1919 – National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP – abbreviated to Nazi) established, fusing right wing nationalism with socialist economic rhetoric. Dominant themes in Nazi ideology were a racist and antisemitic German nationalism, fierce opposition to communism, rejection of liberal democratic government structures, and rhetoric which opposed big business and international financiers.
1921 – Adolf Hitler became Party Chairman.
1921-1922 – Period of growth in support for the Nazis due to the appeal to young unemployed men who were suffering due to the economic crisis under the Weimar Republic.
1922 – Inspired by the Fascist Party in Italy, Hitler introduced the straight-armed salute, which became synonymous with the Nazi party, and is still used by Neo-Nazi and Fascist groups today.
1923 – The Nazi Party carried out an unsuccessful coup against the government which resulted in imprisonment for Hitler and the Party being outlawed. Whilst incarcerated Hitler wrote his manifesto Mein Kampf in which he outlined his ideology and violent anti-semitism.
1925-29 – After Hitler’s release from prison in 1924, the Party’s organisation improved, Hitler announced that the Party would take a legal path to power, and despite poor results in elections, support was developed, particularly amongst lower middle class Protestants dismayed by hyperinflation and the weakness of German governments after the Versailles Treaty.
1929 – On the eve of the Great Depression, the Nazi Party had around 130,000 members. The Nazis gained support during the economic crisis by propagating the idea that problems were the fault of Jewish financiers, building on existing antisemitic sentiment.
1930 – Nazi electoral support surged to 18% as traditional right wing and centrist parties struggled to respond to spiralling unemployment and business failures.
1932 – The Nazis became the largest party in the German parliament, winning over 37% of the vote. Stable government became impossible with the Nazi Party and the Communist Party both opposing the democratic constitution, and controlling over half the seats in parliament between them. A second election also proved inconclusive, though the Nazi vote declined.
1933 – The traditional right wing President, Paul Von Hindenburg, was persuaded to appoint Hitler as Chancellor (German equivalent of Prime Minister)in January 1933, with a cabinet with a minority of Nazi ministers. Once in office, Hitler quickly secured almost unlimited power through manipulation and terror, though he remained publicly respectful to the President. Hitler claimed the country faced a communist plot when a fire destroyed the German parliament. He used the situation to justify an ‘Enabling Act’ which gave him dictatorial powers. In July 1933 the Nazi Party was declared the only legal political party in Germany.
1934 – In June 1934 Hitler ordered a ruthless purge of political rivals – resulting in the murder of over 80 individuals. This was primarily aimed at the Sturmabteilung (SA) – the Nazi’s paramilitary wing – which threatened the traditional German military, and which presented a potential alternative power structure to those loyal to Hitler. The emasculation of the SA allowed Himmler’s Schutzstaffel (SS) – the Nazi paramilitary group most loyal to Hitler – to assert itself as the most powerful and feared organisation in Nazi Germany. ‘The Night of the Long Knives’ also targeted other political opponents such as left wing Nazis and traditional conservatives – cementing Hitler’s political dominance. When President Hindenburg died a couple of months later Hitler proclaimed himself Führer – supreme leader of Germany.
Nazi persecution of the Jews
Once the Nazis came to power they introduced legislation intended to deny Jews freedom and restrict their rights. Boycotts of Jewish doctors, lawyers and shops began in 1933 and by 1935 Jews were not allowed to join the civil service or the army. The introduction of the Nuremberg laws in September 1935 further increased Jewish marginalisation. Jews were banned from marrying non-Jews and their citizenship was removed, including their right to vote. As time progressed, more restrictions were brought in – Jews were barred from all professional occupations and Jewish children were prohibited from attending state schools. In 1938, further laws decreed that men must take the middle name ‘Israel’ and women ‘Sarah’. All German Jews would have their passports marked with a ‘J’.
On 9 November 1938 the Nazis initiated pogroms (an organised persecution of a particular group) against the Jews in all Nazi territories. It was a night of vandalism, violence and persecution that many have since described as ‘the beginning of the Holocaust’. 91 Jews were murdered, 30,000 were arrested and 191 synagogues were destroyed. This night became known as Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass, so called because of the smashed glass which covered the streets from the shops which were looted.