Nazi control and dictatorship, 1933-39
This section provides Edexcel GCSE History revision resources for Nazi control and dictatorship, 1933-39.
This section is part of Weimar and Nazi Germany, 1918-39
The revision notes cover GCSE History topics for the Pearson/Edexcel exam board.
If you are a teacher or school teaching Edexcel/Pearsons GCSE History; Support your students learning by linking to this page on your school subject page.
Nazi control and dictatorship
The creation of the dictatorship, 1933-34
The Police State
Controlling and influencing attitudes
The Reichstag Fire
Approximately 4 weeks after Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor, the Reichstag building was set on fire.
The importance of the Reichstag fire cannot be understated as it proved an ideal opportunity for Hitler and Goebbels to exploit.
Prior to the fire and when Hitler became Chancellor, there were only two other Nazis in the Cabinet of twelve.
These were Wilhelm Frick, who was Reich Minister for Interior and Hermann Goering, Minister without portfolio and Minister for Prussia.
Hitler’s position as Chancellor was also relatively weak.
The Nazis relied upon their allies, the Nationalist Party, for support but even with that, they did not have a majority in the Reichstag.
To make things worse, President Hindenburg did not like Hitler.
Without a majority to pass legislation and without Hindenburg’s support, he called a general election for 5th March 1933.
The hope was this would help him secure a clear majority in the Reichstag as he could then pass laws which would help him tighten his control on the nation.
There was a great deal of violence and intimidation in the lead up to the election with around 70 deaths.
Hitler and the Nazis once again received large amounts of support from leading industrialists and businesses as well as access to the media.
Hitler was supported by major businesses as they saw him a better alternative than communist-led parties.
On 27th February 1933, one week before the election, the Reichstag building was burnt down due to this fire.
It wasn’t clear who started the fire but a Dutch Communist named Marinus van der Lubbe was found at the scene of the fire and arrested (pictured).
This situation presented an ideal opportunity for Hitler and Goebbels to exploit.
They claimed the communists were attempting to stage a takeover and so Hitler was able to convince Hindenburg to sign the “Decree for the Protection of People and State”.
The “Decree for the Protection of the People and State” suspended basic civil rights and placed the government in a permanent state of emergency.
The Nazis were then able to imprison large numbers of opposition party members. Over 4000 Communist Party members including Ernst Thälman were arrested.
The SA also killed 51 Nazi opponents and injured several hundred others.
Various socialist and communist newspapers were also banned. The police did nothing to intervene and stop any of this.
The Enabling Act
The March 1933 election had seen the Nazis win 288 seats in the Reichstag however this was still not enough for a majority.
In the following November 1933 election, the Reichstag Fire had now allowed them to imprison various Socialists and Communists and gain further media support in the leadup to the election.
Despite this, they still did not win a majority even though they had increased their vote count by 5.5 million votes.
This forced the Nazis to form a coalition government with the National Party (DNVP) which gave them a majority of 51.9% in the Reichstag.
Hitler’s next step was to begin consolidating his power and the Enabling Act was seen as a key amendment to the Weimar constitution that allowed him to do this, effectively turning the country into a legal dictatorship.
What did the Enabling Act do?
The Enabling Act would give Hitler and his government full powers for the next 4 years as it gave powers for the German Cabinet to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag.
Combined with the Reichstag Fire Decree (also known as the Decree for the Protection of People and State mentioned above), civil liberties had already been suspended. This effectively gave the government complete control.
To pass the Enabling Act, two-thirds of the Reichstag would need to vote for it as it was technically an amendment to the Weimar Constitution.
How was The Enabling Act passed?
A number of devious tactics were used by the Nazis to ensure the legislation was passed.
Some of the key events in its passing include:
The resulted in the Enabling Act being passed into law on 23rd March 1933.
The legislation effectively ended the Weimar constitution and democracy allowing the Nazis free reign over the country.
The removal and banning of other parties and trade unions
With The Enabling Act in place, Hitler and the Nazis could begin to bring into line their vision of German society with Nazi philosophy.
This policy was called Gleichschaltung.
The idea was to create a truly national socialist state with every aspect of the social, political and economic life of German citizens monitored and under control by the Nazis.
The end of trade unions
On 2nd May 1933, the Nazis banned all trade unions claiming a national community had been created and therefore such organisations were no longer needed.
The Nazi German Labour Front (DAF) was set up to replace trade unions and employer groups.
Wages were decided by the DAF and workers received workbooks to record their employment.
Employment was dependant on the ownership of a workbook.
Strikes were also banned and outlawed with dissenters sent to prisons (concentration camps) for political “re-education”.
The first concentration camp was opened in Dachau in March 1933.
There was no challenge possible to the Nazi state.
The banning of political parties
On July 14th 1933, the Law Preventing the Formation of Parties was passed which made the Nazi party the sole legal political party in Germany.
Prior to this law being passed, other political parties faced severe restrictions.
The Communist Party members were prevented from taking their seats at the Reichstag and also had their property confiscated.
On 10th May 1933, the Socialist Party had its headquarters and property seized.
By June, they had given up their seats in the Reichstag and by the end of June, all political parties except the Nazis had dissolved themselves making Germany a one-party state.
The abolition of the Länder
Länder means district and Germany consisted of 18 districts, each with their own parliaments.
Under the Weimar Republic, some of the Länder caused problems for the president as their political setup differed and they refused to accept decisions made by the Reichstag.
For example, President Ebert had to issue more than 130 emergency decrees to overrule some of the Länder.
Once in power, Hitler began breaking down the federal structure of Germany.
In January 1934, the Länder parliaments were abolished and they were instead run by Reich governors.
This centralised Germany for the first time since 1871.
The Night of the Long Knives
The Night of the Long Knives was also known as “Operation Hummingbird” or the “Blood Purge” and happened on 30th June 1934.
This involved the purging (killing) of Hitler’s political and military rivals in the SA (Sturmabteilung).
The threat from Röhm and the SA
The Reichswehr (German army) and its commanders were not happy with the strength of the SA.
Under the Treaty of Versailles, the military was limited to only 100’000 soldiers however the SA had grown to over 3 million members under the command of Röhm (pictured above on the far right, behind him in the middle is Heinrich Himmler, who would plot against him).
This made the SA an incredibly dangerous group.
They consisted of working-class men who favoured the socialist views of the Nazi party.
The members hoped Hitler would introduce reforms to help workers such as themselves.
In the run-up to the election and early months of the party’s governance, they proved very useful in creating an atmosphere of terror and intimidation for political opponents and the introduction of Nazi philosophy (Gleichschaltung) across the country.
However, once in power and with no rivals left as other parties had been abolished, they were now proving difficult to control for Hitler and becoming an embarrassment.
Hindenburg as the president still had significant power and was also still in command of the German army.
With rival political parties disbanded and the country effectively a one-party state, members of the SA were running riot on the streets after a night of drinking as they had little else to do.
They would attack people passing by as well as the police who would be called in to deal with them resulting in significant complaints about the group.
Wilhelm Frick and Hermann Goering also felt the SA activities would result in a backlash for Hitler if they weren’t addressed.
There was a worry the army itself might step in to deal with them which could undermine Hitler’s government.
Ernst Röhm also had a different vision for the SA compared to Hitler.
He wanted to incorporate the Army into the SA and disagreed with Hitler’s close relationship with industrialists and army leaders.
Röhm also wished to move away from Germany’s class structure to bring greater equality through a social revolution.
As Hitler was financed by various industrialists who were likely against this vision, this placed Röhm and Hitler at odds with one another.
Röhm also had rivals in the form of Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering.
Hitler’s personal bodyguard, the SS (Schutzstaffel), who were led by Himmler, wished to break away from the SA.
Goering, who was head of the Gestapo, also wanted to lead the armed forces and therefore also saw Röhm as an opponent.
|“Hitler can’t walk over me as he might have done a year ago; I’ve seen to that. Don’t forget that I have three million men, with every key position in the hands of my own people. Hitler knows that I have friends in the Reichswehr [Germany’s armed forces]. you know! If Hitler is reasonable I shall settle the matter quietly; if he isn’t I must be prepared to use force – not for my sake but for the sake of our revolution.” – Comments made by Röhm to Kurt Lüdecke in January 1934.|
On 30th June 1934, Hitler took action and had Röhm and various other political rivals murdered in the Night of the Long Knives following information from Himmler that Röhm was about to seize power.
Röhm and the main leaders of the SA which included Karl Ernst and Edmund Hennes were shot by members of the SS.
Hitler also took this opportunity to settle old scores and had former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher murdered as well as Gregor Strasser, a key figure and old rival with similar views to Röhm.
It is estimated that around 400 people were murdered during this purge.
The impact of the Night of the Long Knives
If there was ever doubt of Hitler’s rule, it was now made clear to all that fear and terror would play significant roles.
The Night of the Long Knives is considered a turning point for Hitler’s rule as he eradicated most of his main rivals and secured the support of the army while relegating the SA to a minor role.
Hindenburg was also becoming old and frail and Hitler wanted to combine the posts of Chancellor and President to remove anyone that could hinder his grip on the country.
The Night of the Long Knives was important for Hitler as the army leaders offered their support to him once the leaders of the SA were assassinated.
Another reason the purge proved important for Hitler was the elimination of his opponents was met without any opposition and further increased Hitler’s confidence.
On 3rd July 1934, a law was passed which stated Hitler’s actions during the blood purge were legal which only reinforced his grip on the country further.
When Hindenburg died on August 1934, the army swore allegiance to Hitler who had combined the posts of Chancellor and President.
|The Reichswehr oath of allegiance: “I swear before God to give my unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, Fuhrer of the Reich and the German people, and I pledge my word as a brave soldier to observe this oath always, even at the peril of my life”|
When combining the posts of President and Chancellor, Hitler sought the approval of the German people and held a referendum.
Over 90% of the voters (38 million people) voted in agreement with this action with only 4.5 million opposing it.
With the support of the German people, the army and the elimination of his main opponents, Hitler took on the new title of Fuhrer and was in an extremely secure position.
The role of the Gestapo, the SS, the SD and concentration camps
The Nazis goal was to control every aspect of German life through their policy of Gleichschaltung.
When indoctrination did not work through propaganda, force and terror were used instead through the Gestapo, the SS (Schutzstaffel), the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) and concentration camps.
The SS and Gestapo were the main arms used and in 1936, they were brought under the control of Heinrich Himmler.
The role of the Schutzstaffel (SS)
The SS, also known as the Schutzstaffel, was a protection squad and paramilitary organisation used by the Nazis throughout German-occupied Europe and during the second world war.
The unit was originally formed in 1925 to act as a bodyguard unit for Hitler.
After 1929, Himmler took control and built the SS to establish a clear visible identity through the black uniform.
The Schutzstaffel showed total obedience to their Fuhrer and by 1934, its membership was over 50’000 of those deemed to be fine examples of the Aryan race.
By 1939, membership of the SS and its various bodies had grown to over 250’000 members.
After the Night of the Long Knives, the SS became responsible for the removal of all Nazi opposition within Germany.
The role of the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei)
The Gestapo, also known as the Geheime Staatspolizei, was the secret state police set up by Hermann Goering and came under the control of Himmler and the SS in 1936.
By 1939, the Gestapo was the most important section of the Nazi state with the power to arrest and imprison those suspected of opposing the state.
For those opposed to the Nazis, the most likely destination would be the concentration camps which were run by the SS.
Approximately 160’000 were under arrest for political crimes by 1939.
The role of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst)
The SD, also known as the Sicherheitsdienst, was created in 1931 as the intelligence arm of the Nazi party.
Himmler was in command initially and appointed Reinhard Heydrich, a former naval officer, to organise the department.
The main role of the SD was to discover actual and potential enemies of the Nazi party and ensure they were removed.
The SD members were employed by the Nazi party and attracted various professionals such as lawyers, economists and professors of politics.
Once the Enabling Act had been passed, the Nazis established new kind of prisons known as the concentration camps.
These were used to confine those they deemed to be their political, ideological and racial opponents.
Initially, concentration camps were set up to detain political opponents including Communists, Socialists, trade unionists and others who had left-wing and liberal views.
In 1939, over 150’000 people had been arrested for political offences.
The picture above is of starving prisoners that were found at Ebensee concentration camp which is part of the Mauthausen concentration camp.
The concentration camps were run by the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and Schutzstaffel (SS) with the Gestapo responsible for carrying out arrests, interrogations and with the authority to send people to concentration camps.
The first of these camps was in Dachau near Munich with others following in Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Sachsenhausen.
Prisoners were split into different categories with each denoted by a different coloured triangle which had to be worn.
For example, those wearing black triangles were vagrants and “work-shy”.
Pink triangles denoted homosexuals while red triangles were for political prisoners.
The prisons would hold religious groups such as the Bibelfroscher (Bible students), including Catholics and Protestants who opposed the Nazi regime.
Political prisoners included communists, members of opposition parties and trade union leaders.
Non-German ethnic groups who were seen as a threat to the Nazi regime were also targeted.
Criminals ranging from burglars and thieves to sexual offenders were all targeted and sent to extermination camps too.
Jewish people were regularly rounded up and this increased in much greater numbers after Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass).
The work by prisoners was made hard and initially pointless such as breaking rocks, but gradually the prisoners were used in forced labour in quarries, construction, coal mines and armament factories.
The prisoners at concentration camps were usually underfed and treated with great brutality. This resulted in high mortality rates.
If prisoners died at a concentration camp, the families would usually receive a letter informing them they had died of disease or had been shot attempting to escape.
Nazi control of the legal system, judges and law courts
The Nazis controlled the Reichstag and now also had the power to make laws however this still wasn’t enough for Hitler.
Hitler wanted to ensure that all laws were interpreted in line with Nazi philosophy and therefore the law courts also experienced Gleichschaltung.
Some judges were removed while all others had to become members of the National Socialist League for the Maintenance of Law (NSRB). This allowed for Nazi views to be upheld in court.
In October 1933, the German Lawyers Front was established and by the end of the year, there were already over 10’000 members.
All lawyers who were members had to swear that they would “strive as German Jurists to follow the course of the Führer to the end of our days”.
By 1936, court judges had to wear the swastika and Nazi eagle on their robes.
The Peoples Court
A new People’s Court was established in 1934 to try cases of treason.
The judges were all loyal to the Nazis and knew the Minister of Justice would check to see if the sentencing had been too lenient.
On occasions, Hitler himself would alter sentences if he felt they were too soft.
By the end of 1934, Hitler had control over the Reichstag, the army and the legal system.
The Nazi police and security organisations had established themselves into the fabric of society and it was impossible to escape their grip.
The Nazis and their policies were in complete contrast to that of the church’s values and beliefs
With Germany essentially a Christian Country, Hitler couldn’t immediately persecute Christianity.
Approximately two-thirds of the population was Protestant, most of whom lived in the north while almost one-third was Catholic, most of which lived in the south.
In an attempt to weaken the grip of the Catholic and Protestant Churches, Hitler set up the Ministry of Church Affairs in 1935.
The German Faith Movement was also encouraged by the Nazis with the aim of replacing Christian values and ceremonies with pagan (non-christian) beliefs. This had limited success with only about 5% of the population joining.
The Catholic Church
Although many Catholic Christians supported Hitler because of his opposition to communism, Hitler still saw the Catholic Church as a threat to his Nazi state for a number of reasons:
- Germanys Catholic population owed their allegiance to the Pope first rather than Hitler. This went against his own viewpoint that a person was either German or Christian, but couldn’t be both.
- There were a number of Catholic schools and youth organisations whose messages were at odds with the Nazi Party.
- The Catholic population had consistently supported the Centre Party which was eventually dissolved in July 1933.
Initially, Hitler decided to agree with the Catholic Church and in July 1933, signed an agreement with Pope Pius XI.
The Pope agreed that the Catholic Church would stay out of politics provided the Nazis did not interfere with the Church.
Within only a few months, Hitler had already broken this agreement:
- Priests were harassed and arrested. Many had criticized the Nazis and subsequently ended up in concentration camps.
- Catholic schools were disrupted and then eventually abolished.
- Catholic youth movements were closed down.
- Monasteries were also closed.
The Protestant Church
Some Protestants admired Hitler. These were called “German Christians”.
This group established a new Reich Church with the aim of combining all Protestants under one Church.
The leader, Ludwig Müller, was a member of the NSDAP and became the Reich Bishop and Church’s national leader in September 1933.
However, not all Protestants supported the Nazis and many opposed them as their beliefs conflicted with their own Christian beliefs.
Pastor Martin Niemöller, a first World War submarine commander, set up the Pastors Emergency League for those who opposed Hitler.
Goebbels and the Ministry of Propaganda
Josef Goebbels was the mastermind behind the Nazis propaganda success.
He used his Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment and the Reich Chamber of Culture to control the thoughts, beliefs and opinions of the German people.
Those involved in the arts such as Musicians, writers and actors were all required to become members of the Chamber of culture.
It was important for the long-term success of the Nazi empire that the majority of the population came to believe in the ideals of the Nazis.
Goebbels controlled all aspects of the media through censorship and manipulation using a variety of methods across the fine arts, music, theatre and even literature.
Non-Nazi newspapers and magazines were closed down and by 1935, over 1600 newspapers and magazines had been closed.
In October 1933, the Reich Press Law was passed which resulted in the removal of Jewish and Left-wing journalists.
Editors were told by the Propaganda Ministry what could be printed and any foreign news had to be taken from the Nazi-controlled German Press Agency prior to publishing.
Rallies were a powerful way for the Nazi state to show off its power.
An annual mass rally was held at Nuremberg with spectacular parades on special occasions, such as Hitlers birthday.
Local rallies and marches were held by the SA and Hitler Youth.
The Nuremberg rallies would last several days and attract up to a million people each year.
Radio stations were all placed under Nazi control.
Cheap mass-produced radios were sold and could even be paid for in instalments.
By 1939, almost 70% of German families owned a radio allowing the Nazis to reach millions with their messages.
Radios were also installed in public establishments such as Cafés, factories, schools and offices. Loudspeakers were also placed in the streets.
The Nazis wanted their message heard by as many people as possible, as much as possible.
The radios reception made it so they could only hear national broadcasts and prevented them from hearing any foreign radio broadcasts.
Goebbels understood the power of cinema in propaganda given that over 100 films per year were made with audiences reaching over 250 million in 1933 alone.
Film plots prior to production were shown to Goebbels with thrillers and love stories giving the Nazis a positive image within them.
All films came with a 45-minute newsreel glorifying Hitler and Germany while publicising the Nazi achievements.
One famous film with pro-nazi messages was Hitlerjunge Quex (1933).
This film told the story of a young boy who leaves a communist family to join the Hitler youth, only to be then murdered by communists.
One Nazi film director that international praise was Leni Riefenstahl.
She produced a documentary called Triumph of the Will which was about the Nazi party conference and rally of 1934 as well as the 1936 Olympics.
Hitler’s dislike of the Jews saw him order Goebbels to make antisemitic films however these were not always popular.
Nazi posters were seen to be everywhere with simple direct messages targeting the young particularly.
The posters were cleverly designed to manipulate the masses with the Nazi messages.
Books, plays and poems were all censored and controlled by the Nazi regime to put across their message.
Through influence from Goebbels, students in Berlin burnt 20’000 books written by Jews, communists and anti-Nazi professors in a huge bonfire in Berlin in May 1933.
A number of similar burning of books occurred in cities across Germany that year.
Writers were forced to write plays, books and poems praising Hitler’s achievements.
Famous German writers such as Thomas Mann and playwright Bertolt Brecht chose to go into self-imposed exile rather than live under Nazi rule.
In the years up to 1939, over 2500 writers were believed to have left Germany.
Nazi control of sports
The Nazis encouraged sports at school and within the Hitler Youths.
The goal was to have a healthy and fit nation as the young men were to be the soldiers of the future while the women were expected to produce as many children as possible.
Achievements in sports were to be used to promote the Nazi regime and the idea that Aryans were superior.
The opportunity to showcase this was in the 1936 Olympics which were staged in Berlin.
The media from 49 different countries were attending and this offered the Nazis the opportunity to show to the world that Germany and their society was superior.
For the most part, the Olympics were a public relations success.
The Olympic stadium was the largest in the world and able to hold 110k spectators.
Anti-semitic signs such as those saying “Jews not wanted” were removed so foreign visitors gained a positive image of Germany.
Film director Leni Riefenstahl was hired to ensure every detail was carefully stage-managed.
Germany ended up winning the most medals as a country however Jesse Owens, a black athlete from the US, sabotaged Hitlers plans to showcase the Aryan race as superior.
Owens won the 100 metres, 200 metres, long jump and 4×100 metres relay.
Nazi control of the arts
Hitler used the media to not only control people, but this influence also began to spread into the arts too as a way to spread and reinforce Nazi ideology.
People became used to seeing Nazi imagery in paintings, buildings and plays.
Music and theatre
Hitler hated modern music which included “Jazz” as he saw this as racially inferior and banned it.
The Nazis encouraged traditional German folk music together with classical music of Brahms, Beethoven and Richard Wagner which was Hitler’s favourite composer.
Theatre concentrated on German history and political drama.
Cheap theatre tickets were produced in an effort to encourage people to watch plays which often had Nazi political or racial themes.
Art and architecture
Hitler previously earned a living as an artist and therefore considered himself an expert in such.
He hated modern art which was developed under the Weimar Republic and thought it was unpatriotic, backward and degenerate due to its Jewish influence. This resulted in it becoming banned.
In its place, Art that displayed Germanys past greatness and strength and power of the Third Reich was encouraged.
Hitler wanted art to reject the weak and ugly and glorify the healthy and strong.
Artists were to portray workers, peasants and women as glorious and noble creatures.
After 1934, all public buildings had to have sculptures which demonstrated Nazi ideals.
Hitler encouraged the “monumental style” for public buildings which were large buildings made of stone and copied from ancient Greece or Rome.
Hitler admired the Greek and Roman styles as he believed these could be replicated to showcase the strength of the Third Reich.
He also believed the Jews had not contaminated this style.
Paintings often showed the Nazi idea of simple peasant life and hard work as heroic.
They also showed the idea of the perfect Aryan which was young German men and women with perfect bodies.
Women were shown as primarily having roles as housewives or mothers.
The extent of support for the Nazi Regime
Between 1933-1939, there were about 1.3 million people sent to concentration camps in Germany.
Approximately 300’000 people are estimated to have left Germany to live in other countries.
This would suggest widespread opposition to the Nazis and their policies.
Despite this apparent resistance, many Germans benefited after 1933 through some of Hitler’s successes which enabled him to maintain support.
Economic successes helped eradicate the depression Germany faced and the country’s international standing also grew which helped people remove the shame of defeat from the first world war and the Treaty of Versailles.
In 1935, the Saar was returned and the army was rebuilt after and the Rhineland was reoccupied in 1936.
Some Germans were even happy to see the Communists, Socialists and SA leaders removed.
To tighten his grip on the army further, in 1938, Hitler removed key generals that criticised his foreign policy aims.
These include key generals such as Blomberg, Fritsch and von Brauchitsch.
Some generals had planned to overthrow Hitler in late 1938 however due to his successful takeover of parts of Czechoslovakia, such plans were put aside.
During 1938, Hitler had in total, removed 16 generals to allow him to gain greater control over the army.
Hitler saw three attempts to assassinate him before 1939.
In 1935-36, a number of Jewish students plotted to assassinate him however their plans came to nothing.
Student Maurice Bavaud tried to shoot Hitler at the annual Nazi parade in Munich but failed to take the shot out of fear of hitting other Nazi leaders.
In November 1939, Georg Elser planted a bomb in the Beer Hall where Hitler was speaking but unfortunately, Hitler left early.
The bomb subsequently exploded killing several people.
Elser’s motives were that he despised the Nazi regime for taking away the peoples basic liberties.
Opposition from the churches, including the role of Pastor Niemöller
The Protestant Church
Pastor Martin Neimöller opposed the Nazis attempts to control the Church and became the leader of the Confessional Church, which followed traditional German Protestantism.
Niemöller established the Pastor’s Emergency League to oppose the Nazi’s attempts to control the Protestant Church.
By 1934, membership of the league had risen to 7000 however many pastors left when they were targeted for persecution by the Nazis.
Niemöller was arrested in 1937 after preaching that people should obey God and not man. He was tried and kept in prison and concentration camps until 1945.
A famous lecture was given by Martin Niemöller after the Second World War which many know today goes as follows:
- First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.
- Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.
- Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.
- Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
Another protestant that spoke out against the Nazis ideas on religion was Agnes von Grone.
Agnes von Grone led the Protestant Women’s Bureau however the organisation was disbanded in 1936.
The Catholic Church
After 1933, despite the concordat (agreement) signed with the Catholic Church, there was tension as the Nazis began to censor the Catholic press and harass priests.
In 1937, Pope Pius XI issued a special letter, known as an encyclical, to Catholic priests in Germany.
In this letter, Pope Pius XI attacked the Nazis and the Nazi system with criticisms without specifically naming Hitler.
The encyclical he sent was called “Mit brenender Sorge” which translates as “With Burning Anxiety”.
Priests would go on to read this letter to their congregations, clearly showing their active attempts to resist the Nazis attempts to control the Church.
The Nazis in response took even harsher actions preventing Catholics from joining the Nazi party and closing Catholic groups.
Symbols such as the cross and crucifix were removed from Catholic schools and it was only following a fierce outcry and complaints was this halted.
Once the Second World War broke out in 1939, the Nazis reintroduced the policy of removal.
Opposition from the young, including the Swing Youth and Edelweiss Pirates
Although a number of young people joined the Hitler Youth, it proved unpopular with many of its members and many rejected Nazi ideals.
By the mid-1930s, gangs started to appear on street corners that played their own music with boys and girls free to be together.
In an act of rebellion, many young people grew their hair long and wore their own choice of clothing as a form of rebellion against the regimentation of Nazi life.
Some members of these gangs would even go looking for members of the Hitler Youth to attack and beat up.
The Edelweiss Pirates
One gang that had formed was known as the Edelweiss Pirates.
The group listened to forbidden swing music and daubed walls with anti-Nazi graffiti.
The group were recognised by their badges which bore the Edelweiss flower or skull and crossbones.
Members of this group wore clothes dubbed outlandish by the Nazis such as check shirts, dark short trousers and white socks.
The earliest recorded groups were in 1934 and by 1939, membership had grown to 2000.
The Edelweiss Pirates were not a single unified group but simply a loose band across different cities.
In Cologne, they were known as the Navajos, in Düsseldorf, they were known as the Kittelbach Pirates and in Essen, they were known as the Roving Dudes.
The Pirates tended to consist of working-class youths and within the cities they occupied, they were known to create no-go areas for Hitler Youth.
Despite their activities, the Nazi authorities did not see them as a serious threat to their regime.
The Swing Youth
It was not just the working class young people that challenged the Nazis.
Other young people that came from middle-class backgrounds were known as the “Swing Youth” or “Swing Groups”.
In German, they were known as the Swingjugend.
These groups tended to take part in activities the Nazis frowned upon such as listening to swing music, growing their hair long (for boys) and bright makeup used by the girls.
The Nazis hated swing music as they classed it as non-German and developed by black people and Jews.
Ready to start learning?
Create an account or get in touch.
Our goal is to provide free revision resources for students, teachers and parents for A-levels and GCSEs.
Schools can support our cause by simply linking to Learndojo.org to help students. We’re currently working to add more subjects in the near future.