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Chapter 2

Building a National Community, 1933–1936

With the rise of support for the Nazi Party in the 1920s and early 1930s, President Paul von Hindenburg invited Hitler to serve as Chancellor in a coalition government. After Hindenburg’s death, Hitler declared himself Führer and Reich Chancellor, leader of the nation and head of the government. The Nazi Party boosted the economy's recovery and national morale with huge public works projects for the unemployed and with open defiance of the Treaty of Versailles. They were delivering on their promises to restore and strengthen the nation. Their achievements encouraged many people to overlook, or even to support, radical Nazi policies.


TEXT ON SCREEN: Building a “National Community,” 1933-1936

NARRATOR: The ceremonial reopening of Parliament, orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels, aimed to link the Hitler government to Germany’s imperial past and portray the Nazis as saviors of the nation’s future. The event was carefully staged to reassure the German establishment, including the military, that Hitler would respect their traditions. Nazi–controlled newsreels then gave the impression that the Army supported the new government. Though Hitler walked behind longtime President Hindenburg for now, the new chancellor would soon be Germany’s absolute dictator.

NEWSREEL VOICEOVER: Today was dedicated to the New Germany. And more than one hundred thousand schoolchildren stood, shoulder to shoulder, as the car bearing the aged President and the Chancellor proceeded through the crowd to the speaker’s stand. Whether you agree with his doctrines or not, it must be admitted that the leadership of Hitler has united the German people for the first time since the war. Their almost fanatical enthusiasm is a marvel to the entire world…

NARRATOR: Hindenburg remained President until his death in August 1934. With Hindenburg gone, Hitler, by agreement with the army, abolished the office of President, declaring himself Führer and Reich Chancellor, leader of the nation and head of the government. Now there was no authority above or beside him. Immediately, the armed forces swore an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler.

GERMAN ARMED FORCES [taking oath in German]: I swear by God this sacred oath to the Führer Adolf Hitler to render unconditional obedience…

NARRATOR: All civil servants, including teachers and police, members of parliament and the judiciary, swore an oath of loyalty—not to any constitution—but to Hitler as Führer of the German nation.The economy had reached rock bottom when the Nazis came to power. They boosted its recovery with huge public works projects for the unemployed.

NAZI NEWSREEL VOICEOVER [speaking German]: A half million folk comrades have gone back to work this year. Since the takeover of power, unemployment has fallen by more than half.

NARRATOR: Hitler christened new autobahns triumphantly in a display of national will that would unite the country and facilitate the secret expansion of Germany’s armed forces. In 1935, Germany openly defied the 1919 Treaty of Versailles by reinstituting the draft and increasing its military strength. The Nazis were delivering on their promises to restore and strengthen the nation. Their achievements encouraged many people to overlook radical Nazi policies, or even to support them. In September 1935, the Nazi Party gathered in Nuremberg for its annual rally. It opened with a traditional hymn that added solemnity and a sense of continuity with the past. It ended with a special session of Parliament far from Berlin. New race laws were introduced by Hitler and read by Parliament President Hermann Göring.

GÖRING [speaking German]: German citizenship is restricted to persons of German or kindred blood. Marriages between Jews and citizens of German or kindred blood are forbidden. [Cheering]

NARRATOR: The Nazi regime aimed to create a racially pure Germany whose so-called “superior traits” would make it ideally suited to rule the entire European continent. Nazism taught that racial struggle was the driving force in history—“superior” races must battle “inferior” races or be corrupted by them. The Nazi concept of a national community was exclusive and based on race, as defined in the new laws and decrees. Heinrich Himmler and the SS led the ideological battle. Racist ideas were taught in schools. Some groups, such as Jews, Slavs, Blacks and Roma (also called Gypsies) were labeled racially inferior. People with mental or physical disabilities were designated “unworthy of life.” Scientists and medical professionals applied pseudo-scientific theories for measuring and valuing racial characteristics.

Discussion Question

  • How did the German government under Nazi rule build support among the German people?