearful due to knowing Röhm's desire to have the SA, a force of approximately 3 million men, absorb the much smaller German Army into its ranks under his leadership. Röhm and his associates saw the SA as the army of the new revolutionary Nazi state, replacing the old aristocratic officer corps. The Army was still outside party control, and Hitler feared that it might stage a putsch ' and, in fact, by May 1934, the Reichswehr leadership was prepared for action against Röhm.
In June 1934, Hitler, using the SS and Gestapo under Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich's command, staged a coup against the SA ' the so-called "Night of the Long Knives." Röhm and other high-ranking SA leaders were arrested. Many were shot as soon as they were captured. Hitler insisted that Röhm should first be allowed to commit suicide. However, when Röhm refused, he was killed by two SS officers. The names of eighty-five victims are known; however, estimates place the total number killed at between 150 and 200 persons. While some Germans were shocked by the killing, many others saw Hitler as the one who restored "order" to the country. This "Night of the Long Knives" broke the power of the SA while also greatly increasing the power of Himmler and the SS, who emerged as the real executive arm of the Nazi Party. The business community was reassured and largely reconciled to Nazi rule. The Army leaders were so grateful that the Defence Minister, Werner von Blomberg, who was not a Nazi, on his own initiative had all army members swear a personal oath to Hitler as "Führer" (Leader) of the German State. These events marked a decisive turning point in the Nazi take-over of Germany. The borders between the party and the State became increasingly blurred, and Hitler's personal will increasingly had the force of law, although the independence of the State bureaucracy was never completely eclipsed.
The effect of the purge of the SA was to redirect the energies of the Nazi Party away from social issues and towards racial enemies ' namely the Jews, whose civil, economic and political rights were steadily restricted, culminating in the passage of the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935, which stripped them of their citizenship and banned marriage and sexual relations between Jews and "Aryans". After a lull in anti-Semitic agitation during 1936 and 1937 (partly because of the 1936 Olympic Games), the Nazis returned to the attack in November 1938, launching the pogrom known as Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass"), in which at least 100 Jews were killed, as well as 30,000 arrested and sent to concentration camps, also thousands of Jewish homes, businesses, synagogues and community facilities attacked and burned. This satisfied the party radicals for a while, but the regional party bosses remained a persistent lobby for more radical action against the Jews, until they were finally deported to their deaths in 1942, 1943, 1944, and most poignantly in the spring of 1945 ' days before Liberation.
Paradoxically, the more completely the Nazi regime dominated German society, the less relevant the Nazi Party became as an organization within the regime's power structure. Hitler's rule was highly personalised, and the power of his subordinates such as Himmler and Goebbels depended on Hitler's favour and their success in interpreting his desires rather than on their nominal positions within the party. The party had no governing body or formal decision-making process ' no Politburo, no Central Committee, no Party Congresses. The "party chancellery" headed by Hess theoretically ran the party, but in reality it had no influence because Hess himself was a marginal figure within the regime. It was not until 1941, when Hess flew off on a quixotic "peace mission" to Britain, and was succeeded by Martin Bormann, that the party chancellery regained its power ' but this was mainly because Hitler had a high opinion of Bormann and allowed him to act as his political secretary. Real power in the regime was exercised by an axis of Hitler's office, Himmler's SS, and Goebbels's Propaganda Ministry.
War and eclipse
With the outbreak of war in 1939, the party to some extent came back into its own, particularly after 1941 as the war dragged on and the military situation began to turn against Germany. As Hitler withdrew from domestic matters to concentrate on military matters, civil administration ground to a halt, and the German state became more disorganized and ineffective. The Gauleiters, who were nearly all old-guard Nazis and fanatical Hitler loyalists, took control of rationing, labour direction, the allocation of housing, air-raid protection, and the issuing of the multiplicity of permits Germans needed to carry on their lives and businesses. They served to some extent as ombudsmen for the citizenry against a remote and ineffective state. They agitated for the removal of the remaining Jews from Germany, using the shortage of housing in German cities as a result of Allied bombing as a pretext. As the Allied armies closed in on Germany, the Gauleiters often took charge of last-ditch resistance: Karl Hanke's defence of Breslau was an outstanding example. In Berlin the teenagers of the Hitler Youth, under the direction of their fanatical leader Artur Axmann, fought and died in large numbers against the invading Soviet armies, as part of the Volkssturm.
The Army was the last area of the German state to succumb to the Nazi Party, and never did so entirely. The pre-1933 Reichswehr had banned its members joining political parties, and this was maintained for some time after 1933. Nazis of military age joined the Waffen-SS, the military wing of the SS. In 1938 both Defence Minister Blomberg and the army chief of staff, General Werner von Fritsch, were removed from office after trumped-up scandals. Hitler made himself Defence Minister, and the new Army leaders, Generals Franz Halder and Walther von Brauchitsch, were in awe him. Nevertheless, Halder supported unsuccessful plans to stage a coup and remove Hitler from power during the 1938 crisis over Czechoslovakia, and again in 1939. Brauchitsch knew of these plans, but would not support them. The ban on Nazis joining the German Army ' traditionally a stronghold of Protestant/monarchist conservatism opposed to any mass political movements ' was lifted in 1939. A number of generals, notably Walther von Reichenau and Walter Model, became fanatical Nazis. It was not until 1944 that a group of officers opposed to the Nazi regime staged a serious attempt to overthrow Hitler in the 20 July plot, but they never had the full support of the officer corps. The German Navy was always loyal to Hitler; its commander, Karl Dönitz, was Hitler's designated successor in 1945.
By 1945 the Nazi Party and the Nazi State were inseparable. Its most fanatical members either killed themselves, fled Germany, or were arrested. The rank-and-file then burned their party cards, and sought to blend back into German society. By the end of the war Nazism had been reduced to little more than loyalty to the person of Adolf Hitler, and his death released most Nazis from even this obligation. In his Political Testament, Hitler appointed Bormann "Party Minister", but nominated no successor as leader of the party ' a recognition that a Nazi Party without Hitler had no basis for existence. The Flensburg government that assumed power over the remnants of the Nazi state upon the death of Hitler on 30 April 1945 could be viewed as the last gasp of National Socialist politics in Germany, although it was concerned with little more than ensuring the surrender of as much of the German armed forces as possible to the Western Allies rather than to the Soviets, and even this government of contingency ceased to exist when its members were arrested by the British on 23 May 1945, with its entire existence having spanned less than a month.
Although the Nazi Party for all practical purposes ceased functioning after May 1945, it was not formally dissolved by the Allies until 20 September 1945. This appeared in Article 38 of the "Agreement Between Governments of the United Kingdom, United States of America, and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the Provisional Government of the French Republic on Certain Additional Requirements to be Imposed on Germany," which reads: "The National Socialist German Workers' Party (NDSAP) is completely and finally abolished and declared to be illegal." This ban has remained in place in Germany to the present day. The Allies also began an extensive process of denazification to remove former Nazis from the administration, judiciary, universities, schools and press of occupied Germany. There was virtually no resistance or attempt to organize a Nazi underground. By the time normal political life resumed in western Germany in 1949, Nazism was effectively extinct except in certain political fringe groups which garnered little support. In East Germany, the new Communist authorities took their vengeance on any former high-ranking Nazis that they could find, and the survival of any kind of Nazi movement was out of the question.
Since 1949, there have been attempts to organise ultra-nationalist parties in Germany, but none of these parties was overtly Nazi or tried to use the symbols and slogans of the Nazi Party. The German Reich Party (Deutsche Reichspartei, DRP), containing many former Nazis, had five members in the first Bundestag elected in 1949, but they were defeated in 1953. By the 1960s, its chairman Adolf von Thadden realised it had no future, and it was wound up in 1964. Thadden (whose half-sister Elisabeth von Thadden was executed by the Nazis for her role in the German Resistance) then formed a new, broader party, the National Democratic Party of Germany (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, NPD), which still exists, led today by Udo Voigt. The NPD has survived several attempts to have it banned by the Federal Constitutional Court as a neo-Nazi party. It has occasionally won seats in the Landtags of several German states, primarily in the territories of the former German Democratic Republic, but has never reached the 5% threshold needed to win seats in the Bundestag. The NPD had 5,300 registered party members in 2004, and its main platform is opposition to immigration.
At the top of the Nazi Party was the party chairman ("Der Führer"), who held absolute power and full command over the party. All other party offices were subordinate to his position and had to depend on his instructions. In 1934, Hitler founded a separate body for the chairman, Chancellery of the Führer, with its own sub-units.
Below the Führer's chancellery was first the "Staff of the Deputy Führer" (headed by Rudolf Hess from April 21, 1933 to May 10, 1941) and then the "Party Chancellery" (Parteikanzlei) headed by Martin Bormann.
Directly subjected to the Führer were the Reichsleiters ("Reich Leader"), whose number was gradually increased to eighteen. They held power and influence comparable to the Reich Ministers' in Hitler's Cabinet. The eighteen Reichsleiters formed the "Reich Leadership of the Nazi Party" (Reichsleitung der NSDAP), which was established at the so-called Brown House, in Munich. Unlike the Gauleiters, the Reichsleiters did not have individual geographic areas under their command, but were responsible of specific spheres of interest.
Main article: List of Nazi Party members–Ž
The general membership of the Nazi Party, known as the Parteimitglieder, mainly consisted of the urban and rural lower middle classes. 7% belonged to the upper class, another 7% were peasants, 35% were industrial workers and 51% were what can be described as middle class.
When it came to power in 1933, the Nazi Party had over 2 million members. Once in power, it attracted many more members and by the time of its dissolution it had 8.5 million members. Many of these were nominal members who joined for careerist reasons, but the party had an active membership of at least a million, including virtually all the holders of senior positions in the national government.
Nazi members with military ambitions were encouraged to join the Waffen-SS, but a great number enlisted in the Wehrmacht and even more were drafted for service after World War II began. Early regulations required that all Wehrmacht members be non-political, and therefore any Nazi member joining in the 1930s was required to resign from the Nazi Party.
This regulation was soon waived, however, and there is ample evidence that full Nazi Party members served in the Wehrmacht in particular after the outbreak of World War II. The Wehrmacht Reserves also saw a high number of senior Nazis enlisting, with Reinhard Heydrich and Fritz Todt joining the Luftwaffe, and Major Ronald von Brysonstofen of the Waffen-SS, as well as Karl Hanke who served in the Army.
In 1926, the NSDAP formed a special division to engage the student population, known as the National Socialist German Students' League (NSDStB). A group for university lecturers, National Socialist German University Lecturers' League (NSDDB) existed until July 1944.
The National Socialist Women's League was the women's organization of the party. By 1938 it had approximately 2 million members.
Party members who lived outside of Germany were pooled into the Auslands-Organisation (NSDAP/AO, "Foreign Organization"). The organization was limited only to so-called "Imperial Germans"; "Ethnic Germans" (Volksdeutsche) who did not hold German citizenship were not permitted to join.
In addition to the NSDAP proper, several paramilitary groups existed which "supported" Nazi aims. All members of these paramilitary organizations were required to become regular Nazi Party members first and could then enlist in the group of their choice. A vast system of Nazi party paramilitary ranks developed for each of the various paramilitary groups.
The major Nazi Party paramilitary groups were as follows:
The Hitler Youth was a paramilitary group divided into an adult leadership corps and a general membership open to boys aged fourteen to eighteen. The League of German Girls was the equivalent group for girls.
Certain nominally independent organizations had their own legal representation and own property, but were supported by the Nazi Party. Many of these associated organizations were labor unions of various professions. Some were older organizations that were nazified according to the Gleichschaltung policy after the 1933 takeover:
See also: Administrative divisions of Nazi Germany and List of Gauleiters
For the purpose of centralization in the Gleichschaltung process a rigidly hierarchal structure was established in the Nazi Party, which it later carried through in the whole of Germany in order consolidate total power under the person of Hitler (Führerstaat). It was regionally sub-divided into a number of Gaue headed by a Gauleiter, who received their orders directly from Hitler. The name (originally a term for sub-regions of the Holy Roman Empire headed by a Gaugraf) for these new provincial structures was deliberately chosen because of its mediaeval connotations. The term is approximately equivalent to the English shire.
After the Anschluss a new type of administrative unit was introduced called a Reichsgau. In these territories the Gauleiters also held the position of Reichsstatthalter, thereby formally combining the spheres of both party and state offices. The establishment of this type of district was subsequently carried out for any further territorial annexations of Germany both before and during World War II.
The Gaue and Reichsgaue (state or province) were further sub-divided into Kreise (counties) headed by a Kreisleiter, which were in turn sub-divided into Zellen (cells) and Blocken (blocks), headed by a Zellenleiter and Blockleiter respectively.
A reorganization of the Gaue was enacted on 1 October 1928. The given numbers were the official ordering numbers. The statistics are from 1941, for which the Gau organization of that moment in time forms the basis. Their size and populations are not exact; for instance according to the official party statistics the Gau Kurmark/Mark Brandenburg was the largest in the German Reich.
The below table uses the organizational structure that existed before its dissolution in 1945. More information on the older Gaue is in the second table.
Nazi Party Gaue
Former Gaue dissolved before 1945
Simple re-namings of existing Gaue without territorial changes is marked with the initials RN in the column "later became". The numbering is not based on any official former ranking, but merely listed alphabetically.
The Nazi Party is generally described as being at the extreme or far right of the left-right political axis. While the party incorporated elements from both left and right-wing politics, the Nazis formed most of their alliances on the right.
Main article: National Socialist Program
The National Socialist Program is a formulation of the policies of the party. It contains 25 points and is thus also known as the '25 point plan' or the '25 point program'. It was the official party program, with minor changes, from its proclamation as such by Hitler in 1920, when the party was still the German Workers' Party, until its dissolution.
Slogans and songs
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