The Nature of the Third Reich

  1. How the Third Reich was Ruled

Challenges of 1934: Ernst Röhm and the SA; Blomberg and the army; Papen and the conservatives. The double putsch of 30 June/1 July 1934.

The Dual State: 2 August 1934 death of President Hindenburg – army oath – law of 20 August makes Hitler Reich Chancellor and Leader. Cabinet ceases to meet from mid-1934. Hitler’s charismatic authority – the Dual State (normative and prerogative). Hitler’s supra-judicial power. Gradual shift towards the prerogative state. The personality cult around Hitler.

Informality of Hitler’s rule: working habits, laziness, importance of personal contacts, relative unimportance of Ministers. Göring, Goebbels, Hess (Bormann), later, Speer. Rearmament and Radicalization: Remilitarization of Rhineland March 1936;  Four-Year Plan September 1936; Resignation of Schacht November 1937; Blomberg/Fritsch scandal Feb 1938; replacement of Neurath by Ribbentrop Feb 1938; Anschluss March 1938; Munich Agreement Sept 1938; invasion of Czecho-Slovakia March 1939; outbreak of war Sept 1939. Similar developments in antisemitic policy, cultural policy etc..

‘Working towards the Führer’?

Werner Willikens – Feb 1939 report on Kristallnacht– Hitler’s selective interventions – his energy on key occasions. ‘Cumulative radicalization’ the result of unintended pressures from below? Note Hitler’s tactical restraint on occasion. Hitler as agenda-setter and ideological driving force. The central importance of the drive to war for Lebensraum and racial reordering of Germany and Europe.

  1. Repression and Control

Institutions of control

The normative state: police – courts – prisons. Special Courts, People’s Court (trial of van der Lubbe). Death penalty. New laws –treason, malicious gossip. Centralization of police under Himmler 1936. Central role of Gestapo. Boundaries between normative and prerogative state gradually disappear.

The prerogative state: SA, SS, concentration camps (by mid-1930s: Buchenwald, Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Lichtenburg: 3,000 inmates in 1937. I.e., Communist and Social Democratic resistance crushed by this time. Change of function to camps for social outcasts and labour for Hitler and Speer’s building projects. New camps (Flossenbürg, Mauthausen, Ravensbrück replacing Lichtenburg), 21,000 inmates all told by summer 1939. ‘Racial cleansing’.

A ‘self-policing society’?

Small size of Gestapo – role of denunciations – focus on unpopular minorities after 1936. However, role of denunciations key only in private offences; very few critical statements actually denounced; total number of denunciations small; meaningless without proactive role of Gestapo; important not to trivialise the brutality of the Gestapo. Part of a vast and polymorphous apparatus of control including the criminal police, the prison service, the social services and employment offices, the medical profession, health centres and hospitals, teachers, the Hitler Youth, Block Wardens, tax offices, the railway and the post office etc.. Ubiquity of intimidation: public knowledge and threat of concentration camp; terror and intimidation at elections and plebiscites.

Conclusion: A totalitarian regime that failed?