Life in Nazi Germany, 1933-1939
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This section is part of Weimar and Nazi Germany, 1918-39
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|Chapter 4 Contents||
Life in Nazi Germany, 1933-1939
Nazi views on women and the family
The Nazis policies toward women were based on Hitler’s own views.
Hitler disliked the changes that had occurred in the 1920s that saw them gain greater rights and wanted women to have a more domesticated role.
Hitler did not want women involved in the world of employment and saw this as the role of men while women focused on the bearing and rearing of children.
The education women received was to also focus on their future role in society and focus on motherhood and marriage.
Although many women accepted the policies imposed by the Nazis, some resisted and were active in opposing these changes.
Those that opposed were usually arrested and sent to concentration camps.
The Nazis introduced a series of measures to change the role of women.
One of the first changes to occur under the Nazis process of Gleichshaltang was to bring all 230 women’s organisations under one body – the Women’s Front, also known as Fraunfront.
Jewish women were not allowed to be members and in 1934, Gertrude Scholtz-Klink was appointed National Women’s Leader of Germany.
The Nazi’s had a very traditional view of on the role of women which was in great contrast to the position of women in society during the 1920s.
According to Nazi ideals, women:
Nazi policies on marriage and family
The Nazis were concerned about the declining birthrate in Germany.
In 1900, there had been over 2 million live births per year however this had dropped to less than 1 million by 1933.
This rose to 1.4 million by 1939 with jews allowed to have abortions, while non-Jewish people were not.
To address the declining population, a number of measures were taken:
Nazi women appearance
Women were encouraged to remain healthy and wear their hair in a bun or plaits.
They were discouraged from wearing clothes such as trousers, high heels, make-up or dying and styling their hair.
Slimming was also discouraged as this was seen as bad for childbearing.
Nazi women and employment
Women were expected to follow the “three K’s” which were Kinder, Küche and Kirche which translate to Children, kitchen and church.
Women were therefore expected to give up employment.
One of the Nazi’s promises was to generate jobs and another incentive for them to encourage women to give up employment was, every job a woman left then became available for a man to occupy.
Female doctors, civil servants, and teachers were all forced to give up their jobs.
After 1936, women were no longer allowed to become judges or serve on juries.
Schoolgirls were trained for home life and discouraged from going into higher education.
By 1937 however, these policies needed to be reversed as Germany began to rearm itself and men were joining the army.
This opened up the need for women to be in employment once again.
Marriage loans were abolished and a compulsory “duty year” was introduced for all women entering employment.
This usually meant helping on a farm or family home in exchange for a bed and board but no pay.
The number of women in employment in 1939 had increased to 14.6million from 11.6 million in 1933.
Nazi policies towards the young
Hitler believed the young people of Germany were the future of the Third Reich.
He spoke about his plans for the Thousand Year Reich which could only be achieved if the young people of Germany were converted to follow Nazi ideology.
The Nazi policies towards the young people were therefore centred around converting them into ideals such as obedience, loyalty to the Führer, putting Germany first, strengthening the racial purity of the nation and having a large family with lots of children.
These goals were achieved through the control of education and the Hitler Youth.
The idea was if the young people were controlled and indoctrinated at an early age through education and during their leisure time, they would then become committed and loyal followers of the Nazi and their way of life.
The Hitler Youth
The Nazis wanted to control the young in their spare time.
The Hitler Youth was created in an effort to do this and covered both young boys and girls.
The leader of the Hitler Youth was Baldur von Schirach.
All other youth organisations were banned and from 1936, membership of the Hitler Youth had become compulsory, although many did not join.
By 1939, membership for the Hitler Youth was over 7 million members.
Many members enjoyed the friendships and comradeships they formed within the group.
|Little Fellows (Pimpfe)||6-10||Sports, hiking, camping|
|German Young People (Deutsches Jungvolk)||10-13||Military preparation|
|Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend)||14-18||Training for the military|
It wasn’t just the men who were required to join Nazi groups, women had their own organisations too.
Below is a table of Nazi girl organisations. To be able to join the groups, the women had to be of German heritage, a German citizen and free of hereditary diseases.
|Young Girl’s League (Jungmädelbund)||10-14||Sport, camping|
|League of German Maidens (Bund Deutscher Mädel)||14-18||Lessons in preparing for motherhood, a compulsory year working on the land, domestic science, physical exercise, marches and parades.|
|Faith and Beauty (Glaube and Schönheit)||18-21 (voluntary membership)||Further training for marriage, life as a housewife, classes on making clothes and cooking healthy meals)|
Nazi control of the young through education
Once in power, the Nazis appointed Bernhard Rust as the had of the newly established Ministry for Science, Education and National Culture.
Prior to 1933, the regional districts were in charge of education however this had now changed to put the government in charge of this.
Schooling was mandatory for everyone from the age of six (6) until the age of fourteen (14). After this point schooling was optional.
Boys and girls had to go to separate schools and by 1938, Jewish children were not allowed to attend German schools.
Various restrictions were placed Jews preventing them from going to university and many Jewish lecturers were not allowed to teach.
How the Nazis changed schools
Academic ability was no longer the most important feature and instead, the Nazis sought courage and athletic prowess.
The Nazis set up their own type of schools which were designed for those who would be future leaders of the state.
National Political Training institutes ( National Politische Lehranstalt – ‘Napola schools’ ) took boys from the age of 10 to 18 and upon graduation, many would join the armed forces or paramilitary groups.
After 1936, the SS took control of the Napola schools.
For those considered the elite of the Hitler Youth, the Adolf Hitler Schools took on students between the ages of 12 and 18.
Order Castles or Ordensburgen were for graduates of the Adolf Hitler Schools and entrants were often in their 20’s.
These practised war games where live ammunition was used and there were instances of students even being killed during these activities.
How the Nazis changed school textbooks
Hitlers biography, Mein Kampf became a standard text in education and all textbooks were rewritten to fit in with Nazi ideology.
This included views on racial purity and their view of history.
All school textbooks had to be approved by the Ministry of Education.
How teachers were influenced by the Nazis
Teachers were required to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler to join the Nazi Teachers League.
By 1937, 97% of teachers had joined the league.
They were required to promote Nazi ideals with many dismissed if they did not show commitment to the prescribed ideology.
By 1936, 36% of teachers were also members of the Nazi party.
Lessons began and ended with students saluting and saying “Heil Hitler”.
Every subject consisted of Nazi themes; Maths problems dealt with social issues, geography lessons were used to highlight the hostile neighbours around Germany.
In history lessons, students were taught about how communism was evil and the severity of the Treaty of Versailles.
The school curriculum was changed to prepare students for their future roles.
15% of the curriculum was dedicated to physical education as Hitler wanted a population of healthy, fit men and women.
The boy’s education emphasised preparation for the military with a great emphasis on Germany’s past and the Aryan race.
Students were taught how the Aryans were superior and should not marry inferior people such as the Jews.
Girls, in contrast, took needlework and home crafts which focused on cooking, becoming homemakers and mothers.
New subjects such as race studies were introduced to put across the Nazi ideology of race and population control.
Children were taught how to measure their skulls and classify racial types.
Religious education also became optional.
Nazi policies to reduce unemployment
One of the main reasons the Nazis gained huge support was the high level of unemployment in Germany.
By 1932, unemployment had reached 6 million people.
Hitler made promises to reduce the unemployment caused by the Great Depression and he did this through a number of measures.
The Reich Labour Service
The Reich Labour Service was a scheme designed to give young men manual labour jobs.
From 1935, it was compulsory for all men aged 18-25 to serve in the corps for 6 months.
The workers were required to work while living in camps, wearing uniforms and take part in military drills.
They received incredibly low pay for the work undertaken.
In an effort to manipulate employment figures, the Nazis engaged in a number of methods to show less unemployment than there actually was.
The official figures presented by the Nazis did not include:
The Nazi Autobahns
Hitler spent billions in an attempt to create jobs as one of his campaign promises was to reduce unemployment.
In 1933, 18.4 billion marks had been spent and this rose to 37.1 billion five years later.
The Nazis also subsidised private firms, particularly those in the construction industry.
They also introduced a huge road-building programme to provide Germany with 7000 km of motorways (autobahns).
By 1938, only a little over 3000 km had been built.
Over 125’000 men were involved in the construction of autobahns with Hitler hoping they would enable his troops to respond rapidly in the case of war.
Hitler was determined to rearm and rebuild the Nazi forces in preparation for war.
This greatly helped in reducing unemployment.
In 1935, the Nazis reintroduced conscription which took thousands of young men into military service.
The army grew from 100’000 in 1933 to 1.4 million by 1939.
Heavy industry expanded to meet the needs of Hitler’s goal to rearm; coal and chemicals doubled between 1933 to 1939 with oil, iron and steel trebling.
Billions were spent in the production of tanks, aircraft and ships.
In 1933, 3.5 billion marks had been spent on rearmament. By 1939, this had increased to 26 billion marks.
How the Nazis changed the standard of living
The Nazis knew that they could not simply force the German people into complete obedience to the government.
In an effort to win workers over and make them feel part of the people’s community (Volksgemeinschaft), various schemes were introduced as incentives. Many turned out to be very successful.
Strength through Joy (Kraft durch Freude – KdF)
The KDF was an organisation set up by the German Labour Front and tried to improve the leisure time of German workers.
This was done through sponsoring a wide range of leisure and cultural trips such as concerts, theatre visits, museum tours, sporting events, weekend trips, holidays and cruises.
These were all provided at a low cost and thus allowed ordinary workers access to activities normally reserved for those more wealthier.
In 1938, more than 10 million people had taken KdF holidays.
When World War 2 has begun, the organisation was shut down and several projects such as the Prora holiday resort were never completed.
Beauty of labour
This was a department of the KdF that tried to improve the working conditions for workers.
It helped organise the building of canteens, swimming pools, sports facilities, improved lighting in workplaces and improved noise levels for workers.
The average weekly wages of workers also rose from 82 marks in 1932, to 109 marks in 109 marks in 1938.
The Volkswagen Scheme
In 1938, the Labour Front organised the Volkswagen Scheme which gave workers a chance to pay 5 marks per week to eventually fund a car known as the Peoples Car.
This vehicle was sold to Germans on an instalment plan where buyers could make payments which would earn them a stamp that they collected in their stamp-savings book.
The idea was once enough stamps had been collected, they could redeem them for a Volkswagen vehicle.
No citizens ever received a vehicle due to the outbreak of the war and production shifting to meet these needs.
No one received a refund for their contributions either.
How the standard of living declined under the Nazis
Not everyone benefitted from the changes and women, in particular, were much worse off.
Women were denied employment opportunities, the cost of living had also risen and many of the basic rights of workers were removed.
In 1933, trade unions were banned and replaced by the German Labour Front.
The German Labour Front did not allow workers to negotiate for better pay or reduced hours and strikes were banned.
Those who opposed Nazi rule were sent to concentration camps for “re-education”.
The Reich Labour Service also made labour service compulsory for all men aged between the ages of 19-25.
There were also issues with Strength through Joy (KdF) as very few workers could actually afford the more expensive activities such as cruises.
Beauty of Labour also caused a great deal of resentment as workers had to carry out improvements in their spare time without pay.
The cost of living had also increased significantly during the 1930s.
All basic groceries except fish cost more in 1939 than they had in 1933.
As the Nazis were attempting to please farmers, it was government policy to reduce agricultural production and keep the prices of foods high. This also resulted in a short supply of food.
The number of hours worked per week had also increased from 42.9 hours per week in 1933 to 47 hours per week in 1939.
The persecution of minorities
In an effort to win support prior to 1933, Hitler had blamed the Jews for many of Germany’s problems including the defeat in the First World War as well as the harsh conditions of the Treaty of Versailles.
Other minorities were also later targeted and persecuted such as:
The Jews and minorities did not fit in with Hitler’s ideal of a ‘Pure’ Aryan German.
The term used to identify them was ‘asocial’.
Initially, the action taken against the Jews in 1933 was low level however by the end of the 1930s, many had their property confiscated, destroyed or they were in concentration camps.
The Nazis then turned their attention to persecuting these minority groups in much the same way and through the use of propaganda.
Ideal Germans were those seen as ‘socially useful’ and contributed to the state through employment.
Anyone that fell outside of this viewpoint was a ‘burden on the community’.
Persecution of Gypsies
During this time, there were approximately 30,000 Gypsies in Germany.
The Nazis reasons for removing them which were:
Persecution of homosexuals
At the time, most of Europe did not look favourable at people who were homosexual and the Nazis were no different.
The Nazi view on the importance of family life and producing children meant same-sex relationships could not be tolerated by them.
Homosexuality was illegal in Nazi Germany and gay men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
Lesbians were not persecuted as harshly as women were seen to be passive and subordinate to men.
Other extreme measures targeting minorities included:
A law was passed in 1933 that allowed the Nazis to sterilise people with mental and physical disabilities including:
Between 1934 and 1945, approximately 350’000 people were compulsorily sterilised.
People with physical disabilities were called ‘unworthy of life’ or ‘useless eaters’ and considered a burden on society.
Those deemed ‘undesirables’ were sent to concentration camps.
This included prostitutes, homosexuals, Juvenile delinquents and by 1938, Gypsies and beggars were also targeted.
In 1939, the Nazis began to secretly kill those deemed mentally ill in a euthanasia campaign as they were seen as a threat to Aryan purity.
Around 6000 disabled babies, children and teenagers were killed through starvation or lethal injection.
What were the Nazi racial beliefs?
The Nazis wanted to create a pure German state and this was central to their beliefs.
This resulted in treating all non-German groups as second class citizens and this was especially the case for Jewish people.
Hitler’s theory of race was based on the idea of a ‘master race’ and the ‘subhumans’.
To back up his theory, he referenced the Bible and how it showed there were only two races, the Jews and the Aryans with God having a special purpose for the Aryan race.
The Nazis racial belief was that the Aryans would form a peoples community (Volksgemeinschaft) and this would be for the good of Germany.
They believed racially, the Germans were a ‘pure’ race of Aryan descent from the ‘master race’ (Herrenvolk).
In art, they were shown as blond, blue-eyed, tall, athletic and fit enough to master the world. The Nazis believed this race had been contaminated by the subhumans now however and their plan was to create a pure Aryan racial state.
To achieve this, the goal was to engage in:
Selective breeding meant preventing anyone that did not have Aryan heritage from having children.
The SS was part of the drive for selective breeding and recruited men who were of Aryan blood, tall, fair-haired and blue-eyed.
The SS soldiers were only allowed to marry women deemed to be of Aryan blood and mixed marriages or relationships were not allowed.
The Nazis went so far as to encourage SS members and Aryan women to have children outside of wedlock in order to further the ‘master race’.
Jewish people and Slavs were seen as ‘subhumans’ in comparison.
Nazi propaganda portrayed the Jews as evil moneylenders while Hitler intended for the Slavs to be driven out of Eastern Europe in an effort to secure more land for Germany as part of his policy of Lebensraum.
Any that chose to remain would be enslaved although he felt some might be ‘Germanised’.
After 1939, once the Second World War had started, Hitler began to enact this policy.
The Jewish people, in particular, were seen as an evil force and Hitler was convinced of their involvement in a world conspiracy to destroy civilisation.
Hitler believed the Jews were a wandering race that had infiltrated all aspects of civilised society and had to be removed.
Why were the Jews persecuted?
The persecution of the Jewish people goes back way before Hitler started to target them and antisemitism goes back to the Middle Ages.
The Jews have been persecuted throughout history as they stood out as “different” across European regions.
They had a different religion, customs, and some Christians blamed them for the execution of Christ.
Other Jews became moneylenders and became wealthy from this and this resulted in increased suspicion or jealousy due to their success.
Why did Hitler hate the Jews?
Hitler had spent several years in Vienna where a long tradition of antisemitism existed.
Being very poor himself during this time, he resented the wealth of many of the Viennese Jews.
During the 1920s, he blamed them as scapegoats for all of society’s problems.
Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in the First World War, hyperinflation in 1923 and the Depression of 1929.
He was also determined to create a “pure” racial state which did not include the 500’000 Jews living in Germany.
Hiter wanted to eliminate the Jews from German society however struggled due to having no master plan on how to achieve this.
Until the beginning of the Second World War, a great deal of Nazi Jewish policy was uncoordinated initially.
How were the Jews Persecuted?
Hitler did not persecute the Jews straight away as he needed to ensure he had the support of the German people first.
To gain support for his anti-Semitic policies, propaganda was used and this was most evident in schools.
Young people especially were encouraged to hate the Jewish people and lessons and textbooks were modified to put across anti-Semitic views.
The Ministry of Education controlled school textbooks and teaching materials and this enabled the government to put anti-Semitic content into every classroom.
Laws were also passed to restrict the education of Jewish people and in 1936, Jewish teachers were banned from giving private tuition to German students.
By November 1938, Jewish children had been expelled from German schools.
The picture on the left is taken from the anti-Semitic children’s book The Poisonous Mushroom and reads:
“The Jewish nose is crooked at its tip. It looks like the number 6”.
The second picture is also from the same book.
The caption for this picture reads:
“The Jew cries out: “We don’t care about Germany. The main thing is that it goes well for us.”
– Written by a German mother in her memoirs after the Second World War.
-An extract from a school textbook.
The boycott of Jewish shops
Upon becoming Chancellor, Hitler began to take incremental steps against the Jewish people of Germany.
Germans were persuaded through propaganda to boycott Jewish shops and businesses.
The boycott was a reaction to the stories in the international press which heavily criticised the Nazi regime.
The Nazis claimed these stories were instigated by Jews living abroad and in control of the press.
On Saturday 1st April 1933, the boycott of Jewish shops began and lasted only this day.
Members of the SA stood outside Jewish shops, department stores and other Jewish owned businesses to try and discourage entry from customers.
The image above shows members of the SA holding signs that read “Germans! defend yourself! don’t buy from Jews!”
The SA painted a Star of David outside many of the businesses doors and windows and the Police were somewhat complicit as they did not intervene even when there were acts of violence.
Most Germans ignored the boycott and as it occurred on a Saturday, the Jewish day of Sabbath, many Jewish shops were closed.
The Nuremberg Laws 1935
On 15th September 1935, two new laws were passed by the Nazi government at their annual Reich Party Congress in Nuremberg.
These two laws were known as the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law to Protect German Blood and Honour.
These would later be known as the Nuremberg Laws.
The Reich Citizenship Law decreed that only those of German blood could be German citizens.
Jewish people subsequently lost their citizenship, their right to vote and hold government office.
As the Nazis had removed their legal rights, they had effectively been pushed to the edges of society.
The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour forbade marriage or sexual relations between Jews and German citizens.
Marriages that had occurred before this law were still classed as legal but German citizens were encouraged to divorce their Jewish partners.
In reality, very few did so.
– The Reich Citizenship Law, 1935
For a short period, the persecution of the Jews eased due to the 1936 Olympic Games.
Once the Olympics had finished, the persecution restarted and worsened especially after Anschluss with Austria in March 1938 (the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany).
There was then a violent outburst of anti-Semitism within Germany.
On 8th November 1938, a young Polish Jew named Herschel Grynszpan walked into the German Embassy in Paris and gunned down the first German official he encountered.
Herschel Grynszpan (pictured left) was protesting against the treatment of his parents who had been deported from Germany to Poland.
Kristallnacht means “The Night of Broken Glass”.
Goebbels used this as an opportunity to organise anti-Jewish demonstrations which involved the attacks on Jewish owned property, shops, homes and synagogues.
So many windows had been smashed in this campaign that the events of 9-10th November became known as Kristallnacht.
Approximately 100 Jews were killed and 20’000 sent to concentration camps.
7500 businesses were also destroyed in the attacks.
The image on the right is of a synagogue destroyed during the attacks.
Jewish property owners were not allowed to make insurance claims for the damage caused.
In addition, any remaining Jewish businesses were not allowed to re-open under Jewish management but instead had to have ‘pure’ Germans in charge of them.
Many Germans were disgusted by Kristallnacht and Hitler and Goebbels were anxious that the attacks were not seen as the work of the Nazis.
Through propaganda, the attacks were portrayed as a spontaneous act of vengeance by Germans.
What happened after Kristallnacht?
The Jews were blamed for having provoked the attacks and this was used as an excuse to increase further persecution against them.
Hitler decreed the following:
Further persecution continued in 1939.
The Reich Office for Jewish Emigration was created with Reinhard Heydrich as its director.
The responsibility for driving the Jewish people out of Germany became the responsibility of the SS by forced emigration.
The following months saw the following measures put into place to drive the Jewish people out of Germany: