The Nazi Party changed German society through its policies in a multidimensional sense. That is there are many contributing factors which have resulted in the change within the period of 1933 till 1939.
These include political policy changes, social policy changes, economic policy changes and changes to the German military; to understand the extent to which the Nazi party changed German society within this period, one must understand the policies and to what extent these policies changed German societies contrasting from the Weimar Republic Era, where due to various pressures, both internal and external, the Republic began a phase of decline between 1929 and 1933.
The major factors contributing to this decline were the Great Depression, the actions of President Hindenburg, major constitutional flaws and a lack of democratic tradition within Germany. However, the importance of the rising popularity of the Nazi Party and their subsequent success in the Reichstag elections after 1930 cannot be overstated. These factors however must not be overestimated, as, Weimar’s decline had begun immediately after its 1919 origins due to structural weaknesses. As said by P J Kerr: “The German people liked order, and to them Weimar offered disorder”.
The German people never truly accepted Weimar, instead preferring to use it as a scapegoat explaining Germany’s post War ills. Many people still firmly blamed it for the armistice and the resultant humiliation of the April 1919 Treaty of Versailles. This allowed Hitler to offer the German people order again through his political, economic, social and military policies in order to change Germany from a democratic government to one ruled by dictatorship. Political policy changes include the creation of The Enabling Act, the foreign policy and the Nurmberg Laws.
On 23 March 1933 the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which gave Hitler dictatorial powers for four years. By doing so the Reichstag transferred power from itself to Hitler and the Nazi Party, and brought to an end of the constitutional government of the republican periods. The enforcement of the Enabling Act 1933 changed Germany from a liberal democracy to a Totalitarian state, by manipulation of Article 24 of the Weimar constitution 1919. The result of the “Enabling Act” was had many consequential impacts. These include the loss of civil liberties for the German People; these include freedom of speech, expression and free association.
Also all political opposition was banned; freedom of press was abolished meaning that all media state was controlled by the state. Hitler gradually altered the constitution to suit the regime, the establishment of institutions for the purpose of a police state such as the Gestapo (secret police) was soon to be enacted and even the legal system was reformed, by changing the prior education syllabus and was re writing a new one to suit Nazi ideology. The result of this was that households became scared to raise objections and mutual suspicions arose thus instilling within German society an atmosphere of terror.
The Foreign policy was an aggressive expansionist policy which was prescribed with the aim of creating Lebensraum (living space) and reclaiming German territory lost following the treaty of Versailles. Many Germans were angered at the severe terms imposed upon Germany as a consequence of the Treaty of Versailles, many saw it as a humiliating chapter in German history, as many believed that Germany lost World War One due to defeatist traitors who ‘Dolchstoss’ (‘stabbed Germany in the back’) and as a consequence this opposed much political and physical thorn to the prior-Weimer government, thus causing much political discontent for the people.
The result of the Foreign policy was that the Ruhr (Industrial center) was reoccupied in 1936 after being taken during the Economic crisis in 1923 by French troops when Germany was unable to pay back reparations. Austria was reunited in 1936 despite it being illegal under the treaty of Versailles and Czechoslovakia was annexed in 1938. The consequence of this was that Hitler could proclaim that German honor has been restored and that this once humiliated nation will once again take its rightful place amongst the nations of the world despite its “humiliating” downfall during the Weimar Era as suggested by Anne McCallum.
As a result, the people felt hope, supported Hitler and the Nazi Party and saw Hitler as a person who’s restoring justice to Germany. The assembly of Numberg Laws (racial policy) in 1934 legitimized the Nazi racial theory within the German legal system. This was the beginning of Hitler’s assault of Jews and other ethic minorities deemed inferior. As expressed by K. J Mason the Jews and other minorities became an official outlet of blame and frustration for previous German problems, many Jews such as Einstein chose to migrate.
And as result, there was social dislocation from migration, whilst other Jews became prohibited to work in certain professions, causing social divisions and loss of a great number of skilled workers. Economic policy changes include such as the Labor policy, political stability, and the rearmament policy. Such Labor policy changes included the ‘conscription’ of labor units from the masses of unemployed Germans, this was in response to the prior instability of the Weimar Republic, The conscription greatly and immediately lowered the unemployment rate, and those workers were paid a wage for doing work for the state.
They were used to construct public works, facilities and as a result the standard of living was increased with workers having an income and allowing more money to circulate through Germany’s monetary flow, and had a greater choice of public resources to the German people’s disposal. The unemployment rate greatly reduced and facilitated for a new war economy and provided such commodities as the Autobahn (the great highway) The German Government encouraged investment by demonstrating political stability and a spirit of co-operation with its neighbors.
As a result of this more jobs were created thus less unemployment, more income were received, Germans increased in wealth and hence greater propensity to spend and invest. All of these factors resulted in Economic activity and thus rapid economic growth whilst Germany’s commercial power and links internationally grew. The Rearmament policy pursued by Nazi Germany resulted in the expansion of the German heavy industry sector, in particular armament production.
It increased industrial production and strength, this increased in industrial strength and production led to greater self sufficiency, resulting in Germany less dependent and greater geared for war. Conclusively Hitler’s economic policy exponentially increased the employment rate which in turn created greater spending, investment and economic growth, thus Germany became more prosperous from 1933 to 1939, from the weakest of the major European powers in 1933, to the strongest by 1936, from an unemployment rate of 6 million on the eve of Hitler’s ascension to Chancellor to 300,000 by 1939.
This is a great departure from the days of poverty, instability, unemployment and discontent experienced during the Weimar days. The key focus of Hitler’s social policy was to make Germany German again, meaning return to its traditional values. These traditional values included the role of women to be made domestic again; girl’s education syllabus’s ‘educated’ young girls how to prepare for motherhood, to cook, clean, wash and other domestic chores. For boys it was a militaristic way of life, with emphasis on qualities such as discipline, obedience, courage and war as a test of manhood.
Other policies included the segregation of the nation on racial lines with Aryans on one side and non-Aryans on the other. These Nazi characteristics included the indoctrination campaigns focusing on 4 main things, the Jew (films such as Jud Suss), superiority of the Germans, war as a necessity and the cult of personality of Der Fuhrer. Hitler also focused on rearming the military, for he saw the military might of a nation being the prime symbol of the maturity, strength and power of a nation.
In accordance with his theory and his desire to conquer ‘living space’ for Germans in the East he introduced conscription, rearmament policies through industry, scientific effort, the creation of Luftwaffe (the air force) in 1936, the construction of battleships (such as the Bismarck), submarines and mass increase of the numerical strength of the army as well as production of tanks and other weapons which incidentally was banned by the treaty of Versailles.
Military way of life was promoted through education and propaganda. Mass rallies and military parades were common show piece of Nazi indoctrination and propaganda efforts such as the annual Numberg rallies took place. By 1939 the military had grown in size of over twenty times of its 1933 strength, with a new air force rated as the strongest in the world, a formidable navy and an army which ranked equally proud and feared predecessors.
These steps to militarize German society impacted on social demography with shortage of manpower being inevitable, whilst other social problems that come with the requirements of war are of which not experiences since 1918, hence a drastic departure from the pacifist liberal nature of the Weimar era.
In conclusion, The Nazi Party changed German society dramatically during 1933 till 1939; it did this through its enacting and changing of political, economic, social and military policies. Overall these policies promoted nationalistic ideas focusing on making Germany become German again, something which the people of the time believed was stripped from them during the period of the Weimar Republic.
Its main goals was eliminating the consequences of the treaty of Versailles and becoming a self-reliant producing state again while building up a strong military base. In a general sense, it eliminated the effects that a democratic government conveyed to Germany and tried to recovery its nationalistic qualities experienced before the Weimar Republic, and to develop these qualities at an even stronger proportion than ever experienced before.