In order to evaluate the rise of the Nazi Party, we need to take into account economic factors, political factors, and the strength of the Nazi Party itself. The first section will explore the economic factors that influenced the German people in supporting the Nazi Party. In this section, we will explore how Hitler and the Nazi Party was able to gain favorable support in Germany from their response to specific events such as the outcome of the Treaty of Versailles and the effects of the Great Depression.
Then, the second section will highlight the political factors that enabled the Nazi Party’s rise to power by taking into account the failures of the Weimar Republic, and the success of the Nazi Party, and specifically exploring if one failure led to another one’s success. The third section will evaluate the strength of the Nazi Party itself and will take a specific focus on the party’s key strategies and leaders, and how this can be used to explain the Nazi Party’s rise to power.
Throughout these themes, I will explore the extent to which each theme is significant and responsible in the Nazi’s rise to power, and will come to a sustained judgment as to which factor best explains the Nazi Party’s rise to power. One way in which the rise of the Nazis can be explained is by taking into account economic factors.
In the early 1930s, the economic situation in Germany was grim, and therefore the overall mood amongst German civilians was at an all-time low.
In this section, we will explore how the Nazi Party was able to mobilize their cause by criticizing and opposing the Weimar Constitution’s handling of the economic pandemic in Germany, as a result of the worldwide ‘Great Depression’, the stock market crash at Wall Street, and the reparations imposed upon Germany according to the legislature of the Treaty of Versailles. Furthermore, we will focus on the Weimar Constitution’s response to this economic crisis, such as Heinrich Bruning’s unpopular economic and austerity policies, which ultimately led to the death of democracy.
More importantly, however, we will explore the effects of the economic struggle in Germany, such as high rates of unemployment, and how these economic conditions in Germany provided the opportunity for the Nazi regime to spread its influence. By reviewing these specific economic factors, we will be able to gain an insight into the progression and growth of the Nazi Party in a relatively short period of time.On the one hand, it can be argued that the Nazi Party used the signing of the treaty as a valid reason to stirring up antisemitism, and this radical belief encouraged many German civilians to collaborate together in their hatred of the Jewish community, and ultimately show their support to the Nazi Party. To support the argument in question, we can use an article from the ‘Illustrated London News’ , which shows Germany’s reaction to the Treaty of Versailles on the 28th of June 1919. The terms of the treaty were described by the people of Germany as being a ‘diktat’, with many feeling as if the treaty had been imposed on them without negotiation. The source itself states that “mass meetings of protest were held in Berlin and various other places”, showing the extent to which the German people were outraged by the economic measures imposed upon them by the treaty.
The source can be used as evidence to the growing economic unrest in Germany and shows to such extent how hated the Weimar Constitution had already become by the German citizens. Furthermore, the right-wing nationalist, Wolfgang Kapp, led a Freikorps takeover in Berlin in 1920, which was a hostile and violent response to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, and so there is further evidence to suggest that German civilians were outraged by the moderately harsh economic measures. The origin of the source is very useful as it’s from the period, and an outside perspective to the situation in Germany which shows the immediate response to the treaty, and so is a good starting point for a strong argument. As a judgment of the source, it suggests that Ebert and the Weimar Government were forever to blame for the Treaty, and suggests further that the injustice of it became a rallying point for all Ebert’s opponents, specifically the Nazi Party, and so the Nazis were able to manifest the growing unpopularity of the Weimar Constitution for political gains.
Furthermore, there was a widespread belief that the Weimar Constitution had betrayed the German Army, and they somewhat felt as if they had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by revolutionaries and Friedrich Ebert, who had signed the treaty. The National Socialist movement under Hitler, and prominent radical figures within the Nazi Party, such as Erich Ludendorff, stirred up the notion of the ‘stab in the back’ myth and solely blamed the Jewish community for this apparent betrayal. A historian, Evans, acknowledges that because of the Weimar Constitution’s signing of the treaty that subjected Germany to huge economic issues, that antisemitism was able to form and grow in Germany for the purposes of the Nazi Party gaining a political and rewarding advantage over all the other extreme right-wing parties. However, Evans, as an early 21st-century author, is someone looking back at and reflecting over the period of the Nazi regime, and so he argues that now, the idea that the Jewish community had ‘stabbed’ all other German civilians in the back, is incorrect, as the leading politicians who signed the treaty, were not Jewish at all. Therefore Evans argues that the Jewish community was not responsible for the signing of the treaty and that this was because most Jewish Germans were not a part of the revolutionary left-wing parties that actively opposed the Weimar Constitution. This is significant in that by Hitler adopting anti-Semitic beliefs as core Nazi beliefs, the Nazi Party was able to gain popularity and support in their political campaign to power as he was able to mobilize these beliefs into a national cause at a time when German citizens had very little hope in the Weimar Constitution.
However, the usefulness of this source can be undermined in that the extent to which the Nazi Party exploiting people’s beliefs about the Jewish community for political gains isn’t fully explained. Furthermore, we know that where anti-Semitism was present in Germany, the policies and hatred surrounding it hadn’t yet developed into a national movement, and so in this respect, it isn’t a very strong argument in suggesting how the Nazis were able to rise to power. Another secondary source in which we could use to support this argument is from the book, ‘The Dark Valley’ by Piers Brendon. Brendon’s historical interpretation is that the Weimar Constitution’s handling of the period of the Great Depression increased the Nazi Party’s popularity and if it wasn’t for this then they wouldn’t have been able to gain control over Germany.
During the winter of 1929 – 30, unemployment rose to above 2 million, and only 12 months after rose to 3 million. Furthermore, large camps of tents were set up in Berlin for the unemployed and homeless. Using this image, there is evidence to the high rates of unemployment in Germany, as it displays German men and women in a soup kitchen set up for the unemployed in 1930, which symbolizes the hardships of poverty and malnutrition as a result of the economic depression. So, the source is useful in supporting the idea that unemployment was an issue within Germany, however, it is not useful in showing the extent to which unemployment was an issue as the image is not representative of wider society, and instead only displays a small group of people who are unemployed. So, using the interpretation and this evidence to back it up, the historian supports the argument, in that economic factors greatly affected Germany and its standard of living. In relation to the question, Brendon suggests that the economic crisis had greatly undermined and effected democracy, as the state was unable to protect its citizens from the harsh realities of it, such as unemployment and homelessness, and so, therefore, suggests that German citizens began to look towards the Nazi Party for change. Brendon’s main argument is that Hitler had many political solutions to the economic problems that faced Germany. He states that Hitler used the failure and weaknesses of the Weimar Constitution which had allowed for Germany’s defeat, to build a new state in which ‘enshrined racial purity and national greatness’.
As a judgment to this interpretation, it gives a very good overview to the hardships that the Germans suffered, and from this, we can suggest that out of desperation, the German people had rejected democracy and instead wanted extreme change. So, it can be argued that the Nazi Party was able to rise to power by effectively destroying what was left of democracy in Germany by swaying public opinion, and so like all other arguments, Hitler was able to gain political support and influence at an alarming rate. In addition, evidence for the rates of unemployment is shown in a figure, which are the average annual unemployment rates in Germany according to an English history website. The figure displays the extent of unemployment in Germany as it suggests that by 1930, unemployment had risen to over three million. The source is useful in suggesting that there were increasing unemployment rates leading up to 1932, but as with statistics, there may be an error in some of the data collected, as the data collected during the time may not be entirely accurate. However, it’s a strong piece of evidence. High unemployment rates generally stemmed from the worldwide economic depression, however, unemployment rates also increased as a result of Heinrich Bruning’s economic policies, which were enforced under the Weimar Republic. Bruning, being appointed as Chancellor on the 30th March 1930, was immediately faced with the growing problems of the economic crisis. His policies included many austerity measures, such as the reduction of all German wages and salaries, and the further reduction of government expenditure.
Due to the fact Bruning had reduced salaries, unemployment rates increased, and this would have had a great effect on the industry. If German citizens couldn’t afford standard living costs, they would be unable to work, especially with businesses facing bankruptcy, and therefore the result of this would mean a decline in the production of consumer goods, which worsened the economic situation in Germany. As a result of these harsh economic policies, Bruning was very much disliked and eventually lost his support in the Reichstag. Furthermore, Bruning decided to create a presidential government that based his government’s authority on presidential emergency decrees, which undermined democracy, and democracy was supposedly the bedrock for the new Weimar Republic. So, in light of the actions of Bruning, it can be argued that the fall of democracy, as reflected in the poor leadership and the failures of the economic policies of the Weimar Constitution, forged new opportunities for the Nazi Party to gain influence and support. Many German citizens by 1930 had already begun to look for a change in Germany and found this change in the growing Nazi cause.
Therefore, Bruning’s chancellorship was an underlying failure of the Weimar Constitution, and his policies allowed for the growth of the Nazi Party. Generally, Bruning’s decision to rule by decree had heavily undermined the Weimar Constitution. However, economic historian Karl Borchardt suggests that Bruning had no other alternative options to improve the economic situation in Germany. Borchardt suggests that the German economy was incredibly weak when entering the period of the ‘Great Depression’, as the government didn’t have much money, and evidently they didn’t have much money because they had just fought in a costly war and were overwhelmed with financial difficulty when required to pay huge sums of reparations for war damage.
Therefore, Borchardt creates a valid argument that the Weimar Constitution was in no suitable position to improve its economy. Furthermore, he argues that Bruning was faced with unemployment rates that were increasing at an uncontrollable rate, and suggests that there were no solutions to the current crisis at hand. So, it can be argued that there was no viable solution to the economic crisis in Germany and that therefore it can be suggested that the failure of the Weimar Constitution and democracy as a whole was inevitable, and so the spread of the Nazi regime was also inevitable.