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
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.