Term Paper, 2011
8 Pages, Grade: 1,0
The basis for National Socialism
Creating a national enemy
Creating a ‘people’s community’
The question of “how could it happen?” has been one of the, if not the most investigated and still most disputed matters of the history of the Third Reich and German history in general. One important, although by far not the only, aspect while trying to answer this question is the remarkable lack of resistance within the German population. But why was there so little resistance? What made the Germans accept the Nazi regime and their inhumane ideology? How did the Nazi regime manage to convince people, at least to the extent that they kept silent, of the alleged righteousness and necessity of eliminating the Jewish race? Propaganda plays a central role in this issue and this essay aims to investigate some of the major concepts, as well as reasons for the success of the Nazi propaganda.
It is often forgotten that the ‘seizure of power’ by Hitler and the NSDAP was not a violent overthrow but rather the result of a gradual process in which the increasing support from the population played an important role (Spielvogel, 1996, p. 59-66). But what were the reasons for the rising popularity of the National Socialists?
In the late 1920s, the situation in Germany was severely problematic. The First World War had left its marks on the country and its population, both physically, in terms of war damages and losses and psychologically due to the Treaty of Versailles and its consequences which left the Germans dissatisfied and humiliated. Towards the end of the 1920s the attempted establishing of a democracy more and more turned into political chaos, resulting in party fragmentation and eventually in a minority government that was ruling by ‘emergency decrees’ (Spielvogel, 1996, p. 12-14).
As to the political reasons for the rise of National Socialism, the French ambassador in Berlin, André François-Ponçet, said in a speech to his government: “He [Hitler] only had to puff - the German politics construction tumbled down like a house of cards” (http://www.bpb.de).
However, in order to gain power and influence the Nazis also needed the support of the people. In addition to the aftermaths of the war mentioned above, the decline of the German economy, peaking in the world depression in 1929 lead to inflation and mass unemployment, thus dragging people into an even more miserable lot. There was a high level of dissatisfaction among the population, disappointment spread and people began to lose faith in the republic and the principle of democracy. Given the shattered social structure and the overall sullenness and hopelessness, the call for a strong leader grew louder. Hence the Germans only too willingly accepted the promises of the (newly emerged) National Socialist party and their leader Adolf Hitler to lead the country out of the crisis, to provide employment and better living conditions for everyone (Spielvogel, 1996, p.15-17 and p. 53-56). Jackson J. Spielvogel nicely phrases this as follows:
Nazi propaganda provided simple but apparently understandable reasons for the economic collapse. The Nazis blamed the Versailles settlement and reparations, the Weimar system itself […] and the political parties that perpetuated it. They blamed the communists who wanted a revolution that would destroy the traditional German values. They blamed big business and the economic profiteers who were ruining the middle class. And they blamed the Jews, who allegedly stood behind Marxism, the Weimar system, much of big business, and economic profiteering. (Spielvogel, 1996, p. 53-54)
The last sentence of Spielvogel’s quote brings us to one of the two major concepts the Nazis used once they had taken over the government in order to ‘educate’ people so they would keep supporting the regime and its ideology: the creation of a national enemy that allegedly posed an existential threat to the German Volk. As Spielvogel said, the Nazis used the Jews as a scapegoat for basically everything that had gone wrong and had caused the miserable situation that Germany found itself in (Spielvogel, 1996, p. 53-54).
Randall L. Bytwerk (2005) extends this even further by saying that Hitler blamed the Jews for the outbreak of the Second World War, both when the war had already begun and as a kind of ‘prophecy’ even previous to the war. In a speech to the Reichstag on January 30, 1939 Hitler said:
If international finance Jewry within Europe and abroad should succeed once more in plunging the peoples into a world war, then the consequence will be not the Bolshevization of the world and therewith a victory of Jewry, but on the contrary, the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe. (Bytwerk, 2005, p. 39)
Furthermore, Bytwerk (2005) claims that, using the argument that “international Jewry” (Bytwerk, 2005, p. 43) is determined to destroy Germany, Hitler justified the genocide of the Jews by saying that it would merely be self-defence to destroy the Jews first and that “just as the Jews were serious about exterminating Germany, they were equally serious about exterminating the Jews” (Bytwerk, 2005, p. 37).
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