What was your last major political victory?

National Socialism and World War II

Reinhard Sturm

To person

born 1950, studied history, political science and English from 1971 to 1978 at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. In 1973/74 he worked for a year as a German Assistant at a school in England. After his preparatory service in Salzgitter from 1978 to 1980, he worked as a high school teacher in Göttingen until 1990, and since then in Hildesheim. Since 1990 he has been the director of studies and department head for history at the Hildesheim study seminar for future history teachers for teaching at grammar schools. He has published academic and didactic articles on the history of the labor movement, the Weimar Republic, National Socialism and German post-war history as well as history didactics.

Contact: »[email protected]«

The stock market crash on "Black Friday" in October 1929 hit Germany particularly hard after the USA. Mass unemployment and poverty led to the political radicalization of the population. A dense series of government crises weakened the republic even further - and drove the National Socialists to vote.

On the "Day of Potsdam" the new Chancellor Adolf Hitler reads out the Reichstag message. (& copy AP)

Economic crisis

On October 24, 1929, a dramatic fall in share prices began on the New York Stock Exchange ("Black Friday"). The cause was years of overinvestment in industry and thus an oversupply of goods with which demand had not kept pace. Due to the international financial and economic ties, the American crisis quickly expanded into the greatest crisis in the world economy in the 20th century. It by no means caused the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship in 1933, but it made it possible and accelerated it.

Data on the economic crisis in the Weimar Republic.
After the USA, the German Reich was hardest hit by the crisis. Despite a decline in demand, which had already been announced in 1928, the industry had still invested in 1929. This created overcapacities, especially since all industrialized countries soon raised the existing tariff barriers in the wake of the crisis. The oversupply of goods led to a reduction in production; Short-time work and layoffs as well as company failures were the result. From 1928 to 1931 the number of annual bankruptcies doubled. In the winter of 1929/30 there were already more than three million unemployed who were financially far less secure than they are today. A vicious circle arose of diminishing purchasing power, falling demand, falling production and further layoffs. In agriculture, many small and medium-sized farmers could no longer pay off their debts. There were foreclosures against which a desperate peasant protest was formed. As early as 1929, the Schleswig-Holstein "rural people movement" appeared through physical attacks on bailiffs and police officers as well as bomb attacks on government buildings.

Break of the grand coalition

Mass unemployment quickly overwhelmed the unemployment insurance funds. In the government there was a persistent, bitter coalition dispute over the solution to the problem, which was only briefly interrupted by the joint adoption of the Young Plan on March 12th. In essence, the question was: Should the contributions from employers and employees be increased, or should the benefits for the unemployed be reduced? The industry-oriented DVP wanted to avoid additional costs for employers as a result of increased contributions. The SPD workers' party refused to cut unemployment benefits, which were already low.

After several unsuccessful solutions, the center parliamentary group leader Heinrich Brüning finally submitted a compromise proposal on March 27, 1930, which temporarily postponed the main decision - increase in contributions or reductions in benefits. The DVP agreed, while the SPD refused, because they saw the substance of the welfare state in jeopardy with the unemployment insurance. On March 27, 1930, the only thing left for the Müller cabinet was to resign.

Apparently the grand coalition was broken because of the immobility of the SPD in an in and of itself resolvable issue. However, when Hindenburg appointed the new Chancellor - namely Heinrich Brüning - just three days later, without the usual coalition negotiations, the conclusion was that the break of the grand coalition was based on long-term planning, which the SPD had, however, accommodated with its uncompromising attitude. Your previous coalition partners must have been inaugurated, because Brüning only replaced the three SPD ministers with representatives of small conservative parties and the moderate wing of the German Nationalists, which split off from the DNVP at the end of July as the "Conservative People's Party" (KVP). The willingness of the DDP to work in the Brüning cabinet and soon afterwards its merger with the anti-Semitic "Young German Order" to form the "German State Party" in July 1930 revealed the right-wing trend among left-wing liberals as well.

Transition to the presidential regime

The Briining government did not have a majority. How the Chancellor intended to enforce his policy anyway, he informed the Reichstag on April 1, 1930 in his government statement: His cabinet - so loud Hindenburg's mandate - was "not tied to a coalition" and would be "the last attempt to find a solution with it To carry out the Reichstag ". Accordingly, the new government wanted to work without and against parliament if necessary, with the help of the power of the Reich President: emergency ordinances under Article 48 WV and dissolution of the Reichstag under Article 25 WV. It saw itself as the "Presidential Cabinet" or the "Hindenburg Government".

Besides Hindenburg, his advisers Schleicher and Meissner and - besides Brüning - the parliamentary group leaders in the Reichstag, Ernst Scholz (DVP) and Count Westarp (DNVP), were involved in the explorations and planning for this authoritarian mode of government, which is not provided for in the constitution. According to his memoirs, Brüning learned from Schleicher shortly after Easter 1929 that the Reich President saw the danger "that the whole of domestic and foreign policy would run its course". He therefore wanted "to send Parliament home for a while at the given moment and during this time to put the matter in order with the help of Article 48". Briining also reports that Schleicher and he had agreed at the time on the goal of reintroducing the monarchy; however, some historians consider this to be an afterthought of self-stylization.

According to Meissner's recollections, at the end of December 1929, Hindenburg had Brüning informed that he should make himself available for the office of Reich Chancellor. The respected conservative was seen by the Reich President as a figure of integration that could possibly even be placed with the SPD. From the notes of Count Westarp of January 15, 1930, Hindenburg's guidelines for the Brüning government emerge: "a) anti-parliamentary, i.e. without coalition negotiations and agreements, b) anti-Marxist [...]" (i.e. without the SPD); "c) Change in Prussia [...]" with the help of the center - the Weimar coalition ruling in Prussia should also be broken up.

In parallel to these plans, business circles increasingly exerted influence on the industry-related DVP under its chairman Ernst Scholz in order to achieve its exit from the grand coalition. In December 1929 the Reichsverband der Deutschen Industrie (RDI) demanded in a memorandum with the title "Rise or decline?" Tax relief for entrepreneurs, abolition of compulsory arbitration, reduction of government expenditure and reform of unemployment insurance through "savings measures, but not through increased contributions". The DVP adopted this anti-SPD and anti-union course. On February 5, 1930, Erich von Gilsa, a member of the DVP, wrote to Paul Reusch, chairman of the Association of German Steel Manufacturers, in confidence that Scholz wanted to "consciously work towards a break with social democracy".

The break of the grand coalition thus occurred in the interplay of influential representatives of authoritarian political - if not monarchist - aspirations and economic interests. Against this background, Brüning's mediation proposal of March 27, 1930 appears in a different light: the future Chancellor intended the grand coalition "to be put to shame in public because of the uncompromising nature of the SPD and not because of the intransigence of the upcoming coalition partner DVP" (Volker Hentschel ).

Dissolution of the Reichstag

The first bills from the new government - financial aid for large-scale agriculture in the East Elbe, tax increases to cover the Reich budget in 1930 - were passed by the Reichstag with a narrow majority. As unemployment continued to rise, the government passed an additional cover proposal in June: reform of unemployment insurance by increasing contributions to 4.5 percent (which the DVP has now also approved) and cuts in benefits; Single tax; Emergency sacrifices for civil servants and employees; uniform poll tax. When the Reichstag rejected parts of this socially unbalanced program on July 16, Brüning put the entire bill into force in the form of two emergency ordinances by the Reich President under Article 48, Paragraph 2 of the WV.

The years 1930-1933: power mechanism of the presidential governments.
The conversion of a bill rejected by the Reichstag into an emergency ordinance was clearly unconstitutional. The request of the SPD parliamentary group on July 18 to repeal Brüning's emergency ordinances in accordance with Article 48, Paragraph 3 of the WV was therefore accepted by parliament with a large majority (in the case of a split DNVP). Immediately afterwards, the Reich President dissolved the Reichstag in accordance with Article 25 WV. The emergency ordinances were reinstated in an even more stringent version. Until the new election after 60 days, it was now possible to govern with emergency regulations.

Election victory of the NSDAP

The Reichstag election of September 14, 1930, in which 82 percent of the electorate voted, ended in a catastrophe for democracy. The NSDAP, still a splinter party in 1928 with 2.6 percent and twelve seats, achieved 18.3 percent, increased the number of its seats almost ninefold and, with 107 members, was the second largest parliamentary group (behind the SPD, ahead of the KPD). The SPD recorded considerable losses, the KPD strong gains; The center and BVP registered a slight increase. The proportion of "others", that is, the small parties, also increased somewhat. In contrast, the DDP and DVP suffered heavy losses; the DNVP's share of the vote was even halved. Although the type and extent of electoral migration at the time cannot be precisely determined, it can be concluded that predominantly Protestant national-conservative and liberal middle and upper-class voters migrated to the NSDAP. Apparently, Hitler's party was particularly well received by the middle classes ("old" and "new middle class"). It had also benefited more than other parties from the seven percent increase in voter turnout, that is, it won young voters and previous non-voters.

The social composition of the membership of the NSDAP corresponded to this: workers formed the strongest individual group, but were clearly underrepresented in comparison to their share of the employed, while the various middle classes had a disproportionately high share. The NSDAP also attracted the younger generation in particular: the average age of its 130,000 members and functionaries in 1930 was considerably lower than that of the other parties.

The election results of September 14, 1930 reflected the material and psychological effects of the global economic crisis. The unemployment rate has been over 14 percent since the beginning of the year; Behind this number hid the fate of more than three million poorly cared for workers and their families. The result was political polarization: some unemployed workers voted Communist for the first time. The "old middle class" on the other hand, which felt the falling purchasing power of its customers, was once again threatened by impoverishment and social decline after 1923. He reacted with a radicalization to the right to the NSDAP. The same applies to the "new medium-sized companies".

Because Hitler's party was the only one politically unspent - its credibility and competence had not yet had to pass a test. In its program and propaganda, it responded more skilfully than any other party to the special needs and needs of the property-oriented, "class-conscious" middle classes. Corresponding to the double front position of the old middle class against KPD / SPD / trade unions on the one hand and banks / industry / department stores on the other hand, the political statements of the "National Socialist German Workers' Party" contained both anti-Marxist and anti-capitalist elements. Its limited anti-capitalism was - unlike the Marxist - acceptable to the middle classes because "the NSDAP stands on the ground of private property," as Hitler publicly made clear in 1928. It was not directed against "creating", as it was called in the Nazi ideology, but only against "collecting capital", that is, against banks (too high credit rates, too low interest rates for savings), stock exchanges (unpredictable opportunities for profit and the risk of loss) ) and department stores (threatening competition). The Nazi propaganda claimed that the "ruffing capital" hid the machinations of "international financial Jewry". As a result, anti-capitalism was integrated into the Nazi racial ideology and directed against the Jews as scapegoats. But also "Marxism" (that is, organizations and politics of the communist and social democratic workers) and the Weimar Republic that emerged from the "stab in the back" were considered shameful Jewish works by the National Socialists. Anyone who wants to avert internal and external threats to the state, society and the economy must fight the Jews - that was, in summary, the political message of the NSDAP. Because of its simplicity and catchiness, it fell on fertile ground in Germany - one of the countries with a long anti-Judaist and anti-Semitic tradition - under the conditions of the unresolved war defeat and the effects of the global economic crisis.
Who were the members of the NSDAP before 1933? Overview of the social structure of the party.


Policy of exacerbation of the crisis

The fact that the KPD now had 77 and the NSDAP 107 seats in the Reichstag had serious economic consequences. Foreign investors, especially the American and French banks already suffering from the crisis and who feared for the political stability of the Weimar Republic, began to withdraw their short-term loans. This worsened the economic crisis in Germany; unemployment continued to rise. An attempt by Brüning to persuade the National Socialists to tolerate his policies and thus obtain a parliamentary majority failed because of Hitler's will to power. However, the NSDAP leader had learned from his failed attempt to putsch in Munich in 1923: As a summoned witness in a Leipzig Reich court trial in which three young officers were accused of National Socialist activities in the Reichswehr, he declared under oath on September 25, 1930 that he was fighting his movement "not by illegal means"; but "two or three more elections", then she will "sit in the majority" and "shape the state the way we want it".

Tolerance policy of the SPD

The opposition SPD got into a dilemma as a result of the election result. If they continued to fight Brüning's authoritarian and anti-social policies, there was a risk of a renewed dissolution and re-election of the Reichstag. The NSDAP was able to become so strong that Hindenburg would appoint Hitler as Reich Chancellor. But what a Nazi government had to mean was already shown by the example of fascism in Italy: a quick end to democracy and the rule of law, the left-wing parties and the trade unions. Against this background, the SPD decided to tolerate Brüning as the lesser evil. "She did not say 'yes' to his legislative proposals and did not say 'no' when it was issued as an emergency ordinance." (Volker Hentschel) In the eyes of the public, it was soon seen as part of the "Brüning Block", which extended from the center to the moderate part of the DNVP, but did not have a majority. Since the SPD was unable to implement social democratic policies or to distinguish itself as a political alternative, its members and voters became increasingly dissatisfied. Parliament's reputation continued to decline. Not only did it in fact lose its democratic control over the government, it also became increasingly inoperable as the center of legislation. The presidential regime increasingly resorted to emergency ordinances, the Reichstag met less and less. This erosion of parliamentarism made it much easier for the NSDAP to establish a dictatorship in 1933.

Deflation Policy and Mass Unemployment

The Brüning government increased direct taxes (on wages, income and sales), but especially indirect ones (mass consumption taxes, including on sugar, tobacco and beer). It cut the state social spending and cut wages and salaries in the public service (with the exception of the Reichswehr).In this way, Brüning wanted to intercept the crisis-related decline in tax revenue, keep state income and expenditure in balance and skim off the purchasing power that was becoming excess in the course of the decline in production. This "deflation policy" was aimed primarily at securing monetary stability, which not only corresponded to the rules of the Young Plan, but - after the traumatic experience of inflation in 1923 - also corresponded to the interests of the population.

However, the deflationary policy was not a means of countering the crisis, it actually made it worse. For by cutting government spending and lowering private incomes, purchasing power decreased; as a result, production fell even further, while unemployment rose rapidly. The longer the crisis lasted, the more unemployed people fell out of unemployment insurance with their modest benefits staggered according to wage classes after 26 weeks at the latest, than after 39 weeks over 40 years of age. After that, they received significantly lower (means-related) benefits from crisis relief for up to 39 or 52 weeks; Finally, even tighter (repayable) grants from municipal welfare support. Of the 4.7 million unemployed in the spring of 1931, 43 percent received unemployment benefits, 21 percent crisis relief and 23 percent welfare benefits. The other 13 percent received no support at all. In contrast, large-scale agriculture in the East Elbe continued to be subsidized at Hindenburg's request.

In the course of 1931, two decisive events led to a further deterioration in the economic situation. First of all, on May 18, the plan for a German-Austrian customs union, which would have been economically advantageous for both countries, failed, mainly because of the objection from France. As a result, foreign investors called back numerous due loans instead of extending them. Many banks in both countries got into trouble, especially as panicked savers wanted to withdraw their deposits. On July 13, a well-known major bank, the "Darmstädter und Nationalbank", stopped its payments.

The German banks were closed for two days; the empire had to support them with a billion RM. Bank customers could only dispose of their credit to a limited extent; the shortage of capital in companies worsened. Since the banking crisis harbored unforeseeable dangers, the American President Herbert Hoover managed to suspend the German reparations payments to the victorious powers and also the repayment of the Allied war debts to the USA for a year from July 6, 1931 ("Hoover Moratorium") to relieve the countries concerned.

Great Britain then decoupled the pound sterling from the gold standard on September 21, devaluing it by 20 percent. By making its goods cheaper on the world market, the country wanted to promote its exports and stimulate the labor market. Numerous countries followed suit; the international monetary system with fixed exchange rates based on the price of gold collapsed. The value of the Reichsmark rose; German products became more expensive on the world market; foreign demand fell. Brüning reacted to this with a further tightening of the deflation policy: By means of an emergency decree of October 6, 1931, he reduced the receipt of unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks. On December 8th, he decreed general wage, rent, interest and price cuts in order to offset the competitive disadvantages of the German economy. However, this anti-market measure only created uncertainty among manufacturers and consumers; domestic demand continued to decline.

The banking crisis, the devaluation of the pound and deflationary emergency decrees caused a further rise in unemployment. On average in 1932 there were 5.6 million registered unemployed (29.9 percent). At the end of February the number of "visible" unemployed was 6.1 million; If one adds an estimated 1.5 million "invisible" people (people who did not report out of shame about their poverty), then 7.6 million job seekers can actually be assumed.