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Historical background


In this section we look at how things changed in Germany from 1933 when the National

Socialist Party led by Adolf Hitler came to power. 

We do this in two ways:


Providing a timeline of significant events from 1933 to the start of World War II

• Looking at how prejudice against the Jews was introduced into the school curriculum in

in Germany


We are grateful to the Wiener Library for permitting us to use some of their text and

to Randall Bytwerk and the Calvin College for the use of images. We are also grateful to

Cornelia Reetz for permission to use her video explaining the background to why Hitler

was elected.




Timeline 


1933

    

On January 30, 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor.

On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building went up in flames. Nazis immediately

claimed that this was the beginning of a Communist revolution. Who started the fire

has never been resolved, but Hitler convinced Hindenburg to issue a Decree for the

Protection of People and State. Under the Decree the Nazis were given wide powers

which enabled them to manage what was an imaginary emergency and control all the

police forces.


Within months the Dachau concentration camp was created and the Nazis began

arresting Communists, Socialists, and Union leaders. Dachau became a training centre

for concentration camp guards (and later commandants) who were taught torture

techniques to dehumanise their prisoners.




Parliamentary democracy ended with the passing of the Enabling Act, which allowed

the government to issue laws without the authority of parliament.

It became acceptable to target those with disabilities as disfiguring the purity of the

Ayran race and by creating the image that those with mental illness were costing the 

German nation dearly as the money tied up in mental health institutions could be better

spent on new homes for German workers.

As part of a policy of internal coordination the Nazis:


        -created Special Courts to punish political dissent

        -passed civil laws that barred Jews from holding positions in the civil service or in

          legal, medical and teaching professions

        -encouraged boycotts of Jewish-owned shops and businesses and began book

          burnings of writings by Jews and by others not approved by the Reich.



This video was created by Cornelia Reetz for the UK Holocaust Centre and

asks the question of whether the German people could have done to oppose

Hitler. Please watch and decide for yourself.


1934

  

The SA (Sturmabteilung) had been instrumental in Hitler's rise to power (2.5 million SA men

compared with 100,000 men in the regular army). Hitler knew the regular army were uneasy

about SA power and the army had the power to oust him, so he engineered a coup of the

leadership of the SA in the "Night of the Long Knives." Hitler arrested Ernst Röhm and scores

of other SA leaders and had them shot by the SS, which now rose in importance.

 


On August 2, 1934, President Hindenburg died. Hitler combined the offices of Reich

Chancellor and President, declaring himself Führer and Reich Chancellor, or Reichsführer

(Leader of the Reich).


   

1935

Hitler announced the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. These laws stripped Jews of their civil rights

as German citizens and separated them from Germans legally, socially, and politically.

Jews were also defined as a separate race under "The Law for the Protection of German

Blood and Honour." Being Jewish was now determined by ancestry; thus the Germans used

race, not religious beliefs or practices, to define the Jewish people. This law forbade marriages

or sexual relations between Jews and Germans. Hitler warned darkly that if this law did not

resolve the problem, he would turn to the Nazi Party for a final solution.

It was not only Jews who were stigmatised by the Nuremberg Laws.



1936


In 1936, Berlin hosted the Olympics. Hitler viewed this as a perfect opportunity to promote

a favourable image of Nazism to the world. Monumental stadiums and other Olympic facilities

were constructed as Nazi showpieces. Leni Riefenstahl  was commissioned to create a film,

Olympia, for the purpose of Nazi propaganda. Some have called her previous film in 1935,

Triumph of the Will, one of the great propaganda pieces of the century. In it, she portrayed

Hitler as a god.


International political unrest preceded the games. It was questioned whether the Nazi

regime could really accept the terms of the Olympic Charter of participation

unrestricted by class, creed, or race. There were calls for a U.S. boycott of the games.

The Nazis guaranteed that they would allow German Jews to participate. The boycott

did not occur.


While two Germans with some Jewish ancestry were invited to be on the German

Olympic team, the German Jewish athlete Gretel Bergmann, one of the world's most

accomplished high jumpers, was not.


The great irony of these Olympics was that, in the land of "Aryan superiority," it was

Jesse Owens, the African-American track star, who was the undisputed hero of the

games.
  

1937

Every year the Nazi Party held an annual rally. From 1933 onwards these were held in

Nuremberg and became known as the Nuremberg Rallies. These were immense

propaganda events. The theme in 1937 was the Rally of Labour celebrating the Nazi's

success in reducing unemployment in Germany. Significantly it was attended by the

brother of the Emperor of Japan who had a meeting with Hitler.

Meanwhile the campaign against the Jews continued with renewed intensity and

any threat to the German State was linked with the Jews for propaganda purposes.

In this case the Jews were seen to be financing the Soviets.

1938


In March 1938, as part of Hitler's quest for uniting all German-speaking people,

Germany took over Austria without bloodshed and with the overwhelming approval of

the Austrian people. No countries protested about this violation of the Treaty of

Versailles.

Hitler was able to rely on his own popularity for his success, as explained in this video

by Cornelia Reetz.



In September 1938, Hitler plotted to take over the north-western area

of Czechoslovakia, called the Sudetenland, which had three million German-speaking

citizens. Hitler did not want to go into the Sudetenland without reassurance that

Britain and France could be appeased.


At a conference held in Munich, Hitler prevailed upon Britain, France and, Italy to agree

to the cession of the Sudetenland and they chose appeasement rather than military

confrontation. Germany occupied the Sudetenland on October 15, 1938.



In Germany, open anti-semitism became increasingly accepted with Jews targetted

for hatred. Here the message comes directly from Hitler himself.

The campaign of hatred climaxed in outbreaks of orchestrated violence in the "Night

of Broken Glass" (Kristallnacht) on November 9, 1938. Propaganda Minister Joseph

Goebbels initiated this attack against the Jews, during which nearly 1,000

synagogues were set on fire and 76 were destroyed. More than 7,000 Jewish

businesses and homes were looted, about one hundred Jews were killed and as many as

30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Within days, the Nazis

forced the Jews to transfer their businesses to Aryan hands and expelled all Jewish

pupils from public schools.

 


1939


On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, officially starting World War II. Two days

later, Britain and France, obliged by treaty to help Poland, declared war on Germany.

Hitler's armies used the tactic of Blitzkrieg, or lightning war, a combination of armoured

attack accompanied by air assault. Before British and French power could be brought to

bear, in less than four weeks, Poland collapsed. Germany's military conquest put it in a

position to establish the New Order, a plan to abuse and eliminate so-called undesirable

people, notably Jews and Slavs.

Schools as the training ground for prejudice


From 1933 the indoctrination of German children began and became a powerful

influence in convincing young Germans that the Aryan race was superior and that all

others were inferior and dangerous. 


Nazism was introduced into every part of school life. Portraits of Hitler and swastikas

appeared throughout schools. Every week was started with a Hitler salute.

The curriculum was changed; religious symbols were removed to be replaced by

swastikas; anti-semitic books were introduced; pupils were taught how to recognise

Jews, disabled people and Roma.

Finally in later years of school life children had to study "race science" (Rassenkunde)

which was a pseudo-scientific dogma based on genetics as the Nazis understood them.

'Race science' was supposed to be the foundation for the teaching of other subjects as

well. Its educational objective was teaching children the difference between the

concepts of race, people and nation as defined by Nazi ideology. Special emphasis was

placed on showing the assumed dangers of 'racial intermixing'.


Hitler Youth activities instead of school


Between 1934 and 1937, members of the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls

did not have to go to school on Saturdays but had to attend two hours of political

instruction, followed by sports and handicrafts. Sports lessons were usually five hours a

week in schools.


These organisations were not part of the school sytem but infiltrated into many

aspects of schooling.


Further examples of indoctrination

In this example pupils in school are taught how to recognise a Jew through the shape

of a nose resembling a figure 6.


Below is a board game for children entitled "Jews Out"

A more detailed timeline covering the period 1933 to 1945 is available on the Echoes

and Refections website.