Hitler was a gifted orator and demagogue. Being a quirky apologist for terror and unlimited violence, he was leading a party through political storms and economic difficulties of the 1920s and early 1930s, prevented its failure, and gained the trust of millions of Germans. He was playing on the most sensitive strings of the German soul, promised to overthrow the dictatorship of Versailles, restore Germany to its former borders, and make it a powerful country without poverty and unemployment. However, despite the success in the economy and foreign policy of the state in the years of 1933-1938 and the consent of the majority of German people with the Nazi regime, it was based on the consolidation of Hitler’s skillful approach to terror, management, organizational, and political control over the army and propaganda. The army represented the main force of the Nazi regime. At the beginning, Hitler tried to control it with a special attention, establishing the personal relations with the officers in the highest positions. Soon after, all representatives of the officer’s level were named and controlled by him.
Historians have paid much attention to the historical and ideological roots of National Socialism. It helps to understand better its attraction for people and, at the same time, its criminal energy. They have dedicated a lot of researched responsibility of conservative political circles and big funds, which helped the Nazis to come to power. The control of Hitler over the army gains a separate investigation. Because establishing a Nazi regime in Europe, he paid a great attention to the relations with the Army Corps and the Reichswehr. Hitler understood that the regime consolidation and implementation of expansionist plans were impossible without a strong military support and control over the country. Till the end of the Nazi party in Germany, he managed to control his army by the means of active propaganda, concentration camps, and a strict system of denunciation and persecution.
General Policies of the Nazi regime
The Nazi program to conquer living space for Germans accompanied by the pan-German ideas. It was supported by the reactionary conservative circles. Going to power, the Nazis promised people a full employment, social care of the state, and decent life conditions for improving their social status. The Nazi foreign policy plans promised to make the revision of the Versailles Treaty and return Germany its status of great power. From that point, the Nazis had to convince the majority of German society in the fact that the actions of Hitler and his party had been committed on behalf and for the benefit of people. It presupposed the creation of a strong controlling governmental apparatus being fully and blindly dedicated to Hitler. Thus, the mechanism of control and suppression used by the leader to control the army was well-planned and organized. It included mass repressions, persecutions and denunciation, concentration camps and a strong propaganda.
In the 1930s, Hitler’s efforts were aimed to preserve the traditions of the Reichswehr. The initial distrust to the new Nazi regime in the army elite had been overcome as a result of the events of 1933-1934, when the top of the army structures were convinced in the leader’s intention to establish good relationships. In his numerous speeches pronounced in that period, Hitler repeatedly stressed that the Reichswehr along with the Nazi Party were the second pillar of the state. The Act issued in 1935 restored the universal military service. In the spring of the same year, it adopted a new structure of the armed forces of Germany, according to which the Wehrmacht had been divided into three kinds of forces: land army, navy, and air force. It created excellent opportunities for a fast career and a possibility for a major of the Reichswehr to become a Wehrmacht general for a couple of years.
With the next step, the dictator reorganized the command of the army. In 1938, the High Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW) was established and headed by General Wilhelm Keitel. The Army was headed by General Walther von Brauchitsch. Both political figures were known as officers, being unquestioningly obedient to Hitler. The leader himself became a supreme commander. Werner von Blomberg actively supported and promoted Nazi plans for the reconstruction and development of Germany’s military force in a military environment. The army command block welcomed the first steps of the Nazi government’s revision of the Versailles system. It approved the renaming of the Reichswehr into the Wehrmacht. The officers’ corps did not interfere with the process of the army’s Aryanisation. The officers gave the oath of allegiance to Hitler personally, as a head of the state and a commander in chief of the armed forces.
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Nazi leadership, thus, made the Wehrmacht in one of the main supporting columns of the Third Reich. It was the starting point. On the one hand, the Wehrmacht’s became involved in the war and the subsequent inhuman crimes of the Nazi order. On the other side, it marked the formation of the German opposition to the Nazi regime in the military and bureaucratic circles and supported the plans for the removal of Hitler from power. Subsequently, this fact seriously hindered the formation of a broad military opposition to the dictator.
The Mechanism of Control and Suppression
The ideology of National Socialism is a mixture of elements of the doctrine of Prussian socialism, the imperialist geopolitics and racial theories under the title of national socialism. It occupied a great place in the construction of the idea of the German national community on the basis of race. Nazi ideology was imbued with anti-Semitism, anti-Marxism, and the claims to total power. Advocacy, mobilization, and involvement of people in the construction of new National Socialist Germany played a central role in the strengthening and consolidation of the Nazi regime.
Usurpation of power by the Nazis gave an unlimited opportunity to manipulate the consciousness of the population and impregnate it with their views. Hitler said that propaganda as the terror had to be total. In the light of a future war for Lebensraum it was particularly necessary. Therefore, along with the party organs, a powerful state propaganda machine was created in the country. In fact, the prominent role in this mechanism was played by the Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, PhD J. Goebbels. The purpose of propaganda that Goebbels referred to was spiritual mobilization of the nation, which, he believed, the country lacked during the First World War.
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All means of ideological influence on the masses, as the press, radio, cinema, and theater were placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Propaganda, without racially inferiority and political opponents. Alternative publishing companies were closed, while the liberal press was censored and unified. Membership of journalists and cultural figures in the Nazi associations became compulsory. The German fascists widely put into their service and turned the mass media, such as radio and cinema into their means of propaganda. In connection with the mass production of popular radio, a joint hearing of important messages, some speeches of government, and party leaders took place in everyday life in the local institutions of NSDAP. By order of the Nazi, the German film industry produced many documentaries and films with the propagandistic content.
Nazi propaganda for some time had masked the annexationist regime and its military targets. The main emphasis was put on the idea of the revival of the nation, to combat unemployment and internal enemies, which included the Jews and Marxists. The Nazi propaganda openly proclaimed the need to consolidate the Germans on the basis of racial ideology of blood and soil. In an effort to tie people to the regime, the government introduced a series of new Nazi festivals and took an advantage of the ancient folk festivals. During the festivities, the Nazis first began to make an extensive use of visual aids that had a special impact on people: the rituals, symbolic and staging mass marches, brightly-colored flags of city streets, and, in the evening, the power games of the electric light as well as live fire. Everything had to create an impression of a nation rise from its knees. In the early days, there were many talks about peace-loving Germany. However, at the same time, there had been some demands for revision of the Versailles Treaty and military equality of Germany with the world powers made. To solve the internal and external problems, as claimed by the agitators, it was necessary to unite the people around the Party and the leader. The Hitler Myth as a savior of the nation stood at the forefront of both the Fuehrer and all the propaganda as well as agitation services. His name was linked with all domestic and foreign policy achievements of Germany. Public speeches of Nazi leaders, especially Hitler and Goebbels, played an enormous role in the establishment of total control. They had a special talent for persuasion and oratory. Their performances were recorded on radio and filmed. They set the tone and determined the content of the whole Nazi propaganda.
With the strengthening of the position of Germany in the international arena the tone of its propaganda became more demanding and peremptory. The promotional materials included pan-German and annexationist demands. During the war, the Nazi propaganda did not know any restrictions unruliness and aggression towards opponents. Despite the total character of propaganda, there were some gaps and niches, as vacations and family nights, where it was possible to avoid the party influence for a short time period. But, in general, the Nazi propaganda’s impact was very great.
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The party was one of the central structures in spreading the ideology and Hitler’s control over the population. The Nazis set up a network of organizations affiliated with their parties. These included the National Socialist unions and associations: teachers and professors, technicians and engineers, doctors and lawyers, as well as the organizations of women, veteran, charities and other. They were engaged in the work of the party, organizing charity events for the benefit of disabled veterans, low-income or large families. The scope of this work under the leadership of Nazi functionaries was significant. It gave the regime a more popular and, at the same time, greater opportunity for control over the population. In total, by 1945, 61 organizations, which consisted of about 10 million Germans, had been created.
The NSDAP became more diverse; and its structure was very extensive. The party against the entire country was divided into regional, county, city, community, and local party organizations. The functionaries of the party, i.e. the leaders of various levels became the active agents of the cult of the Führer, as the agitators for the new course in domestic and foreign policy. Reichsleiters and Gauleiters played an important role in the Party. Gauleiter appointed and dismissed the heads of the lower party organs. They were responsible for holding large meetings and release of the local party press. Since 1935, local party functionaries had been able to directly influence the work of community and town councils and mayors. However, the order of 1937 prohibited the combination of party and government posts, though in reality, the party leaders influenced all aspects of life. It was especially evident during the war, when they virtually supplied the population with food; and, at the same time, they were responsible for the elimination of the consequences of bombings.
The Party sought to become a kind of a state within a state. It actively carried out the personnel policy. With the help of the Party Hitler created a consolidated system of influence on the army and masses. The stormtroopers burst into the apartments of anti-fascists, beating and arresting them. They created, wherever possible, prison facilities and temporary concentration camps for political opponents. Yet it failed to completely subdue the state apparatus. Therefore, the administration of the country under Hitler retained traditional features in many respects, where the value in the first place had been given to professional qualifications.
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The regime needed a well-organized, professional and extensive control over society and the suppression of dissent. This system was the organization of the security forces SS, headed by Heinrich Himmler. The adoption of the totalitarian party system in Germany was accompanied by the creation of a branched repressive apparatus. In the first months, the Nazi regime had been using for this purpose SS units. Soldiers and officers of the Waffen SS, as the members of the SS concentration camp guard were also the members of the SS in military service, not of the German State, but in the Nazi Party. Those ones being not in the ranks of the SS and guard concentration camps were just the Algemeine SS.
By the end of the 1930s, the formation of the Allgemeine SS and Standarte Rotten became, to some extent, nominal, since the SS had changed their purpose and objectives. However, the Allgemeine SS formation was saved. With its help Hitler could easily crush any manifestation of discontent or rebellion. Thus, in 1931, with the help of SS units the dictator easily quelled riot squads in the north of Germany. Also, the Allgemeine SS played a significant role in trapping participants in an anti-Hitler movement in parts of the Wehrmacht after a failed assassination’s attempt on the leader in July 1944. The SS task also included protection and care to maintain the Aryan blood in the country. The condition for joining the organization, along with the devotion to the ideas of National Socialism, was a racial purity in three generations, the strict adherence to these issues in relationships with people.
From the moment Hitler came to power in January 1933, the SS was a main instrument of the Nazi Party in governing the state. The part of the issue of governance in the interests of the Nazi, the SS decided on the appointment of members to key leadership positions in the state apparatus. In particular, all police forces and intelligence (except military) were placed under the control of the RSHA (Reich Security Main Office).
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All society was controlled by Hitler’s security units. The leadership of the SS was responsible only to the leader personally. In the historiography of Nazism, there is a widespread definition of the role of the SS in Germany as a state within a state. The new military structure Waffen-SS was established in 1936. These troops were from the outset other than the Allgemeine-SS structure. The units were designed according to a strict military structure. At the end of 1944, Waffen SS consisted of forty divisions and represented a very substantial military force. In addition, in the Waffen SS, there were several divisions formed from the ethnic Germans and representatives of other nationalities.
The SS began to press down pretty quickly the public authorities. They monitored the overall situation in the country and had a foreign intelligence service as well as the Gestapo, which was monitoring all the spheres of life, including functionaries and the members of the Nazi party. Since the beginning of the war the exploitation of prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates significantly increased the economic function of the SS. They strictly followed the implementation of racial segregation laws. Himmler and his department put into practice the racial ideas of Nazism.
At the final stage of the war, the activities of the SS organizations stopped with the occupation of the territory by the Red Army and the troops of the Alliance. Their formal activity was discontinued; and the organization was disbanded in the autumn of 1945 on the basis of the decisions of the Potsdam Conference of Allied denazification of Germany. The verdict of the International Tribunal in Nuremberg in the autumn of 1946 declared the SS to be a criminal organization.
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Concentration camps became an integral part of the Nazi rule. At first, they were intended for the political opponents of Hitler. At the end of July 1933, in Germany, there were 27 thousand political prisoners. In June 1935, their number in the camps dropped to 4 thousand, which indicated the stabilization of the regime.
Despite this fact, the system of concentration camps continued to strengthen and expand. By 1937, in Germany, there had been 4 major concentration camps of Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Lichtenburg. With the expansion of the Reich there were some camps in Flossenburg, Ravensbruck (for women), and Mauthausen added. In this connection, the number of troops of Death’s Head increased. Till the end of 1937, they had represented 5 thousand people. The grueling work, torture, beatings, and killings had become the norm of life in Nazi Germany.
During the war, the concentration camps’ function widened. They became a place of concentration of slave labor for the military industry. Millions of prisoners of war and deported nations from Europe and inferior peoples as Jews, Gypsies, and the part of the Slavic population, worked for the German war machine. The Nazi regime in the last months of the war intensified its terror. On February 15, 1945, in front-line, the areas operated military courts for deserters. The hanging white flag was punishable by death. Then the action of military courts spread to the civilian population. Immediately, after the war, conservative social, political and religious circles in Germany and abroad widely believed in an accidental character of the Third Reich.
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Despite the fact that the officer corps till the end of the war remained under the influence of Nazi ideology, an oppositional view also existed in the army. The political points of the opposition officers were very different. Along with the old generals Beck and Hammerstein, who considered a fascist policy wrong since the very beginning of the war, there were younger officers. They came to critical thinking under the influence of heavy defeats. It was felt that in order to win the war Hitler had to be removed from command. It should be noted that during the Reichswehr along with the officers who occupied a conservative position, based on the traditions of the old Prussian ideals, there were also the people who tried to use the army to achieve their purposes. Driven by ambition, disguised emphasized democratic views, they were able to occupy important positions in the army and break the unity that existed among the top military commanders. However, to receive a decisive influence on the position of the bulk of the officer corps, these people lost at the beginning of the war. Their actions only undermined Hitler’s authority during his military leadership.
All this information, in general, forms the main conclusion. Without a system of strict management and control, which included propaganda, collaboration with the secret police, SS structures, camps, and the party organization, Nazi Germany would have been unable to expand a full-blown terror both inside and outside the country. The key factor of the long-period spread of the Nazi ideals in Germany was the massive support of Hitler among the officers and army forces. The dictator established good relations with the command of the army and named his people to the key positions. It helped Hitler, despite the opposition among officers, to control the military forces of Nazi Germany till the end of the war.