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In the early 1930s, the mood in Germany was grim. The worldwide economic depression had hit the country especially hard, and millions of people were out of work. Still fresh in the minds of many was Germany's humiliating defeat fifteen years earlier during World War I, and Germans lacked confidence in their weak government, known as the Weimar Republic.


These conditions provided the chance for the rise of a new leader, Adolf Hitler, and his party, the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or Nazi party for short


Hitler was a powerful and spellbinding speaker who attracted a wide following of Germans desperate for change. He promised the disenchanted a better life and a new and glorious Germany.


The Nazis appealed especially to the unemployed, young people, and members of the lower middle class (small store owners, office employees, craftsmen, and farmers).

  • Farmers - Higher prices for their produce - making
  • up for all their losses during the Depression.
  • Unemployed workers - Jobs building public works such as roads and stadiums.
  • Middle Class - To restore the profits of small business
  • and the value of savings. To end the Communist threat.

The party's rise to power was rapid. Before the economic depression struck, the Nazis were practically unknown, winning only 3% of the vote to the Reichstag (German parliament) in elections in 1924. In the 1932 elections, the Nazis won 33% of the votes, more than any other party.


In January 1933 Hitler was appointed chancellor, the head of the German government, and many Germans believed that they had found a saviour for their nation.


[Hitler's policies] were half-baked, racist clap-trap... but among the jumble of hysterical ideas Hitler showed a sure sense of how to appeal to the lowest instincts of frightened masses.

Tony Howarth, a modern historian.


He was holding the masses, and me with them, under an hypnotic spell by the sheer force of his beliefs. His words were like a whip. When he spoke of the disgrace of Germany, I felt ready to attack any enemy.

Karl Ludecke, an early follower of Hitler (1924).


There were simply not enough Germans who believed in democracy and individual freedom to save the Weimar republic.

Written by the modern historian S Williams


In November 1932 elections the Nazis again failed to get a majority of seats in the Reichstag. Their share of the vote fell – from 230 seats to only 196. Hitler contemplated suicide. But then he was rescued by Hindenburg


Franz von Papen (a friend of Hindenburg) was Chancellor, but he could not get enough support in the Reichstag. Hindenburg and von Papen were having to govern by emergency decree under Article 48 of the Constitution. They offered Hitler the post of vice-Chancellor if he promised to support them


Hitler refused – he demanded to be made Chancellor. So Von Papen and Hindenburg took a risk. On 30 January 1933 Hindenburg made Hitler Chancellor. He thought he could control Hitler – how wrong he was.

In the end, Hitler did not TAKE power at all – he was given it.

april 1933
April 1933
  • The Nazis started to take over local governments and the police
  • The Gestapo were established – ‘Secret Police’
  • “Enemies of the state” were rounded up and placed in concentration camps
the night of long knives 1934
The Night of Long Knives (1934)
  • 1934 – SA membership was 2 million
  • Under the control of Ernst Roehm
  • Roehm wanted to absorb the regular army into the SA
  • June 1934 – leading members of the SA were rounded up and executed

77 men were killed on charges of treason

  • Roehm was shot
  • The SA was placed under the control of the army and ceased to exist as a separate entity

Herr Adolf Hitler, the German Chancellor, has saved his country. Swiftly and with exorable severity, he has delivered Germany from men who had become a danger to the unity of the German people and to the order of the state. With lightening rapidity he has caused them to be removed from high office, to be arrested, and put to death.The names of the men who have been shot by his orders are already known. Hitler's love of Germany has triumphed over private friendships and fidelity to comrades who had stood shoulder to shoulder with him in the fight for Germany's future.

Daily Mail, July 2nd 1934



Which of the following was the most important in helping Hitler to take control over Germany? Explain your answer by referring to (i), (ii) and (iii);

(i) The Reichstag Fire,

(ii) The Enabling Law

(iii) The Night of the Long Knives


they salute with both hands now
'They salute with both hands now'



Illustrator: David Low