THE TOTALITARIAN POWERS

INTRODUCTION

Totalitarianism - of, being, or imposing a form of government in which the political authority exercises absolute and centralized control over all aspects of life.

Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Communist Russia (Soviet Union), Japan

The Rise of Hitler and the Nazis

Adolf Hitler was born in Austria in 1889.  He moved to Vienna as a young man, hoping to become an artist someday, but he failed miserably in this endeavor.  While in Vienna, he was exposed to a virulent form of anti-Semitism.

Hitler served with distinction with a Bavarian Regiment in France during World War I, earning the Iron Cross First Class, a rare award for a mere corporal.  When the war ended Hitler was in a military hospital, recovering from a poison gas attack which left him temporarily blinded.  He was devastated by the German surrender.  Following the war, Hitler found employment with the Weimar Republic as a spy.  He was asked to keep an eye on the various political parties forming under the new democracy, parties that might seek to overthrow the young government.  One of the parties that Hitler was watching was the Nationalist Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP), the party we know as the Nazi Party (Nazi is a corruption of National Socialist).  Rather than spy on the party, Hitler became a member, and quickly became the head of the party, thanks to his skill as an orator.

In 1923, Hitler attempted to overthrow the Weimar Republic during the fall beer festival in Munich.  This is known as the Beer Hall Putsch.  Hitler and many of the leaders of the Nazi Party were rounded up and arrested.  He was sent to prison for several months.  He spent most of his time dictating his ideas to his friend and associate, Rudolf Hess.  These ideas were published as Hitler's book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), which eventually became a best seller in Germany after he assumed power in the 1930s.

Having failed at a violent overthrow of Weimar, Hitler began to work within the system.  The Weimar Republic had a multiparty system, and government day-to-day operations were conducted by a cabinet led by a Chancellor (Prime Minister) which was created by a coalition of political parties which held enough seats in the Reichstag (parliament) to create a majority.  The various parties which create the working Reichstag majority shared the cabinet positions, and normally the chancellor was the leader of the coalition party which held the most Reichstag seats.

During the depression of the late 1920s (at the time of the Great Depression in the United States), the Nazis grew to become the largest single party in the Reichstag, though never the majority party.  However, since no other political party was willing to join a coalition with the Nazis, Hitler never gained any official post.  Hitler did try to win the German Presidency, but finished second to Paul von Hindenburg, the World War I Field Marshal hero.

In 1933, after another coalition fell apart trying to govern the nation, a coalition of parties offered to join with the Nazis, believing they could control Hitler.  In January, Hindenburg asked Hitler to assume the role of chancellor and form a cabinet.  Thus Hitler took office via peaceful, democratic means.

Shortly after Hitler assumed the chancellorship, the Nazis burnt the Reichstag building to the ground, and successfully blamed a young Communist for the arson attack.  The Reichstag membership, including its non-Nazi members, voted the Communist members out of the legislative body.  Soon thereafter the Reichstag voted through the Enabling Acts, which left the Nazis as the sole legal political party in Germany.  When President Hindenburg passed away in 1934, all power was transferred to Hitler, and he had achieved dictatorial authority.  He became known as Der Fuhrer ("The Leader").  The Weimar Republic was dead. Democracy was dead in Germany.

Hitler had a closer inner circle of supporters, through whom Nazi Germany was ruled.  Rudolf Hess was Deputy Fuhrer.  Heinrich Himmler commanded the SS (Schutzstaffel-Elite Guard), which included Hitler's personal body guard, the Gestapo (Geheimestaatspolitzei-State Secret Police), and the SS units (Waffen SS) which served in the German Army (Wehrmacht).  Himmler also had control over the Nazi concentration camps and death camps, grisly camps such as Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, where Jews and other  "undesirables" were exterminated.  Reinhard Heydrich, a true Nazi butcher, was Himmler's number one henchman.  A truly evil man, Heydrich was assassinated  by Czech resistance fighters in 1942. Joseph Goebbels served as Propaganda  Minister.  Herman Goering commanded the German Air Force (Luftwaffe).  Albert Speer was Hitler's architect, and later Minister of Armaments.  Martin Bormann was Hitler's personal secretary.

Hitler  found the company of younger women to his liking, women who would not challenge him.  One such "lover" was his niece, Geli Raubal, whom he escorted as her  "uncle" in the early 1930s.  Desperate to get out from under his control, Geli committed suicide.  Eva Braun was the best known of Hitler's consorts.  Photos of her are very rare.  Very little is truly know of Eva, and she was thought to be "without intelligence."  She married Hitler in April of 1945, just prior to the Soviet capture of Berlin, and committed suicide with Hitler the next day.

Hitler had control over two private armies.  The SA (Sturmabteitung-Storm Detachment), also called the Storm Troopers or Brownshirts, were the first thugs hired on by the Nazis to intimidate opponents in the 1920s.  The SA was commanded by Ernst Roehm.  During the "Night of the Long Knives" in 1934,  Hitler destroyed the SA leadership, including Roehm, and the surviving members were incorporated into Hitler's other private army, Himmler's SS (Blackshirts).  The SA was purged at the behest of the German Army, and in return, the Army proclaimed its loyalty no longer to the German nation and people, but personally to Hitler.

Luftwaffe - German Air Force
Wehrmacht - German Military Forces, (war machine)
Blitzkrieg - German military tactics (lightning warfare)

The Nazi High Command

Adolf Hitler - Der Fuhrer (The Leader), leader of Nazi Party, head of the Third Reich (Third Empire), author of Mein Kampf (My Struggle), became Chancellor of Germany in January, 1933, assumed full powers upon death of President Paul von Hindenburg in 1934.  Committed suicide, April 30, 1945, in the Fuhrer Bunker in Berlin.
Rudolf Hess - Deputy Fuhrer, longtime associate of Hitler, flew to Scotland in 1940 in an attempt to negotiate a peace with Great Britain.  Arrested, and later sentenced at Nuremberg trials to life imprisonment at Spandau Prison in Berlin.  Died 1987 in prison aged 93, probably by suicide.
Herman Goering - World War I fighter ace, long time associate of Hitler, head of Luftwaffe.  Sentenced to death at Nuremburg Trials, cheated hangman by committing suicide the night before his hanging was scheduled.
Martin Bormann -Hitler's personal; secretary, controlled access to Der Fuhrer.  Escaped into streets of Berlin at very end of war, death never proven.  Sentenced to death in absentia at Nuremburg.
Joachim Ribbentrop - Nazi Foreign Secretary, negotiated Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 to divide up Poland.  Executed after trial at Nuremburg.
Albert Speer - Hitler's architect and later Minister of Armaments and Productions.  Sentenced to twenty years in prison at Nuremberg, later wrote Inside the Third Reich.  Died 1981.
Heinrich Himmler - Head of the SS who directed the "Final Solution" against European Jews.  Committed suicide after he was captured by British in 1945.
Joseph Goebbels - Nazi Minister of Propaganda, stayed loyal to Hitler until the very end. Committed suicide along with his wife, Magda in the Fuhrer Bunker on May 1, 1945.  Magda, utter loyalist Nazi until the end, killed their six children with poison, rather than have them face a life without Hitler as leader
Eva Braun - Hitler's long time girl friend and wife of one day, committed suicide alongside Hitler, April 30, 1945.
Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl - Military leaders of Wehrmacht, both executed after Nuremburg trials for waging 'aggressive war.'
Adolf Eichmann - Best known Nazi escapee after war, directed transportation effort of Jews to death camps. While living in Argentina in 1960, he was kidnapped by Israeli Mossad, and later executed by Israel for 'crimes against humanity.'
Josef Mengele - Nazi doctor at Auschwitz, the 'Angel of Death.'  Escaped to South America, and is believed to have drowned in 1979

THE HOLOCAUST

Today, when you visit the Dachau Work Camp (outside Munich, Germany), you can still read the words that the Nazis put over the front gate:  "Arbeit Macht Frei"--work will set you free.  This was a cruel joke played by the SS on those sentenced to all the death camps and work camps; there was only one way out of the camps, and that was through death.

Much more appropriately, today you can read the following at the Majdanek Extermination Camp (near Lublin, Poland):

"You are standing here in silence; when you leave, do not be silent."

The Nazis and Hitler went intent on destroying European Jewry, along with other "undesirable" groups, notably gypsies, homosexuals and Slavs.  Hitler made it clear in Mein Kampf that the Jews were going to be eliminated, they were the cause of Germany's loss in World War I (regardless that Jews had served bravely in the German Army during the war), they were the cause of Germany's economic ills, they were the cause of all of the evils in German life.  Before the war, Jews were victims of a variety of laws relegating them to second class status.  They were subject to physical attacks at the hands of Nazi paramilitary forces.  They lost their businesses and their homes, and were viciously attacked during the night of  November 8-9, 1938, during Kristallnacht.  The concentration camps were just beginning their grisly work of destroying German Jews.

Once the war got underway, the Nazis went out in earnest to destroy all European Jewry.  The Death Camps at Auschwitz, Majdanek, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, and Buchenwald opened to accept Jews as part of the "Final Solution."  Led by Himmler's SS, more than six million Jews were exterminated by the Nazis, along with millions of other "undesirables." Hans Frank, nicknamed the "Jew Butcher of Cracow" insisted, "The Jews must be eliminated.  Whenever we catch one, it is his end."

The work of the Nazis was unearthed for all to see all Allied Armies marched across Europe into Germany.  Veteran American soldiers, who had seen the horrors of war across North Africa, Italy, and France, were sickened by the sights at the Death Camps.

The Nazi leaders who survived the war and were captured, were tried as war criminals for crimes against humanity and waging aggressive war.  Those found guilty were sentenced to death or long prison terms.  "Following orders" was not considered a justifiable defense.  Among those tried and convicted were Herman Goering, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Hans Frank, Alfred Rosenberg, and Julius Streicher (proclaimed "the number one Jew baiter" at the Nuremberg Trials).   Nazi leaders who managed to escape capture were tracked down and captured long after the war was over, and brought to justice.  The most notable Nazi hunted down and captured was Adolf Eichmann, kidnapped from Argentina in 1960 by the Israelis, and later tried and executed for crimes against humanity (Saudi Arabian newspapers later acclaimed Eichmann as the man who "Had honor of killing six million Jews").  The Simon Weisenthal Center in Vienna, Austria, remains open today, seeking information about those who escaped punishment after the war.

Make no mistake about it, the Nazis saw to the deaths of more than six million Jews.  There is no amount of Holocaust denial that can cover up the great crime of Hitler and the Nazis.   Today, Jews still proclaim the words, "Never Again," to any who may wish to turn away from this page of genocide and ignore the realities of the Final Solution.   Mankind must never again allow, or ignore, or deny, similar exterminations.

I recommend the movie Schindler's List for those who wish to learn more about the Holocaust.

POWER POINT PRESENTATION: THE NAZIS (Best to view in Internet Explorer 4.X or higher)

THE SOVIET UNION

Bolshevik
Lenin
Trotsky
Stalin
Politburo
War Communism
New Economic Policy
The Purges of the 1930s
- I highly recommend the book, Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler

READING ASSIGNMENT

Coffin and Stacey, Western Civilizations. Text chapter 25.

TERMS TO KNOW

Weimar Republic  Fascism, Communism, Nazi Party (National Socialist German Workers Party-NSDAP), Night of the Long Knives (the Purges) June 30, 1934, Beer Hall Putsch, Mein Kampf, Kristallnacht  (November 9, 1938), Reichstag, The Third Reich,  The SA (Brownshirts), The SS, Gestapo (Geheimestaatspolizei)

Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer

The Steps to World War II (German only)

Rearmament

March into Rhineland

Spanish Civil War

Anschluss

Munich Conference (Sudentenland)

Polish Corridor

SAMPLE TEST QUESTIONS

True or False:

The Beer Hall Putsch made Adolf Hitler a German national hero.

Adolf Hitler served bravely in the German Army during World War I.

The Nazis attacked Austria and seized the Sudetenland after the Munich Conference.

Adolf Hitler seized power for his Nazi Party via a violent overthrow of the German government.

Nazi Germany was characterized by a one-party state and the use of paramilitary troops such as the SS to maintain order.

RECOMMENDED READINGS

Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich

William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

John Toland, Adolf Hitler

Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon