The National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), more commonly known as the Nazi Party, was a political party in Germany between 1920 and 1945.
The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – abbreviated NSDAP), commonly referred to as the Nazi Party, was a far-right political party in Germany that was active between 1920 and 1945, that created and supported the ideology of National Socialism
In 1919, Anton Drexler, Gottfried Feder and Dietrich Eckart formed the German Worker’s Party (GPW) in Munich. Drexler, an avid German nationalist, was a locksmith who had been a member of the militarist Fatherland Party during World War I and was bitterly opposed to the armistice of November 1918 and the revolutionary upheavals that followed. Drexler followed the views of militant nationalists of the day, such as opposing the Treaty of Versailles, having anti-Semitic, anti-monarchist and anti-Marxist views, as well as believing in the superiority of Germans whom they claimed to be part of the Aryan “master race“ (Herrenvolk). He also believed international capitalism was dominated by the Jews and denounced capitalists for war profiteering in World War I. Drexler saw the political violence and instability in Germany as the result of the Weimar Republic being out-of-touch with the masses, especially the lower classes. Drexler emphasized the need for a synthesis of völkisch nationalism with a form of economic socialism to create a popular nationalist-oriented workers’ movement that could challenge the rise of Communism and internationalist politics
The German Army was worried that it was a left-wing revolutionary group and sent Adolf Hitler, one of its education officers, to spy on the organization. Hitler discovered that the party’s political ideas were similar to his own – he approved of Drexler’s German nationalism and anti-Semitism and was impressed with the way the party was organized. Although there as a spy, Hitler could not restrain himself when a member made a point he disagreed with, and he stood up and made a passionate speech on the subject.
Drexler was impressed with Hitler‘s abilities as an orator and invited him to join the party. At first Hitler was reluctant, but urged on by his commanding officer, Captain Karl Mayr, he agreed. He was only the fifty-fourth person to join the German Worker’s Party. Hitler was immediately asked to join the executive committee and was later appointed the party’s propaganda manager.
Hitler's membership card in the DAP (later NSDAP)
In the next few weeks Hitler brought several members of his army into the party, including one of his commanding officers, Captain Ernst Röhm. The arrival of Röhm was an important development as he had access to the army political fund and was able to transfer some of the money into the GWP. Other early members included future Nazi leaders Rudolf Hess, Hans Frank and Alfred Rosenberg.
Adolf Hitler was often the main speaker at party meetings and it was during this period he developed the techniques that made a persuasive orator. His reputation grew and it soon became clear that he was the main reason why people were joining the party. This gave Hitler tremendous power within the organization as they knew they could not afford to lose him.
In April 1920, Hitler advocated that the party should change its name to the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Hitler had always been hostile to socialist ideas, especially those that involved racial or sexual equality. However, socialism was a popular political philosophy in Germany after the First World War. This was reflected in the growth in the German Social Democrat Party (SDP), the largest political party in Germany.
Hitler redefined socialism by placing the word ‘National’ before it. Members of the party referred to themselves as Nationalsozialisten (National Socialists), rarely as Nazis. The word “Nazi” was in use before the rise of the party as a colloquial and derogatory word for a backward peasant, an awkward and clumsy person. References to “Nazi Germany” and the “Nazi regime” were popularized by anti-Nazis and German exiles abroad.
In February 1920, the NSDAP published its first program which became known as the “Twenty-Five Points.” The party refused to accept the terms of the Versailles Treaty and called for the reunification of all German people. To reinforce their ideas on nationalism, equal rights were only to be given to German citizens. Hitler claimed he was only in favor of equality for those who had “German blood.” Jews and other “aliens” would lose their rights of citizenship, and immigration of non-Germans should be ended. That year, the party announced that only persons of “pure Aryan descent” could become party members and if the person had a spouse, the spouse also had to be a “racially pure” Aryan. Party members could not be related either directly or indirectly to a so-called “non-Aryan.” Even before it had become legally forbidden by the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, the Nazis banned sexual relations and marriages between party members and Jews.
To appeal to the working class and socialists, the program included several measures that would redistribute income and war profits, profit-sharing in large industries, nationalization of trusts, increases in old-age pensions and free education.
On February 24, 1920, the NSDAP held a mass rally where it announced its new program. The rally was attended by over 2,000 people, a great improvement on the 25 people who were at Hitler’s first party meeting.
Adolf Hitler knew that the growth in the party was mainly due to his skills as an orator and he challenged Anton Drexler for the leadership of the party. At a special party congress on July 29, 1921, he replaced Drexler as party chairman by a vote of 533 to 1. Hitler was granted nearly absolute powers as the party’s sole leader. He would hold the post for the remainder of his life.
Hitler soon acquired the title Führer (“leader”). He saw the party as a revolutionary organization, whose aim was the overthrow of the Weimar Republic, which he saw as controlled by the socialists, Jews and the “November criminals” who had betrayed the German soldiers in 1918.
His leadership was briefly interrupted in September 1921 when he was sent to prison for three months for being part of a mob that beat up a rival politician.
When Hitler was released, he formed his own private army called Sturm Abteilung (Storm Section). The SA (also known as stormtroopers or brownshirts) were instructed to disrupt the meetings of political opponents and to protect Hitler from revenge attacks. Captain Ernst Röhm of the Bavarian Army played an important role in recruiting these men, and Hermann Goering, a former air-force pilot, became their leader.
Hitler’s stormtroopers were often former members of the Freikorps (right-wing private armies who flourished during the period that followed the First World War) and had considerable experience in using violence against their rivals.
The SA wore grey jackets, brown shirts (khaki shirts originally intended for soldiers in Africa but purchased in bulk from the German Army by the Nazi Party), swastika armbands, ski-caps, knee-breeches, thick woolen socks and combat boots. Accompanied by bands of musicians and carrying swastika flags, they would parade through the streets of Munich. At the end of the march Hitler would make one of his passionate speeches that encouraged his supporters to carry out acts of violence against Jews and his left-wing political opponents.
As this violence was often directed against Socialists and Communists, the local right-wing Bavarian government did not act against the Nazi Party. However, the national government in Berlin were concerned and passed a “Law for the Protection of the Republic.” Hitler’s response was to organize a rally attended by 40,000 people. At the meeting Hitler called for the overthrow of the German government and even suggested that its leaders should be executed.
The Nazi Party grew significantly during 1921 and 1922, partly through Hitler’s oratorical skills, partly through the SA’s appeal to unemployed young men, and partly because there was a backlash against socialist and liberal politics in Bavaria as Germany’s economic problems deepened and the weakness of the Weimar regime became apparent. The party recruited former World War I soldiers, to whom Hitler as a decorated frontline veteran could particularly appeal, as well as small businessmen and disaffected former members of rival parties. Nazi rallies were often held in beer halls, where downtrodden men could get free beer. The Hitler Youth was formed for the children of party members.
The party also formed groups in other parts of Germany. Julius Streicher in Nuremberg was an early recruit and became editor of the racist magazine Der Stürmer. In December 1920, the Nazi Party had acquired a newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, of which its leading ideologist Alfred Rosenberg became editor. Others to join the party around this time were World War I flying ace Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler.
Hitler was impressed by Himmler’s fanatical nationalism and his deep hatred of the Jews. Himmler believed Hitler was the Messiah that was destined to lead Germany to greatness. Hitler, who was always vulnerable to flattery, decided that Himmler should become the new leader of his personal bodyguard, the Schutzstaffel (SS).
In 1922, the Italian National Fascist Party came to power under Benito Mussolini. The Fascists used a straight-armed Roman salute and wore black-shirted uniforms. Hitler was inspired by Mussolini and the Fascists and adopted both for use by the Nazis.
On November 8, 1923, the Bavarian government held a meeting of about 3,000 officials. While Gustav von Kahr, the leader of the Bavarian government was making a speech, Adolf Hitler and armed stormtroopers entering the building. Hitler jumped onto a table, fired two shots in the air and told the audience that the Munich Putsch was taking place and the National Revolution had begun.
Leaving Hermann Goering and the SA to guard the 3,000 officials, Hitler took Gustav von Kahr, Otto von Lossow, the commander of the Bavarian Army and Hans von Lossow, the commandant of the Bavarian State Police into an adjoining room. Hitler told the men that he was to be the new leader of Germany and offered them posts in his new government. Aware that this would be an act of high treason, the three men were initially reluctant to agree to this offer. Hitler was furious and threatened to shoot them and then commit suicide: “I have three bullets for you, gentlemen, and one for me!” After this the three men agreed.
Soon afterwards Eric Ludendorff arrived. Ludendorff had been leader of the German Army at the end of the First World War. He had therefore found Hitler’s claim that the war had not been lost by the army but by Jews, Socialists, Communists and the German government, attractive, and was a strong supporter of the Nazi Party. Ludendorff agreed to become head of the German Army in Hitler’s government.
While Hitler had been appointing government ministers, Ernst Röhm, leading a group of stormtroopers, had seized the War Ministry and Rudolf Hess was arranging the arrest of Jews and left-wing political leaders in Bavaria.
Hitler now planned to march on Berlin and remove the national government. Surprisingly, Hitler had not arranged for the stormtroopers to take control of the radio stations and the telegraph offices. This meant that the national government in Berlin soon heard about Hitler’s putsch and gave orders for it to be crushed.
The next day Adolf Hitler, Eric Ludendorff, Hermann Goering and 3,000 armed supporters of the Nazi Party marched through Munich in an attempt to join up with Röhm’s forces at the War Ministry. At Odensplatz they found the road blocked by the Munich police. As they refused to stop, the police fired into the ground in front of the marchers. The stormtroopers returned the fire and during the next few minutes 21 people were killed and another hundred were wounded, included Goering.
When the firing started Adolf Hitler threw himself to the ground dislocating his shoulder. Hitler lost his nerve and ran to a nearby car. Although the police were outnumbered, the Nazis followed their leader’s example and ran away. Only Eric Ludendorff and his adjutant continued walking towards the police. Later Nazi historians were to claim that the reason Hitler left the scene so quickly was because he had to rush an injured young boy to the local hospital.
After hiding in a friend’s house for several days, Hitler was arrested and put on trial for high treason. If found guilty, Hitler faced the death penalty. While in prison Hitler suffered from depression and talked of committing suicide. However, it soon became clear that the Nazi sympathizers in the Bavarian government were going to make sure that Hitler would not be punished severely.
At his trial Hitler was allowed to turn the proceedings into a political rally, and although he was found guilty he only received the minimum sentence of five years. Other members of the Nazi Party also received light sentences and Eric Ludendorff was acquitted.
The Nazi Party was banned on November 9, 1923.
Hitler was sent to Landsberg Castle in Munich to serve his prison sentence. While there he wrote Four Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice. Hitler’s publisher reduced it to My Struggle (Mein Kampf). The book is a mixture of autobiography, political ideas and an explanation of the techniques of propaganda. The autobiographical details in Mein Kampf are often inaccurate, and the main purpose of this part of the book appears to be to provide a positive image of Hitler. For example, when Hitler was living a life of leisure in Vienna he claims he was working hard as a laborer.
In Mein Kampf Hitler outlined his political philosophy. He argued that the German (he wrongly described them as the Aryan race) was superior to all others. “Every manifestation of human culture, every product of art, science and technical skill, which we see before our eyes today, is almost exclusively the product of Aryan creative power.”
Adolf Hitler warned that the Aryan’s superiority was being threatened by intermarriage. If this happened world civilization would decline: “On this planet of ours human culture and civilization are indissolubly bound up with the presence of the Aryan. If he should be exterminated or subjugated, then the dark shroud of a new barbarian era would enfold the earth.”
Although other races would resist this process, the Aryan race had a duty to control the world. This would be difficult, and force would have to be used, but it could be done. To support this view, he gave the example of how the British Empire had controlled a quarter of the world by being well-organized and having well-timed soldiers and sailors.
Hitler believed that Aryan superiority was being threatened particularly by the Jewish race who, he argued, were lazy and had contributed little to world civilization. (Hitler ignored the fact that some of his favorite composers and musicians were Jewish). He claimed that the “Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end satanically glaring at and spying on the unconscious girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate.”
According to Hitler, Jews were responsible for everything he did not like, including modern art, pornography and prostitution. Hitler also alleged that the Jews had been responsible for losing the First World War. Hitler also claimed that Jews, who were only about 1% of the population, were slowly taking over the country. They were doing this by controlling the largest political party in Germany, the German Social Democrat Party, many of the leading companies and several of the country’s newspapers. The fact that Jews had achieved prominent positions in a democratic society was, according to Hitler, an argument against democracy: “a hundred blockheads do not equal one man in wisdom.”
Hitler believed that the Jews were involved with Communists in a joint conspiracy to take over the world. Like Henry Ford, Hitler claimed that 75% of all Communists were Jews. Hitler argued that the combination of Jews and Marxists had already been successful in Russia and now threatened the rest of Europe. He argued that the communist revolution was an act of revenge that attempted to disguise the inferiority of the Jews.
In Mein Kampf Hitler declared that: “The external security of a people in largely determined by the size of its territory. If he won power Hitler promised to occupy Russian land that would provide protection and lebensraum (living space) for the German people. This action would help to destroy the Jewish/Marxist attempt to control the world: “The Russian Empire in the East is ripe for collapse; and the end of the Jewish domination of Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state.”
To achieve this expansion in the East and to win back land lost during the First World War, Hitler claimed that it might be necessary to form an alliance with Britain and Italy. An alliance with Britain was vitally important because it would prevent Germany fighting a war in the East and West at the same time.
Hitler was released from prison on December 20, 1924, after serving just over a year of his sentence. The Germany of 1924 was dramatically different from the Germany of 1923. The economic policies of the German government had proved successful. Inflation had been brought under control and the economy began to improve. The German people gradually gained a new faith in their democratic system and began to find the extremist solutions proposed by people such as Hitler unattractive.
On February 16, 1925, Hitler convinced the Bavarian authorities to lift the ban on the NSDAP and the party was formally refounded on the 26th with Hitler as its undisputed leader. The new Nazi Party was no longer a paramilitary organization and disavowed any intention of taking power by force.
Hitler attempted to play down his extremist image and claimed that he was no longer in favor of revolution but was willing to compete with other parties in democratic elections. This policy was unsuccessful and in the elections of December 1924 the NSDAP could only win 14 seats compared with the 131 obtained by the Socialists (German Social Democrat Party) and the 45 of the German Communist Party (KPD).
In an attempt to obtain financial contributions from industrialists, Hitler wrote a pamphlet in 1927 entitled The Road to Resurgence. Only a small number of these pamphlets were printed, and they were only meant for the eyes of the top industrialists in Germany. The reason that the pamphlet was kept secret was that it contained information that would have upset Hitler’s working-class supporters. In the pamphlet Hitler implied that the anti-capitalist measures included in the original twenty-five points of the NSDAP program would not be implemented if he gained power.
Hitler began to argue that “capitalists had worked their way to the top through their capacity, and on the basis of this selection they have the right to lead.” Hitler claimed that national socialism meant all people doing their best for society and posed no threat to the wealth of the rich. Some prosperous industrialists were convinced by these arguments and gave donations to the Nazi Party, however, the vast majority continued to support other parties, especially the right-wing German Nationalist Peoples Party (DNVP).
In the 1928 German elections, less than 3% of the people voted for the Nazi Party. This gave them only twelve seats, twenty fewer than they achieved in the May 1924 election. However, the party was well organized, and membership had grown from 27,000 in 1925 to 108,000 in 1928.
The party’s nominal Deputy Leader was Rudolf Hess, but he had no real power in the party. By the early 1930s, the senior leaders of the party after Hitler were Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring. Beneath the Leadership Corps were the party’s regional leaders, the Gauleiters, each of whom commanded the party in his Gau (“region”). Goebbels began his ascent through the party hierarchy as Gauleiter of Berlin-Brandenburg in 1926. Streicher was Gauleiter of Franconia, where he published Der Stürmer. Beneath the Gauleiter were lower-level officials, the Kreisleiter (“county leaders”), Zellenleiter (“cell leaders”) and Blockleiter (“block leaders”). This was a strictly hierarchical structure in which orders flowed from the top and unquestioning loyalty was given to superiors.
One of the new members was Joseph Goebbels. Hitler first met him in 1925. Both men were impressed with each other. Goebbels described one of their first meetings in his diary: “Shakes my hand. Like an old friend. And those big blue eyes. Like stars. He is glad to see me. I am in heaven. That man has everything to be king.”
Hitler admired Goebbels’ abilities as a writer and speaker. They shared an interest in propaganda and together they planned how the NSDAP would win the support of the German people.
Propaganda cost money and this was something that the Nazi Party was very short of. Whereas the German Social Democrat Party was funded by the trade unions and the pro-capitalist parties by industrialists, the NSDAP had to rely on contributions from party members. When Hitler approached rich industrialists for help he was told that his economic policies (profit-sharing, nationalization of trusts) were too left-wing.
The fortunes of the NSDAP changed with the Wall Street crash in October 1929. Desperate for capital, the United States began to recall loans from Europe. One of the consequences of this was a rapid increase in unemployment. Germany, whose economy relied heavily on investment from the United States, suffered more than any other country in Europe.
Before the crash, 1.25 million people were unemployed in Germany. By the end of 1930 the figure had reached nearly 4 million. Even those in work suffered as many were only working part-time. With the drop in demand for labor, wages also fell and those with full-time work had to survive on lower incomes. Hitler’s message, blaming the crisis on the Jewish financiers and the Bolsheviks, resonated with wide sections of the electorate.
In the general election that took place in September 1930, the Nazi Party won 18.3% of the vote and increased its number of representatives in parliament from 14 to 107. Hitler was now the leader of the second largest party in Germany.
The German Social Democrat Party was the largest party in the Reichstag, it did not have a majority over all the other parties, and the SPD leader, Hermann Mueller, had to rely on the support of others to rule Germany. After the SPD refused to reduce unemployment benefits, Mueller was replaced as Chancellor by Heinrich Bruening of the Catholic Centre Party (BVP). However, with his party only having 87 representatives out of 577 in the Reichstag, he also found it extremely difficult to gain agreement for his policies. Hitler came to be seen as de facto leader of the opposition and donations poured into the Nazi Party’s coffers.
The inability of the democratic parties to form a united front, the self-imposed isolation of the Communists and the continued decline of the economy, all played into Hitler’s hands and he used this situation to his advantage, claiming that parliamentary democracy did not work. The NSDAP argued that only Hitler could provide the strong government that Germany needed. Hitler and other Nazi leaders travelled round the country giving speeches putting over this point of view.
What said depended very much on the audience. In rural areas he promised tax cuts for farmers and government action to protect food prices. In working class areas, he spoke of redistribution of wealth and attacked the high profits made by the large chain stores. When he spoke to industrialists, Hitler concentrated on his plans to destroy communism and to reduce the power of the trade union movement. Hitler’s main message was that Germany’s economic recession was due to the Treaty of Versailles. Other than refusing to pay reparations, Hitler avoided explaining how he would improve the German economy.
With a divided Reichstag, the power of the German President became more important. In 1931 Hitler challenged Paul von Hindenburg for the presidency. Hindenburg was now 84 years old and showing signs of senility. However, a large percentage of the German population still feared Hitler and in the election Hindenburg had a comfortable majority.
In August 1931 the Nazi Party decided to have its own intelligence and security body. Heinrich Himmler therefore created the SD (Sicherheitsdienst). Richard Heydrich was appointed head of the organization and it was kept distinct from the uniformed SS (Schutzstaffel).
Heinrich Bruening and other senior politicians were worried that Hitler would use his stormtroopers to take power by force. Led by Ernst Röhm, it now contained over 400,000 men. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles the official German Army was restricted to 100,000 men and was therefore outnumbered by the SA. In the past, those who feared communism were willing to put up with the SA as they provided a useful barrier against the possibility of revolution. However, with the growth in SA violence and fearing a Nazi coup, Bruening banned the organization.
Hitler now had the support of the upper and middle classes and ran for president against the incumbent Paul von Hindenburg in March 1932, polling 30.1% in the first round and 36.8% in the second against Hindenburg’s 49% and 53%. The NSDAP won 230 seats, making it the largest party in the Reichstag; however, the German Social Democrat Party (133) and the German Communist Party (89) still had the support of the urban working class and Hitler was deprived of an overall majority in parliament.
The SA had engaged in running street battles with the SPD and Communist paramilitaries, which reduced some German cities to combat zones. Although the Nazis were among the main instigators of this disorder, Hitler convinced the frightened and demoralized middle class that he would restore law and order. Germans voted for Hitler primarily because of his promises to revive the economy (by unspecified means), to restore German greatness and overturn the Treaty of Versailles and to save Germany from communism.
In May 1932, Paul von Hindenburg sacked Bruening and replaced him with Franz von Papen. The new chancellor was also a member of the Catholic Centre Party and, being more sympathetic to the Nazis, he removed the ban on the SA. The next few weeks saw open warfare on the streets between the Nazis and the Communists during which 86 people were killed.
In an attempt to gain support for his new government, Franz von Papen called another election, which was held on July 20, 1932. This time the NSDAP won 37.4% of the vote and became the largest party in parliament by a wide margin. Combined with the Communists, the Nazis had a blocking majority that made the formation of a majority government impossible.
Hitler demanded that he should be made Chancellor but von Hindenburg refused and instead gave the position to Major-General Kurt von Schleicher. Hitler was furious and began to abandon his strategy of disguising his extremist views. In one speech he called for the end of democracy a system which he described as being the “rule of stupidity, of mediocrity, of half-heartedness, of cowardice, of weakness, and of inadequacy.”
The behavior of the NSDAP became more violent. On one occasion, 167 Nazis beat up 57 members of the German Communist Party in the Reichstag. They were then physically thrown out of the building.
The stormtroopers also carried out terrible acts of violence against socialists and communists. In one incident in Silesia, a young member of the KPD had his eyes poked out with a billiard cue and was then stabbed to death in front of his mother. Four members of the SA were convicted of the crime. Many people were shocked when Hitler sent a letter of support for the four men and promised to do what he could to get them released.
Chancellor von Papen called another Reichstag election in November, hoping to find a way out of this impasse. The electoral result was the same, with the Nazis and the Communists winning 50% of the vote between them and more than half the seats, rendering this Reichstag no more workable than its predecessor. However, support for the Nazis had fallen to 33.1%, suggesting that the Nazi surge had passed its peak as the worst of the Depression had passed, Nazi-instigated violence increased and some middle-class voters who had supported Hitler in July as a protest now feared putting him into power.
The Nazis interpreted the result as a warning that they must seize power before their moment passed. Had the other parties united, this could have been prevented, but their shortsightedness made a united front impossible.
The German Communist Party made substantial gains in the election winning 100 seats. Hitler used this to create a sense of panic by claiming that German was on the verge of a Bolshevik Revolution and only the NSDAP could prevent this happening.
A group of prominent industrialists who feared such a revolution sent a petition to Paul von Hindenburg asking for Hitler to become Chancellor. Hindenburg reluctantly agreed to their request and at the age of forty-three, Hitler became the new Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. As the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum notes:
Hitler was not appointed chancellor as the result of an electoral victory with a popular mandate, but instead as the result of a constitutionally questionable deal among a small group of conservative German politicians who had given up on parliamentary rule. They hoped to use Hitler’s popularity with the masses to buttress a return to conservative authoritarian rule, perhaps even a monarchy. Within two years, however, Hitler and the Nazis outmaneuvered Germany’s conservative politicians to consolidate a radical Nazi dictatorship completely subordinate to Hitler’s personal will.
The Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933, gave Hitler a pretext for suppressing his political opponents. The following day he persuaded von Hindenburg to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended most civil liberties.
The NSDAP won the parliamentary election on March 5, 1933, with 43.9% of the vote but failed to win an absolute majority. After the election, hundreds of thousands of new members joined the party for opportunistic reasons, most of them civil servants and white-collar workers. They were nicknamed the “casualties of March” or “March violets.” To protect the party from too many non-ideological turncoats who were viewed by the so-called “old fighters” with some mistrust, the party issued a freeze on admissions that remained in force from May 1933 to 1937.
On March 23, the parliament passed the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave the cabinet the right to enact laws without the consent of parliament. In effect, this gave Hitler dictatorial powers. He subsequently abolished labor unions and other political parties and imprisoned his political opponents. In 1933, the Nazis opened Dachau, which initially housed political prisoners before becoming a concentration camp for Jews.
After the death of President Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, Hitler merged the offices of party leader, head of state and chief of government in one, taking the title of Führer und Reichskanzler. The Chancellery of the Führer, officially an organization of the Nazi Party, took over the functions of the Office of the President, blurring the distinction between structures of party and state even further. The SS increasingly exerted police functions under the leadership of Himmler.
The gradual descent into war began when Hitler withdrew Germany from the League of Nations in 1933. He began to rebuild the German armed forces beyond what was permitted by the Treaty of Versailles and subsequently began the first stages of his plan for the conquest of Europe by reoccupying the German Rhineland in 1936, annexing Austria in 1938 and invading Czechoslovakia in 1939. World War II began when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.
To protect the supposed purity and strength of the Aryan race, the Nazis sought to exterminate Jews, Romani, Poles and most other Slavs, along with the physically and mentally handicapped. They disenfranchised and segregated homosexuals, Africans, Jehovah’s Witnesses and political opponents. The persecution reached its climax when the party-controlled German state set in motion the Final Solution, which resulted in the murder of six million Jews and millions of other targeted victims.
Following the defeat of the Third Reich, the party was declared illegal by the Allied powers on October 10, 1945. The Allied Control Council carried out denazification in the years after the war both in Germany and in territories occupied by Nazi forces. Trials also began for the Germans accused of war crimes.
The use of any symbols associated with the party is now outlawed in many European countries, including Germany and Austria.