How far had Hitler achieved his vision for the Third Reich by 1939?

Hitler envisaged Germany to be a world power, yet the conditions of the country were dire. He wanted to restore the country internally in order for it to be re-established as a superpower, before carrying out his global expansionist ideas. To realise his ambitions, he intended to focus his efforts fundamentally on two key areas: Volksgemeinshaft (which can be widely grouped into culture, family life and religion) and the failing German economy. In doing so, he was determined to create an autarky (economic self-sufficiency to prepare for war) and ultimately create a legacy, the Third Reich (Empire).

When Hitler attained power in 1933, his foremost concern was the German economy. Though he had clear economic goals, he had no rigid ideas about how to accomplish them. His central aim was to organise Germany’s resources for a war of imperial conquest, thus he wanted to assemble a Wehrwirtschaft (defence economy). He supposed that Germany had lost the First World War because of the social and economic collapse at home. Consequently he wanted to make Germany as self-sufficient as possible, and protect the nation’s morale by upholding standards of living. But his immediate concern was restoring economic confidence which had been devastated by the Great Depression. The troubled economy would enable some of Hitler’s successes to be augmented.

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Hitler’s new government strived to create jobs. Public expenditure and investment rose whilst consumer demand was being stimulated. Independent unions had been destroyed and certain groups were pressurised out of employment, particularly Jews and married women. The Youth Service (RAD) also took thousands off the unemployment register. Hjalmar Schacht (President of the Reichsbank and then Economics Minister) used innovative methods and exploited greater state intervention, to meet Germany’s economic needs and ease inflation. But problems arose over the growing balance of trade deficit. Schacht’s New Plan of 1934 partly dealt with this by regulating imports and utilising bilateral trade agreements. Remarkably, the period saw unemployment decrease from almost 6 million to 1.6 million by 1936. Some of this was down to certain groups not being counted as unemployed, and in hindsight, Hitler’s accession to power started when the worst of the recession was over.

As the pace for rearmament grew, Hitler later replaced Schacht with Hermann Goering to be in charge of the Office of the Four-Year plan, which geared Germany for war within four years. The new economic organisation intervened throughout the economy to ensure that priority was to be given to rearmament, forming a managed economy. This largely benefited the big businesses, whereas the Mittelstand (smaller businesses) were given some token measures. The government set overall targets that private industry had to meet, yet only a few were realistically achievable. Germany raised their own production of key commodities and developed substitute products. By 1939 however, Germany still relied on foreign imports for one-third of its raw materials and some substitutes were inefficient. Also, the extra resources that were put into the rearmament drive meant that consumer goods were ignored, sparking the ‘guns vs. butter’ debate.

Another major Nazi aim, to radically transform the conscious minds and actions of the German people, was part of Volksgemeinshaft (community of the people). This new, national Germany sacrificed individualism for the needs of the state and also proposed to get rid of class distinctions. Members were known as Volksgenossen (fellow Germans) and were based entirely on Hitler’s outlook on race and blood. He considered the Herrenvolk (master race) to be Aryans (Germans with blonde hair and blue eyes), who were genetically healthy, socially constructive and politically dedicated to the regime. This unified community would follow their F�hrer (leader) and selflessly act together to prepare Germany for world domination. However, the traditional opinion for the ideal German was the peasant working close to the German soil. So the new reactionary attitude clashed with the modern industrial economy over Hitler’s military aspirations.

In contrast to the hierarchal supremacy of Aryans, the Untermenschen (inferior races) were to be expelled from the people’s community. These included mainly Jews, the physically handicapped and mentally ill, communists and political opponents, resistance groups, gypsies, homosexuals, criminals, and more. Hitler was influenced by the ideas of Eugenics, so by separating the ‘undesirables’, he felt he could ‘selectively breed’ a superior race and mould a greater Germany for the future.

Eintopf and Winterhilf are two Nazi policies which highlight the helpfulness of Volksgemeinshaft. Eintopf insisted that national comrades eat only a simple ‘one pot’ meal once every month, so they could save money and donate to welfare schemes such as Winterhilf. This fund was formed in 1933 to provide extra help during the winter months for the unemployed, and payments did actually benefit nearly 9 million Germans in 1938. These kinds of proposals were encouraged with propaganda, as well as sometimes pressurising people to contribute.

In contrast, the mistreatment of the ‘outsiders’ became increasingly noticeable, especially towards the Jews whom Hitler used as scapegoats – an enemy to blame for all of Germany’s troubles. But even though Hitler clearly hated them, he had no comprehensible anti-Jewish policy. His main concern was improving the dismal German economy, and since loans were vital from America and the conservative allies, he initially had to use discreet measures against Jews to avoid provoking the international powers.

Josef Goebbels (Minister of Propaganda), who had been appointed to the Cabinet by Hitler, advocated the expulsion of Jews from the media and arts, as well as permitting the book-burnings of ‘Jewish Intellectualism’. Both men knew the value of propaganda in swaying public opinion. Therefore they used it, alongside the forcefulness of the Gestapo (Nazi secret police), to help eliminate opposition influence and enforce their own. Moreover, several departments for the Reich Chamber of Culture were created, which took the responsibility of deciding who could work in these areas, practically eradicating the need for censorship. The conformity deprived Germany’s rich cultural life due to the huge loss of its talented Jews. On the other hand, it allowed the Nazis to instil their ideas to the public. But the effect of propaganda is questionable because it depends on people’s attitudes. Hence it would vary on several factors (e.g. period, region, age, etc) and so it would be difficult to measure.

Much of Hitler’s plans revolved around Nazi racial policies. As time passed, the ‘alien’ classes were progressively isolated by Nazis. The early examples were in the form of prejudicial laws. On 1 April 1933, Hitler began a nationwide boycott of Jewish professions and businesses. It was originally planned to be permanent, but influential conservatives in the government pressurised Hitler into limiting it to a single day. The result was disappointing for the Nazi leaders as they did not receive the public support they had hoped for. A week later on the 7th, anti-Jewish legislation was passed, which forced non-Aryans out of selected professions. Though the April Laws marginalised Germany’s Jews, the effect was not so severe right away. The profession laws were switched to apply to only the upper levels since there were few adequately trained replacements to fill the vacancies. Furthermore, Hindenburg’s clause allowed Jews who had served in the war to remain in their jobs. This meant that roughly three quarters of doctors and lawyers were not removed straight away.

As the constant discrimination of Jews curtailed in 1934, the lack of solutions towards the ‘Jewish problem’ generated frustration amongst the Nazi extremists, who were calling for more action. This spurred Hitler to fashion up the Nuremburg Laws which were issued on 15 September 1935. It actively prevented Jews (who were considered as a totally separate race) from being able to do a number of things (mainly the following); they were banned from marriages and sex with Germans and were denied the right to a German citizenship. The persecution of Jews had already existed in many countries for centuries, but in Germany they were now officially labelled as second class.

As a result, it became necessary to define Jewishness; Nazi ideology distinguished Jews as not a religion but a race. This was inconsistent with the ‘First Supplementary Decree to the Reich Citizenship Law’, where the definition was based around ‘the Jewish religious community’. This complicated the process of classifying Jews from the Germans, even more so because it was now crucial to have proof of Aryan ancestry.

The increasing force of anti-Semitism erupted during the night of 9-10 November 1938, when unprecedented violence broke out. Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) exhibited attacks on the Jewish society. This hostile intolerance dented economic prospects as numerous businesses were damaged, thus hindering economic stability. Even worse, Goering (who was the Economics minister at this time) callously fined the Jews RM 1 billion for the destruction, and a new decree blocked Jews from economic activity. This hastened the radicalising Aryanisation plan but hampered an important segment of the economy, even though the war efforts overruled all other areas.

The Christian Church and Nazism shared a few comparable ethics, most significantly the traditional cultural values, such as the importance of family life. Nevertheless, Hitler privately recognised the Church as an obstacle to people who should otherwise commit fully to his totalitarian regime. Knowing that radical changes in this sensitive area would be politically unwise, he sought to gain the support of Church leaders so that he could partly manage them, and then gradually reduce their influence, finally replacing them with his own Aryan faith.

In an effort to Nazify Protestantism, a new Reich Church was established. Still, this instigated a breakaway movement, the Confessional Church, which wanted to remain autonomous from political control. Accordingly, the Nazis failed to imbue their principles into a unified Protestant Church, only causing to divide it. This led Hitler to agree to a Concordat, but the Nazis did not keep their promises as they discredited the Churches. By 1939, religious schools had nearly disappeared and numerous monasteries were closed down. Aggressive decisions against the Churches led to public outcries, so the government had to draw back frequently to avoid initiating widespread resistance. This was merely exacerbated by Hitler’s failure to impose a clear strategy. He had hoped to control them but was criticised, and degrading the Church was difficult because it was such a prominent aspect of the community.

Hitler observed that the future of the Reich would only be secured by shaping the next generation i.e. the German youth. He believed that priority should be given to ideological and physical training over academic schooling. He wanted to turn young Germans into loyal Nazi activists by controlling their greatest influences; these were their families, their schools and youth movements.

In 1926 the Nazis made their own youth movement, the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth), and there were about 50,000 members when Hitler became Chancellor. By the end of 1933 the group had absorbed all other youth movements, with the exception of those run by Roman Catholics, so membership rose enormously. On 1 December 1936, the Hitler Youth Law stated that all young people would be educated to serve the nation in the spirit of National Socialism, yet membership was not made compulsory until March 1939. Many members saw it as a chance to escape the typical authorities and gave them the opportunity to participate in enjoyable activities. Then again, the expectancy of war progressively meant that the activities emphasised more on political and military attributes. Many found the stern regimentation and military drills as tedious. The strictness was often discouraging and several parents and teachers made complaints regarding the brutality. Also, the sexual repression was perhaps counter-productive; the 1936 Nuremburg rally was attended by 100,000 teenagers and caused 900 pregnancies. And once the Hitler Youth became mandatory, the early enthusiasm seeped away as some took part with little interest. Furthermore, groups of youngsters naturally rebelled by joining illegal gangs. The most common were the Edelweiss Pirates and the Swing Movement, which demonstrates that not all youth had been effectively inculcated with Nazi beliefs.

Nazi views also quickly stemmed into education. Schools were constantly undermined and interfered by the Hitler Youth. The syllabus was radically changed to indoctrinate the pupils, although teachings differed between boys and girls. More emphasis was placed on physical exercise, whereas biology and history were overhauled to protect the Nazi racial theories and promote national greatness. At the same time, many teachers who were deemed non-Nazis or racially inferior were forced out, causing low morale within the profession. This led to 3000 vacancies in 1938, which will have undoubtedly impoverished school teaching. The April Laws had also restricted Jewish students to 5% in any one school or university.

Universities proved reasonably straightforward to bring under control since many of their students and teachers were Nazi enthusiasts. In 1933, Non-Aryan teachers were expelled and some of the best academics left to escape a regime which snubbed intellectuals. These divested universities as they lost 15% of staff in the first 18 months of Nazi rule. Unsurprisingly, both the quality of scholarship and the numbers attending German universities declined drastically.

Besides the younger generation, women were also targeted by Nazi policy. The Nazis felt that nature had intended women to maintain the role of motherhood and domesticity. They encouraged women to have more children by offering incentives; financial inducements and rewards were given to large and fertile families. Due to the issue of a declining birth rate, contraceptives were made harder to obtain and abortions were clamped down. This led to increases in the number of marriages and births, but these decisions were more due to economic reasons rather than as a duty to procreate.

And despite men monopolising power, they were in some respects contradicted by the NS-Frauenwerk (Nazi Women’s Group). Women were offered courses on maternity and domestic science, in addition to being expected to undertake Party work, in spite of the fact that the regime insisted them to stay at home. There were over 4 million members in 1938, albeit full-time housewives were tricky to enlist. And as with the youth, some women also overlooked the government. They continued to remain faithful to their conventional church groups and others disliked being deluged by Nazi propaganda. Despite this, even where women were not eager about Nazism, they showed no organised opposition either. This could imply that they were either content with their lifestyles or had little power to exert.

In terms of employment, the Nazis planned to shed women from the labour force, to reinforce the belief that women were to sustain households. Nazi attitudes and propaganda influenced existing trends. Contrary to that, they were probably outweighed by economic circumstances. The consequent labour shortages, for instance in agriculture, and the heavy conscription of the male work force, meant that women were needed back into jobs. This pushed many women, mostly young, into mundane, low-paid positions, where there were lots of employees. From 1935, even the number of women in the army increased. This illustrates that women were squeezed out of better paid jobs into more physical trades, risking their health and degrading the family system.

Overall, it would appear that Hitler’s domestic priorities developed and changed between 1933 and 1939. His first objective was to aid Germany’s recovery from the Depression and reduce unemployment. This phase was successful as it created a newfound sense of optimism and made Hitler very popular. However, the autarky system failed because Germany was not able to become entirely self-reliant as Hitler had hoped, despite massively increasing production in several sectors.

As for the Volksgemeinshaft, the Nazis swiftly purged those who were abnormal in the contexts of ideology, biology, and socially. There was little opposition while it was taking place, which may suggest that perhaps Nazi ideology was being accepted, or maybe people were too afraid. Additionally, youth and women faced similar consequences as most conformed whilst a few disobeyed. Education had deteriorated to such an extent that “they were incapable of either providing political leadership in the future or contributing the intellectual and technical skills necessary for running a modern industrial society”1. Distinctly, religion was perhaps another of the Nazis’ most observable failure, since they were not able to infuse their Nazi principles into the churches.

All in all, there were also several aims Hitler could not complete. These were either at the expense of others, too unrealistic, and/or due to the short time span of 6 years. Some failures even occurred as a result of counterproductive Nazi tactics. Therefore the Third Reich was partially accomplished.


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