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The Rise of the Nazis to Power in Germany

Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power due to the social and political circumstances that characterized the interwar
period in Germany. Many Germans could not concede their countrys defeat in World War I, arguing that
backstabbing and weakness in the rear had paralyzed and, eventually, caused the front to collapse. The Jews, they
claimed, had done much to spread defeatism and thus destroy the German army. Democracy in the Weimar
Republic, they argued, was a form of governance that had been imposed on Germany and was unsuited to the
German nature and way of life. They construed the terms of the Versailles peace treaty and the steep compensation
payments that it entailed as revenge by the victors and a glaring injustice. This frustration, together with intransigent
resistance and warnings about the surging menace of Communism, created fertile soil for the growth of radical rightwing groups in Germany, spawning entities such as the Nazi Party.

In 1925, a transitory economic upturn and a promising political dialogue brought relative calm into sight. However, the
severe international economic crisis that erupted in 1929 carried the instability to new heights.

In 1919, Adolf Hitler, a released soldier wounded in WWI, joined a small and insignificant group called the National
Socialist Party. He became the groups leader and formulated the racial and antisemitic principles in its charter. In
1923 party activists led a revolt and tried to seize power in Munich, but failed. Hitler was imprisoned, during which
time he wrote his venomous book Mein Kampf (My Struggle), in which he expressed his ideas about racial theory and
Nazi global dominion. Hitler realized that he must employ legitimate democratic means in his struggle to seize power.
However, he and his associates left no doubt about their belief in democratic freedoms as mere tools with which
power might be attained. After his release Hitler reorganized the party.
In the 1924 Reichstag elections, the Nazi Party received three percent of the votes cast and was represented in the
parliament by fourteen delegates. In the 1928 elections, its support declined; the party was able to send only twelve
delegates to the legislature. The turnaround came in 1930, the first elections after the economic crisis began.
Surprisingly, the Nazis received 18.3 percent of the vote and sent 107 delegates to the Reichstag, the German
Parliament. In July 1932, with 230 mandates, they became the largest faction in the House a political force that
made an impact and acceded to power legitimately. President Paul von Hindenburg gave Hitler the mandate to form a
government, and Hitler became Chancellor on January 30, 1933.

The Beginning of the Persecution of Jews in Germany

In the 1930s, Germanys Jews some 500,000 people made up less than one percent (0.8%) of the German
population. Most considered themselves loyal patriots, linked to the German way of life by language and culture.
They excelled in science, literature, the arts, and economic enterprise. 24% of Germanys Nobel Prize winners were
Jewish. However, conversion, intermarriage, and declining birth rates, led some to believe that Jewish life was
doomed to disappear from the German scene altogether.

The paradox was that Nazi ideology stemmed from Germany and the German people, among whom Jews eagerly
wanted to acculturate. Indeed, there was a widespread belief amongst many Jews in the illusion that the role they
played within industry and trade and their contributions to the German economy would prevent the Germans from
completely excluding them.

Nazi anti-Jewish policy functioned on two primary levels: legal measures to expel the Jews from society and strip
them of their rights and property while simultaneously engaging in campaigns of incitement, abuse, terror and
violence of varying proportions. There was one goal: to make the Jews leave Germany.

On March 9, 1933, several weeks after Hitler assumed power, organized attacks on Jews broke out across Germany.
Two weeks later, the Dachau concentration camp, situated near Munich, opened. Dachau became a place of
internment for Communists, Socialists, German liberals and anyone considered an enemy of the Reich. It became the
model for the network of concentration camps that would be established later by the Nazis. Within a few months,
democracy was obliterated in Germany, and the country became a centralized, single-party police state.
On April 1, 1933, a general boycott against German Jews was declared, in which SA members stood outside Jewishowned stores and businesses in order to prevent customers from entering.
Approximately one week later, a law concerning the rehabilitation of the professional civil service was passed. The
purpose of the legislation was to purge the civil service of officials of Jewish origin and those deemed disloyal to the
regime. It was the first racial law that attempted to isolate Jews and oust them from German life. The first laws
banished Jews from the civil service, judicial system, public medicine, and the German army (then being
reorganized). Ceremonial public book burnings took place throughout Germany. Many books were torched solely

because their authors were Jews. The exclusion of Jews from German cultural life was highly visible, ousting their
considerable contribution to the German press, literature, theater, and music.

In September 1935 the Nuremberg Laws were passed, stripping the Jews of their citizenship and forbidding
intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews. Jews were banned from universities; Jewish actors were dismissed from
theaters; Jewish authors works were rejected by publishers; and Jewish journalists were hard-pressed to find
newspapers that would publish their writings. Famous artists and scientists played an important role in this campaign
of dispossession and party labeling of literature, art, and science. Some scientists and physicians were involved in
the theoretical underpinnings of the racial doctrine.

NAZI IDEOLOGY did not explicitly prescribe the system of camps that has become emblematic of Nazi terror, but
the way the camps functioned reflected some key points in Nazi thinking. Central to Hitler's view of the world were the
twin goals of expanding Germany's territory and purifying the so-called Aryan race. Camps of various kinds evolved
over the twelve years of Nazi rule to further these goals. The development of the camps also reflected pragmatic
considerations that changed over time. From surveying the camps, we can see how much power Hitler had to
implement his plans, and when he and the rest of the Nazi leadership needed to pay attention to public opinion, both
inside Germany and abroad.


The first concentration camp in Germany opened in Dachau in 1933, at a time when the Nazi government was still
consolidating its power. Accordingly, it focused on political prisonerscommunists, social democrats, and dissidents
who posed a threat to the new regime and were unpopular with most other Germans.
All of these early victims were easy targets, people whom other Germans did little or nothing to
protect, and whose disappearance from the public scene they often welcomed.
Soon Nazi authorities and the police began to consign members of other groups to the new camps: homosexual men
arrested as criminal offenders; Jehovah's Witnesses who refused to obey demands to cease their activities; women
accused of prostitution; people labeled "asocial" because they were homeless, begged, or for some other reason did
not fit into Nazi society.
In 1936, in preparation for the Olympic Games in Berlin, German police "cleaned up" the city, arresting people
deemed inappropriateprostitutes, street people, petty thievesand forcing hundreds of Gypsies (Sinti and Roma)
into makeshift camps. All of these early victims were easy targets, people whom other Germans did little or nothing to
protect, and whose disappearance from the public scene they often welcomed.


Mass attacks on Nazi targets that included widely respected members of German society did not start until 1938, five
years after Hitler was named chancellor. By then Nazis had firm control of all the instruments of state powerthe
police, courts, laws, civil service, military and pressso they could afford to be less cautious.
This was the first time Jews were sent to concentration camps for no other reason than that they
were Jews.
In November 1938 during the Kristallnacht Pogrom (also called the "Night of Broken Glass"), Hitler Youth,
stormtroopers, and other thugs torched hundreds of synagogues all over Germany and attacked German Jews, their
homes, and their property. At the same time, police arrested approximately 30,000 Jewish men and locked them in
concentration camps, where they were held in "protective custody." This was the first time Jews were sent to
concentration camps for no other reason than that they were Jews.


During the following year, 1939, Nazi authorities began deadly attacks on one of their major targets: people
considered handicapped. Rather than sending them to concentration camps where they would have to be housed
and fed along with people who were being held and then sometimes released, disabled people were taken from
hospitals and other institutions and sent to designated locations for "special treatment." That "special treatment" was
killing. In just a few years, with the cooperation of scores of doctors, social workers, hospital administrators, and
others, Nazi officials organized and carried out the murder of at least 70,000 Germans deemed "unfit for life." To the
extent possible, the authorities tried to hide these killings from the rest of the population, so that family members
would not protest.


As Germany annexed territories in 1938 and 1939 from Austria and Czechoslovakia, it built new camps and prisons in
those areas. Once World War II began in 1939, German conquests led to construction of all kinds of camps in
Poland. Camps in the Netherlands, France, and elsewhere in western and northwestern Europe followed in 1940,
and beginning in 1941, in Greece, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union. These included POW camps for captured
enemy soldiers, labor camps for conquered people, brothels based on sexual slavery, ghettos for Jews, camps for
Gypsies, and starting in late 1941, death camps equipped with the means to murder thousands of peoplealmost
always Jewseach day.
Nazi ideology needed enemies, and its aggressive expansion provided an ever-growing supply.
By 1945, when Allied troops opened the camps, the types of prisoners they encountered form a catalogue of
everyone the Nazis vilified. There were Jews from all over Europe, communists, and Polish intellectuals; partisans
and resistance fighters from Yugoslavia, France, Ukraine, and elsewhere; Gypsies, gay men, Afro-Europeans,
uncooperative Roman Catholic priests, and Protestant pastors; critics of the regime and people who had merely told
jokes about Hitler; male and female forced laborers; conscientious objectors; Germans accused of sexual relations
with so-called non-Aryans; Jehovah's Witnesses; Italian soldiers who had surrendered to the Allies; convicted
criminals; and many others. As this list indicates, Nazi ideology needed enemies, and its aggressive expansion
provided an ever-growing supply.


The day-to-day functioning of the camps exhibited another feature of Nazi ideology and practiceits tendency to
divide and rule its opponents. Nazis specialized in pitting people against each other, as a way to ease the processes
of subjugation and destruction. Within Germany, this approach meant picking on the least popular elements of the
population first, so as to maximize public support, or at least indifference. In conquered territories, it meant turning
ethnic groups or social classes against each otherlike Serbs and Croats in Yugoslavia or Ukrainians, Poles, and
Jews in Poland.
To enforce the hierarchy, guards chose some prisoners from higher-ranking groups to help them
control the rest of the inmates.
Inside the camps, divide and rule meant using prisoners to tyrannize each other. To this end, guards in most camps
marked prisoners of different categories with colored badges: red triangles for communists and other political
prisoners, green triangles for common criminals, pink triangles for homosexual men, purple for Jehovah's Witnesses,
black for Gypsies and asocials, and yellow for Jews.
Camp authorities then instituted a hierarchy among the inmates that mirrored the Nazi racial hierarchy of "Aryans" on
top, Jews at the bottom, and others ordered in between. To enforce the hierarchy, guards chose some prisoners from
higher-ranking groups to help them control the rest of the inmates. These kapos, block supervisors, and other
privileged prisoners were often extremely brutal. Many understood that brutal behavior would prove their toughness
to the guards and result in more privileges, goods, and power for themselves and their friends. This strategy
worsened the horror of the camps and revealed the total destructiveness at the core of Nazi ideology and practice.