Post World War I Germany was plagued with a brutally weak economy, a lack of national unity, and an unstable government. This generation of German’s was constantly forced to cope with harsh conditions, wartime, and impoverishment. These circumstances, rooted within the economy and the government, undoubtedly led the German people to turn their allegiance towards something new. From the time after the war, up until Hitler’s reign, the people faced constant compounding problems. Perfectly separating the social, political, and economic factors in this situation proves difficult because each one augmented the others.
It is imperative to explore and understand what conditions and issues triggered the devastations of the Holocaust in order to identify these types of situations in the future. When a country’s economy is strong, the population generally maintains faith in the government. World War I cost Germany unspeakable amounts of money, leading to monumental inflation problems. Additionally, the government was forced to pay reparations, which contributed to Germany’s economic downfall during these two decades. At first the middle class, who faced the most hardships, was infuriated with other European countries because of the reparations (Gilbert, 2007).
Quickly however, the public quickly turned against the republic. After a series of crises, the dawn of the Great Depression unequivocally led to the most dramatic uprising the world has ever seen. “In Germany the widespread poverty and wretched conditions caused by the depression had an especially devastating psychological effect because they came so soon after the hardships of the inflation” (Gilbert, 2007). Hyperinflation and unemployment have serve as a deadly combination throughout history. Even recent examples such as the situation in Egypt demonstrate that these conditions can easily result in political and social uprising.
The political system in Germany during this time period was extremely fractured. Communists, Republicans, and other major parties were constantly striving to gain power. Traditional parties were not alone; a plethora of racist-nationalist parties quickly began to sprout, rooted within the middle class and hatred for the democratic revolution (Fest, 1992). It was not until the economic downturn did these racist-nationalist groups truly gain enough influence to gain power. The only way for a new burgeoning group to rise towards the top is during difficult times when the general population is dissatisfied with the current system.
Additionally, the other parties were too concerned with trumping each other and failed to quell the threat of the Nazis, who at the time were not a major political threat. “Nationalist Socialism rose from provincial beginnings… No one would have dreamed that they could ever challenge, let alone outdo, the powerful, highly organized Marxist parties” (Fest, 1992). These parties utilized a bottom up approach, starting with the beer drinking citizens discussing their thoughts over a pint after work (Fest, 1992). Slowly, the National Socialists began to gain seats and the Nazi movement continued to grow.
It wasn’t until a slight drop in votes did the Nationalist Socialists realize a major move must be established to secure their parties future. Papen believed Hitler would serve as a minimal threat if he was appointed chancellor but with no freedom of action, so with help, Papen quelled the President’s resistance and on January 30th, 1933 Hitler became chancellor (Fest, 1992). Unfortunately, Papen’s “plan” did not follow the expected course. Never willingly give real power to those who have the influence and ability to abuse it.
The following half a decade, the Nazi party crafted conditions and ideologies that would eventually lead to the Holocaust. After the conclusion of the First World War and borders were established, many “Germans” were now scattered throughout Europe. As a cultural and nationalist ideal, the newly established Nazi party argued for a campaign to restore and return displaced Germans (Fest, 1992). Tied with outlandishly radical propaganda, these nationalist movements reached their pinnacle towards the end of the 1930’s. The radical movement against modern culture played a vital role as well.
The Nazi goal was to root out degenerate forms of art, literature, and poetry (Gilbert, 1971). Socially suppressing rivals through curbing modernized culture (which in the eyes of the Nazis went in accordance with the democratic revolution) served as a backhand method to gain influence. What was the foundation of this new influence? “For the youth, particularly for students who believed they had little chance in the future and feared that they would become an academic proletariat, the Nazi demand for a new social order had great appeal” (Gilbert, 1971).
Enticing and luring in a young passionate generation with no political ties through fear and temptation seemed to be crucial for the Nazi party both politically and socially. In any historic account resulting in a power struggle and eventually a change in authority, certain conditions must be satisfied. Primarily, the general public must be exceedingly vexed with the previous governing body or party. Rarely however does this dramatic change in power occur overnight, as seen in here with the two decades leading up to the Holocaust. Secondly, the rising power must appeal to the masses in any way possible.
Through the National Socialist principals tied with Adolf Hitler’s brash and radical ideologies, the Nazis were setup perfectly to grasp Germany and hone it towards their specific radical goals. Clearly, the economic conditions resulting from the aftermath off World War I and eventually the Great Depression left the German people, primarily the middle class hopeless and willing to restore their faith in something new. Hopefully, in the future it will be easier to identify situation on which a country is on the brink of worldwide disaster and genocide.