National Socialism. How much resistance to the Nazi regime was there in Germany?

Essay, 2018

9 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 What is resistance?

3 Forms of resistance
3.1 German military resistance
3.2 Catholic/Protestant resistance
3.3 Communist/Working class resistance
3.4 Youth resistance

4 Importance/Impact of resistance

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

Germany under the regime of Hitler and the Nazis was without a doubt the darkest period of German history. But although the number was small, some Germans indeed tried to resist National Socialism. This essay will deal with this minority of Germans. It aims to answer the question of how much resistance there really was in Germany. Because even though the resistance was small, and they were unable to overthrow Hitler’s regime, it is still a relevant topic to discuss and historians have not settled on one opinion yet.

The essay will foremost deal with the question of what forms of resistance there were and what impact they had. But to answer these questions, the essay will start with the question “What is resistance?”, as this is not an easy term to define. The main part of the essay deals with the different forms of resistance which will be analysed by giving examples of people and groups who represented individual forms of resistance. The essay will focus only on the most important forms and events as not all of them can be covered in the size of the essay. The last point will deal with the importance of resistance to the Nazi regime and what impact it had, which is also connected to the question, why the resistance was not bigger.

2 What is resistance?

To define resistance in terms of Germany’s opposition to the Nazis and their regime is not an easy task. In the Oxford Dictionary (2018) it says that resistance is “the refusal to accept or comply with something” which is quite a broad term. The question is whether to define it broadly “to embrace every type of action or behaviour which showed open opposition to the regime” or narrowly “as actions taken by individuals who attempted to overthrow it” (McDonough 1999, p. 57). It is still discussed by historians nowadays as they do not share one opinion on it. Martin Broszat for instance has introduced the term Resistenz which in a way is a broader but also narrower term. It includes everyone who “played an actual role in curtailing the impact of the National Socialist regime and National Socialist ideology” (Broszat 2000, p. 242). Kershaw (2015, pp. 170-171) distinguishes between ‘opposition’ as actions only directed against limited characteristics of the regime and ‘resistance’ as active participation in organized attempts to undermine the regime.

This essay will focus more on the active resistance. Although there was quite a lot of opposition which took passive forms like spreading rumors, trading on the black market, hiding people or turning a blind eye to oppositionist activities and even helping Jews. It was always a risk to resist. “Resistance forced the individual to be cautious even in conversations with close confidants” (Mommsen 1999, p. 273). Most of the important resistance groups and individuals ended in being executed by the Nazis.

3 Forms of resistance

There have been different groups and individuals resisting the regime. But the most important ones which should be mentioned here are the resistance from the German military, the churches, the communists and the German youth. Even though there have been all these resistance groups, there was never a united movement as in other countries. All these groups and individuals had different reasons and different ways of resistance. Some of the resistance tried to remove Hitler from power and overthrow his regime, others just tried to get more people to understand and follow the resistance movement.

3.1 German military resistance

Besides the church, the military is the only other institution that remained some degree of autonomy from the Nazi Party. But even inside the army there wasn’t one united resistance group but several. Although eventually they all had the plan to assassinate Hitler.

Some tried to ask for support of the western countries, but they wouldn’t assist them or even recognize their requests, mostly because they did not dare to go behind Stalin’s back (McDonough 1999, p. 60) and because their peace proposals to Britain or France requested to keep most of the territories they had brutally gained by war which made them impossible to accept (Housden 1997, p. 109). Their mistake was that they took it for granted that a post-war Germany would still dominate central Europe (McDonough 1999, p. 59).

There had been several attempts to assassinate Hitler which all seemed to have failed by bad luck. The most important one to mention is the 20 July plot around Stauffenberg which took place in 1944 and therefore was one of the very last attempts. “What distinguished [Stauffenberg] from many of his co-conspirators was his desire to create a social democracy in the event of Hitler’s death” (McDonough 1999, p. 60). Stauffenberg attended Hitler’s conferences with a bomb which succeeded to take off, but Hitler survived. The plan was to mobilize Operation Valkyrie afterwards but with Hitler being alive the plan failed just like the previous attempts.

3.2 Catholic/Protestant resistance

The church was the only institution in Germany allowed to retain complete organizational autonomy. But even the church was unable to openly oppose the regime. At the beginning they “tried to come to an arrangement with the regime” but the euthanasia programme, the mass murder of people with mental illness and disabilities, convinced individual Christian groups that political action against the regime was required (Mommsen 1999, p. 267). Their main concern was that Hitler attempted to “undermine long-standing Christian doctrines and practices” (McDonough 1999, p. 57). They eventually succeeded with their protests against T4 (mass murder of disabled) and Hitler cancelled the program. Housden (1997, p. 63) argues though that “it is by no means clear that the euthanasia project was wound up because of their protests”.

The Catholic resistance had also been resisting against closing catholic schools which was not a success, except that they were able to retain the use of the crucifix in classrooms (Kershaw 2015, p. 174).

The Protestant resistance included Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was accused of playing part in the 20 July plot and Martin Niemöller, leader of the Confessing Church. “Niemöller and his followers believed that an accommodation between an independent church and the state was actually possible” (Housden 1997, p. 53). But eventually they had to learn better as both were arrested and about 800 pastors of the Confessional Church put in concentration camps (McDonough 1999, p. 58).

3.3 Communist/Working class resistance

The communist resistance had to deal with the most sufferings of all the resistances. Of 300.000 members of the KPD, 150.000 were imprisoned and around 30.000 executed (McDonough 1999, p. 61). During most of the Nazi period the KPD therefore was working as an underground party, but it is remarkable that they did not stop their resistance work. What makes the communist resistance special is that they were resisting “by virtue of their political principles” (Housden 1998).

The Red Orchestra, a group formed in 1942 worked together with the Soviet Union and the underground French Communist Party. Another part of that group, led by communists but not KPD members, collected information and distributed leaflets against Hitler and they passed information to foreign countries.

There was one individual who was the first to get close to assassinating Hitler: Georg Elser. He was acting completely on his own. Except that he had temporarily been involved with the KPD (Hoffmann 1996, p. 257), his motives are unknown. The attempt took place on the 8th of November 1939 in the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich. Elser had placed a bomb there which went off, but Hitler left the hall before. It is remarkable that Elser got so close to assassinating Hitler, working all on his own.

3.4 Youth resistance

In general, the youth was especially attracted by the Nazis, but during the war a few youth resistance groups formed. One of them was called Edelweisspiraten. It was more a loose network of working-class youth groups who held meetings and engaged in street fights with the Hitler Youth. “Typically these groups organised hiking weekends in the countryside where they evaded Nazi control. They developed their own greetings instead of ‘Heil Hitler!’, had their own campfire songs, wore their own type of uniform and took on English or American nicknames” (Housden 1997, p. 83). But to the end of the war the Edelweisspiraten and some others engaged in more drastic actions. Many of them were arrested or even executed in public, including six teenaged Edelweisspiraten.

Other teenagers just resisted by listening to swing and jazz, music which was unacceptable under the rule of the Nazis. Even for that they could get arrested.

The only political resistance of the youth was the White Rose, a relatively late resistance group of students in Munich. They denounced the war and were against the mass murder of Jews. In 1943 they launched an anti-Nazi campaign of handbills at their University in Munich. But they were caught and arrested, and Sophie and Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst were sentenced to death, the others later on.


Excerpt out of 9 pages


National Socialism. How much resistance to the Nazi regime was there in Germany?
Cardiff University
German literature
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
national, socialism, nazi, germany
Quote paper
Julia Straub (Author), 2018, National Socialism. How much resistance to the Nazi regime was there in Germany?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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