NOTE: This is a very old paper, and one of my first. As such you will notice grammar errors and sentence structure issues. It is my plan to eventually edit this essay for my personal archives, however it is presented to you in its original form as of current.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
A frail, emaciated creature only just barely resembling a human being dressed in striped pajamas that barely cling to his frame. The long chimneys billowing with the ashes of what was once a mother or daughter. Pogroms, instillations of Ghettos, and clothing bearing a yellow Star of David. These images are well known in the minds of all as the greatest genocide to behold mankind, but what prompted eastern Europe to overlook the atrocities of the Holocaust? To understand why we must first look at the desperation of the German people after World War I.
Germany 1933. Civil unrest, poverty among the masses, and overall discontent with the conditions set forth by the Treaty of Versailles have Germany on the brink of collapse, having been blamed for the inception of World War I. In January 1933, the Weimar Republic which had ruled Germany since its independence from Prussian hands, was on the verge of collapse. The tensions in Berlin apparent, especially within the walls of Parliament and the Presidential Palace. General Kurt von Schleicher, at the time Chancellor of Germany, and much like his predecessor, had little interest in the Republic, and cared even less for the democracy of its people.
In January of 1933 he was dismissed by President Field Marshall von Hindenburg without warning, and it would be this course of action that would pave the way for the Third Reich, and for Germany to rise to power and prowess never before experienced. Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialists Party, would now demand himself be appointed Chancellor of the very Republic he initially set out to destroy. Throughout the next decade, Europe would see the charismatic and brilliant strategist make advancements in military technology only previously imagined, yet also unleash the greatest horror the world has ever known: The Holocaust.
German Road to War
When the Treaty of Versailles was drafted in 1918, following the horrors of World War I, Germany was to be the scapegoat, despite having backed Austria-Hungary in their efforts to quell the rebellious nature of Serbia. It would be the conditions set forth in the Treaty that would pave the way for Hitler’s rise to power. When German leaders signed the armistice in the Compiègne Forest on 11 November 1918, many of them believed that Wilson’s Fourteen Points would form the basis of the future peace treaty, but when the heads of the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy met in Paris to discuss treaty terms, the European contingent of the “Big Four” rejected this approach. In fact, Germany would lose most of her gained territory, including Poland, which had been partitioned off between Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary since the end of the eighteenth century.
Not only was Germany required to accept the losses of her territories without complaint, her military was to be disbanded with an allotment of only 100,000 manpower, and she would also be required to surrender all overseas territories. In addition to these requirements, the Germans were no longer allowed weapons such as tanks, or even allowed to have an air force. The countries of Britain and France argued that these stipulations would effectively allow all nations the ability to limit armaments. It did not, as would be seen as an effective way for the Germans to denounce the restrictions and begin the process of rearming a mere fifteen years later.
The countries of France and Britain also demanded reparations for damages and casualties inflicted upon their civilian populations. Initially, this was to only include heavily occupied areas of France, to make amends for their damaged countryside and devastation of Belgium. However, the British and French alike would take advantage of their position and begin to include expenses such as interest charges on war loans and the general costs of reconstruction. Also, this would include pensions to disabled soldiers, orphans and widows of the dead in perpetuity – a sum so large that it could not even be computed. In short, there was no fathomable way that Germany could pay the reparations demanded by France and Britain.
For the German people it would be a decade of hunger, civil unrest, and feelings of betrayal. There was a great portion of the German population, both civilian and politician alike that viewed Germany’s failures in World War I was the fault of Jews, socialists, and those military leaders that signed the declaration of surrender. Even for those who did not accept the myth of Dolchstoss, or a stab in the back, the continuing legitimacy of any feasible German government would depend upon its ability to modify the Treaty if not do away with it altogether. It would be Adolf Hitler’s success in doing so that would win him widespread support of the German people. In spite of her defeat, Germany remained the most powerful nation in Europe, and determined to reverse the settlement at least of her eastern frontiers. It would be western Europe’s reluctance at another global conflict that allowed for the Nazi regime to come to full power, as successive governments, especially Britain, would seek a solution in appeasing German demands rather than resisting them. Appeasement that would only lead to further conflict as Hitler played his democratic face as a farce while secretly working behind closed doors as we will come see.
The Rise of Hitler
Shortly before noon on January 30th, 1933, Adolf Hitler drove over to the Chancellery for an interview with President Field Marshall von Hindenburg that would prove fateful for himself, for Germany, and for the rest of the world. This was shocking not only because Hitler was a mere forty-three years old, quite young for a political leader of such scale, but he was also Austrian, not German. Hitler would at this point would ride off with Joseph Goebbles, Hermann Goring, and others that had taken the long path to power with him over the years. “He says nothing, and all of us say nothing,’’ Goebbels recorded, “but his eyes are full of tears.” This same evening, the streets would be filled by marching Nazi troops in a lavish display of victory for their Fuhrer. Tired but happy, Goebbels arrived home that night at 3 A.M. Scribbling
in his diary before retiring, he wrote: “It is almost like a dream . . . a fairy tale . . . The new Reich has been born. Fourteen years of work have been crowned with victory. The German revolution has begun!’’ Indeed, for the next twelve years and four months Hitler, Goebbles, and their cohorts would attempt to spread Nazi ideals throughout Europe. Those who did not go willingly would meet terrible fates at the hands of the Nazi regime, however many Germans saw Hitler as a means to restore power and prosperity in Germany once again. From the very inception, Germany dared to dream the overturning of the Treaty of Versailles, and the appointing of Hitler as Chancellor of Germany essentially solidified this to a reality.
As spring of 1939 dawned Adolf Hitler, having systematically shaped the government according to his desires in just six years since becoming Chancellor, had assembled the military leaders and officials in which he would fight the beginnings of World War II with. The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, commanded by the loyal General Wilhelm Keitel, was the armed forces high command which had marginal control of the armed forces of Germany during the war. The Oberkommando des Heeres, led by Generaloberst Walther von Brauchitsch, was the army high command, or infantry, followed by the Oberkommando der Kreigsmarine. This branch, headed by Admiral Erich Raeder, was the navy high command and probably one of the most conservative officers of the Nazi regime. This however, did not stop him from making the navy just as loyal to Hitler as the army. Finally, we come to the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe, or air force high command, led by the infamous Field Marshall Hermann Goring.
September 1st, 1939 would prove one of the most fateful days of world history, as Adolf Hitler addressed the Reichstag in Germany over the effects of Polish involvement in Danzig. It was effectively an excuse for Hitler to begin his march toward Germany as the greatest world power, and he used his undeniable charisma to achieve his goal. Hitler addresses the Reichstag in such a manner as to state “For four months I have calmly watched developments, although I never ceased to give warnings. In the last few days I have increased these warnings. I informed the Polish Ambassador three weeks ago that if Poland continued to send to Danzig notes in the form of ultimata, and if on the Polish side an end was not put to Customs measures destined to ruin Danzig’s trade, then the Reich could not remain inactive. I left no doubt that people who wanted to compare the Germany of to-day with the former Germany would be deceiving themselves.” As he continued, he spoke of German pride and the future for Germany, as well as the oppression of the German people by the Versailles Treaty. Hitler knew that by speaking of German pride, as well as the reparations demanded of the German people by the Treaty, that he would gain unconditional support from his citizens and military leaders alike.
As Hitler addressed his government in the Reichstag, so followed Neville Chamberlain to the members of the British Parliament on the same day. Where Hitler’s speech was to inspire outrage and action for Germany, the atmosphere in the British Parliament was greatly different. A solemn Chamberlain began his speech on the eve of September 1st with a heavy heart. “I do not propose to say many word to-night. The time has come when action rather than speech is required. Eighteen months ago in this House I prayed that the responsibility might not fall upon me to ask this country to accept the awful arbitrament of war. I fear that I may not be able to avoid that responsibility.” As Chamberlain spoke the realization that war was now inevitable spread throughout the political leaders and advisors of Great Britain like wildfire. Those who vehemently opposed conflict now were beginning to understand that Hitler would not be swayed by appeasement from the pacifistic nature that betook Britain and France after the devastation of World War I.
Chamberlain kept his address short, ending it with “It now only remains for us to set our teeth and to enter upon this struggle, which we ourselves earnestly endeavored to avoid, with determination to see it through to the end. We shall enter it with a clear conscience… We have no quarrel with the German people, except that they allow themselves to be governed by a Nazi Government. As long as that Government exists and pursues the methods it has so persistently followed during the last two years, there will be no peace in Europe… We are resolved that these methods must come to an end. If out of the struggle we again re-establish in the world the rules of good faith and the renunciation of force, why, then even the sacrifices that will be entailed upon us will find their fullest justification.” His conclusion spoke volumes, containing every fear that was realized by the entrance into another catastrophic conflict that would cause devastation on a scale never before realized.
In Germany, Hitler ignited the spark that would thrust Europe into chaos, as he ordered the first concentration camps built that would first house political prisoners and dissidents yet would become a living nightmare for millions. The early stages of the Holocaust descended over eastern Europe.
The most popular notion was that the Holocaust began with the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Though this is factually correct it is also quite true that it began much earlier, at least in the thoughts of the perpetrators. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party long considered the need of a scapegoat for Germany’s defeat in World War I even before their rise to the forefront of German power, and the blame would be laid upon the Jewish population, as well as socialist political leaders of the First World War.
The Holocaust would be the primary term for what Hitler and his associates deemed the “Final Solution”, which was a term coined by the Nazis as a way to describe the planned extermination of the Jewish population. It is not known when the leaders of Nazi Germany definitively decided to implement the “Final Solution.” The genocide, or mass destruction, of the Jews was the culmination of a decade of increasingly severe discriminatory measures. It would be the invasion of Poland in 1939 that would begin the German policy of systematically exterminating Europe’s Jewish population. The Nazi’s began by arresting political officials in Poland, and constructing ghettos, which were enclosed areas of a city or town designed to isolate the Jews from the rest of the population. Polish and western European Jews were deported to these ghettos where they lived in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions with inadequate food.
The Holocaust began with trivial matters for the Jewish population of eastern Europe such as wearing the infamous star of David on their clothing and being restricted to having to be in their homes as the sun set. However, these seemingly small matters masked a dark and sinister ulterior motive: systematic control. However, though the Jews were to bear the brunt of the hatred of the Nazis, there was mass violence against homosexuals, gypsies, and mental and physically disabled individuals who were either experimented on or confined to concentration camps alongside the Jewish population. At least 200,000 mentally or physically disabled patients, mainly Germans, living in institutional settings, were murdered in the so-called Euthanasia Program. Essentially, anyone deemed impure by the Nazi Party was subject to the horrors of Nazi tyranny.
Between 1941 and late 1944, over six million Jews, Gypsies and mentally ill citizens were extermination within concentration camps erected by the Nazi regime, including many political prisoners and imagined “war criminals”. Often these war criminals were simply political leaders who disagreed with Nazi methods or those caught aiding Jews and other persecuted groups. Those caught were considered lucky to be shot on sight rather than face the horrors that awaited them should they be placed in a concentration camp. These camps, appropriately called “death camps” eventually developed advanced gas chambers used for the frail, young, and those unable to be placed in labor camp areas.
In the final months of the war, Nazi officials began moving prisoners of these camps in what became known as ‘death marches”. These movements were to prevent the increasingly invading allied forces from liberating those incarcerated. As the officials moved prisoners further away from the encroaching allied front, they often destroyed evidence of the cruelties and horrors that took place. These marches continued until May 7th, 1945, the day that the Germans surrendered to the allies. Much of what is known about the Holocaust survives in what evidence was saved, as well as through the testimony of the survivors.
It was apparent that by 1943 Germany’s influence and power were beginning to collapse. With the entrance of the United States in December of 1941, the allies were granted use of American pilots on a volunteer basis, allowing for growing American presence. Despite the United States largely at war with Japan in the Pacific, the American presence could still be felt in Europe. The British also had a renewed sense of nationalism after the inspirational addresses by the appointment of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister in response to Neville Chamberlain resigning. It would be this drastic shift in British political power that would pave the way for German defeat, along with Hitler’s failed attempt to remove Russia from the equation in a single swift blow.
As the course of history was altered forever due to the reign of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party, a new dawn would see the end of World War II and the promise, yet again that the world would never know such heinous acts. Though this would prove true in the sense of global conflict on this scale, genocide and civil strife would continue. It is said that war – war never changes. Men and women do through the roads they walk down. For Adolf Hitler and his Reich that road ended in the Spring of 1945, leaving Germany with the shameful acts of which would haunt the nation even to this very day.
Shirer, William L. 2011. The rise and fall of the Third Reich. [electronic resource] : a history of Nazi Germany. n.p.: New York : Rosetta Books, 2011., 2011. SNHU Online Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed May 22, 2018).
“Treaty of Versailles, 1919.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed June 9, 2018. https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005425.
GOEBBELS, JOSEPH : Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichskanzlei. Munich, 1936, The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943, edited by Louis P. Lochner. New GOERLITZ, WALTER: History of the German General Staff, 1657-1945. New York, 1948
Michael Howard, The First World War: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)pg.115.
“The Avalon Project : Address by Adolf Hitler – September 1, 1939.” 2018. Avalon Project – Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. Accessed May 23. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/gp2.asp.
Williamson Murray and Allan Reed. Millett, A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, Kindle ed. (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001)
Chamberlain, Neville. “Address by Neville Chamberlain – September 1, 1939.” Avalon Project – Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. Accessed May 26, 2018. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/gb1.asp.
“”Final Solution”: Overview.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed June 21, 2018. https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005151.
 “Treaty of Versailles, 1919.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed June 9, 2018. https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005425.
 Michael Howard, The First World War: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
 Shirer, William L. 2011. The rise and fall of the Third Reich. [electronic resource] : a history of Nazi Germany. n.p.: New York : Rosetta Books, 2011., 2011. SNHU Online Library Catalog, EBSCOhost
 GOEBBELS, JOSEPH : Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichskanzlei. Munich, 1936, The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943, edited by Louis P. Lochner. New GOERLITZ, WALTER: History of the German General Staff, 1657-1945. New York, 1948
 “The Avalon Project : Address by Adolf Hitler – September 1, 1939.” 2018. Avalon Project – Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. Accessed May 23
 Chamberlain, Neville. “Address by Neville Chamberlain – September 1, 1939.” Avalon Project – Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. Accessed May 26, 2018.
 “”Final Solution”: Overview.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed June 21, 2018. https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005151.