Adolf’s Hitler’s Nazis are one of the most terrible movements in history - but to what extent did they achieve what they wanted in their homeland? Here, Seth Eislund follows up from his first article for the site here, and considers whether the Nazis achieved what they wanted politically, economically, and socially within Germany itself.

Adolf Hitler addressing the German Parliament in May 1941. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-808-1238-05 / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Available  here

Adolf Hitler addressing the German Parliament in May 1941. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-808-1238-05 / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Available here

From his election as chancellor on January 30, 1933, until his suicide on April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler ruled over Germany and transformed the country into a fascist, authoritarian state. Hitler’s Nazi Party imposed its nationalistic, militaristic, racist, and anti-Semitic ideology on all levels of German society, with the hope of establishing the Aryan race as master of the world. More specifically, the Nazi government imposed its views and policies on the political, economic, and social spheres of Germany, vying to establish complete control over the lives of the German people. While the Nazi regime succeeded in eliminating political opposition and quelled political dissent, it was only partially successful economically and socially. The Nazi government's economic program, the Four-Year Plan, failed to achieve its long-term goals. Furthermore, Hitler failed to obtain complete social dominance over his citizens because he couldn't fully control their religious beliefs.

 

The Nazi Party's Political Ascendancy

The Nazi Party succeeded in achieving total political control over Germany, as it established itself as the only legal political party in the country and ruthlessly eliminated its opponents. On July 14, 1933, the Nazis passed the Law against the Founding of New Parties, which declared the Nazi Party to be the only valid political party in Germany.[i]All other political parties were banned. As a result, this law effectively established Germany as an authoritarian single-party state, nullifying any form of political opposition. A year later, the Nazis continued their political domination of Germany by carrying out the Night of the Long Knives, which purged the Sturmabteilung (also known as the SA), the Nazi Party’s former paramilitary organization. SA leader Ernst Röhm and approximately 85 members were assassinated because the Nazis feared that the SA was a threat to the army and the state, according to historian Richard J. Evans.[ii]With his opposition in and outside of the Party eliminated, Hitler could rule Germany unopposed. Thus, the Nazis were successful in cementing complete political control over Germany, using both legal and extrajudicial methods to achieve their aims.

 

The Nazi Regime and Economic Success

While the Nazi regime established total political control over Germany, it was only moderately successful in achieving its economic goals. On October 18, 1936, Hermann Göring, one of the highest-ranking members of the Nazi Party, initiated the Four-Year Plan in order to reform Germany’s industrial and military production.[iii]The Nazis aimed to make Germany a self-sufficient nation, capable of producing the materials necessary for later wars and expansion. While Nazi Germany did see a rise in economic activity, employment, and the creation of munitions and explosives, the Four-Year Plan caused the production of consumer goods to suffer. With a greater focus on military production, resources were directed away from consumer goods, and Germany’s economy became weakened in the long-term.[iv]Additionally, historian Richard Overy claims that Nazi Germany was unable to establish a strong war economy, which ultimately led to its defeat in 1945.[v]Furthermore, historians Jeremy Noakes and Geoffrey Pridham state that Germany was still reliant on the resources of other countries for the production of its raw materials by 1939.[vi]Therefore, while Germany was partially successful in stimulating industrial and military production, its failure to permanently establish a robust, self-sufficient economy in the military and civilian sectors ultimately led to the Nazi regime’s downfall.

 

The Nazi Regime and Social Control

In addition to its mixed economic success, the Nazi regime’s social goal of replacing religious devotion with devotion to Nazism was only partially realized. According to historian Richard Weikart, Adolf Hitler believed that religion had no role to play in German political and ideological life and instead wanted all Germans to believe in the Nazi Party’s ideology.[vii]The Nazi regime was successful in turning the attitudes of children in the Hitler Youth and the League of German Maidens against Catholicism and Protestantism. Historian Richard Bonney states that children in these programs broke up church youth groups and spied on Bible studies classes.[viii]While the Nazis succeeded in influencing anti-religious sentiment among children, they knew that purging religion completely from German society would be unwise. Weikart posits that while Hitler despised Christianity and organized religion in private, he dared not eliminate Catholicism and Protestantism in Germany, as doing so would turn the majority of the German people, who were Christian, against him.[ix]Thus, the Nazis were only moderately successful in achieving social control over the German people, as they required the support of religious Germans to stay in power.

 

Conclusion

Throughout its 12-year reign, the Nazi authoritarian regime attempted to achieve total control over the political, economic, and social aspects of German society with varying success. The Nazi Party was very successful in obtaining complete political control over Germany, as it legally declared itself to be the only legitimate party in the country and murdered those who opposed it. However, the Nazis only saw moderate success in controlling the economic and social spheres of Germany. While Hermann Göring’s Four-Year Plan did augment Germany’s production of industrial and military-related materials, it ultimately weakened the German economy and left the nation vulnerable to defeat in World War II. Additionally, the Nazis found some success in wielding social control over the German people by instilling anti-religious sentiment in German youth., but they didn’t eradicate religion in Germany because doing so would have resulted in a massive loss of popular support. Regardless of its economic and social shortcomings, though, the Nazi regime still held enough control over German society to incite the world’s deadliest conflict, commit a genocide that killed 11 million people, and change the course of history. Only through studying regimes such as Nazi Germany can one realize the dangers of authoritarianism, and how such systems cause horrific destruction and despair.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

You can read Seth’s previous article for the site, on Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, here.


[i]United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Law against the Founding of New Parties," United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed  August 29, 2018, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/law-against-the-founding-of-new-parties.

[ii]Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power(New York: Penguin Press, 2010), 39-40.

[iii]Adam Tooze and Jamie Martin, The Cambridge History of the Second World War, ed. Michael Geyer, vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 35.

[iv]"Nazi Economic, Social and Racial Policy," BBC News, November 13, 2017, accessed August 29, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/bitesize/guides/zw6s7p3/revision/1.

[v]Brian Gray et al., Oxford IB Diploma Programme: Authoritarian States Course Companion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 210-228.

[vi]Ibid.

[vii]Richard Weikart, Hitler's Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich (Washington, D.C.: Regnery History, 2016), 89-95.

[viii]Richard Bonney, Confronting the Nazi War on Christianity: The Kulturkampf Newsletters, 1936-1939, 139.

[ix]Weikart, Hitler's Religion, 89.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Highly evocative and worryingly effective, Nazi propaganda targeted its viewers in a very specific way. By targeting the viewer’s emotions, Goebbels and his underlings turned many of the German populace into a nation of followers in the National Socialist agenda from when the Nazis took power in 1933. Emotions were key to the entire apparatus, from hate of the ‘other’ to joy of the German rebirth. Maddison Nichol explains the troubling Nazi propaganda machine.

Adolf Hitler speaking in 1933. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1987-0703-506 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0, available  here .

Adolf Hitler speaking in 1933. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1987-0703-506 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0, available here.

It was in Mein Kampf, that now infamous political manifesto of the National Socialists, that Hitler wrote:

Particularly the broad masses of the people can be moved only by the power of speech. And all great movements are popular movements, volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotional sentiments, stirred either by the cruel Goddess of Distress or by the firebrand of the word hurled among the masses; they are not the lemonade-like outpourings of literary aesthetics and drawing room heroes.[1]

 

 To simplify, Mein Kampf would never create a populace of believers. Nonetheless, Nazi propagandists worked tirelessly to create new forms of propaganda to evoke that emotional response from the viewer and realign the German masses with the ideals of the Nazis.

 

Films

Films were an important way to move the people in line with the ideology of the Nazis. Two films used two very different emotions to try to create a populace of believers in the Nazi cause, or at least a populace willing to follow Hitler. The first was the Triumph of the Wills.

The opening of Triumph of the Wills is a black screen with a small caption of text. It reads: “On 5 September 1934, 20 years after the outbreak of the World War, 16 years after the beginning of German suffering, 19 months after the beginning of the German rebirth, Adolf Hitler flew once again to Nuremberg to review the columns of faithful followers.”[2] By prefacing the film in this light, German citizens watching the film were reminded of their once dire situation, now being improved by Hitler. The film then launches into a scene with throngs of eager people waving, smiling, and cheering as their Führer drives past them, waving as he goes.

The people here are seen as being overjoyed by the arrival of Hitler because of the supposed improvements he had made since taking power in 1933. By showing the enthusiasm of the Germans in Nuremburg to a wider audience in Germany, Triumph of the Wills succeeded in creating an emotional response from the viewers. For the first time since the outbreak of WWI, the German people were led to be proud of their nation and their leader. Hitler was reviving Germany from its ill state under the Weimar Republic and the people could see it. That was the point of the film, to show an overjoyed populace where previously there was only uncertainty.

Alternatively, at the other end of the spectrum of emotions, hate films were conceived to rile up the German people against the ‘other’ that was supposed to be poisoning pure German blood. Jew Süss was such a film. The film briefly documents the fall of an honorable German duke in the Middle Ages by listening to a Jewish advisor. By tricking the duke into heavily taxing his people, Süss created an environment ripe for uprisings and revolt. The film goes on to show more vile sides to Süss and the other Jews who enter the city, depicted as a horde of dirty, unsavoury vagabonds marching into a pristine German city. The depiction of the Jews in Jew Süss is in line with previous Nazi anti-Semitism to drive the point home to the viewers that Jews were the creatures depicted in the film. Ultimately, the film ends with the downfall of the duke, and the Jews are exiled from the city.

Jew Süss was seen as being successful in creating an atmosphere of hatred towards the Jews and it was shown to the SS at times before a mission against Jews.[3] That’s a startling thought. The film was shown to everyone who had access to a cinema, including youth, especially youth. The central idea here is that the once honorable German duke was tricked by an evil Jewish man to betray his loving people. In Nazi propaganda, Jews were depicted as doing just that, twisting the righteous and corrupting them. [4] Through Jew Süss and other similar films, the Nazis encouraged anti-Semitism in the German populace.[5]

Nazi films used emotion just like modern films do, but in a politically charged way. By evoking emotions like hatred and pride, Nazi propaganda films wanted to create a population of believers motivated by National Socialism and loyalty to Hitler. To an extent, they succeeded, but by 1945 many Germans despised Hitler and the Nazis for the horrors of war they brought upon the German people.

 

Oration

Historian Felicity Rash quoted Hitler by saying that spoken word is better to replace one’s hatred with your own.[6] This was an important feature of Nazi propaganda as speeches and oration were given as frequently as possible. Cheap radios were manufactured so all Germans could tune into a speech given by Hitler or a member of the Nazis. We’ve all heard people speak in such a way that moves us into action, be it at a protest or listening to an inspirational speech like Charlie Chaplin’s famous The Dictator speech. Oration, when used well, moves people into action.

Hitler was infamously good at it. His speeches moved much of a nation to rally behind him and work towards his version of a brighter future. In a speech, Hitler once said:

“When someone says, ‘You’re a dreamer’, I can only answer ‘You idiot…. If I weren’t a dreamer, where would we be today? I’ve always believed in Germany. You said I was a dreamer. I’ve always believed in the rise of the Reich. You said I was a fool. I’ve always believed in our return to power. You said I was mad. I’ve always believed in an end to poverty! You said that was utopian! Who was right? You or me?! I was right!’”[7]

 

Unfortunately, people ate this stuff up. According to Goebbels, the task of propaganda was to mobilize the mind and spirit of the people for National Socialism.[8] By using oration powerfully and constantly, the people were mobilized to support Hitler and the Nazis. All of this was done through emotion. By reading the above quote we can see some semblance of an emotional response, but by listening to it you can feel it. Reading doesn’t really have the same effect as listening to someone passionately proclaiming it from balconies and from stages.

In the end, to create an emotional response from the viewer, you need to show them an emotional reaction yourself. Nazi propaganda was skilled at that, more so than most propaganda in WW2. By evoking emotions from the viewers, Nazism went from a radical fringe party to the radical ruling party of an industrial powerhouse in the middle of Europe. People flocked to the cinemas to see the latest propaganda film and the rallies. They listened to their leader speak on the radio in a highly provocative manner just to evoke an emotional response from the masses.

Emotion was key to Nazi propaganda because Hitler did not seek acquiescence or even acceptance from the German masses. He craved a nation of believers in the Nazi cause. Only through emotion would that happen. By showing people the supposed improvements since 1933 both politically and economically, people felt joy and pride. By harping on slogans and oration, people rallied behind Hitler. It was only at the beginning of the end of the German war effort that propaganda became less effective.

But that’s a whole other story.

 

What do you think of this article? Let us know below.

 

[1] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Manheim, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971), 107.

[2] Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph of the Will, directed by Leni Riefenstahl, YouTube, Germany: (Universum Film AG,

1935), Viewed on YouTube, 12/04/2018.

[3] Eric Rentschler, The Ministry of Illusion, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 150.

[4] Andreas Musolff, Metaphor, Nation and the Holocaust: The Concept of the Body Politic, (New York, Routledge, 2010), 37.

[5] Ibid, 43.

[6] Felicity Rash, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006), 47.

[7] Der Souverän, “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer [ENG Sub], published December 2016, YouTube video, 2:35.

[8] David Welch, “Nazi Propaganda and the Volksgemeinschaft: Constructing a People’s Community”, Journal of Contemporary History 39, No. 2 (April 2004), 217.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

In episode 3 of our series History Books, we look at instability in inter-war Germany and how the Nazis began their ascent to power. 

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In the last episode we looked at Stalin’s Gulags; this time we consider his arch-enemy in the book Reaction, Revolution and the Birth of Nazism: Germany 1918-1923 by Nick Shepley.

The book tells the story of events in Germany in the years after World War I. These were years of great strife and change in the country. There was gross political instability following the German defeat in the war, with groups on both the political left and right trying to stake their claim to power. Indeed, the book argues that Germany at the time was involved in a three-way fight. Firstly, there were left-leaning groups. Secondly, there were traditional conservative elements, the old elite. And thirdly, there were radical right-wing groups.

This episode picks up the rise of the Nazis in the early 1920s, and the extreme lengths that Adolf Hitler went to in order to gain power.

Now, I hope that you enjoy the audio.

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And if you enjoy the podcast, you can purchase the book here: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Take care,

George Levrier-Jones

email: info@itshistorypodcasts.com

web: www.itshistorypodcasts.com

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What would have happened if Adolf Hitler had been assassinated in July 1944? Well, there was an attempt on his life, but the plot failed. Here, Nick Tingley looks at the story behind the plot – and how the twentieth century could have looked very different if it had succeeded.

You can read Nick’s first article on what would have happened if D-Day did not happen in 1944 here.

 

“The Führer, Adolf Hitler, is dead. An unscrupulous clique of non-combatant party leaders have used this situation and attempted to stab our fighting forcers in the back and seize power for their own purpose.”

The front-page of  The Stars and Stripes , the US Army magazine on May 2, 1945. However, Hitler was nearly killed in 1944.

The front-page of The Stars and Stripes, the US Army magazine on May 2, 1945. However, Hitler was nearly killed in 1944.

At 7:30PM on July 20, 1944, Field Marshal von Witzleben sent out this directive as head of the Wehrmacht, effectively marking the start of a new era in Nazi Germany. Early that afternoon, at 12:42PM, a British made bomb had exploded inside a conference hut at the Wolfsschanze, Hitler’s primary Eastern Front Headquarters located near the small East Prussian town of Rastenburg. The explosion killed the Nazi dictator and several others who had attended the briefing, including Field Marshal Keital. Whilst the feeling on the ground was that the laborers who had built the conference barracks had built the bomb inside the structure, Berlin was beginning to send out reports that the SS and leading Party officials were behind the mysterious blast.

What followed next was a well-executed military take-over of Berlin, Paris and Vienna in which high profile Nazis and military leaders were arrested. The operation, under the command of a well-organized German officer, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, saw the chief of the General Army Office, General Friedrich Olbricht, rise to the role of de facto leader of Germany in what many saw as a return to the pre-Nazi Weimar politics that had effectively crippled Germany during the early 1930s. Although the German population didn’t know it at the time, Stauffenberg and Olbricht had just enacted a coup d’état, completely overthrowing the Nazi Party.

The war, which had begun to turn against Germany with the invasion of Normandy only a month earlier, was placed under the command of a group of ambitious officers who had effectively seized power in the Reich. German troops were immediately pulled out of France and back to the German Frontier and the new German government began sending messages to the Western Allies in an effort to sue for peace and prevent the inevitable occupation of Germany by Soviet troops. By September 1944, the war was effectively over and the Nazi regime had all but been eliminated.

 

Coup d’état

But none of this came to pass.

There was an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944 and there was an attempt to seize control of the Reich by a group of German conspirators. But Hitler survived the explosion, escaping without so much as a scratch, and over the next few hours the German High Command worked diligently to bring the coup to a swift end. By the early morning of July 21, Stauffenberg, Olbricht and several other important members of the conspiracy had been shot dead and hundreds of others would commit suicide or be tried by kangaroo courts in the months that followed.

But when the question of assassinating Hitler had first been discussed by the conspirators, known widely as the German Resistance or “Secret Germany”, there was a feeling that the removal of Hitler and subsequent take over of Germany was a very real possibility. With the tide of war turning against Germany, many high ranking members of the army, including some of the most famous Germany military commanders, like Erwin Rommel, were willing to explore the option of a peaceful resolution to what was undoubtedly a vicious war.  The disastrous Battle of Kursk on the Eastern Front in 1943 had already demonstrated that Germany could not hope to win the glorious war that Hitler had envisaged and many believed that defeat under the Führer’s command was inevitable.

From September 1943, the resistance movement made several attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The belief had been that, with Hitler gone, the way would be paved for Goering or Himmler to take control of Nazi Germany. Hitler had made many enemies in the Wehrmacht as he enforced a policy of refusing to allow the army to make tactical withdrawals from battles that they couldn’t hope to win. With Hitler removed from power, it was hoped that his replacement would be more tactful with his use of German resources and, as such, the war might be fought more wisely.

After various failed attempts to kill Hitler, Stauffenberg joined the conspirators and, by the end of 1943, had managed to persuade most of the resistance that the assassination of Hitler would not be enough. He reasoned that Hitler was, by all accounts, a moderate Nazi and that Himmler, one of the next in line to replace him, was far more extreme in his ideals of Nazism. The atrocities that took place under Hitler’s reign would almost have certainly been made worse by the rise of Himmler. Thus, he convinced the other members of the resistance that if they were to save Germany from annihilation, they had to not only kill Hitler, but also follow it up with a well-planned military take-over that would remove any possibility of Nazism surviving.

By June 1, 1944, the operation was ready to be launched. Its name was Operation Valkyrie.

Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben in 1939. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1971-069-87 / CC-BY-SA

Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben in 1939. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1971-069-87 / CC-BY-SA

Operation Valkyrie

Operation Valkyrie was already an established military plan. It was designed to ensure the continuity of government in the event of a general breakdown in civil order of the nation. The idea had been that, in the event of an uprising by foreign forced laborers or civil unrest as a result of Allied aerial bombing of German cities, the Territorial Reserve Army could be implemented to bring order back to the Fatherland without the need to interfere with or divert troops that were fighting on the front.

Stauffenberg, Olbricht and Major General Henning von Tresckow, another of the conspirators, modified the plan so that it could be used to take control of key cities, disarm the SS and arrest members of the Nazi leadership in the event of Hitler’s death. The operation was only to be activated in the instance of Hitler’s death on the grounds that every German soldier was required to swear an oath of loyalty to the Führer and it was believed that many would refuse to obey the orders as long as he was still alive.

The assassination was to take place at the Wolfsschanze. Stauffenberg himself, as chief of staff to the commander of the General Army Office in Berlin, was called on to give several briefings to Hitler and it was he who was to plant the bomb that would kill him. Stauffenberg’s superior, Reserve Army General Friedrich Fromm was flirting with the idea of joining the resistance movement and was aware of Stauffenberg’s plan. Whilst preparing for the assassination, the Resistance attempted to get Fromm on side as Operation Valkyrie could not be launched without his authority. But Fromm carefully refused to reveal his hand until he could confirm that Hitler was dead.

On two separate occasions, Stauffenberg prepared to plant the explosives but had to call off the mission at the last minute. On the first occasion, July 11, 1944, Himmler, who was now also considered a target, had not arrived at the briefing. When Stauffenberg phoned Olbricht for orders on how to proceed, the general decided not to go ahead with the operation.

Four days later Stauffenberg got his second chance and, to ensure that no one could back out, Olbricht issued orders for Operation Valkyrie using Fromm’s authority two hours before the scheduled meeting. As German troops advanced on Berlin and readied to take control, Stauffenberg prepared to set off the explosive. When he returned to plan the bomb, he discovered that Hitler had left early. With the Führer still alive, the operation had to be cancelled and Olbricht was forced to order the Territorial Army to quickly and inconspicuously retreat.

Finally, on July 20 1944, the operation was given the go ahead. Stauffenberg planted the bomb, in a brown briefcase, under the table right next to Hitler and made his excuses to leave. After insuring that a fellow conspirator, General Fellgiebel, would radio Olbricht with the news that the assassination had succeeded, Stauffenberg waited for the explosion before driving for the airfield to make a speedy return to Berlin.

 

Secret Germany Fails

The operation was doomed from the start. During the briefing, one of Hitler’s aides found that a brown briefcase was getting in his way. He picked up the briefcase and moved it to the other side of the heavy oak table beside a table leg. When the bomb exploded, the table leg shielded Hitler from the blast leaving the Führer with little more than tattered trousers.

Back in Berlin, the conspirators received mixed reports about the explosion. On the one hand, Fellgiebel had left a garbled message saying Hitler was dead. On the other hand, official sources were reporting that Hitler had survived. By the time Stauffenberg had arrived back in Berlin, Valkyrie had still not been launched. After hasty discussions, Olbricht implemented the plan under General Fromm’s authority. On discovering this, Fromm telephoned the Wolfsschanze and received the personal assurances from Keital that Hitler was very much alive and well. To prevent Fromm from exposing the plot, Stauffenberg had him arrested.

But it was already too late. The Resistance had already lost the initiative and, after a few small successes, it became evident that Hitler had the advantage. By the time of Stauffenberg and Olbricht’s impromptu execution in the early hours of the following morning on Fromm’s orders, Operation Valkyrie had failed.

 

Secret Germany Succeeds

But what would have happened if the operation had been a success? Would the new government of Germany have been able to reach a peace settlement? And what impact may there have been on the Cold War that came to dominate the world throughout the second half of the twentieth century?

In the first instance, we must look to the policies of the Allies at that time. The Western Allies were only just beginning to break out of Normandy and the Russians were making steady advances in the East. The Americans had committed to defeating Germany before turning their attention to the Japanese threat and the British were likewise attempting to protect their interests in that arena. It seems plausible that these two powers may have been willing to at least negotiate with the new German government for no other reason than it would allow them to focus their attention on the Japanese threat.

The Soviets, however, had lost a great deal in the fight with Germany and it seems highly unlikely that, regardless of any ideological change, Stalin would have allowed Germany to surrender so easily. Likewise the French, who had been living under Nazi occupation since 1940, would have been unwilling to allow the Western Allies to simply allow Germany to leave France without any serious ramifications. With the Russians refusing to allow peace, the war in Europe would almost have certainly dragged on.

However, such an event may have had a lasting impact on the history of the latter part of the twentieth century.

As the thought of Russian occupation was a lot harder for the Germans to stomach than an Anglo-American one, it seems likely that Olbricht would have gone ahead with his idea of pulling out of France to allow for a speedy advance by the Western Allies. If this had happened, the Western Allies would have gained solid control of Germany within a few months of Valkyrie’s success.

This scenario of a German occupied exclusively by the Western Allies would have predated the Yalta conference, in which the Allies carved up Europe for the post-war agreements, by a matter of months. One can imagine that the strenuous negotiations over the future of Europe may have swung in an entirely different direction had Roosevelt and Churchill been able to use the occupation of Germany as ammunition against Stalin’s desires for Eastern Europe.

The single act of assassinating Hitler could have prevented the Cold War from occurring or, just as likely, it may have caused a bitter feud that turned it very hot…

 

Did you find this article fascinating? If so, tell the world. Tweet it, like it or share it by clicking on the links below!

 

And remember, you can you can read Nick’s first article on what would have happened if D-Day did not happen in 1944 here.

 

Helen Saker-Parsons tells us the story of how Mussolini’s Italy systematically undermined Germans in South Tyrol, a region of Italy with a German majority – at a time when Italy and Germany were close Fascist allies. The article looks at Italian ethnic cleansing, the ban on the German language, the land of stolen treasure and counterfeit pounds.

 

In 1920s Europe, fascism was gathering strength. In Germany, the National Socialists were winning support on the basis of their belief in German superiority. Hitler published Mein Kampf in 1925 and wrote of the supremacy of the Aryan race. But in one German-speaking region of Europe all references to the German language were banned. This was not a socialist or communist led country, hostile to the ideas of Fascism: this was Fascist Italy. The region itself had removed its Germanic title of South Tyrol and had reinvented itself as Alto Adige. For 500 years it had belonged to Austria but after the First World War and the Treaty of St. Germain in 1919, Tyrol had been divided in two and the southern part handed to the Italians as ‘spoils of war’ in gratitude for Italy’s co-operation with the Allies during the war. Thus began a twenty-five year period in its history which saw it experience ethnic cleansing, local martyrs, and concentration camps - and ended as it became a dumping ground for Nazi lootings and the home to the production of counterfeit British pounds.

Following the rise of Fascism and Benito Mussolini in 1922, a policy of Italianization in the area was introduced, driven by Italian ultra-nationalists, such as Senator Ettore Tolomei who on July 15, 1923, presented his 32-point program for Italianization: Provvedimenti per l'Alto Adige ("Measures for the Alto Adige"), which he claimed was aimed “to clean the area which had been polluted by strangers for centuries.” Mussolini said in February 1926: “We shall Italianize this territory, because it is Italian, geographically and historically.” In fact 70% of the population spoke German and only 25% Italian. Amongst the measures were: the introduction of Italian as the only official language; the establishment of Italian kindergartens and schools; the dismissal of German-speaking civil servants and teachers; a complete stop on German immigration in South Tyrol; Italian as the juridical language; the closure of German banks; the Italianization of the names of places (towns, roads, rivers, mountains etc. – except Gries) as well as the Italianization of Germanized family names, with the list of new names being printed in 1926 in the Gazetta Ufficiale. Tolomei acquired the nickname ‘grave digger’ as he also proposed prohibiting the use of German in cemeteries and ordered that German words should be deleted from gravestones.

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler together in Munich, Germany. 1937.

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler together in Munich, Germany. 1937.

A BATTLE OF IMPLEMENTATION

These measures met with varying degrees of success. The settlement of Italians from other regions was encouraged through the building of thousands of new houses, especially in Bolzano. However the tricky terrain of high mountains and deep valleys hindered repopulation and prevented the new arrivals, especially from the south, warming to their new environment. The planned substitution of the German clergy with Italians failed because of the opposition from the Vatican. Another move that met with opposition was the ban on teaching in German - either in schools or in private lessons. School books were ‘cleansed’ of everything referring to German customs, traditions or history. The singing of German ‘Lieder’ was considered dangerous to the Kingdom of Italy. German teachers were systematically dismissed on the grounds of ‘insufficient didactica’, or transferred to the south, from where Italian teachers were recruited instead. One vehement critic of this policy was the priest, Canon Michael Gamper, long time editor of the newspaper Volksbote. In 1925 he used his paper to call for a continuation of German education, writing that it was their duty to imitate the early Christians who found refuge in the catacombs of Rome.

The clandestine establishments he encouraged became known as ‘Katakombenschulen or ‘catacomb schools’. A shortfall in suitable teachers was overcome by recruiting young women, without families or responsibilities. The first group of 25 teachers received training in Bolzano in 1925 under the auspice that they were part of a sewing circle. More young girls were approached until around 500 volunteers were eventually trained, usually by local clergymen and often in secret. Most of the teaching took place in barns, attics, kitchens or ‘stube’- the living rooms of rural houses. Up to five children at a time, sometimes 30 per day, received instruction in reading and writing in German. Often girls would arrive with knitting to disguise their true intentions but would leave having learned a new Tyrolean song. Books of fairy tales and songs were supplied by German cultural societies, and were smuggled from Austria, hidden in religious buildings and then taken from school to school. For the children of the catacomb schools, who also attended Italian public schools, there was a confusion of identity that lingered long in to their lives. 

After initial difficulties, secret seminars for the instruction of teachers were organized throughout the province, usually under the protection of the Catholic Church and from 1931 were also held as far afield as Munich. Despite the risks, there were many prepared to take them. One such teacher, Angela Nikoletti, has been hailed as a regional Joan of Arc. She received several warnings to stop but continued to teach undeterred. She was arrested on May 14, 1927 and sentenced to 30 days in prison. During her imprisonment she contracted tuberculosis, which worsened when she was banished from her home community on her release and forced to hide in a cave. Only once her weak condition had been diagnosed was she allowed to return home to live with her aunt. However, she was to die from her illness and her death created an almost myth-like legacy. In October 1930 her funeral turned in to a public rally and five years later a newspaper wrote:  “She had given her life for her homeland. Her German heart could bear no bonds.”

 

RESISTANCE

Between 1928 and 1939 various resistance groups formed to fight the fascist Italian regime and its policy of suppressing the German language. Catholic media and associations resisted the forced integration under the protection of the Vatican. The underground resistance movement, the Völkischer Kampfring Südtirols, was formed by a Nazi Party member and tailor from Bolzano, Peter Hofer. Then on October 21, 1939, Mussolini reached an agreement with Hitler that all inhabitants had until December 31, 1939 to choose between remaining in the region, accepting complete Italianization, or emigrating to Nazi Germany (including annexed Austria), the so-called "Option für Deutschland" (option for Germany). The population was deeply divided. Those who wanted to stay (Dableiber) were condemned as traitors; those who left (Optanten), the majority, were defamed as Nazis. Hitler commented on a plan to relocate the ‘Optanten’ to Crimea (annexed to Greater Germany) in 1942: “the transport of South Tyrolese to Crimea offers no special physical or psychological difficulties. They need only make a voyage down a German stream, the Danube, and they’d be right there”. But most were to be resettled in German-annexed western Poland.

The National Socialists put their successful propaganda machine into action, launching a campaign to encourage the South Tyrolean population to ‘opt’ for resettlement. Lies were deliberately spread amongst the people to incite hatred against one another, resulting in entire families being ripped apart and resentments resonating for many decades. The majority of people succumbed to Nazi pressure with 86% choosing resettlement - thus began a program of ‘ethnic cleansing’. The Optanten banded together in the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Optanten für Deutschland (Association of optants for Germany or ADO) that was founded on January 30, 1940 under the ubiquitous Peter Hofer. Those who chose to stay, the Dableiber, mainly banded together around local Catholic priests. The first families left their homeland in 1939, and up to 1943 a total of around 75,000 South Tyroleans emigrated (the original numbers curtailed by the outbreak of war), of which 50,000 returned after the war.

 

SWEET REVENGE?

In September 1943 Mussolini was deposed and Italy surrendered to the Allies who had invaded the country from the south. From the north the German Wehrmacht poured in its troops. On September 10, 1943 the Operation Zone of the Alpine Foothills was established, incorporating South Tyrol. The ADO was dissolved and joined with the Deutsche Volksgruppe. Peter Hofer was chosen as the Volksgruppenführer. Many German-speaking South Tyroleans, who had suffered years of linguistic oppression and discrimination by Fascist Italy, wanted revenge upon the ethnic Italians living in the area, particularly in the larger cities. There were also attempts to arrest fleeing Italian soldiers and attacks on the Dableiber. However, wide scale retribution was discouraged by the occupying Nazis who feared alienating Mussolini and the Italian Fascists. The man once described by Hitler as a ‘strutting peacock’ had been rescued from his high altitude imprisonment on the Gran Sasso by German paratroopers and had been instated as the puppet head of an Italian Social Republic in Salo. One sector of the community not considered safe, however, was the Jewish population, especially the large contingent of foreign Jews living in Merano. On September 16, 1943, the Nazis sent the first group of Merano Jews to Auschwitz.

Owing to its mountainous terrain and its remoteness, the region managed to escape much of the fighting between Allied and German forces as the former swept through the country. But the history of this tranquil region remained troubled. In summer 1944, a concentration camp was established in Bolzano, hosting around 11,000 prisoners. The area also became an extension of Switzerland as a dumping ground for Nazi lootings. The US 88th Infantry Division which occupied South Tyrol from May 2, 1945 uncovered vast amounts of precious items and looted art treasures. Among the items reportedly found were railway wagons filled with gold bars, hundreds of thousands of meters of silk, the Italian crown jewels, King Victor Emmanuel's personal collection of rare coins, and scores of works of art looted from art galleries such as the Uffizi in Florence. Furthermore, from this mountainous area, the Nazis attempted to wreck the British economy. Castello Schloss Labers (located above Merano) was used by an SS Task Force for ‘Operation Bernhard’, a plan to undermine the British economy by the mass production of fake pound notes using inmates of concentration camps as counterfeiters.

Fears the Germans might use the region as a last-ditch stronghold to fight to the bitter end were not forthcoming and following the German surrender in May 1945 Austria and Italy came to an agreement ratified under the Paris Peace Treaty that Austria would give up its claim to the region on the condition that Italy took steps to redress some of the cultural damage perpetrated under Fascism. None of the ADO leaders were tried for their crimes. Peter Hofer himself was killed during an Allied bombing raid on Bolzano in December 1943. Amongst the plethora of wreaths sent to his funeral was one from Hitler. Alto-Adige is now the wealthiest province of Italy, proud of its bi-lingualism, its diverse architecture, culture and traditions, yet for some the divisions are still raw and its troubled history too recent.

 

Helen Saker-Parsons is the author of a book about an Allied soldier who is captured and held prisoner in Italy during World War II. The fascinating book, A Captive Life, is available here: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Helen has also written a historical fiction book related to World War I, Searching for Cecil. It is available here: Amazon US | Amazon UK

 

As always, your feedback is welcome below. Alternatively, like the article, tweet about it, or share it by clicking on one of the links below.

References

http://www.accenti.ca/online-archive/rocky-roads-northern-italy-s-jewish-heritage-by-deborah-rubin-fields

South Tyrol: A Minority Conflict of the Twentieth Century By Rolf Steininger

http://www.fembio.org/english/biography.php/woman/print_bio/angela-nikoletti

A Comparative Study of the Northern League, Plaid Cymru, the South Tyrolese People‟s Party and the Scottish National Party Emanuele Massetti

 http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/europe/italy/trentino-alto-adige/italianization-tyrol/#ixzz32uPFtv8t

The Italian Military Governorship in South Tyrol and the Rise of Fascism  By Giuseppe Motta

 The Hidden Frontier: Ecology and Ethnicity in an Alpine Valley  By John W. Cole, Eric R. Wolf

Samantha Jones looks at the Nuremberg Trials in a modern context. These trials took place in the aftermath of World War II and sought to condemn those Nazis who had committed some of the most heinous crimes in the history of the world.

A Nazi parade.

A Nazi parade.

Politics tells us justice is blind, and that it is justice that is fundamentally right in our society. Yet history shows us this may not be true. In the aftermath of World War II, the Western world’s form of justice was put to the test. And looking back we are troubled with the question: did democracy fail?

As Nazi leaders were confronted with their crimes against humanity in front of an international military tribunal, the entire world learned the truth behind The Final Solution, Concentration Camps, medical experiments, and the extent of Nazi genocide. These war crimes shined a spotlight onto a new and modern form of warfare, where civilians became targets and war no longer had to be declared upon a country to invade it. It was no easy feat to punish the Nazis, as the victorious Allied Powers had to question and convict those they had caught, as well as deter future nationalists from committing such crimes again. But that is what the Nuremberg Trials attempted to do.

It is said the infamous Nuremberg Trials marked the end of the Third Reich and Hitler’s Nazi Empire. Indeed, despite the Soviet Army storming Berlin, Nazi uprisings were still a threat to the triumphant Allies. So it was decided that to ‘clean up’ Europe legally and politically, the Allies were to hold a series of trials in order to fully understand and punish Nazi criminals in a democratic setting. The trials were held from November 20 1945 to October 1 1946, in the German city of Nuremberg. This site was chosen because of the somewhat intact Palace of Justice, a suitable building for the event, and the symbolism attached to Nuremberg, after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws against the Jews in 1935.

One prosecutor, one judge and one alternative judge from the Allied Powers oversaw the trial. Those that were caught included 23 high ranking Nazi officials, including the notorious Goering, Speer and Hess. Of course the highest Nazis such as Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels were not present, as they had escaped punishment through suicide before capture.

But as the news of the devastation of the war in Europe spread to the corners of the globe, interest and attraction into the Nazis grew enormously. Because of this, the Nuremberg Trials were filmed and covered by the global media, something that was to follow in other major world events.

 

HOW MIGHT THE TRAILS BE DIFFERENT TODAY?

The Nuremberg Trials are a small sliver of history, particularly among the World War Two era, yet this event marks the beginning of several major practices and institutions. For example, the power and dominance of democracy, the involvement of the media, and the use of knowledge and education as a deterrent were present during the Nuremberg Trials. However, looking back, would the trails be undertaken differently today?

One theme that needs to be addressed is the arguable leniency upon the Nazi prisoners. For example, even today it is debated whether it was unjust that Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, was sentenced to merely twenty years in prison and lived the rest of his life a free man. Despite being sentenced to death, Hermann Goering, Hitler’s successor, escaped justice by committing suicide in his cell. It remains a mystery how this was able to happen. And Rudolf Hess, Hitler`s Deputy Fuhrer, was sentenced to prison where he too committed suicide. Discussing these awful things in such a dismissive tone is not my intention. But remember the graphic pictures of the Holocaust victims and the Concentration Camps that still stand today because of these men. Just under half of those charged at Nuremberg were sentenced to death, yet it was these Nazi men that were committed to gassing, killing and removing an entire people from the face of the earth. Perhaps justice was not served, but nor was revenge.

Aside from this somewhat macabre observation, the Nuremberg Trials did make advances. The organization of evidence and the methods used to explain the Nazi occupation helped the world to understand what actually happened. The Trials also contributed to the development of international legal institutions that attempt to seek justice in global crimes, such as the United Nations and the Genocide Convention. Of course it is debated whether these institutions are successful, yet the message they stand for began in Nuremberg.

History has and will repeat itself though. Crimes against humanity have been committed on an unimaginable scale quite recently, as seen in Rwanda and with Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. Unfortunately, with these events in mind, it is hard to argue whether or not justice can remain democratic or if can it be transformed into a form of revenge.

It is easy for our generation to look back upon Nuremberg and judge those in charge for their leniency or their harshness. But equally, as time pushes the deep dark crimes of the Nazis further back into history, I wonder how future generations will judge us on what we do. Perhaps justice will be served then.

 

You can read about how the radical Freikorps were one of the pre-cursors to the Nazis in issue 3 of History is Now Magazine. The magazine is available for iPad and iPhone and is free for at least one month when you try the magazine on a subscription. Click here for more information!

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
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The film The Monuments Men in which the likes of George Clooney go in search of Nazi looted art has recently been released. Here, Georgie Broad looks at the history and motives behind this massive Nazi-sponsored art theft.

 

George Bernard Shaw once said “without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” Europe, lost in the fog of Nazi occupation in the latter part of World War II, already seemed a relatively crude and unbearable place, so the gradual disappearance of some of the world’s most beloved pieces of artwork did nothing to help the situation.

Mr George Clooney et al have endeavored to transfer R.M. Edsel’s The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (2009) to the big screen to recount the history of the Allied Power’s MFAA, or the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives programmed. This had the aim of reclaiming the art stolen by the Kunstschutz (literally translating to art protection or conservation) units of the German Army. However, the reasons behind the heroic mission of the MFAA programmed can often be overlooked or misunderstood: What actually led to the infamous art-knappings of World War II?

The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich - Adolf Hitler

The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich - Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler, artist and collector… Of sorts

It is easy to forget that both the Allies and the Axis Powers had a deep respect for the art of Europe, and of art in general. Skipping back a way, to when Hitler was just a boy named Adolf, he was a painter and art enthusiast – a love that stayed with him throughout the rest of his life. Critically and technically speaking, Hitler was a rather mediocre artist, and as a result his application to the Fine Art Academy of Vienna was turned down not once but twice when he was a young, struggling artist. And although he never got over this rejection, it did nothing to dull his love of art itself.

It was in fact a subject on which Hitler had some very strong opinions. In Mein Kampf, Hitler’s autobiographical-meets-political literary legacy, he attacks modern art and movements like Cubism as “aberrations” and “morbid monstrosities.” These modern artworks were a target for the Nazis and the Kunstschutz, as they were ordered to remove them from museums and to destroy them – though many pieces were sold, or broken up, making their eventual reclamation much more difficult.

Hitler’s real love lay with the Old Masters, and especially ones of German origin. He and the Kunstschutz also went after these classical pieces, but for very different reasons. As R.M. Edsel details in his book, Hitler wanted to remake both the art world of Europe, primarily by creating a Führerrmuseum in Linz, Austria. Hitler wanted to make the biggest and most glorious art museum that he possibly could. Was it just because he loved art so much? Or was it to assert his self-proclaimed artistic prowess and show the Fine Arts Academy of Vienna what they missed out on… artistically speaking? It has been an issue of debate for a long time and it is almost impossible for us to know for sure, but to presume that it was a combination of both factors is a safe assumption.

Not all of the art that was looted was earmarked for Hitler’s museum collection. Hitler, considering himself quite the art collector, kept some of the art for his and his associates’ own personal collections, which explains why so much of it was, and still remains, lost. Greg Bradsher’s from the US Archives (Nov. 1997, “Documenting Nazi Plunder of European Art”) estimates that about 20% of Europe’s art was looted and that 100,000 pieces, at the very least, remain separated from their original owners, despite the valiant efforts of the MFAA program.

Transporting pieces of art in a war-torn town

Transporting pieces of art in a war-torn town

After the MFAA

The MFAA was eventually disbanded in 1946, though the finding of the plundered art and its proper return is still very much an issue. In late 2013, the BBC reported the discovery of around 1,000 pieces of art at the home of Cornelius Gurlitt. The pieces turned out to be ones thought to be lost after the Nazi plunder and among them were works by artists such as Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall. As well as belonging to the “degenerate” type of art Hitler hated, these pieces were hugely valuable – especially the works of the Russian Jew Marc Chagall, who is often believed to be the most successful artist of the 20th century.

So, even today the effects of the Nazi art plunder can be felt throughout Europe. Whether all of the pieces will ever be found and returned is unknown, but it is important for us to remember the intentions with which some of the masterpieces of the continent were stolen while we are regaled with the epic tale of their reclamation. It wasn’t entirely through hate or destruction, but also a genuine love of a man obsessed that took a cultural wrong turn.

 

Want to find out more about the Nazis? Our podcast on the rise of the Nazis can be heard by clicking here.

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

History has already happened; however it has not always been written. And debates continue to emanate around different historical situations. With that in mind, and as the authors of a few of our own books, we shall occasionally be reviewing books on this site.

Russian cavalry and infantry entering the Polish city of Wilno (Vilnius) after joint German-Russian aggression against Poland. Public domain image available  here     

Russian cavalry and infantry entering the Polish city of Wilno (Vilnius) after joint German-Russian aggression against Poland. Public domain image available here

 

And the first book that we shall be reviewing is on a harrowing subject, that of the Nazi German and Soviet invasion of Poland. The book we are looking at is by a man who has written many history books to date, Nick Shepley. His book details the political machinations that led to the deal between Stalin and Hitler to divide Poland, a relationship of convenience between two sides of the totalitarian coin. The book starts well with an overview of World War II, including some interesting facts. For example, I don’t think that it is widely known that the Soviets had plans to invade France and Italy in 1945 that were put to one side after Stalin saw the power of US nuclear weapons.

Anyway, the book starts by discussing the Nazi-Soviet Pact, especially the secret agreement that was included in that deal. There is an interesting overview of the thinking within Germany over the years before the invasion of Poland and how it led to the Nazis organizing activities to encourage the German people to support an invasion of Poland. The book then discusses the massive German invasion of Poland and how it was followed by a Soviet invasion some weeks later. Often, though, it is the small details that make this book interesting, such as the terror that the German bombing raids brought to Polish towns and cities. It is easy, after all, to forget that bombing raids were still a very new method for defeating opponents on the battlefield at the time. As well as terrifying civilians.

With the invasion looked at, the book moves on to the perhaps even grimmer area of what happened to Poland when two of the most brutal regimes of the 20th century divided it in two. This included ethnic cleansing, massive crimes against the Jews, and the building of Auschwitz. The Nazis also killed many of the Polish elite and the book describes these events in some detail. It also looks at what the Soviets did to Poland - they were just as brutal as the Nazis in their own way.

As an added extra, the book also considers the Soviet attack on Finland.

All told, the book is a good size to explain the nature of events in Poland over these years, it is written at a very good place, and contains appropriate detail for an introduction to history. I think that it would be a particularly useful book for anybody that wants to learn the basics about these harrowing years in European history. After all, the invasion of Poland is sometimes not given enough attention in general texts on World War 2.

By George Levrier-Jones

 

If you would like to find out more about this book and/or buy it, you can click here: Amazon US | Amazon UK

 

More books by this author are available through Amazon or at www.explaininghistory.com.

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones