Following the end of World War One, many Germans were angry about how things turned out for them. When the Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to accept the blame for starting the war in the first place, many Germans felt humiliated.
Many proud Germans called this the Dolchstosslegende, a ‘stab in the back’, because they felt that the German politicians had betrayed its own citizens by accepting the blame and the punishments handed out as a result. These politicians were called the ‘November Criminals’.
One of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles was the requirement that Germany paid back enormous war debts to other countries. Since so much money was taken out of Germany by the victorious countries, regular German citizens struggled to earn enough money themselves.
In the early 1920s, Germany suffered ‘hyperinﬂation’, which meant that German cash was worth very little in real terms. However, from 1924 to 1929, the German government stabilised the country’s economy.
Then, in 1929, the Great Depression hit Germany. Millions of Germans lost their jobs and the anger they felt at the end of World War One returned. The German people began looking for new political movements to save them from economic collapse.
One of the many political parties seeking to gain control of Germany was the Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler.
In World War One, Hitler had served in the German army and was similarly angry about Germany’s defeat. Seeking a political group that offered solutions, Hitler joined a small political party in 1919 called the National Socialist German Workers' Party.
In 1921, Hitler became its leader, but it remained a small group with few followers. As leader, Hitler presented himself as a heroic war hero who promised real solutions to Germany’s problems.
Hitler initially tried to seize power in Germany through an armed insurrection in 1923. This failed and Hitler was jailed for his involvement. However, once he left prison in 1924, he returned to raising support for the Nazi Party.
A Nazi Youth Group, called the Hitler Youth was stared in 1926, propaganda newspapers were created to share their political ideology, and Hitler held a range of public meetings where he delivered speeches to the attendees. However, these efforts made little impact. In the 1928 elections, only 2.6% of Germans voted for the Nazis.
So, in 1929, a man called Joseph Goebbels was given the job of improving the Nazi’s election campaigns, with a focus on getting middle-class Germans to vote for them. That is when the Wall Street Crash occurred, and the Great Depression hit Germany. As millions of Germans lost their jobs, they began to believe that someone like Hitler could make a difference to their suffering.
By 1932 the Nazis were the biggest political party in Germany. It looked as if they could gain power in Germany, but a powerful politician stood in their way: President Hindenburg. Hindenburg did all that he could to ensure that Hitler did not take power in Germany. He was worried about what the Nazis were capable of.
In the November 1932 elections, the Nazis saw a 4% decline in their votes, down to 33%. Many people breathed a sigh of relief that the popularity of Hitler was fading. However, German leaders were now growing worried about the Communist party, which had increased in popularity. It was proposed to Hindenburg that a government formed with some members of the Nazi party could help balance the popularity of the Communists.
President Hindenburg considered making Hitler the head of the German government, in a position known as the ‘chancellor’. However, he would only do this if the experienced German politician, von Papen, promised to be Hitler’s vice chancellor, as a way of controlling him. Von Papen agreed.
With power in his sights, Hitler was able to manipulate the next round of elections in January 1933, which saw a large number of Nazi politicians elected to the government. So, on Sunday, the 29th of January 1933, Hindenburg appointed Hitler as chancellor, and von Papen as vice chancellor.
What is so surprising to many modern people is that Hitler became chancellor by following the correct democratic process in Germany. Once in power, Hitler quickly used the Nazi politicians to dominate the government and overpowered von Papen entirely.
Within just a few years, the Nazi Party would ban all other parties and declare Hitler the supreme dictator of Germany.
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