Nazi revolution or "Seizure of Power"
In order to secure a majority for his NSDAP in the Reichstag, Hitler called for new elections. On the evening of 27 February 1933, a fire was set in the Reichstag building. Hitler swiftly blamed an alleged Communist uprising, and convinced President Hindenburg to sign the Reichstag Fire Decree. This decree, which would remain in force until 1945, repealed important political and human rights of the Weimar constitution. Communist agitation was banned, but at this time not the Communist Party itself.
Eleven thousand Communists and Socialists were arrested and brought into concentration camps, where they were at the mercy of the Gestapo, the newly established secret police force (9,000 were found guilty and very many executed). Communist Reichstag deputies were taken into protective custody (despite their constitutional privileges).
Despite the terror and unprecedented propaganda, the last free General Elections of March 5, 1933, while resulting in 43.9% failed to bring the majority for the NSDAP that Hitler had hoped for. Together with the German National People's Party (DNVP), however, he was able to form a slim majority government. With accommodations to the Catholic Centre Party Germany, Hitler succeeded in convincing a required two-thirds of a rigged Parliament to pass the Enabling act of 1933 which gave his government full legislative power. Only the Social Democrats voted against the Act. The Enabling Act formed the basis for the Dictatorship, dissolution of the Länder; the trade unions and all political parties other than the National Socialist (Nazi) Party were suppressed. A centralised totalitarian state was established, no longer based on the liberal Weimar constitution. Germany left the League of Nations. The coalition Parliament was rigged on this fateful 23 March 1933 by defining the absence of arrested and murdered deputies as voluntary and therefore cause for their exclusion as wilful absentees. Subsequently in July the Centre Party was voluntarily dissolved in a quid pro quo with the Holy See under the anti-communist Pope Pius XI for the Reichskonkordat; and by these maneuvers Hitler achieved movement of these Catholic voters into the Nazi party, and a long-awaited international diplomatic acceptance of his regime. It is interesting to note however that according to Professor Dick Geary the Nazis gained a larger share of their vote in Protestant than in Catholic areas of Germany in elections held between 1928 to November 1932 The Communist Party was proscribed in April 1933 . On the weekend of June 30, 1934, he gave order to the SS to seize Röhm and his lieutenants, and to execute them without trial (known as the Night of the Long Knives). Upon Hindenburg's death on 2 August 1934, Hitler's cabinet passed a law proclaiming the presidency vacant and transferred the role and powers of the head of state to Hitler as Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor).
However, many leaders of the Nazi SA were disappointed. The Chief of Staff of the SA, Ernst Röhm, was pressing for the SA to be incorporated into the Wehrmacht under his supreme command. Hitler felt threatened by these plans.
The SS became an independent organisation under the command of the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler. He would become the supervisor of the Gestapo and of the concentration camps, soon also of the ordinary police. Hitler also established the Waffen-SS as a separate troop.
The regime showed particular hostility towards the Jews. In September 1935, the Reichstag passed the so-called Nuremberg race laws directed against Jewish citizens. Jews lost their German citizenship, and were banned from marrying non-Jewish Germans. About 500,000 individuals were affected by the new rules.
Hitler re-established the German air force and reintroduced universal military service. The open rearmament was in flagrant breach of the Treaty of Versailles, but neither the United Kingdom, France or Italy went beyond issuing notes of protest.
In 1936 German troops marched into the demilitarised Rhineland. In this case, the Treaty of Locarno would have obliged the United Kingdom to intervene in favour of France. But despite protests by the French government, Britain chose to do nothing about it. The coup strengthened Hitler's standing in Germany. His reputation was going to increase further with the 1936 Summer Olympics, which were held in the same year in Berlin and in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and which proved another great propaganda success for the regime.
Expansion and defeat
After establishing the "Rome-Berlin axis" with Mussolini, and signing the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan - which was joined by Italy a year later in 1937 - Hitler felt able to take the offensive in foreign policy. On 12 March 1938, German troops marched into Austria, where an attempted Nazi coup had been unsuccessful in 1934. When Hitler entered Vienna, he was greeted by loud cheers. Four weeks later, 99% of Austrians voted in favour of the annexation (Anschluss) of their country to the German Reich. Hitler thereby fulfilled the old idea of an all encompassing German Reich with the inclusion of Austria - the "greater Germany" solution that Bismarck had shunned when, in 1871, he united the German-speaking lands under Prussian leadership. Although the annexation denounced the Treaty of Saint-Germain, which expressedly forbade the unification of Austria with Germany, the western powers once again merely protested.
After Austria, Hitler turned to Czechoslovakia, where the 3.5 million-strong Sudeten German minority was demanding equal rights and self-government. At the Munich Conference of September 1938, Hitler, the Italian leader Benito Mussolini, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier agreed upon the cession of Sudeten territory to the German Reich by Czechoslovakia. Hitler thereupon declared that all of German Reich's territorial claims had been fulfilled. However, hardly six months after the Munich Agreement, in March 1939, Hitler used the smoldering quarrel between Slovaks and Czechs as a pretext for taking over the rest of Czechoslovakia as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. In the same month, he secured the return of Memel from Lithuania to Germany. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was forced to acknowledge that his policy of appeasement towards Hitler had failed.
In six years, the Nazi regime prepared the country for World War II. The Nazi leadership attempted to remove or subjugate the Jewish population of Nazi Germany and later in the occupied countries through forced deportation and, ultimately, genocide now known as the Holocaust. A similar policy applied to the various ethnic and national groups considered subhuman such as Poles , Roma or Russians. These groups were seen as threats to the purity of Germany's Aryan race. There were also many groups, such as homosexuals, the mentally handicapped and those who were physically challenged from birth, which were singled out as being detrimental to Aryan purity. After annexing the Sudetenland border country of Czechoslovakia (October 1938), and taking over the rest of the Czech lands as a protectorate (March 1939), the German Reich and the Soviet Union invaded Poland on first September 1939 predominantly as part of the Wehrmacht operation codenamed Fall Weiss. The invasion of Poland began World War II.
By 1941, the Germans had the upper hand, but the tide turned in December 1941 when the invasion of the Soviet Union stalled in front of Moscow and the United States joined the war. Because of the invasion (see Operation Barbarossa), the Soviets joined the Allies. The tide turned further after the Battle of Stalingrad. By late 1944, the United States and Great Britain were closing in on Germany in the West, while the Soviets were closing from the East. In May 1945, Nazi Germany collapsed when Berlin was taken by Soviet and Polish forces. Hitler committed suicide when it seemed inevitable that the Allies would win.
By September 1945, the German Reich (which lasted only 13 years) and its Axis partners (Italy and Japan) had been defeated, chiefly by the forces of the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Much of Europe lay in ruins, over sixty million people had been killed (most of them civilians), including approximately six million Jews and five million non-Jews in what became known as the Holocaust. World War II resulted in the destruction of Germany's political and economic infrastructure and led directly to its partition, considerable loss of territory (especially in the east), and historical legacy of guilt and shame.
Germany since 1945
Germans frequently refer to 1945 as the Stunde Null (zero hour) to describe the near-total collapse of their country. At the Potsdam Conference, Germany was divided into four military occupation zones by the Allies. Also in Potsdam, the allies agreed that the provinces east of the Oder and Neisse rivers (the Oder-Neisse line) were transferred to Poland and Russia (Kaliningrad oblast). The agreement also set forth the abolition of Prussia and the expulsion of Germans living in those territories, and formalized the German exodus from Eastern Europe. In the process of the expulsions, millions died, and many suffered from exhaustion and dehydration.
In the immediate post-war years the German population lived on near starvation levels, and the Allied economic policy was one of de-industrialisation (Morgenthau Plan) in order to preclude any future German war-making capability. U.S. policy began to change at the end of 1946 (Restatement of Policy on Germany), and by mid 1947, after lobbying by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Generals Clay and Marshall, the Truman administration finally realized that economic recovery in Europe could not go forward without the reconstruction of the German industrial base on which it had previously been dependent. In July, Truman rescinded on "national security grounds" the punitive JCS 1067, which had directed the U.S. forces of occupation in Germany to "take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany." It was replaced by JCS 1779, which instead stressed that "[a]n orderly, prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany."
Division into East and West Germany
The three western occupation zones (U.S., UK and French zone) would later form the Federal Republic of Germany (commonly known as West Germany), while the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic (commonly known as East Germany), both founded in 1949. West Germany was established as a federal democratic republic while East Germany became a Communist State under the influence of the Soviet Union.
West Germany eventually came to enjoy prolonged economic growth beginning in the early 1950s (Wirtschaftswunder). The recovery occurred largely because of the previously forbidden currency reform of June 1948 and to a minor degree by U.S. assistance through Marshall Plan loans. West Germany joined NATO in 1955 and was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1958 .
East Germany was an Eastern bloc state under political and military control of the USSR through her occupation forces and the Warsaw Treaty. While claiming to be a democracy, the political power was solely executed by leading members (Politburo) of the communist-controlled SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany). Their power was ensured by the Stasi, a secret service of immense size, and a variety of SED-suborganizations controlling every aspect of society. In turn, the basic needs of the population were satisfied at low costs by the state. A Soviet-style command economy was set up, later the GDR became the most advanced Comecon state. While East German propaganda was based on the benefits of the GDR's social programs and the alleged constant threat of a West German invasion, many of her citizens looked to the West for political freedoms and economic prosperity. The Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to stop East Germans from escaping to West Germany, became a symbol of the Cold War.
Relations between the two post-war German states remained icy until the West German Chancellor Willy Brandt launched a highly controversial rapprochement with the East European communist states (Ostpolitik) in the 1970s, culminating in the Warschauer Kniefall on 7 December 1970. Although anxious to relieve serious hardships for divided families and to reduce friction, West Germany under Brandt's Ostpolitik was intent on holding to its concept of "two German states in one German nation." Relations improved, however, and in September 1973, East Germany and West Germany were admitted to the United Nations.
During the summer of 1989, rapid changes known as peaceful revolution or Die Wende took place in East Germany, which ultimately led to German reunification. Growing numbers of East Germans emigrated to West Germany, many via Hungary after Hungary's reformist government opened its borders. Thousands of East Germans also tried to reach the West by staging sit-ins at West German diplomatic facilities in other East European capitals, most notably in Prague. The exodus generated demands within East Germany for political change, and mass demonstrations in several cities continued to grow.
Faced with civil unrest, East German leader Erich Honecker was forced to resign in October, and on 9 November, East German authorities unexpectedly allowed East German citizens to enter West Berlin and West Germany. Hundreds of thousands of people took advantage of the opportunity; new crossing points were opened in the Berlin Wall and along the border with West Germany. This led to the acceleration of the process of reforms in East Germany that ended with the German reunification that came into force on 3 October 1990.
Role in the European Union
Together with France and other EU states, the new Germany has played the leading role in the European Union. Germany (especially under Chancellor Helmut Kohl) was one of the main supporters of the wish of many East European countries to join the EU. Germany is at the forefront of European states seeking to exploit the momentum of monetary union to advance the creation of a more unified and capable European political, defence and security apparatus. The German chancellor Schröder expressed an interest in a permanent seat for Germany in the UN Security Council, identifying France, Russia and Japan as countries that explicitly backed Germany's bid.
A major historiographical debate about the German history concerns the Sonderweg, the alleged “special path” that separated German history from the normal course of historical development, and whether or not Nazi Germany was the inevitable result of the Sonderweg. Proponents of the Sonderweg theory such as Fritz Fischer point to such events of the Revolution of 1848, the authoritarian of the Second Empire and the continuation of the Imperial elite into the Weimar and Nazi periods. Opponents such as Gerhard Ritter of the Sonderweg theory argue that proponents of the theory are guilty of seeking selective examples, and there was much contingency and chance in German history. In addition, there was much debate within the supporters of the Sonderweg concept as for the reasons for the Sonderweg, and whether or not the Sonderweg ended in 1945.
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The terminology for Germany, the German states and Germans is complicated due to the complicated history of Germany. This can cause confusions, in German, English as well in other languages. While the notion of Germans and Germany is older, only since 1871 there is a nation state called Germany. Later political quarrels and the partition of Germany (1945-1990) made it difficult to use the proper term.
Roman authors registered a number of tribes they called Germani; it is not certain what this word means or where it comes from. Originally it may not even have something to do with ethnics, and these Germanic tribes did not call themselves Germani. Later these tribes where identified by linguists as belonging to a group of languages, the Germanic languages which include modern languages like German, English and Dutch.
Germani (for the people) and Germania (for the area where they lived) became the common Latin words for Germans and Germany.
Germans call themselves Deutsche living in Deutschland. Deutsch is an adjective (Proto-Germanic *theudisk-) derived from Old High German thiota, diota (Proto-Germanic *theudō) meaning "people", "nation", "folk". The word *theudō was distantly related to Celtic *teutā, whence the Celtic tribal name Teuton, later anachronistically applied to the Germans.
Germany until 1871
A modern German nation state exists only since 1871 (see Unification of Germany), before that Germany referred to a geographical entity.
In the Middle Ages, the territory of modern Germany belonged to the realm of the Holy Roman Empire, the Roman Empire restored by the Christian king of Francony, Charlemagne. This feudal state became a union of relatively independent rulers who developed their own territories; modernization took place on the level of these territories like Austria, Prussia and Bremen, not on the level of the Empire.
This Empire was called in German Heiliges Römisches Reich, since the late Middle Ages with the addition Deutscher Nation (of German nation), showing that in the meanwhile the former idea of a universal realm has given place to a concentration on the German territories. The last Emperor lay off the crown in 1806 under pressure of Napoléon.
In the 19th and 20th century historiography, this Empire has been often referred to as Deutsches Reich, creating a link to the later nation state of 1871. Besides the official Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation, common expressions are Altes Reich (the old Reich) and Römisch-Deutsches Kaiserreich (Roman-German Empire of the Emperor).
Reich and Bund
In German constitutional history, the expressions Reich (reign, realm, empire) and Bund (federation, confederation) are quite exchangeable. Sometimes they even existed in the same constitution, like when in the German Empire (1871–1919) the parliament had the name Reichstag, the council of the representatives of the German states Bundesrath. When in 1871 the North German Confederation was transformed into the German Empire, the preamble said that the participating monarchs are creating einen ewigen Bund (an eternal confederation).
Due to the history of Germany, the principle of federalism is strong. Only the state of Hitler (1933–1945) and the state of the communists (East Germany, 1949–1990) were centralist states. This makes the words Reich and Bund used more frequently than in other countries, because politicians and citizens had and have to differentiate between an imperial or federal level on the one hand and the subnational territorial level on the other. For example, a modern day German minister is called in German Bundesminister, in contrary to a Landesminister in e.g. Rhineland-Palatinate or Lower Saxony.
Because of the Hitler regime, partially also because of the Imperial Germany until 1919, many Germans - especially on the left - have negative feelings about the word Reich. However, it remains a common word such as in Römisches Reich (Roman Empire), Königreich (Kingdom) or Tierreich (animal kingdom).
Also Bund is a general word used for contexts other than politics. Many associations in Germany are federations or have a federalized structure and differentiate between a Bundesebene (federal / national level) and a Landesebene (level of the regional states), similar to the political bodies. An example is the German Football Association Deutscher Fußballbund. (Its Bundestrainer, the national coach, does not refer to the Federal Republic, but to the Fußballbund itself.)
In other German speaking countries, the words Reich (Austria before 1918) and Bund (Austria since 1918, Switzerland) are used too. An organ called Bundesrat exists in all three of them, in Switzerland it is the government and in Germany and Austria the house of regional representatives.
|Name of the state||National Diet||House of regional representatives|
|Heiliges Deutsches Reich Deutscher Nation (-1806)||(did not exist)||(Immerwährender) Reichstag|
|Deutscher Bund (1815-1848/1866)||(did not exist)||Bundestag (officially Bundesversammlung)|
|Deutsches Reich (Paulskirchenverfassung, 1849)||Reichstag (Volkshaus)||Reichstag (Staatenhaus)|
|Norddeutscher Bund (1866/1867-1871)||Reichstag||Bundesrat|
|Deutsches Reich (1871–1919)||Reichstag||Bundesrat|
|Deutsches Reich (1919-1933/1945)||Reichstag||Reichsrat|
|Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1949-)||Bundestag||Bundesrat|
19th century until 1871
The French emperor Napoleon made the Emperor of Austria step down as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Some of the German countries were collected in the Confederation of the Rhine, which remained a military alliance under the "protection" of Napoleon rather than transforming into a confederation. In 1815, after the fall of Napoleon, the German states created a German Confederation with the Emperor of Austria as president. Some member states like Prussia and Austria had only a part of their territories inside the Confederation. Within the Confederation and in other territories belonging to member states lived some people who did not have German as their native tongue, for example Poles and Czechs. On the other hand, some German speaking populations lived outside the confederation.
When Hoffmann von Fallersleben in 1841 wrote the song Das Lied der Deutschen, he dreamt of a unified Germany (Deutschland über Alles) instead of the single states. Germany was still merely a geographical term.
In 1866/1867 Prussia and her allies left the confederation, made the confederation dissolute and created a state called North German Confederation. The remaining South German countries joined the new confederation in 1870, with the exception of Austria and Liechtenstein. Since then exists a state that is called the German nation state or simply Germany, although huge German speaking populations remained outside Germany.
German nation state 1871-1945
The official name of the German state became Deutsches Reich, linking itself to the former Reich before 1806. This expression was commonly used in official papers and also on maps, while in other contexts Deutschland was more frequently used.
The creation of a German nation state had as a consequence that some Germans lived inside of it and were called Reichsdeutsche, and others lived outside and were called Volksdeutsche (ethnical Germans). The latter expression referred mainly to the German speaking minorities in Eastern Europe. Germans living abroad (for example in America) were and are called Auslandsdeutsche.
After the forced abdication of the Emperor in 1918, Germany became the Weimar Republic, named after the city where the National Assembly gathered. The official name of the state remained the same. It became necessary to find a proper term for the Germany between 1871 and 1919: Kaiserliches Deutschland (Imperial Germany) or Deutsches Kaiserreich. English speaking people feel an unease to use the title German Empire for a republic, that made them call the republic German Reich.
In 1933, when Adolf Hitler was elected into power, the name of the state was still the same. For a couple of years Hitler used the expression Drittes Reich (Third Reich), which was introduced by conservative antidemocratic writers in the last years of the republic. In fact this was only a propaganda term and did not constitute a new state. Another propaganda term was Tausendjähriges Reich (Reich of thousand years). Later Hitler renounced the term Drittes Reich (officially in June 1939), but it already had become popular among supporters and opponents and is still used in historiography (sometimes in quotation marks). It led later to the name Zweites Reich (Second Empire) for Germany of 1871-1919.
The reign of Hitler is most commonly called in English Nazi Germany.
There are cases in which an uncertainty comes up whether to use German or Nazi. In the discussions a major role have arguments dealing with the question of the position of national socialism in Germany of the era 1933-1945. Talking about World War II, some find it unappropriate to say that the Germans decided to invade Yugoslavia or Germany murdered the Jews of Poland, as Germany was no democracy. The use of Nazi, such as in Nazi troops, can be confusing or incorrect considering that the German army itself was not national socialist, and that there were indeed troops of the party, especially the Waffen-SS. A wording considered by others as improper can cause the accusation of being apologetic.
Greater Germany and "Großdeutsches Reich"
In the 19th century the German politicians, for example in the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848/49, argued about the question what should become of Austria. In the Austrian Empire then lived not only German speaking people, but also Czechs (even on the territory considered part of the German Confederation), Hungarians and others. Including Austria (at least the German speaking parts) was called the Greater German Solution, a Germany without Austria the Smaller German Solution.
After 1871, the notion Germany did no longer include automatically Austria. In 1919 the Weimar Constitution postulated the inclusion of Deutsch-Österreich (the German speaking parts of Austria), but the Western Allies objected to this. This was granted only in 1938 to Hitler (Anschluss). The national socialist propaganda stated the realisation of Großdeutschland, and in 1943 the German Reich was renamed officially Großdeutsches Reich. However, these expressions never became common and popular.
In national socialist propaganda Austria has been called also Ostmark. After the Anschluss the previous parts of Germany were called Altreich (old Reich).
Germany divided 1945-1990
After the defeat in World War II, Germany was occupied by the troops of Britain, France, the United States and Soviet Union.
Berlin was a case of its own, as it was situated on the territory of the Soviet zone but divided into four sectors. The western sectors were later called West Berlin, the other one East Berlin. The communists tended to consider the Soviet sector of Berlin as a part of GDR; West Berlin was according to them an independent political unit.
The name Deutsches Reich was still in use for a couple of years; when in 1947 the Social Democrats gathered in Nuremberg, they called their rally Reichsparteitag. In many contexts people still called their country Germany, even after two German states were founded in 1949, for example when someone emigrated from Germany to Canada or a bicycle race went through Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
Federal Republic of Germany
The Federal Republic of Germany, Bundesrepublik Deutschland, established in 1949, saw itself as the same state founded in 1867/1871, only under a new name and with a new constitution. The expression Reich gave place to Bund, for example the Reichskanzler became the Bundeskanzler, reichsdeutsch became bundesdeutsch, Reichsbürger (citizen of the Reich) became Bundesbürger.
Germany as a whole was called Gesamtdeutschland, referring to Germany in the international borders of 1937 (before Hitler started to annex other countries). This could cause confusions internationally (all German, pan germanique, a chauvinist concept), and in 1969 the Federal Ministry for All German Affairs was renamed into Federal Ministry for Intra-German Relations.
Initially, there were several abbreviations for Bundesrepublik Deutschland, such as BRD and DBR (Deutsche Bundesrepublik). BRD was during the 1950s used without problems even in official papers. Later it was identified as a GDR propaganda term and consequently banned.
Until for about 1970, the other German state - communist German Democratic Republic - was called Sowjetische Besatzungszone (SBZ, Soviet Zone of Occupation), Sowjetzone, Ostzone, Mitteldeutschland or Pankow (the GDR government was in Berlin-Pankow).
The term Westdeutschland was relatively unusual, because it could mean not only the Federal Republic, but also specific regions in the West of the Federal Republic of Germany.
German Democratic Republic
The communists, protected by Soviet Union, established in 1949 a Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR, German Democratic Republic, GDR). This state was not considered to be a successor of the Reich, but, nevertheless, to represent all good Germans. Rulers and inhabitants of GDR called their state simply DDR or unsere Republik (our republic).
Until for about 1970, the GDR still supported the idea a German nation and the need of reunification. The Federal Republic was often called Westdeutschland or BRD. After 1970 the GDR called itself a socialist state of German nation.
Reunified Germany since 1990
In 1990 the re-established regional states of GDR joined the Federal Republic, and Germany was reunified. Keeping the official name of the Federal Republic of Germany, i.e. "Bundesrepublik Deutschland", the country was now being referred to more often simply as "Germany". "Westdeutschland" and "Ostdeutschland" are used more frequently to denote the western and the eastern part of the German territory:
- Westdeutschland is also called "alte Bundesrepublik", or "alte Bundesländer" (old regional states)
- Ostdeutschland is also called "neue Bundesländer" (new regional states) or "ehemalige DDR" (former GDR)
Although the formal reunification was officially completed on October 3, 1990, the "inner reunification" of the formerly divided country is still an ongoing process to this very day.