Nazis in Power

[ Background ] [ Nazis ] [ Road to War ] [ War ]

As indicated on the "Background" page, Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933, catapulted there by the world wide Depression that inflicted a death blow to the Weimar Republic. In 1932, with unemployment at 43%, Germans gave an astonishing 37.4% of the vote to the Nazis, making the NSDAP the largest single political party in the nation (Bruchfeld and Levine 9). While a 30+% of the votes did not comprise a majority, it represented a plurality, i.e. less than 1/2 but more than any other party. Under the rules of the Weimar constitution, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor, head of the government, on January 30, 1933. Once in office, Chancellor Hiter set about dismantling the apparatus of democracy, taking advantage of or creating crises on his road to totalitarian power.

 In February, 1933, the Reichstag--meeting place of the German legislature/parliament--went up in flames. Hitler's accusations of a Jewish-communist plot to undo his appointment as chancellor convinced members of the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Act, which granted him extraordinary powers (for four years) to deal with the alleged communist threat. Hitler went after the communists first; then, it was the turn of the Jews.
(Photo credit: U.S. National Archives)
 The first concentration camp, Dachau--in a defunct munitions factory near Munich--opened its gates in March, 1933 (a scant two months after the Nazi ascension to power.) The first inmates were political rivals of the Nazis--communists, Social Democrats, and trade unionists (Bruchfeld and Levine 9.) Prisoners wore an identification patch: the horizontal categories show markings for the following types of prisoners: (from left to right) political, professional criminal, emigrant, Jehovah's Witness, homosexual, unemployed Germans, and other unemployed nationalities. The vertical categories begin with the basic colors, and then show those for repeat offenders, prisoners in punishment kommandos, Jews, Jews who have violated racial laws by having sexual relations with Aryans, and Aryans who violated racial laws by having sexual relations with Jews. Eventually, being a Jew was enough to warrant a place in the camps.
(Photo credits: KZ Gedenkstatte Dachau, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives)

As you remember from Elie Wiesel's Night, Heinrich Himmler's notorious SS/Schutzstaffel (protection squadron) staffed the concentration camps. Himmler's right hand man was Reinhard Heydrich, the "blond beast." After Hitler's accession to power in January, 1933, Heydrich aided Himmler in compiling lists of known communists, trade union leaders, and other opposition figures (including Catholics from the Centrist Party, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other groups) and overseeing their arrest and deportation to the camps; these "enemies of the state" were targeted even before the Jews.
 A handsome "Aryan" specimen, Heydrich fit the stereotype of the new German man. He rose quickly in the SS and Party apparatus eventually heading up the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) or security arm of the SS. He played a major role in the implementation of some of the worst atrocities against Jews, and is thought to have been the mastermind behind "The Final Solution," outlined at the Wannsee Conference in 1942. "The Final Solution" laid the groundwork for policies to exterminate/annihilate European Jewry. Auschwitz-Birkenau was the most notorious of the death camps in the Nazi concentration camp network. Six million Jews went to their deaths under the rubric of "The Final Solution"; an additional six million died, though not because they were Jews.
 Other camps opened soon after Dachau, including Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, etc. All sported over the entry the slogan, "Arbeit macht frei," loosely translated, "Freedom through Labor." The SS authorities maintained meticulous records, registering all new inmates. In November, 1933, a Law against Habitual and Dangerous Criminals, sent beggars, the homeless, alcoholics, and the unemployed to concentration camps, hence some of the classifications described above.
(Photo credits: American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Lorenz Schmuhl Collection, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives)

In the spring, summer, fall of 1933, Anti-Semitic actions occurred with increasing frequency, both spontaneously and with official sponsorship. Jewish shops and businesses were boycotted; Germans with one Jewish grandparent lost their classification as Aryan; Goering established the Gestapo in Prussia. In May, 1933, Goebbels staged the first burning of the books by Jewish authors. Those of you who read The Book Thief in 7th/8th grade will recall how Liesl took advantage of the book burning to snatch one for herself. In July, the now completely Nazified and docile Reichstag declared the Nazi Party the only legal political party in Germany.
In July, 1933, legislation provided for forced sterilization of those found by a Hereditary Health Court to have genetic defects. The handicapped were "considered 'useless' for anything but 'raw material' for pseudo-medical research" (Bruchfeld and Levine 15).


 In 1934, the aged "Wooden Titan," President of the Republic, and hero of the Great War, General Paul von Hindenburg died. Hitler quickly moved to consolidate all political power into his own hands, becoming Fuhrer (leader) of the "1000 Year Reich," a.k.a. "The Third Reich." In a plebiscite similar to that of Napoleon in 1804, the citizens of Germany gave their new Fuhrer a resounding 90% endorsement. That same year witnessed the "Night of the Long Knives" when Hitler rid himself of all rivals and then expanded the Schutzstaffel/SS.
(Photo credit: Library of Congress)

Things were bad German Jews/Jewish Germans, but they would get worse: laws excluding Jews from various occupations and professions went into effect. In 1935, the infamous Nuremberg Decrees further denied Jews their rights, essentially barring them from participation in civic life, depriving them of citizenship, outlawing intermarriage with 'Aryans.' German and Jew became mutually exclusive terms. Worse was to come. Sycophantic companies identified themselves as "German."

Visit for more information.

Goebbel's propaganda machine demonized Jews in a vicious publicity campaign.
Posters such as those below used negative sterotypes relentlessly to identify Jews as
traitors, communist sympathizers, vermin, scum.
Note that the figure in the left graphic
holds a map of USSR in his arm, complete with hammer and sickle logo.

Examine these and/or other propaganda posters for their obvious and more
subtle or sub-liminal messages.

Curriculum in German schools indoctrinated a generation of children into the garbled Nazi mythology of Aryan herrenvolk (supermen) v. Jews (and Slavs) as untermenschen (sub-human.) The illustration comes from a German schoolbook, The Poisonous Mushroom, as the Aryan children gleefully expel their Jewish classmates and teacher (Bruchfeld and Levine 8).
In 2009, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum presented an exhibit entitled "State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda." The campaign posters and other elements of the exhibit are powerful and chilling, according to reviewer Edward Rothstein. Included among the posters, images, and artifacts is a children's game, Juden Raus! (Jews Out!) a hideous and perverted version of Candyland. The poster reads, "Behind the enemy powers: the Jew." Germany identified its enemies as Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union.

Visit the exhibit <'s%20terrible%20weapon&st=cse >
and the slide show < >

American propaganda countered with Walt Disney cartoons
Donald Duck v. Der Fuhrer

 Jews did not have to wear the Star of David immediately, although the Nuremberg Decrees began official policies of ostracism. Enforced sporadically, the Star of David eventually beame a national policy and requirement for all German Jews and then for Jews in occupied territories.

By 1935, Hitler had withdrawn Germany from the League of Nations, denounced the Treaty of Versailles, initiated re-armament policies, including developing the luftwaffe, and marched into/occupied the Rhineland. To which the Allies responded with what has come to be known as Appeasement. Look up the verb, "to appease."
In 1936, when Germany hosted the Olympics in Berlin, the Nazis toned down their anti-Jewish rhetoric to "put on a happy face" for the thousands of foreign guests who came either to participate in or to watch the games, at that time, primarily track and field and aquatics. While there was some agitation in the United States to boycott the Olympics because of what was already known about Nazi Germany's anti-semitism, the movement came to naught.

image source < >
 Hitler intended the XI Olympiad to showcase his Aryan supermen and superwomen, anticipated Germany's walking away with the gold medals. German Jews were not allowed to participate (Kennedy 410). He instructed his architect, Albert Speer, to design a grand new sports arena and Goebbels to stage manage a spectacle to awe the visitors.
(Photo credit: U.S. National Archives courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives)

Some American Jewish athletes boycotted the Berlin Olympics, including sprinter Herman Neugass from Tulane and track stars Milton Green and Norman Cahners from Harvard. USC Jewish athletes Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller were dropped from the the relay team, replaced, ironically by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. These African-Americans, especially Jesse Owens, foiled Hitler's plans, not only winning events, but breaking track and field records, not to mention smashing myths about "Aryan" superiority. Glickman claimed, to his death in 2001, that Avery Brundage, chairman of the American Olympic Committee, was an Anti-Semite who blocked his participation in the '36 games. Glickman's "...outrage was sustained and severe" (Wallace). (Olympic poster graphic)

Nineteen African-American athletes--seventeen men and two women--competed in Berlin. But it was Jesse Owens' and Ralph Metcalfe's successes that shattered Nazi mythology about the Aryan herrenvolk! Jesse Owens' speed and victories stunned the Nazis! In a fit of pique, Hitler refused to shake his hand or place the wreath of victory on his head. Go: Jesse Owens (both Owens' graphics)
To see a Youtube newsreel of Owens' epochal performance, visit < >
< >--first 30 seconds: watch for Ralph Metcalfe
Jesse Owens and the long jump < >

 After the Olympics, the situation deteriorated for German Jews. The Nuremberg Decrees made the simple acts of daily life increasingly difficult. Nazi thugs painted the Star of David on Jewish stores and shops to discourage shoppers from patronizing them. Businessmen identified themselves as "German."  

(Chambers 1019)

In October, 1938, Nazi decrees expelled all Polish Jews from the Reich. Without warning, Nazi police and soldiers rounded up 15,000 Polish Jews, herded them into boxcars, and dumped them at the Polish-German border. A young Polish Jew, Herschel Grynszpan, then living in Paris, responded to the expulsion of his family from Germany by assassinating Ernst vom Rath, an official of the German Embassy in Paris.


His act provoked a massive, coordinated attack on Jews (reminiscent of the pogroms in tsarist Russia) throughout the German Reich. Goebbels called upon Germans to "rise in bloody vengeance against the Jews." (Picture credit: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München)

Go to to read the actual orders from Müller and Heydrich authorizing the horrific event. The night of November 9, 1938, has come to be known as Kristallnacht or the "Night of Broken Glass." The scene in Europa, Europa, when Solly's sister is killed and his father's store vandalized takes place on Kristallnacht.
Nazi youths and thugs smashed Jewish homes, shops, and synagogues; they beat up Jews on the streets in an orgy of violence. The Jewish community was then assessed and fined to pay one billion marks in property damage (7500 businesses destroyed, 267 synagogues burned [with 177 totally destroyed] and 91 Jews killed) (Bruchfeld and Levine 29). President Roosevelt responded by recalling the American Ambassador to Germany. The movie, Europa, Europa, begins on that fateful night as the character, Solly, prepares for his Bar Mitzvah; during the night of violence, rioters killed his sister, Berthe. (Photo courtesy USHMM Photo Archives)
To hear survivors' stories of "The Night of the Broken Glass"/Kristallnacht, visit Youtube
< >
or see commentary < >
documentary on Kristallnacht < >

One could say that after Kristallnacht, the "gloves were off." Hundreds, thousands of Jews were arrested that winter and sent to labor/concentration camps.

In June, 2011, The New York Times ran an article by James Barron and David Dunlap on the German photographer,
Frianz Krieger, whose album of photographs chronicled Nazi propaganda, including images of Jewish prisoners,
Hitler, the Eastern Front. To read the article and view the slide show, visit

< >


German Jews who saw the handwriting on the wall tried to get out. Some succeeded. By the time the war began (1939,) it became increasingly difficult. After 1942, roundups increased. In 1942, at the Wannsee Conference, Nazi leaders decided upon the "Final Solution."


 Jews, communists, gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs, Jehovah's Witnesses, the handicapped, and numerous others suffered unspeakable atrocities during the twelve-year nightmare of the Third Reich. The concentration camp network spread to the conquered and occupied nations, with the death or extermination camps concentrated in Poland. Reinhard Heydrich played a major role in the decisions reached at Wannsee. Although "camps" had existed since 1933, the "death camps" or "extermination camps" gave a whole new meaning to both labor and imprisonment. The map (right) identifies the locations of the main camps, although others existed. The so-called death camps (Auschwitz, Chelmno, Treblinka, Jajdanek, Treblinka, Sobibor) were all located in what had been (before 1939) Poland. Anne Frank Died at Ravensbruck.  
The Holocaust refers specifically to the virtual annihilation of European Jewry--6,000,000 according to reliable European and American historians. 6,000.000 others (Russians, gypsies, et al.) went to their deaths as well. Prison camp commandants kept complete and accurate records; eye-witness recollections and post-war oral histories corroborate the statistics. The most infamous extermination camp, chronicled movingly by Elie Wiesel in Night, was established in occupied Poland: Auschwitz-Birkenau. There, between 1942 and 1945, 1,100,000 faced death by overwork, from the Zyklon-B showers, or other horrible means. In addition to Jews, Auschwitz-Birkenau took the lives of 75,000 Poles, 21,000 Gypsies, 15,000 Soviet POWs, and 15,000 "other." Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Majdanek claimed hundreds of thousands, millions more (Bruchfeld and Levine 56).
Auschwitz-Birkenau was built near a railroad junction and grew into a gigantic complex. In 1944, 3-4 trainloads of "selected" Jews arrived daily, with about 3-5,000 persons aboard. 1/10 (10%) were identified as capable as performing labor; 9/10 (90%) were "processed," i.e. sent directly to gas chambers (Bruchfeld and Levine 56-57).


Thumbnail posters of various holocaust horrors can be found at the following site:

As you know from Night and Europa, Europa, Nazi officials arrested and then sequestered German Jews and then Jews in conquered land in ghettos before deportation to work camps or extermination camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Lodz Ghetto--like Warsaw shown at left--(where Solly's mother, father, and brother David were incarcerated) in occupied Poland was divided by an "Aryan" street (guarded by German troops) that passed through it. As depicted in Europa, Europa,Poles and Germans could ride in a sealed streetcar through the Lodz Ghetto but could neither get out nor see through the white-washed windows. In the Warsaw Ghetto, 400,000 Jews lived in extremely crowded and unsanitary conditions. Germans "...allowed 200 calories per person per day." (Bruchfeld and Levine 25).
The Warsaw Ghetto (shown in the graphic above,) like the Lodz Ghetto was at first divided into the "small ghetto" and the "large ghetto" with a footbridge connecting the two. In 1940, the two were combined into one, conditions deteriorated. A major roundup occurred in January, 1943, when Nazi troops stormed into the ghetto, shot 600 Jews, and seized 5000 others for deportation. The Warsaw Jews did not accept their fate passively, but launched a full-scale and violent resistance on the eve of Passover, April, 1943. The resistance movement was ruthlessly crushed as 56,000 Jews were either killed outright or deported to the death camp at Treblinka.

image source < >

Works Cited

American Falangist Party, web pages, 2000. Online Available.

Bachrach, Susan. The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936. Boston, et al.: Little, Brown, and Co., 2000.

background:'WorkMakesOneFree'.jpg Online Available.

Barron, James and David W. Dunlap. "In Hours, Online Readers Identify Nazi Photographer."
The New York Times--The Arts. Saturday, June 25, 2011. Online available.
< >

Blechner, Anthony. "Zbaszyn," 1999. Online Available.

Bruchfeld, Stéphane and Paul Levine. Tell ye your children.... Stockholm: Living History Project:
The Swedish Government Offices, 1998.

C.A.N.D.L.E.S. (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments) "Holocaust Museum." Terre Haute, IN:
Quality Computer Services, 2000. Online Available.

Chambers, Mortimer, et. al. The Western Experience. Boston: McGraw-Hill College,1999.


The History Place. Manomet, MA, 2000. Online Available.

Lindberg, Jörgen. "The Auschwitz and Birkenau Homesite." Sweden, 2000. Online Available.

Rothstein, Edward. "Nazis' 'Terrible Weapon,' Aimed at Hearts and Minds." The New York Times.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009.

Schoenherr, Steve. "World War II Timeline." San Diego: University of San Diego, 1999. Online Available.

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization. Belmont: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2000.

© ThinkQuest 1998 Team 15511. Online Available.

Wallace, William. "Marty Glickman: Blocked at '36 Olympics." The New York Times Obituaries.
January 4, 2001.