The twentieth century can be considered to be one of the most dramatic and most eventful centuries the world has ever seen. In the history of the twentieth century there were many world altering events such as wars, the rises and falls of empires, creations of new nations, new political parties, radically new ideas and technological advancements. One of the most darkest and brutal periods of history was between the rise and fall of the German Third Reich. History and the world would be forever changed due to the Second World War and what happened inside of Hitler’s Germany. I believe, that life was difficult not only for German citizens, but also for many others during the Third Reich, which was full of challenges, stresses, fears, hardships and the struggles to survive.
By examining and closely reviewing my main sources for my research, I found the two detailed and informative books that were of help during for my findings. The books The 12-Year Reich, written by Richard Grunberger and Life and Death in the Third Reich, written by Peter Fritzsche provided insight and examples for a historian or someone that has an interest of how life was during the Third Reich, and why this cruel dictatorship existed.
I will show in my research how this merciless totalitarian state was created and how people lived in this domineering dictatorship until it fell, which was the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The Third Reich was able to last for twelve years due to its harsh control practically over all aspects of life through changes
socially, politically, economically, militarily and through the prosecution of religion, this had greatly affected the Jews not only of Germany, but the rest of Europe.
The 12-Year Reich
The book The 12-Year Reich presents detailed examples of what the Nazi regime expected as an “ideal” in their society, and as a result, how the German people answered to their government. In addition to the violent brutality of the corrupted Nazi officials, there was an extermination of minorities and different peoples not deemed as “Aryan”. There was also the propaganda controlling National Socialist Party, and the cult of personality, which in this case was idolizing and worshiping Adolf Hitler as a national Hero, and a savior for Germany; as so they believed.
The author Grunberger further raises interesting questions in his synopsis at the end of his book quoting, “How did the people talk during the Third Reich? What films could they see? What political jokes did they tell? Did Nazi ranting about the role of women (no make-up, smoking, dieting) correspond with reality? What was the effect of the regime on family life (where fathers were encouraged to inform on sons, children on parents)? When the country embraced National Socialism in 1933, how did that acceptance impact the churches, the civil service, farmers, housewives, businessmen, health care, sports, education, ‘justice,’ the army, the arts, and the Jews?” (Grunberger, synopsis). In the following sections I will explain about social changes in Nazi Germany adding to Grunbergers questions in further detail.
In 1933 when the National Socialist took control over Germany they quickly installed their Party’s dominance over the entire population based on the ideals and beliefs of the Nazi system. When the Nazis took power they changed the way people interacted, thought and how they perceived life to be through propaganda. The social institutions such as education, universities and law that pertain to justice were changed. This affected the culture in the Third Reich as in literature, music, and film. Other social changes took place in the family structure, especially among the youth and their role in the creation of a new “master race”. This master race was the idea composed up of people, who were the descendants of the Aryans. In Fritzsche’s book, “the German state did not issue racial passports; Germans had to prepare them personally” (Fritzche 77). This shows that if the Germans could not prove their racial purity they were considered not worthy of being a part of the new Third Reich.
Education, Youth and Family Health
As mentioned above, the Nazi party was very interested in effectively winning over the minds and spirits of the people by starting with the youth and the programs, which encouraged them to believe in such a system and its ideology. The summer camps that were set up by the Nazis promoted children to become familiar and to learn how to use weapons for instance, how to shoot a rifle, the use of hand grenades, pipes, swords, and clubs on an attacker, that in the end will created an eager child wanting to fire a machine gun. All these methods and training camps for the youth were there not
to benefit them for educational and social experiences for children of that age, but to prepare them for war when they become older.
The educational system was not very educational either. This is when the youth learned about historic battles for example, Waterloo and other historical achievements, such as Bismarck’s victory over others for example, their neighbor the Danes, the French, abroad, and even over the German parliament. A very important detail that Grunberger mentions is that, “although there was no surveillance of classroom lessons, indoctrination was virtually inescapable” (Grunberger 287). In order for everything to go as planned by the National Socialists was to create a family model that would act as a “germ-cell of the nation.” This model was supposed to use the family or “cells” for “self-multiplication,” meaning that it was a scheme to promote and develop families that would produce children who would become to believe the regime and would learn its propaganda, fight viciously for the Third Reich and ultimately die for it. All of this was greatly influenced and controlled politically by the Nazi party.
Nazi Party and Politics
To understand how the Nazis came to power, one needs to know how the Nazis portrayed and presented themselves to the German people through the use of propaganda. The use of propaganda was the Nazi’s greatest tool for the people to be influenced into believing the system. In another source from the site: www.historylearningsite.co.uk explains that practically all forms of information in Nazi Germany were controlled by Josef Goebbels. Goebbels had two leading objectives to
carry out, the first was to guarantee that nobody was able to obtain or read information that was negative or against the Nazi Party. The second was to make sure the presentation of materials were very convincing and well organized for the people to believe the system.
As leader of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler also was effective at winning the hearts and minds of his followers as a speaker. As a result Hitler’s skill of public speaking was an advantage to Goebbels propaganda machine. Hitler was also a great orator. By watching the History Channel or seeing film documents of Adolf Hitler giving a speech, one can understand how one man was able to rally thousands upon thousands of people. Both the Nazi speech and propaganda, when used effectively was able to control the ideas and thoughts much of Germany’s population. This speech and propaganda was also tied to the hatred of minorities, who were not considered to be “Aryan” or of the “master race.”
To prove why the National Socialists were able to come to power and end up to persuade millions of people was that the Nazi political leaders and members had the power to relate to the ordinary German citizen who experienced life during the First World War and through the Great Depression. These strong emotional experiences carried with people up to the times through the Weimar and beginnings of the Third Reich. To add to the German’s emotions, the members of the Nazi Party were able to
find causes and reasons why the country was in turmoil and why most-to-all Germans were either living poorly or below the poverty line. The blame would be placed on the Jews as the cause. This reaction proved to be devastating as through the educational system was plagued with ideas of superiority of races and the “master race” to rid the problem out of Germany and the whole continent of Europe. As a result with the brainwashing youth and by propaganda techniques, many did believe that the Jews were the problem and were an “inferior race.” An example how successful the Nazis were at turning the population to become anti-Semitic was shown on page 462 of Grunberger’s book. “A steeply growing number of Germans, who had mixed socially with Jews before 1933, subsequently ostracized them, though for a while some deliberately sought their company: Jews were the only people whom malcontents could confide in, since even close friends might denounce them, while Jews were simply receptive ears existing in the void of their own isolation” (Grunberger 462). By this anti-Semitism, the Jews in the Third Reich and the rest of Europe would bear the blame and become demonized as the other, which the Nazis sought to rid them of Europe. History has shown this brutality that Jews suffered, by treatments in concentration and death camps. The military and police were in charge of such brutalities that they too were infected with the Nazi propaganda.
The military, especially the Schutzstaffel, also commonly known as the SS of the Third Reich was very obedient to Adolf Hitler and to the Nazi Party, of which these
soldiers carried out many brutalities in the name of Hitler. These units also constructed and manned the concentration camps, which housed the racial inferior peoples and minorities that were hated by the Nazi regime.
To conclude my findings, my conviction is that life during those twelve years, in which the Third Reich was present, were extremely terrible. In those years during the Nazi regime’s control of German, Europe saw more war and devastation than ever before. Through reading and the findings, the twentieth century was one of the most eventful centuries of that time. People lived in fear, and terror of what possibilities that could and would happen to them if they spoke against the Nazis and did not follow their ideology. Most people in the Third Reich ended up tragically believing and entrusting Hitler for a better life than before, but were terribly mistaken and lead to their deaths. Not just the Jews of Germany and Europe had a horrific experience, but sadly all peoples across the continent and world had experienced something that should never happen again.
Richard Grunberger. The 12-Year Reich. New York: Da Capo Press, 1995.
Peter Fritzche. Life and Death in the Third Reich. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008.