Economic crises and political maneuvering: The making of Nazi Germany

German eagle symbol on a building

In the aftermath of World War I, a defeated and humiliated Germany grappled with economic chaos, political instability, and a populace seething with discontent.


As the Treaty of Versailles cast its long shadow, a fervent political movement began to take shape, led by a charismatic figure named Adolf Hitler.


But how did a nation find itself entranced by the promises of the Nazi Party?


What series of events propelled Hitler from a disgruntled soldier to the chancellorship?


And how did the democratic processes of the Weimar Republic inadvertently pave the way for one of history's most notorious dictatorships? 


Following the end of World War One, many Germans were angry about how things turned out for them.


When the Treaty of Versailles placed responsibility on Germany and her allies for "all the loss and damage" suffered by the Allies, 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.


Some Germans believed that the German Army had not been defeated on the battlefield but had been "stabbed in the back" by civilians, especially socialists, communists, and Jews, on the home front.


These politicians were called the ‘November Criminals’.

One of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles was the requirement that Germany paid back enormous reparations (compensation for war damage) 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.


The hyperinflation in Germany occurred primarily between 1921 and 1923. By the time the Treaty of Versailles reparations were being enforced in the early 1920s, the German economy was already in a fragile state, and the reparations exacerbated the situation.


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. 

Hitler joins the Nazis

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 sentenced to prison for treason.


However, he served less than a year of his five-year sentence. Once he left prison in 1924, he returned to raising support for the Nazi Party.


A Nazi Youth Group, called the Hitler Youth was started 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.

Nazi rise to power

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 30th 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.

Further reading