From 1933 to 1939 Hitler aimed to achieve a “social revolution” in Germany. Through his concept of volksgemeinschaft, meaning ‘people’s community,’ he hoped to transform Germany into a strong country based on traditional peasant values. Historians have debated how far Hitler actually achieved a “social revolution.” Some, such as Schoenbaum have argued that Hitler’s “social revolution” was a fake perceived as being real due to the influence of Hitler’s propaganda.
Hitler wanted Germany to be a classless society. He believed that if he made everyone equal, it would be easier to control them. He wanted them to unite and follow his orders. He believed that the peasants were the ‘blood and soil’ of Germany and presented them as the ‘back bone’ of the community. The peasant family and old aged were idealised in public. They were used in various propaganda campaigns. Hitler believed that they were decent and hard working. He tried to take Germany back to its rural roots by enforcing labour intensive work and cutting back on machinery. However, he needed machinery for rearmament. His policies (as shown later on) were never going to work, as one contradicted the other. Propaganda showing men ploughing fields using horsepower was a mere dream for Hitler; something he would never achieve if he wanted to rearm. He relied on big businesses – something that also contradicted the peasant values.
Hitler needed support from the working class to achieve his aims. Trade Unions were a threat to Hitler’s power. He closed down big businesses and open smaller ones. His aim was to win over the workers through State benefit and material improvement. All the people needed to make them happy was food and entertainment – or “bread and circuses” as Hitler put it.
Hitler had many policies towards the working class. On the day after May Day holiday in 1933 Trade Unions were ransacked. In the end, 169 Trade Unions were under Nazi control. The German Labour Front (DAF) led by Robert Ley abolished independent unions and took them over. In the ‘battle for work’ (labour intensive government sponsored public works scheme), the Nazis created 6 million jobs through projects like the building of autobahns. From 1933, workers compensated for wage freezes and the loss of their political rights. The ‘beauty of labour’ was set up to persuade employees to improve their working conditions. ‘Strength through joy’ rewarded loyal workers with recitals, sporting competitions and package holidays etc. By 1938, 10million had enjoyed a state financed holiday.
All Hitler’s aims and policies towards the working class worked very much in favour of the people. The DAF spread nazi propaganda tremendously and it was at its peak in the 1930s. Workers enjoyed a slight raise in wages, however people were working longer hours which meant that accidents and illnesses rose 150% from 1933-39. They worked on average 16 hours a week more. Many people mistrusted state propaganda and resented the increased regimentation. Reports from the SPD granted that strength through joy was very popular. Hitler claimed in 1939 that “(he) had broken down classes to make way for the German people as a whole”. However, schemes like the strength through joy ‘gave the illusion that the Nazi regime was achieving a ‘social revolution”
As the historian Geoff Layton suggests, ‘the framework of the existing class structure was not altered; and the concept of the volksgemeinschaft was little more that an effective propaganda ploy.’ The ‘Hitler myth’ was a carefully cultivated image which evidence suggests was widely believed. Hitler was portrayed as someone who; understood the German people and defended Germany against its enemies among other things. Ian Kershaw suggests the Hitler myth gained credence as it was a reaction to the divisions and weaknesses of the old Weimar system. It also satisfied people’s emotional need for strong government. It was enhanced by propaganda. The myth contributed to Hitler’s popularity. By the late 1930s, 90% of Germans admired him.
Only skilled workers really benefited from Hitler’s regime. Road workers, for example, had lower pay levels than under welfare. They lived in barracks and were subject to harsh discipline. However he did create jobs, give the workers leisure activities and provide sporting competitions.
As the middle class had become disillusioned throughout the 1920s, they were Hitler’s most loyal supporters. Hitler’s policies made sure that the middle class won some protection from department stores. The establishment of new stores was banned from 12th May 1933, however Hitler made sure that stores that were already there weren’t to be broken down. State and party agencies gave preferential treatment to small businesses. Jewish businesses were shut down and Germans were able to take over them. Political stability returned after 1933 and was welcomed by the middle class.
In July 1933, the deputy Fuhrer (Rudolf Hess) defended supermarkets from attack by party activists and restrained the Nazi combat League of Tradesmen. Small traders were out priced by department stores and by 1934 ¼ million small shops had gone out of business. After 1936, the Nazi economy switched to a focus on rearmament. Hitler needed big businesses in order to rearm Germany.
Overall, the status of the middle class was not raised from 1933-39. Hitler’s policies favoured the upper class at their expense. However, for a fear of communism, the middle class stayed loyal to Hitler and the Nazis.
At the start, many of the great landowners of Germany were hostile to Hitler’s regime. Owners of large estates resented having to invite Nazi leaders to their social gatherings. The main reason as to why some of the elites supported Hitler, was that he spoke of eliminating communists. Hitler wanted to strip the elites of their money and privileges. He hated the way they lived.. He also hated their exploitation of common people.
Hitler believed that the elites were patrons of Jewish decadent art. Hitler believed that fox hunters were feminine and thought that they were too much like the English. As a result of this, he banned fox hunting in 1933. Goring however persuaded him to curb his policies as he himself was not prepared to give up shooting and fishing. The promotion of able professionals was encouraged in the army and bureaucracy. By 1936 the percentage of aristocratic generals had declined from 61% to 25%.
The impact of Hitler’s policies meant that the aristocrats resented the Nazis. The old elite remained the biggest critics of the Nazis. Prussian landowners remained rich. The land of the elite was never broken up and they succeeded in maintaining their social and economic status due to new worker disciplining and abolition of communists and trade unions. As a result of Hitler wanting to rearm Germany, big businesses prospered and were helped immensely. Despite nazis attempts to combat the command of the army, it remained in the hands of the elite.
The elite weren’t really affected by the Nazis. However, that was until the war, when few were attacked and lost privileges. The elite weren’t integrated with the rest of society and this made it difficult for Hitler to unite all the classes in the volksgemeinschaft. They remained a class of their own and had vast amounts of power over Germany. The nazis and the elite both despised one another. However, Hitler needed the elite if he was to fulfil his plans of rearmament and they needed him to prevent the closing down of their big businesses.
The youth was very much changed by Hitler and the Nazis. Youth groups were formed; separate ones for both male and females. By 1935, 60% of all young people belonged to the German youth (HJ). On Dec 1st 1936, the HJ became department of State. Text books in schools were re-written. The importance of sport, history, biology and German studies was upgraded. Sport was the means by which a new military orientated youth could be engineered and biology was the study of racial stereotypes. In 1935 religious studies was dropped.
As many of the youth were born into Hitler and the Nazis, they believed it was the ‘norm.’ They were happy with the regimes and did not question them. However, after a while, many grew tired of the monotonous regimes and some began to rebel. For example, some attended youth groups such as the Edelweiss pirates and the Swing Youth.
In order to create a volksgemeinschaft, Hitler stressed the need for all people with the same blood to be incorporated into the same Reich or volk. His policies changed the lives of the people not worthy of citizenship (the asocials) I.e. Jews, handicapped, gypsies, homosexuals etc) considerably. Hitler’s main aim was to create a pure Aryan race, therefore he wanted the asocials eradicated. He believed the ‘strong and healthy’ were more important than the weak and thought that instead of devoting itself to protecting the weak, the modern state should reject the inferior population and concentrate on the fit and healthy.
Hitler was hostile to any religions or ideology that put emphasis on the rights of the weak or poor. I.e. communists/Christians. At first the people of Germany protested against the persecution of the Jews. For example, when the boycott was arranged (Boycott of all Jewish businesses, doctors and lawyers) no one really took any notice of it, but after Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) the people were indifferent to the action against the Jews and they supported it passively. Most historians reject Goldhagen’s argument and claim Germans were not strongly anti-Semitic.
Goldhagen suggested that anti-Semitism was universal in Germany and that Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews was only the logical conclusion of the prejudices of “ordinary Germans.” Such historians argue that passice anti-Semitism rather than active-Semitism characterised most Germans. The international military tribune about kristallnacht argued that many Germans disliked the extreme violence, especially in working class and Roman Catholic areas. The secret police reported that, ‘the actions against the Jews in November were badly received.’
Hitler had to try and control two churches; the Catholics and the Protestants. The main obstacle in the Catholic church was the pope. There were 45 million protestants (this was the largest group) and 28 different types of church within the protestant groups. Hitler signed a concordat with the pope. It said, ‘we won’t interfere with politics if you don’t interfere with the church.’ In 1934, he starts the ‘German Faith Movement.’ By 1939 only 5% of German people were involved. This shows how unsuccessful it was.
The churches were one of the only groups that were able to oppose the Nazis. Taking over the churches was one of Hitler’s least successful areas. As people had a lot of faith in God before the Nazis were around, they found it hard to break free and ‘worship’ Hitler instead.
The lives of the women changed drastically between 1933 and 1939. Hitler had many aims and policies towards the women of Germany. He aimed for them have many children, be able to cook, and go to church (kinder, kuche, kirche). He believed women were naturally inferior to men and said women should be obedient to the needs of men. Women were to produce racially pure children for the volk and they should conform to the traditional image of German women in dress, behaviour and appearance.
Hitler had many policies towards the women. Marriage loans were brought in. Families could receive interest free loans of 1000RM. For every child they had, the repayment was cut by a quarter. They prospered as a result of having children; the children that Hitler encouraged. Maternity benefits were increased also. Parents could deduct 15% of their taxable income for every child they had. Encouragement to have children even outside the marriage was allowed. It was called the ‘spring of life.’ This, however contradicted Hitler’s ideas, as he made it clear he wanted strong family bonds.
In 1934 he became Fuhrer of Germany after the Hindenburg died. He combined the posts of President and Chancellor and gave himself the job. The army swore an oath to Hitler: “I will give unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer of the German nation and people…” Hitler wanted to be seen as the supreme leader of Germany. He wanted to be loved as well as respected. Many people worshipped Hitler in a cult of the Fuhrer. The cult of the Fuhrer was similar to a religion. After speeches, people would swear to an oath, ‘I swear to be true to Adolf Hitler, our Fuhrer, and swear obedience.’ To make sure the cult reached everywhere, pictures of the Fuhrer were mass produced in 1936. No picture could be placed above Hitler’s portrait. Rallies, speeches and propaganda all helped to promote the cult of the Fuhrer.