Life in Hitler’s Germany

In this paper we will consider certain aspects of life under the authoritarian regime of Hitler’s Germany, from his coming to power in 1933 until the outbreak of war in 1939. It has often been said that if Hitler had died in 1939 (rather than 1945) then he would be remembered now as one who brought blessing to Germany rather than a curse. This essay will examine that claim in four broad areas of study: first, the Nazi economic solutions, (in terms of its construction and industrial production, its work and rearmament programmes); second, the social impact of Nazism on social classes and the role and status of women; third, its racial solution, citizenship and the treatment of minorities (particularly the persecution of the Jews); and fourthly, its ideological solution: Nazism and Nazi beliefs, the role of the ‘leader’, the ‘master race’, in the context of religious belief and attitudes. In this way, a broad picture of Nazi Germany can be drawn and analysed.

1. Nazi Economic Solutions: Did Hitler wrought an economic miracle?
Without any uncertainty, Hitler oversaw one of the greatest expansions of industrial production and civil improvement Germany had ever seen, mostly based on debt flotation and expansion of the military. The unemployment rate was cut substantially, mostly through arms production and sending women home so that men could take their jobs. Given this, claims that the German economy achieved near full employment are at least partly artifacts of propaganda from the era. Much of the financing for Hitler’s reconstruction and rearmament came from currency manipulation by Hjalmar Schacht, including the clouded credits through the Mefo bills.
Hitler also oversaw one of the largest infrastructure-improvement campaigns in German history, with the construction of dozens of dams, autobahns, railroads, and other civil works. This revitalising of industry and infrastructure came at the expense of the overall standard of living, at least for those not affected by the chronic unemployment of the later Weimar Republic, since wages were slightly reduced in pre-World War II years, despite a 25% increase in the cost of living. Labourers and farmers, the traditional voters of the NSDAP, however, saw an increase in their standard of living.
Hitler’s government sponsored architecture on an immense scale, with Albert Speer becoming famous as the first architect of the Reich. Although Hitler made plans for a Breitspurbahn (broad gauge railroad network), they were preempted by World War II. Had the railroad been built, its gauge would have been three metres, even wider than the old Great Western Railway of Britain. Hitler contributed slightly to the design of the car that later became the Volkswagen Beetle and charged Ferdinand Porsche with its design and construction. Production was also deferred because of the war.
An important historical debate about Hitler’s economic policies concerns the “modernization” debate. Historians such as David Schoenbaum and Henry Ashby Turner have argued that social and economic polices under Hitler were modernization carried out in pursuit of anti-modern goals. Other group of historians centered around Rainer Zitelmann have contended that Hitler had a delibrate strategy of pursuing a revolutionary modernization of German society.
Germany’s economy was in a mess when Hitler was elected Chancellor in January 1933. Hitler and Nazi propaganda had played on the population’s fear of no hope. Unemployment peaked at 6 million during the final days of the Weimar Republic – near enough 50% of the nation’s working population. Now Hitler decreed that all should work in Nazi Germany and he constantly played on the economic miracle Nazi Germany achieved.
This “economic miracle” was based on unemployment all but disappearing by 1939. 6 million in January 1933 down to 302,000 in January 1939. But was this true or did the Nazi propaganda machine simply create an untrue picture to persuade the nation and Europe that she had achieved something that other European nations had not during the time of economic depression?
A number of policies were introduced which caused the unemployment figures to drop. Women were no longer included in the statistics so any women who remained out of work under the Nazi’s rule did not exist as far as the statistics were concerned. The unemployed were given a very simple choice: do whatever work is given to you by the government or be classed as “work-shy” and put in a concentration camp.Jews lost their citizenship in 1935 and as a result were not included in unemployment figures even though many lost their employment at the start of Hitler’s time in power. Many young men were taken off of the unemployment figure when conscription was brought in (1935) and men had to do their time in the army etc. By 1939, the army was 1.4 million strong. To equip these men with weapons etc., factories were built and this took even more off of the unemployment figure.
With these measures in place the unemployment figure had to fall drastically and many have seen the Nazi figures as nothing more than a book-keeping trick. However, many would have been too scared to speak out against the Nazis or pass negative comments on the published figures – such was the fear of the Gestapo.
However, there is no doubt that some new work projects were created. The Nazis introduced public work schemes for men who worked in the National Labour Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst or RAD). Their work would have included digging ditches on farms to assist irrigation, building the new autobahns, planting new forests etc. The men of the RAD wore a military style uniform, lived in camps near to where they were working and received only what we would term pocket money. However, compared to the lack of success of the Weimar government and the chronic misery of 1931 to 1932, these men felt that at least the Nazi government was making the effort to improve their lot.
To ‘protect’ those in work, the German Labour Front was set up. This was lead by Robert Ley. The GLF took the role of trade unions which had been banned. To an extent, the GLF did this. Ley ordered that workers could not be sacked on the spot but he also ordered that a worker could not leave his job without the government’s permission. Only government labour exchanges could arrange for a new job if someone did leave his employment. However, the GLF increased the number of hours worked from 60 to 72 per week (including overtime) by 1939. Strikes were outlawed. The average factory worker was earning 10 times more than those on dole money and few complained – though to do so was fraught with potential difficulties. The leisure time of the workers was also taken care of. An organisation called “Kraft durch Freude” (KdF) took care of this. Ley and the KdF worked out that each worker had 3,740 hours per year free for pursuing leisure activities – which the state would provide. Cheap holidays and the offer of them was a good way to win the support of the average person in the street. A cruise to the Canary Islands cost 62 marks – easily affordable to many though most cruises were taken up by Nazi Party officials. Walking and skiing holidays in the Bavarian Alps cost 28 marks. A two-week tour of Italy cost 155 marks.
The KdF also involved itself in introducing a scheme whereby the workers could get a car. The Volkswagen – People’s Car – was designed so that most could afford it. The Beetle, designed by Ferdinand Porsche, cost 990 marks. This was about 35 weeks wages for the average worker. To pay for one, workers went on a hire purchase scheme. They paid 5 marks a week into an account.
Theoretically, when the account had reached 750 marks the worker would be given an order number which would lead to them receiving a car. In fact, no-one received a car. The millions of marks invested into the scheme were re-directed into the rapidly expanding weapons factories. This accelerated as World War Two approached. No-one complained as to do so could lead to serious trouble with the secret police.
The Minister of the Economy, Hjalmar Schacht, introduced his “New Plan” which was intended to reduce imports, reduce unemployment, channel government spending into a wide range of industries and make trade agreements with other nations. Hermann Goering also wanted Germany to become self-sufficient in all industries so that as a nation she could survive a war. These plans cannot be said to be successful, since by 1939, Germany still imported 33% of its required raw materials. |In addition, Government income had been 10 billion Reichsmarks in 1928. In 1939, it stood at 15 billion. However, government spending had increased from 12 billion Reichsmarks in 1928 to over 30 billion in 1939 – a difference of 15 billion Reichsmarks. From 1933 to 1939, the Nazi government always spent more than it earned so that by 1939, government debt stood at over 40 billion Resichsmarks. The balance of trade figures had gone into the red by 1939 by 0.1 billion Reichsmarks.
On the other hand, as noted, unemployment had fallen from 6 million in 1933 to 300,000 by 1939 and industrial production in 1939 was above the figure for Weimar Germany before the 1929 Wall Street Crash. Annual food consumption in 1937 had fallen for wheat bread, meat, bacon, milk, eggs, fish vegetables, sugar, tropical fruit and beer compared to the 1927 figures. The only increase was in rye bread, cheese and potatoes. Real earnings in 1938 were all but the same as the 1928 figure. So the question still stands: Did the Nazis produce an economic miracle for Germany? The answer must be –to an extent- that the so –called economic miracle was a propaganda myth, a book-keeping fraud, developed to bolster the image of the Nazi party.
When Nazi Germany openly started re-armament in 1935, few should have been surprised as Hitler had made it very clear both in his speeches and in “Mein Kampf” that he would break the “unjust” terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
Hitler had made it plain what the basis of his foreign policy would be. He had clearly stated that he would : undo what had been imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles re-unite all Germans into one nation re-arm Germany “Mein Kampf” also clearly stated what he thought of east Europeans and the Jews. Both groups were the “untermenschen” – the sub-humans of Europe who had no place in the Europe Hitler dreamed of. Eastern Europe, in the mind of Hitler, would be where Germans would find the space to live – lebensraum – where they would use the land in a modern and productive manner, thus fulfilling the belief that Hitler held that all good Germans would work off the land and produce the food that the state would need.
Hitler saw Nazi Germany as being at the centre of Europe and as the great power of Europe, the nation needed a strong military. Throughout the 1920’s, Germany had been technically keeping to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles but in reality she had been bending the rules regarding training. Versialles had not stated that Germany could not train submarine crews abroad or that pilots for the banned German Air Force could train on civilian planes. Therefore, on paper Hitler inherited a weak military but this was not in reality the case. However, Hitler knew that publicly Nazi Germany was still seen within Europe as being held to the terms of Versailles and he was determined to openly break these terms and re-assert Germany’s right to control its own military.
In 1933, Hitler ordered his army generals to prepare to treble the size of the army to 300,000 men. He ordered the Air Ministry to plan to build 1,000 war planes. Military buildings such as barracks were built. He withdrew from the Geneva Disarmament Conference when the French refused to accept his plan that the French should disarm to the level of the Germans or that the Germans should re-arm to the level of the French. Either way, the two main powers of Europe would be balanced. Hitler knew that the French would not accept his plan and therefore when he withdrew from the conference, he was seen by some as the politician who had a more realistic approach to foreign policy and the French were seen as the nation that had caused Nazi Germany to withdraw.
For two years, the German military expanded in secret. By March 1935, Hitler felt strong enough to go public on Nazi Germany’s military expansion – which broke the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Europe learned that the Nazis had 2,500 war planes in its Luftwaffe and an army of 300,000 men in its Wehrmacht. Hitler felt confident enough to publicly announce that there would be compulsory military conscription in Nazi Germany and that the army would be increased to 550,000 men.
Essentially, the French and British did nothing in reaction to this treaty violation. Britain was still recovering from the Depression which had devastated her economy. She could not afford a conflict. The French preferred a defensive policy against a potential German threat and she spent time and money building the vast Maginot Line – a series of huge fortifications on the French and German border. The most Britain, France and Italy did (at this time, Italy did not view German as a potential ally as the above was pre-Abyssinia) was to form the Stresa Front which issued a protest against Hitler’s rearmament policy but did nothing else.
It seemed that Britain was even supporting Germany’s breaking of the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty had clearly stated what Germany’s navy should be – no submarines and only six warships over 10,000 tons. However, in June 1935 the Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed which allowed Germany to have one third of the tonnage of the British navy’s surface fleet and an equal tonnage of submarines. If this agreement served any purpose it was to confuse the British public. Only two months earlier, Britain had signed the Stresa Front which had condemned Germany’s military build up, but now, Britain was agreeing that Germany could do exactly what Britain had condemned.

2. The social impact of Nazism on social classes; the role and status of women
Women in Nazi Germany were to have a very specific role: they should be good mothers bringing up children at home while their husbands worked. Outside of certain specialist fields, Hitler saw no reason why a woman should ever work. Education taught girls from the earliest of years that this was the lifestyle they should have. From their earliest years, girls were taught in their schools that all good German women married at a young age to a proper German and that the wife’s task was to keep a decent home for her working husband and to have many children. One of the earliest laws passed by Hitler once he came to power in 1933, was the Law for the Encouragement of Marriage. This law stated that all newly married couples would get a government loan of 1000 marks which was about 9 months average income. 800,000 newly weds took up this offer. This loan was not to be simply paid back. The birth of one child meant that 25% of the loan did not have to be paid back. Two children meant that 50% of the loan need not be paid back. Four children meant that the entire loan was cleared. The aim of the law was very simple – to encourage newly weds to have as many children as they could. There was also a more long term and sinister aspect to this : as Germany grew she would need more soldiers and mothers; hence a booming population was needed with young boys being groomed into being soldiers and young girls being groomed into being young mothers. If “lebensraum” was to be carried out, Hitler needed the population to fill the spaces gained in the eastern Europe. This attitude of deliberately boosting your nation’s population was finding favour in post-war western Europe and not just in Nazi Germany. France, in particular, feared that its population was falling too quickly and banned abortions and contraception.
Such was the desire to increase the German population that in 1943, a law was discussed among Nazi leaders that all women – married or single – should have 4 children and that the fathers of these children had to be “racially pure”. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, was particularly keen on this idea. If a family already had four children, the father from that family had to be released to father more children outside of his marriage. This law never came into being as even the Nazi leaders realised that this law would create social anarchy.
Women were not expected to work in Nazi Germany . In Weimar Germany there had been 100,000 female teachers, 3000 female doctors and 13,000 female musicians. Within months of Hitler coming to power, many female doctors and civil servants were sacked. This was followed by female teachers and lawyers. By the start of the Second World War, very few German women were in fulltime work. However, such was the skills shortage in Germany, that in 1937 a law was passed which meant women had to do a “Duty Year”. This meant that they could work ‘patriotically’ in a factory etc. to help the Nazi’s “Economic Miracle”. The marriage loan was also abolished in this year. Consequently, the concept of women being limited to family concerns was ignored by the Nazi authorities because of the overriding concerns of war and munitions.
But until 1939, as housewives and mothers, German womens’ lives were rigorously controlled. Women were not expected to wear make-up or trousers. The dyeing of hair was not allowed nor were perms. Only flat shoes were expected to be worn. Women were discouraged from slimming as this was considered bad for child birth. Women were encouraged to have a well built figure as slim women, so it was taught, would have problems in pregnancy. Women were also discouraged from smoking – not because it was linked to problems with pregnancies – but because it was considered non-German to do so. August 12th had been the birthday of Hitler’s mother. On this day each year, the Motherhood Cross was awarded to women who had given birth to the largest number of children. The gold cross went to women who had produced 8 children; silver was for 6 children and bronze was for 4 children.
In Nazi Germany, it was not considered a social problem if an unmarried woman had a child. In fact it was increasingly encouraged. The Nazis established Lebensborns which were buildings where selected unmarried women could go to get pregnant by a “racially pure” SS man. These were not buildings that were hidden away in some back street. The government openly publicised them and they had a white flag with a red dot in the middle to identify them to the public.
A common rhyme for women then was:

Take hold of kettle, broom and pan,
Then you’ll surely get a man!
Shop and office leave alone,
Your true life work lies at home.

In 1935 Hitler said: “In the Germanic nations there has never been anything else than equality of rights for women. Both sexes have their rights, their tasks, and these tasks are in the case of each equal in dignity and value, and therefore man and woman are on an equality…” However, Joseph Goebbels, writing in 1929 had explained what this meant in actuality: “The mission of women is to be beautiful and to bring children into the world. This is not at all as………unmodern as it sounds. The female bird pretties herself for her mate and hatches eggs for him. In exchange, the male takes care of gathering food, and stands guard and wards off the enemy.”
3. The racial solution of Nazi Germany: Racism, citizenship and the treatment of minorities; the persecution of the Jews

The Jews in Nazi Germany suffered appallingly after January 1933.Some rich Jews could afford to leave Nazi Germany (or were forced to) but many could not. Thugs in the SA and SS were given a free hand in their treatment of the Jews. The Jews were frequently referred to in “Mein Kampf” where Hitler had made his hatred plain. References to the “filthy Jew” litter the book. In one section, Hitler wrote about how the Jews planned to “contaminate” the blood of pure Germans: “The Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end…….spying on the unsuspicious German girl he plans to seduce……….He wants to contaminate her blood and remove her from the bosom of her own people. The Jew hates the white race and wants to lower its cultural level so that the Jews might dominate.” “Was there any form of filth or crime…without at least one Jew involved in it. If you cut even cautiously into such a sore, you find like a maggot in a rotting body, often dazzled by the sudden light – a Jew.” In 1920, Hitler announced to the very small Nazi Party the Five Points of National Socialism. One of these stated: “None but members of the nation may be citizens of the State. None but those of German blood may be members of the nation. No Jew, therefore, may be a member of the nation.”

Early on in his political career, Hitler continued with his anti-Semitism: “His is no master people; he is an exploiter: the Jews are a people of robbers. He has never founded any civilisation, though he has destroyed civilisations by the hundred…everything he has stolen. Foreign people, foreign workmen build him his temples, it is foreigners who create and work for him, it is foreigners who shed their blood for him.” (Speech given in Munich in July 1922).
From 1933, now in power, Hitler used his position to launch a campaign against the Jews that culminated in the Holocaust. Hitler blamed the Jews for all the misfortunes that had befallen Germany: the loss of the First World War was the result of a Jewish conspiracy; the Treaty of Versailles was also a Jewish conspiracy designed to bring Germany to her knees; the hyperinflation of 1923 was the result of an international Jewish attempt to destroy Germany.
During the time when Weimar Germany was seemingly recovering under Streseman, what Hitler said about the Jews remained nonsense listened to by only the few – hence his poor showing at elections prior to the 1929 Depression. During the impact of the Great Depression, though, when people became unemployed and all looked helpless, Hitler’s search for a scapegoat proved a lot more fruitful. After January 1933, the Jews became the “Untermenschen” – the sub-humans. Nazi thugs stopped Germans from shopping in Jewish shops. By 1934, all Jewish shops were marked with the yellow Star of David or had the word “Juden” written on the window. SA men stood outside the shops to deter anyone form entering. This was not necessarily a violent approach to the Jews – that was to come later – but it was an attempt to economically bankrupt them and destroy what they had spent years building up.
On buses, trains and park benches, Jews had to sit on seats marked for them. Children at schools were taught specifically anti-Semitic ideas. Jewish school children were openly ridiculed by teachers and the bullying of Jews in the playground by other pupils went unpunished. If the Jewish children responded by not wanting to go to school, then that served a purpose in itself and it also gave the Nazi propagandists a reason to peddle the lie that Jewish children were inherently lazy and could not be bothered to go to school.
In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed. The Jews lost their right to be German citizens and marriage between Jews and non-Jews was forbidden. It was after this law that the violence against the Jew started openly. Those that could pay a fine were allowed to leave the country. Many could not and many shops refused to sell food to those who remained. Medicines were also difficult to get hold of as chemists would not sell to Jews. The campaign against the Jews stopped for a short duration during the Berlin Olympics – but once the overseas press had gone, it started up again. It reached a pre-war peak in 1938 with Krystalnacht – The Night of the Broken Glass.
In November 1938, a Nazi ‘diplomat’ was shot dead by a Jew in Paris. Hitler ordered a seven day campaign of terror against the Jews in Germany to be organised by Himmler and the SS. On the 10th November, the campaign started. 10,000 shops owned by Jews were destroyed and their contents stolen. Homes and synagogues were set on fire and left to burn. The fire brigades showed their loyalty to Hitler by assuming that the buildings would burn down anyway, so why try to prevent it? A huge amount of damage was done to Jewish property but the Jewish community was ordered to pay a one billion mark fine to pay for the eventual clear-up. Jews were forced to scrub the streets clean.

4. The Ideological solution: Nazism and Nazi beliefs; the role of the leader, the “master race”, religious belief and attitudes

The Church in Nazi Germany was subjected to as much pressure as any other organisation in Germany. Any perceived threat to Hitler could not be tolerated – and the churches of Germany potentially presented the Nazis with numerous threats.
In 1933, the Catholic Church had viewed the Nazis as a barrier to the spread of communism from Russia. In this year, Hitler and the Catholic Church signed an agreement that he would not interfere with the Catholic Church while the Church would not comment on politics. However, this only lasted until 1937, when Hitler started a concerted attack on the Catholic Church arresting priests etc. In 1937, the pope, Pius XI, issued his “Mit brennender Sorge” statement (“With burning anxiety”) over what was going on in Germany. However, there was never a total clampdown on the Catholic Church in Germany.
The Protestant Church was really a collection of a number of churches – hence they were easier to deal with. The Protestants themselves were split. The “German Christians” were lead by Ludwig Muller who believed that any member of the church who had Jewish ancestry should be sacked from the church. Muller supported Hitler and in 1933 he was given the title of “Reich Bishop”.Those who opposed the views of Muller were called the “Confessional Church”. This was led by Martin Niemoller. He was famous in Germany as he had been a World War One U-boat captain. Therefore, he was potentially an embarrassing foe to the Nazis. Regardless of this, he was not safe from the Gestapo who arrested him for opposing Hitler. Niemoller was sent to a concentration camp for 7 years where he was kept in solitary confinement. Many other Confessional Church members suffered the same fate.
In 1936, the Reich Church was created. This did not have the Christian cross as its symbol but the swastika. The Bible was replaced by “Mein Kampf” which was placed on the altar. By it was a sword. Only invited Nazis were allowed to give sermons in a Reich Church.
In 1941, a secret report compiled by Protestants stated that children in Germany were being brought up minus a Christian education. It stated that the Nazis confiscated vast areas of church property and that the Catholic Church in Germany was suffering from the same fate.

7 Responses to Life in Hitler’s Germany

  1. johnny says:

    ox3t0K Thanks for good post

  2. ken baker says:

    Thank you so much
    Am enjoying yours too, though it may take a little time to respond to all of them!

  3. I’m sure you’ll leave some great comments as soon as you get chance.
    On the topic of this article, comparisons could be drawn with Stalin’s dekulakisation. As we’ve touched on before, was this part of an elaborate attempt to cover up his rural background? Debatable. But Hitler is rumoured to have been of some sort of Jewish descent. Jews being a race Hitler loathed, much like Stalin and the Kulaks. Could Hitler’s anti-Semitism have had anything to do with his supposedly Jewish background? Obviously this comment doesn’t touch on all of the other factors leading to Hitler’s anti-Semitism.
    Finally, is this an area of history with which you are particularly familiar, out of interest?

  4. Ken Baker says:

    Actually, my PhD studies were in Ancient History (!) but A Level tuition in UK takes me much more in twentieth century stuff including Adolf (Portrait of a Sadist as a Young Man?)

  5. I’m interested where you have gathered your information from?

  6. Sal says:

    Great article. Thanks!

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