Johannes Bell of Germany is portrayed signing the peace treaties on 28 June 1919 in The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors by Sir William Orpen.
3. EXCLUSION | PERSECUTION | GENOCIDE 3.1 The Nazis Come to Power | 3.2 Life Changes for the the Jews in Germany | 3.3 Ghettos | 3.4 Mass Shootings and Camps | 3.5 Guilt, Responsibility and Punishment
This exercise contains a factsheet that will help you to understand some of the key factors at play in how the Nazis came to power. By the end of this activity you will have developed your understanding of the nature of propaganda and reflected on the relevance of historical events and the role of historical narratives in extremist and anti-democratic movements propaganda.
Peace Negotiations in Versailles
November 1918 witnessed the end of the First World War. At the peace negotiations the following year in Versailles, France, it was decided that Germany bore responsibility for the war. Germany was obliged to hand over conquered territories, had its industries and foreign assets seized, and was forbidden from maintaining an army of any considerable size.
Another severe punishment was the reparations of 132 billion goldmarks (a sum that was later reduced) that Germany was fined in order to compensate for the tremendous destruction the war had caused in Europe.
Nazi Spread of Propaganda and Fear
In their propaganda, the Nazis often spoke about the “injustice” of the Versailles Treaty, and Germany’s Jews were made scapegoats for the country’s failing economy. The "stab in the back myth" was spread, i.e. the fallacy that German Jews had betrayed their country and bore responsibility for Germany losing the First World War. (They were alleged to have “stuck a dagger in the back of the German Army”.)
The Nazis portrayed other parties as corrupt whereas Hitler was described as the nation’s saviour and the only person who could create order out of the political and social chaos in German society. At the same time, armed Nazi gangs spread fear on the streets of Germany.
Economic Crises and Lack of Democracy
The large debt was one of the reasons why Germany suffered from hyperinflation in 1923, meaning that money lost its value. At the same time, prices rose and there was a deficit of goods. Germany tried to solve the problem by printing more money, but this only resulted in banks going bankrupt and people losing all their savings.
From 1924, the situation stabilized, but after the US stock market crash in 1929, which affected the entire global economy, Germany was hit hard by what came to be known as the Great Depression, with mass unemployment as one consequence.
Although Germany became a democracy after the First World War, the political crisis that arose in the country after the start of the Great Depression caused many of the country’s inhabitants to lose faith in the ruling politicians as well as the democratic process. Different extremist movements and parties tried to exploit this situation. One of these was NSDAP, the National Socialist (or Nazi) German Workers’ Party, with Adolf Hitler as its leader.
Hitler Appointed Chancellor – Other Parties are Banned
Aided by the political crisis and by using intensive propaganda, street violence and support from influential groups, the Nazis grew from a small party in 1928 (2.6 % of the vote) to Germany’s largest party in November 1932 (33 % of the vote). Politicians from other parties had contrasting views on Hitler and the Nazis. Some deemed them to be dangerous, some underestimated the threat they posed and thought that they could be controlled, and some actually liked some of their policies.
On 30 January 1933, conservative politicians managed to convince the German President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of a minority government consisting of conservative and national socialist parties.
In February 1933, the Reichstag building in Berlin was set ablaze. The Nazis used this event to enact new laws that made it possible for them to terrorise political opponents. One month later in March 1933, the first concentration camp was established in Dachau, and political opponents such as communists, social democrats and members of trade unions, were locked up.
After communist and social democratic members of parliament had been murdered or arrested, the Nazis were able to push through laws in parliament that abolished democracy. All other parties were banned, and the Nazis ramped up their persecution of political opponents and groups deemed as not “fitting in” with German society.
Photo from 1923, of a German man using banknotes as wallpaper.
Nazi election poster from 1932. Text: “We are rebuilding! Our building blocks: work, freedom, bread. The others’ building blocks: social cutbacks, corruption, terror, hatred, lies.”
Nazi poster from 1932 depicting unemployed Germans. Title: “Our last hope: Hitler.”
Describe whichthe photos and propaganda pictures are connected to and try to analyse the of the propaganda.
3.1.a Postcard from 1919.
3.1.c Postcard from 1933, of Adolf Hitler and Paul von Hindenburg.
3.1.e The German delegation at the peace conference in Versailles, France, 1919.
3.1.b Photo from 1923, of a German man using banknotes as wallpaper.
3.1.d Nazi election poster from 1932. Text: “We are rebuilding! Our building blocks: work, freedom, bread. The others’ building blocks: social cutbacks, corruption, terror, hatred, lies.”
3.1.f Nazi poster from 1932 depicting unemployed Germans. Title: “Our last hope: Hitler.”