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Why did Nazism thrive in Germany?

  1. Apr 16, 2010 #1
    Why did Nazism rise to power so quickly before and during World War 2 in Germany? Did Germany as a whole know that Hitler was killing Jews? Do you think something like Nazism will ever be able to thrive in Germany again?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 16, 2010 #2
    Isn't that like asking whether Americans knew (after fire-bombing scores of Japanese cities and nuking Hiroshima) that their government would nuke Nagasaki? Whether they knew Bush would attack Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan without waiting for UN direction?

    In your country, are people more encouraged to fly a national flag rather than to think of themselves as citizens of the world?
  4. Apr 16, 2010 #3
    Oh, Good point.
  5. Apr 17, 2010 #4
    Every biography of Hitler addresses the question of how he could possibly have come to power and the answer mostly lies in the state of chaos Germany was in after WWI. He didn't have the general support some people assume. There were substantial parties like the Social Democrats and the Communists who were a serious threat to the Nazi's power base. Hitler was more savagely aggressive than either of those parties and he eventually crushed his competitors for political power using every means at his disposal.

    Hitler came off as exceptionally dedicated, organized, nationalistic, and he offered a clear cut enemy to destroy. For many people he was the "Man With The Plan" who could stop the political and economic chaos and get Germany back on it's feet, pull it out of the quagmire of post WWI chaos. With this image, he was able to acquire a large body of willing, even fanatic, followers and, once he had, he used them to beat down (often literally) his potential rivals within Germany. The first country he conquered was, really, Germany itself. The early Nazi Party was like an exceptionally well organized street gang taking over turf: Communists, Social Democrats, and Jews were cornered on city streets and beaten up.

    There were widespread rumors that every German had heard.

    No. I think there's an erroneous notion that there was a particularly strong strain of anti-semitism in Germany always waiting to be tapped. In fact, back then, a political party with anti-semitism as a major point of policy could have arisen in Poland, France, Russia, maybe even in the US. There was a lot of low-grade anti-semitism all over the place. Today Germany is too well fed and satisfied to find a fanatic of any ilk appealing.

    That is small comfort since there are plenty of 'Nazi-like' groups all over the world, in that they're essentially violent, power hungry, and have singled out racial, ethnic, or ideological enemies to exterminate. Since Hitler there's been Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, to name a few.
  6. Apr 17, 2010 #5
    That's true. Hitler was defeated by the incumbent 83 year old Paul von Hindenburg in the April, 1932 presidential election. In Germany, at that time, the chancellor (prime minister) and cabinet required presidential approval to hold office; something Hitler had been unable to get. The Nazi Party spent millions on the election, while Hitler traveled all over Germany in an American style campaign. Hindenburg stayed home and gave a few interviews. Hitler got about 37% of the vote while Hindenburg got 53%. The party was nearly broke, and lost financial backers. The Nazis lost seats in the Reichstag later that year. It looked as if Nazi fortunes had peaked and were now receding. Hitler himself apparently thought so.

    In early January, 1933 a group of politicians led by former chancellor Franz von Papen called on Hitler in Munich and proposed a power sharing deal. They were reluctant to give Hitler the chancellorship in a new government (von Papen wanted that for himself), but gave in to Hitler's demands. Faced with a majority coalition, von Hindenburg had no choice but to appoint Hitler chancellor on January 30, 1933.


    EDIT: In the second paragraph, I'm apparently wrong about Hindenburg "being forced" to appoint Hitler. It seems that even with his deal with von Papen, the coalition lacked a clear majority. So Hindenburg could have refused to appoint Hitler chancellor as he had done in the past. It appears the old man simply caved under heavy pressure from a variety of quarters. The point is that Hitler came to power by a series of backroom intrigues by people who thought they could control him and had no expectation of what actually would happen.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2010
  7. Apr 17, 2010 #6
    Exactly. He did not get into power by popular vote. After his appointment as Chancellor he sprang what he called the "Nazi Erhebung" (Nazi Uplifting): nine months of internal terror during which all the remaining opposition leaders and spokespeople were killed or taken to the camps. After he had thoroughly intimidated all possible opposition he then held another election which he won by an overwhelming majority. No one dared vote against him at that point.
  8. Apr 18, 2010 #7
    Someone told me that after Nazism was taught at her school, some of the kids started identifying a certain teacher as being a nazi. They had to explain to the kids that ganging up on that teacher was very similar to what nazism was about.

    Although many people found national-socialism offensive as a result of depictions of nazi attrocities, it is ironic that much of the post-WWII reaction against nazism came in the form of feelings of national superiority over Germany. People identified themselves as victims or innocents on the basis of national identity, and identified nazism with Germanness, which was the same kind of ethnic stereotyping that was so offensive about nazism to them in the first place.

    Ironically, when people are pointing their finger at someone else, they are often unaware or even resistant to acknowledging the same thing in themselves. To use Christian language, "the one without sin casts the first stone."
  9. Apr 18, 2010 #8


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    More to the point, imo, the very concept of Nationalism has fallen out of favor in the western world.

    ...though yes, general stability is key too.
  10. Apr 18, 2010 #9


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    Just a point of order: Jews are a popular target of holocaust accounts, so many people do not know that millions of Russians, Poles, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and myriad other groups suffered the same fate.

    When accounting for these other groups, the number of holocaust victims rises well above the common "6 million" number to between 11 and 17 million.

    Carry on.
  11. Apr 18, 2010 #10
    Yet there is resistance to globalism, migration, and ethno-national integration at the global level.

    Interestingly, one of the stereotypes of Jews that was pushed by nazism was that they were not loyal to any nation. I wonder if this wasn't mainly strategic to generate solidarity among different brands of nationalists for unifying Europe.

    I.e. if all nationalists could be unified in solidarity against Jews, they would not fight each other, which nationalists tend to do, no?

    I even think there is a similar ideology in anti-globalization against the US as the demon cultural-imperialist. This creates solidarity among distinct ethnic identity-groups in preserving cultural traditions against "globalization"
  12. Apr 18, 2010 #11
    In a similar vein, one would think that if there were one group of people who should have learned from all this never to force another ethnic group into walled ghettos (and then shower them with a chemical weapon) ...

    I'd like to share that opinion, do you have evidence to base it on?
  13. Apr 18, 2010 #12
    He's right that some governments have made laws against nationalist expression as an attempt to prevent populism similar to that of nazism. I think this happens mainly in NW Europe, but it may occur elsewhere as well.
  14. Apr 18, 2010 #13


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    The existence of NATO, the EU and UN.
  15. Apr 18, 2010 #14
    Nazism is banned in Germany.

    Hitler was actually a very stable man leading up to the invasion of Poland and the campaign shortly there after. Against Rommels will Hitler would ride with the troops on the front line, which gained him huge respect from the Wehrmacht. It wasn't until later that he turned into a sorry excuse for a human being.

    Germans needed someone to blame for the mess, and the "degenerates" were the ones that the Nazi party blamed.
  16. Apr 18, 2010 #15
    In the western world, yes. It is alive and kicking east of Germany. Nationalism was the driving force behind the break-up of the Soviet bloc, and the cause of all major conflicts there: Nagorno-Karabakh, Yugoslavia, Abkhazia, Baltic states ... Baltic states managed to separate relatively painfully because the Soviet government was weak and let them go without trouble. (However, to this day, 20 years after the fact, ethnic Russians are still persecuted and treated as second-class citizens in all three Baltic states.) Things were particularly nasty in Yugoslavia because there was a nationalist party in each subregion (Kosovans vs. Serbians vs. Bosnians, etc. etc.) and they all refused to deal with each other nicely.
  17. Apr 19, 2010 #16
    I've read differently. That Hitler was never particularly intelligent or good at his job but simply had drawn intelligent and effective leaders to him (or that they were using him as a figurehead depending on the source) and eventually began to distrust them and relied more on less intelligent and effective party members. He had the support of great strategists and leaders, which reflected well on him, until they began to point out the folly of his plans.
  18. Apr 19, 2010 #17
    Oh don't get me wrong, Hitler was a horrible military strategist. Rommel fought the whole African campaign with very little guidance from Hitler. If Hitler would have stayed out of the eastern front, it might have been a different story. Hitler had a lot of really brilliant men around him that did most of his work, and like you said, Hitler was the face of the organization. The big turn of Hitlers more intelligent men was around the time that Rommel came back to the European campaign, this was when Hitler was seen as the truly crazy man by his actual followers.

    Rommel was actually going to surrender the Wehrmacht to the allied forces as soon as they got Hitler out of the way because he saw the war was already lost.
  19. Apr 19, 2010 #18
    Hitler showed signs of instability as early as his teen age years. He convinced his widowed mother to let him drop out of Mittleschule and go to Vienna to study art (paid for by her). He failed to gain admission twice, but never told his mother. He used her money to live a 'Bohemian' life style for close to two years, until his mother died of cancer in 1907. The money ran out and Hitler sank into virtual homelessness, doing odd jobs and selling post cards that he drew. During this period, some believe he contracted syphilis, and in later life may have been manifesting mental signs of late stage disease.

    WWI got Hitler off the street and into uniform. He volunteered for solitary missions, and exhibited risky (or brave to a fault) behavior. He won two Iron Crosses, but was never promoted above Lance Corporal; a fact which deeply angered him. His superiors didn't mind that he took chances with his own life, but they didn't want him commanding other men.

    After the war Hitler was able to exploit difficult conditions in Germany with his inflammatory and highly repetitious rhetoric. It could be said that Hitler gave basically the same speech over and over for a decade before coming to power.

    He exhibited signs of manic-depression, paranoia, and megalomania all his adult life. Other than that, he was pretty stable.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2010
  20. Apr 19, 2010 #19
    "During his three periods of temporary duty as the commander of the Fuhgrebegleitbataillon, Rommel's admiration for Hitler grew. The Swabian colonel witnessed none of the adverse reactions Hitler would later show to bad news. There were no temper tantrums, no unreasonable behavior, no fits. In 1939, Adolf Hitler still maintained control of all his faculties. He impressed Rommel with his actions under stress, his incredible memory, and his physical courage. The two liked and respected each other."

    "Adolf Hitler in Poland in 1939 was far different from the shell of a man who died, cringing and almost completely mad, in a subterranean bunker in 1945. Rommel had a great deal of trouble with him because he liked to be up front with the forward troops, even when they were under fire. The Fuhrer went so far as to expose himself to Polish sniper fire, and to observe the storming of a river line by German infantry."

    both from Rommel's Desert War

    ""There is no question of personal courage in this war; it is a business proposition where ever man bust be in his place and performing his part. Keep control of your reserve and supply, ho have no business in a Tank and I give you the order not to go into this fight in a tank." As Rockenbach told a postwar audience: "Patton obeyed his order, but saw his duty to go in the fight on top of a tank.""

    Patton: A Genius of War

    Hitler was fearless, and showed the Wehrmacht he wasn't afraid to get into the fight, and risk his own life.(mind you this was before he turned into a mad man) That gives the troops confidence in their leader. Patton did the exact same thing on many occasions, but the book I quoted is the only one I have on hand right now.
  21. Apr 19, 2010 #20


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    In 1939, Hitler had no reason to come unglued. He was living his psychotic dream! That doesn't mean he was sane.
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