To the modern world, the rise of the Nazis to power may come across as a puzzle that requires solving. It seems incomprehensible that this fascist regime which instigated the most destructive war in history and committed nothing less than the orchestrated genocide of millions was allowed to lead a democratic country in the first place. But as history itself has shown time and again, people caught in the middle of events that lead to disaster often do not possess the prudence and clarity that hindsight offers. What allowed the Nazis to gain power? How did this party and its members gain control of an entire country? This research paper looks into the causes behind the rise of Nazi Germany and determines that the Nazis were able to seize power by taking advantage of popular discontent over the country’s defeat in World War I, promising stability amid the economic crisis, and fabricating a narrative that created a tangible but false enemy among the Jews.
One of the main ways by which the Nazis were able to gain power was by taking advantage of the public’s discontent over Germany’s defeat during the First World War. Between 1914 and 1918, Germany was embroiled in a global war that resulted in the defeat of the country at the hands of the Allied nations, which were led by the United States, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Germany’s defeat was a humiliating blow to the nation’s pride. Not only was Germany forced to dissolve its empire, but the country was also made to sign the Treaty of Versailles. The Germans, however, were prevented from participating in the drafting of the treaty. By the time the treaty was to be signed, Germany was shocked by the severity of the provisions. The harsh penalties included paying $35 billion in war reparations ($450 billion in current value), ceding valuable territory, and reducing the size of the military and halting the military industry. The most unpopular provision, however, was the War Guilt Clause, which required Germany to take full responsibility for the war (Blakemore). Many Germans protested against the treaty but were powerless against it. The deep discontent stirred by Germany’s defeat in the war and the heavy sanctions imposed by the treaty, in turn, was taken advantage by the Nazis. The Nazi Party catapulted Adolf Hitler to power, who promised that he would reclaim the glory of Germany. Known for his fiery rhetoric, Hitler was capable of bringing audiences to a frenzy, and this helped him win over millions of Germans who were convinced that he could end the country’s humiliation. Hitler made true on his promise, repudiating the treaty’s provisions by aggressively expanding the military and annexing new territories. Indeed, the Treaty of Versailles’ effect on Germany is often considered today as a failure. Scholars believed that the draconian provisions only succeeded in antagonizing Germany, thereby sowing seeds of bitterness that served as root causes of World War II.
Apart from taking advantage of the public’s resentment of the treaty’s terms, the Nazis also rose to power by promising stability in the midst of economic crisis. The war left Germany’s infrastructure and industries in shambles. The cost of reparations also left the country struggling. The economy suffered so much that the country suffered hyperinflation (Schmidt 2-18). The value of currency went down so much that people could no longer afford even the most basic commodities. For example, a loaf of bread that cost 250 marks in the early 1923 was worth over 200 billion marks by the end of the same year (“The Weimar Republic 1918-1929”). With Germans suffering the full weight of economic disaster, it became easier for the Nazis to gain their trust and obedience. Hitler promised to rebuild the economy by revitalizing industries and creating new jobs. The Nazis succeeded in this to a considerable extent, especially since the government implemented strict measures and engaged in ambitious public works programs (“Nazi economic, social and racial policy”). The Nazis’ success helped solidify their standing, thus securing overwhelming support from the public and ensuring the party’s dominance in Germany. The fact that people are also more likely to support leaders who promise stability in times of crisis aided the Nazis in their mission to win over massive support and command obedience.
Finally, the Nazis also rose to power by fabricating and perpetuating the myth that the Jews were enemies. As World War I drew to a close, Germany realized that the war was unwinnable and signed an armistice. A significant portion of the public, however, held on to the belief that the war could have been won had Germany continued fighting. As the Nazis gained more power, they accused the leaders who signed the armistice along with the Jews of betraying the country by overthrowing the monarchy and profiteering from the war (Kolb). In a country already steeped in anti-Semitism, the propagation of the myth worked as the Nazis intended. For one, the myth created a tangible enemy that the public could blame and rail against. For another, the myth further advanced the Nazis’ position as representative of the public’s interests. This turned the Jews into scapegoats and the Nazis into heroes, thus allowing the Nazis to establish dominance in the country at the expense of the minority. As is already well-known today, the Nazis systematically murdered around 6 million Jews. None of these barbaric acts would have been possible if the myth the Nazis had not reinforced the hatred that an already anti-Semitic people felt.
While the end of World War II in 1945 saw the fall of the Nazi Party, it nevertheless left a trail of death and destruction in its wake. The crimes committed by the Nazis will forever be a dark stain in modern history. It seems unimaginable how a murderous government could come to power and commit the atrocities it did, but careful study of events at the time shows that this did not take place overnight. Rather, their ascent was made possible by a multitude of factors including stoking the public’s discontent, promising respite from social issues, and propagating myths that suit their agenda. Ultimately, this harrowing period leaves behind lessons that people must remember today to avoid falling into the same path.
Blakemore, Erin. “How the Treaty of Versailles Ended World War I and Started World War II.” National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/topics/reference/treaty-versailles-ended-wwi-started-wwii/. Accessed 8 February 2021.
Kolb, Eberhard. The Weimar Republic. New York, Routledge, 2005.
“Nazi economic, social and racial policy.” British Broadcasting Corporation, https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zw6s7p3/revision/1. Accessed 8 February 2021.
Schmidt, Carl T. German Business Cycles, 1924-1933. E-Book, National Bureau of Economic Research, 1934.
Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1960.
“The Weimar Republic 1918-1929.” British Broadcasting Corporation, https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z9y64j6/revision/1. Accessed 8 February 2021.