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What Role did Hitler Play in the Development of the Nazi Totalitarian State 1933 – 45?

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What Role did Hitler Play in the Development of the Nazi Totalitarian State 1933 – 45?. The decline of the cabinet government.

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The decline of the cabinet government

Since Germany had become a republic, it had been traditional to run the country by cabinet government. In a cabinet government a decision is made after all members have discussed an issue. All members of the cabinet are then expected to accept the decision.

During Hitler’s first year in office, Hitler ran the country with the cabinet, which included many non-Nazis. However, over the next two years Hitler worked to remove from the cabinet all those who were not Nazis, and the cabinet was called less often to help make decisions. The cabinet met for the last time in February 1938.

The Reich Chancellery took over the role of the cabinet. Its key role was to draw up legislation. Lammers, head of the Reich Chancellery, was extremely important, as he controlled the flow of information to Hitler.

The organization of the Nazi party

Führer The undisputed leader of the party.

Reichsleitung The Führer’s closest advisers, e.g. party treasurer and the Führer’s deputy.

Landesinspekteur Regional inspectors; there were originally 9, but they were later replaced by the Gauleiter.

Gauleiter 36 leaders of districts, such as Saxony. The number grew as more areas were included.

Kreisleiter Equivalent to a rural council.

Ortsgruppenleiter Leaders responsible for a town.

Zellenleiter Responsible for a neighbourhood or employment unit.

What do you notice about the organization of the party?

The Party v state civil service

From 1934, Hitler began to give more power to other members within the party. In 1934 the Führer’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, was given power to supervise new laws. In 1935 he was given a say in new appointments.

Hess and his Chief of Staff, Martin Bormann, set up an organisation to rival the Reich Chancellery. It ran party affairs and managed party-state relations. It meant that by 1937 all state officials were directly responsible to Hitler and civil servants had to be party members.

Bormann became the Führer’s Secretary in 1943. This further strengthened state-party relations, as most people had to go through Bormann to see Hitler. This meant the party now had a greater influence than the civil service.

Maintaining employment

“In order to keep their jobs many men felt forced to join the Party, whether they sympathized with its aims or not … whole professions, such as school teachers and … all government employees … were forced to join or resign. In many of the professions, such as law or journalism, membership of the appropriate Nazi Party professional organisation was essential. Thus a friend of mine, a lawyer and at all times a convinced anti-Nazi, maintains that he deliberately joined the Party because only thus was he able to defend anti-Nazis in court…” C Fitzgibbon, 1969.

What does this tell you about life in Nazi Germany?

How great was Nazi control of people’s lives?

The Nazi police state

The key aim of the police in Nazi Germany was to arrest people before they committed crimes.

Why do you think they did this?

Why were they allowed to do this?

All local police forces had to draw up lists of potential ‘enemies of the state” and give them to the Gestapo (the secret police). The Gestapo, as a branch of the SS, were basically allowed to do what they wanted.

What do you think the Gestapo did with these lists of names? Why do you think that no one stood up to them when they took people away?

Another branch of the SS (the Death Head Units) ran the concentration camps. Their uniforms had a skull and crossbones badge.

Enemies of the state

Read the source on the next slide which is by a former prisoner.

Make a list of the kinds of people who were likely to be listed as ‘enemies of the state’.

What does this tell you about how complete Nazi power was?

“…In Buchenwald there were 8,000 of us, 2,000 Jews and 6,000 non-Jews … [including] ‘politicals’ (as, for example, the Communist members of the Reichstag) … In addition … there are many poor devils … accused of having spoken abusively of the sacred person of the Führer…

“After the ‘political’, the category of the so-called ‘work-shy’ is the largest … An example. A business employee lost his position and applied for unemployment relief. One fine day he was informed by the Labour Exchange that he could obtain employment as a navvy on the new motor roads. This man, who was looking for a commercial post, turned down the offer. The Labour Exchange then reported him to the Gestapo as being ‘work-shy’ … The fourth category consisted of the homosexuals…”

Undoing Versailles

Hitler had three main foreign policy aims:

  • to tear up the Treaty of Versailles
  • to unite all Germans in a single country
  • to provide Germany with ‘lebensraum’ (living space).

Explain why Germans would like these policies.

  • the Treaty of Versailles blamed Germany for starting the war, and took away large amounts of money and her army.
  • millions of Germans were now separated from their families, living in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Austria.
  • the problems with the economy during the 1920s and 1930s showed that Germany did not have enough raw materials for its needs. One solution was to take over the rich farmlands and mines of countries to Germany’s east.

Hitler had only been in power for a year when he issued his first orders to expand the armed forces. He planned for the army to treble from 100,000 to 300,000, the navy to build six submarines and two ‘pocket battleships’; and Göring was given the task of forming an air force and training them secretly in civilian air clubs.

Why were these initial orders so secret? (think of Versailles).

In 1935 Hitler publicly announced that there would be compulsory military service in order to build the army up to 550,000 men.

What do you think the reactions of Germany’s neighbours were to this announcement?

Why did Hitler now feel he could cast off the veil of secrecy?

Britain, France and Italy condemned Hitler’s announcement, but no country took military action to stop this breach of the Treaty of Versailles.

The Rhineland

River Rhine



The Rhineland

The Treaty of Versailles forbade the German army from being within 50 kilometres of the River Rhine. In 1926, Britain and France agreed to use their armies if German troops moved into this area. Yet in 1936, Hitler ordered his army to march into the Rhineland.

Hitler had only 30,000 fully equipped troops. What should the Allies do?

River Rhine



The Rhineland

The British refused to help the French, and the French did not want to fight Germany alone. This meant that the Germans were able to stay. They started to build a line of forts on Germany’s borders with France and Belgium in order to prevent future attack.

Hitler’s alliances

In 1936, Spain erupted in Civil War.

Hitler sent his best air force unit, the Condor Legion, to fight on the side of General Franco. Not only did this give the Condor Legion a chance to practice bombing methods, but it would also provide Hitler with an ally if Franco won.

Mussolini, leader of Italy, was a fascist like Hitler. In 1936, Hitler and Mussolini signed the Rome-Berlin Axis Pact, agreeing to work closely together in foreign affairs.

Hitler also signed an agreement with Japan. The Anti-Comintern Pact meant that Hitler had a strong ally outside of Europe.

Hitler’s next step was to unify Germany and Austria. This was known as anschluss.

Why do you think Hitler took care planning this anschluss?

Annexing Austria

Because of the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler did not want to simply march in and make Austria part of Germany. Instead, he wanted a situation to occur meaning the Nazis were invited in.

In 1938, Hitler ordered the Austrian Nazi Party to start causing trouble in Austria. They set fire to buildings, organized fights and even set off bombs. The Austrian leader, Kurt Schuschnigg, retaliated by banning the Austrian Nazi Party.

Hitler met with Schuschnigg and threatened to invade Austria if he didn’t give all the important jobs in the government to Nazis.

Schauschnigg had to agree, but tried to get round it by organising a plebiscite (vote) to see whether the Austrians wanted to join with Germany or stay independent.

Hitler moved his army to the Austrian border. Schuschnigg asked Italy, France and Britain for their protection, but they refused to help, so Schuschnigg had to resign. He was replaced by an Austrian Nazi who asked Hitler to send in the German army to help restore order.

Germany in Europe

Polish Corridor– this split Germany in two, and left many Germans under foreign rule.

The Rhineland– this was demilitarized under the Treaty of Versailles to protect France & Belgium

The Sudentenland– richest part of Czechoslovakia. Contained 3 million German speakers, and had been part of Austrian Empire






Austria– 8 million German speakers, many of whom wanted to join with Germany.





Imagine you are Göbbels. Design a poster explaining why Germany should expand her European borders.


As you can see from the map, Czechoslovakia was like a thorn in Germany’s side, one which Hitler intended removing. Over 3 million Germanic people were living in Sudentenland, and they were keen to join with Germany. They supported a Nazi-style party (the Sudeten German Party) led by Konrad Henlein.


In 1938, Hitler told Henlein to stir up trouble in Sudentenland. Meanwhile, Hitler moved his troops to the Czech border. The Czechs found out and got ready to fight. They had a large army and France was their ally. Hitler had to back off.

Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, was sure that there would be a big war if Hitler wasn’t given Sudentenland. He persuaded France that the areas really should belong to Germany, due to its cultural make-up.

Hitler once again began to plan for invasion. Heinlein stirred up trouble again. Germans were shot and so Hitler threatened the Czechs with war.

The Munich Conference

Chamberlain was still worried about war, and met with Hitler on several occasions throughout 1938. On 29 September 1938, Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini and Edouard Daladier (France) met at Munich to sign the Munich Agreement.

This compelled Czechoslovakia to surrender the Sudentenland to Germany.

Chamberlain claimed it would guarantee ‘peace in our time’.

How do you think Hitler viewed the Munich Conference? What message was it sending him?

Hitler saw it as an indication of how weak the Allies had become. He realised that they would condemn, but not take military action. It left the door open for further expansion.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact

In March 1939, Hitler’s army marched into the rest of Czechoslovakia and took over the western half, while Poland and Hungary took the rest.

Britain and France now realised that Hitler would stop at nothing to get his ‘lebensraum’. They believed his next target would be Poland. Finally, the two countries agreed to fight to protect Poland. This should have stopped Hitler, but it didn’t.

In 1939 Hitler signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact with the USSR.

Why would this pact have been so surprising to the rest of Europe?

The pact included an agreement that Germany and Russia would not fight each other. They also secretly agreed to attack Poland and divide it between them.

This meant that Hitler could invade Poland and reclaim the land that had been taken from Germany to make up the Polish Corridor, without worrying that the USSR would attack.

Germany takes Europe
  • In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Britain declared war on Germany.
  • In the Spring of 1940, the German armies invaded Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
  • On 10 May 1940, the Germans invaded France. Britain was pushed back to Dunkirk.
  • Finally on 22 June 1940 Paris surrendered.
Hitler was victorious across Europe. He had achieved ‘lebensraum’ and proved that Germany were once again a force to be reckoned with. Versailles had been overturned.

Hitler was well on his way to achieving his ‘Reich’ (empire), all of Europe was to be Germany’s colonies.

This initial German sortie was known as ‘Blizkrieg (lightning strike).

Explain why Blizkrieg is such an appropriate name for the events of 1939–40.