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To what extent did Hitler create social revolution and unity (Volksgemeinschaft) in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1939?
Following a humiliating defeat in World War 1, the German state had been crippled both economically and socially by the harsh Treaty of Versailles. The German people drastically needed someone to lead them out of the chaos and into a new era. That someone was Adolf Hitler. After gaining power in Germany in 1933, Hitler’s National Socialist Party set out their intentions of achieving social revolution and unity in the form of Volksgemeinschaft – “people’s community”. However, whether or not they had managed to achieve this by 1939 remains a point of debate for historians, with many disagreeing on how successful their policies were. I will be analysing the situation in 1930’s Germany and come to a thorough conclusion showing that Hitler ultimately failed with his dream society.
Hitler’s planned Aryan society had intentions for different social groups – women, youth and social outcasts (or Volksfiend) in particular. The Nazis had visions of the exemplary German woman – she would be a good housewife, have no career and stay in the home, be obedient to the husband and especially the Fuhrer, be preferably blonde, wear no make up, marry a fellow Aryan and have a full figure for bearing children. To achieve this, the Nazis introduced several measures encouraging women to strive towards their “true” role in society. The Nazis were largely successful in achieving the ideal woman, mainly through the actions they took. For example, financial incentives such as the marriage loan, birth grant and Mutterkreuz (a medal awarded for bearing a certain number of children) helped the birth rate to increase significantly (of course, more Aryans would bode well for the future). Also the rule that allowed only 10% of students in a university to be female reduced the education of the average female, meaning many had to remain in the house.
Women also knew that not sticking to the rules imposed by the Nazis could result in harsh punishments, so some women stayed away from men of different ethnicities and wore traditional dress to please the authorities. This did not stop many women from taking the risk though, as many unlawful marriages did take place in secret. Aside from punishments, there were also penalties on childless couples such as higher taxes, and cohabiting couples who refused to marry could even be sent to concentration camps. This ensured that the birth and marriage rate increased.
It appeared the Nazis were achieving their aims – there were more healthy Germans through improved childcare and women were very much part of Nazi society. However, while the Nazis wanted to restrain female employment as much as possible, they couldn’t prevent it from rising, even after females had been stripped of several jobs. Female employment had actually risen from 11.48 million in 1933 to 12.7 million in 1939. There was also increased political participation from females in Nazi bodies, despite the fact that no females were permitted to be members of the Reichstag. In addition, some women totally refused to conform to Nazi ideals, and very much lived the lifestyle of a Western woman. Although much of this resulted in harsh punishment, it still shows opposition among women to the Nazis, and so the “Nazification” of German women cannot be classed as totally successful.
While women play a vital part in any society, it is the youth that are the most impressionable. Hitler saw that to withhold his ideology, he would need to groom and nature the future leaders of Germany through indoctrination. It can be argued that winning over Germany’s youth was Hitler’s greatest success in achieving Volksgemeinschaft. The Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend) was the organisation founded by the Nazis with intentions of indoctrinating the youth of Germany and other Aryan countries. By the year 1939 membership had exceeded the 7 million mark, a truly astonishing figure compared to the 99,586 members in 1932. Hitler achieved devotion to him on such a mass scale by grooming children from a young age into Nazis, through propaganda at home and in school.
The Nazi regime saw a drastic change to the way education was run. Subjects that have no significance for Nazi ideology were discarded; while subjects such as biology were twisted as a form of propaganda (they were taught that genetically Caucasians are superior in other races). History was also a top priority, as it could be corrected to glorify fascism and similar regimes, and simple Maths problems were extremely anti-Semite. As a way of trying to eliminate all counter cultures, the HJ was made compulsory for all German boys aged 14 to 18 in 1936. Girls were taught housewifery lessons to prepare them for their role in society.
Despite seemingly brainwashing the entire child population of Germany, there was at least some resistance. Many refused to join what they considered a constraining Hitler Youth (even though it was made compulsory in 1936), and wanted to experience they freedom and liberation their peers had in the US and Western Europe. They listened to jazz and swing, musical forms that had been outlawed in Germany, and represented disobedience to the fascist regime. Groups such as the Edelweiss Pirates sprang up, and although small in number, they continued to function for several years. There was also silent resistance within both the HJ and girls organisations, but many thought it safer to outwardly conform. This at least shows that the Nazis indoctrination was not entirely successful, as any form of resistance shows. However many historians feel the significance of groups such as the Edelweiss Pirates has been exaggerated, and the Nazis were very successful in creating the next generation of the Third Reich.
For centuries, Christianity had been a fundamental aspect of German life. An overwhelming majority of Germans adhered to the Christian faith in 1933, with two thirds of the Christians being Protestant (Lutheran) and the remainder largely Catholic. Although originally being an advocate of religion (the 1933 Concordat with the Vatican being a prime example), Hitler secretly despised Christianity.
The Treaty of Versailles had severely crippled Germany’s economy and the Weimar State was a total mess. That is one of the reasons many Germans were so receptive to him as when he took power – he had promised change and prosperity.
While his Aryan superpower was growing rapidly, Hitler had a minor problem that contradicted his ideology – Germans of different ethnic groups or the disabled. His “solution” to the problem was simply extermination. The whole idea behind Hitler’s ideology was to “secure the future for the white race”, and to him this meant wipe out the “Volksfeind”. This select group basically constituted who didn’t fit the category of white, physically strong and a Nazi – which made up a large percentage of the population. Jews, Gypsies, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, the disabled and many more were all victimised by the regime.