Soon after the passage of the enabling law, Hitler struck the first of his many blows against the Jews. In a country of approximately 60 million people, practicing Jews were less than 1 percent of the population.
The Jews had become leading members of the professions and the arts and had made outstanding contributions to German culture. Since most Jews were patriotic Germans, many of them would probably have become Nazis if they had been permitted to. Instead, anti-Semitic doctrines required their ruthless elimination.
Racism now became part of state policy. The businesses and professions of the Jews were boycotted, and Jews were forbidden to hold office. In the “Nuremberg laws” of September 15, 1935, a Jew was defined as any person with one Jewish grandparent; all such persons were deprived of the rights of German citizenship. Intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews was forbidden as “racial pollution.” Jews might not fly the national flag, write or publish, exhibit paintings or give concerts, act on stage or screen, teach in any educational institution, work in a bank or a hospital, enter any of the government’s labor or professional bodies, or sell books or antiques. They were not eligible for unemployment insurance or charity. Many towns and villages refused to permit Jews to live inside their precincts.
In November 1938 a Jewish boy of seventeen, driven to desperation by the persecution of his parents, shot and killed a secretary of the German embassy in Paris. Two days later organized German mobs looted and pillaged Jewish shops all over Germany, burned and dynamited synagogues, and invaded Jewish homes to batter the occupants and steal their possessions.
Known as the Kristallnacht, this event made it quite clear even to foreign observers that Germany was officially pursuing anti-Semitism. The state then compelled the Jews to restore the damaged properties and pay a fine. Jews were forced to take special names, to wear yellow Stars of David, and to belong to a Reich “Union of Jews.” Measures designed to drive the Jews into ghettos were but the prelude to their physical extermination in gas ovens during World War II.
Enthusiasm for “racial purity” led to the study of eugenics, to the promotion of widespread athleticism and the cult of physical health, and to the elevation of Hitler into a virtual messiah. Blond, blue-eyed, ideal “Nordic types” were urged to mate with each other early and to have many children. By the time the average woman was twenty-four years old she was expected to be a mother. To keep the race pure, sterilization was introduced, supposedly to prevent inherited disease. Medical experimentation of horrifying cruelty and of no scientific value was practiced during the war on human beings of “inferior” races—Jews, Poles and other Slays, and gypsies. These practices were the direct outcome of Nazi “eugenic” legislation.
In foreign affairs, German racism justified the conquest of all territory inhabited by Germans. In addition, the doctrine of Lebensraum (“living space” for the expanding “Nordic race”) justified the incorporation of nonGerman areas. Hitler declared that what the Germans needed they were entitled to take, since they were a superior people.
Some German intellectuals had looked back with longing upon the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages, the first Reich. Now that the war had ended the second Reich of William II, they hoped to create a third one, incorporating the old territories, no matter who now lived in them. This is the meaning of Hitler’s use of the term “Third Reich” to describe the Nazi state, which he proclaimed would last a thousand years.
A “scientific” basis for the Lebensraum theory was supplied by the teachers of “geopolitics,” chief among whom was Karl Haushofer (1869-1946), who declared that Britain and France were decadent; that small powers must disappear; that Germany must expand ruthlessly, occupying the “heartland” of Eurasia, and dominate the world. Another school of thought argued that Germany’s future lay in an alliance with the Soviet Union, in which its inexhaustible work force would be joined with Germany’s industrial output and military techniques.
Hitler revamped the German judicial system, abandoning traditional legal principles and substituting “folk” justice, which, Hitler said, totally subordinated the individual to the people (yolk). People’s courts, to which Hitler appointed the judges, were established (May 1934) to try all cases of treason, a crime that was now logically extended to include many lesser offenses against “the people.” Concentration camps were established for enemies of the state, who could be executed without appeal. The Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, Secret State Police), formally established in April 1933 in Prussia, was extended to all of Germany in 1934, with a free hand in opening private correspondence, tapping wires, and spying on citizens.
All economic life was brought under the regime. In agriculture, the Nazis aimed at self-sufficiency and at control of the peasantry. The Junkers were protected, and no effort was made to divide their vast estates. In 1933 a special law protected smaller farms against forced sale and attachment for debt, an act that won the small farmer to Hitler. But the government determined the production required of farms, and fixed farm prices, wages, and fees for distributing farms products. Unused land was put under cultivation, and citizens had to grow vegetables in greenhouses in preparation for war.
In industry, Hitler proclaimed a four-year plan in 1933 and a second one in 1936. The first was aimed chiefly at economic recovery. Labor camps for men and women helped decrease unemployment, as did rearmament and public works. The second plan was designed to prepare for war. Output of raw materials was increased, and the materials were distributed first to armament and other war industries; labor was allocated in a similar way; prices and foreign exchange were controlled. The state also built strategic highways (Autobahnen), the first modern expressways, for the rapid movement of goods and troops.
The Nazis abolished all labor unions in 1933 and employers’ associations in 1934. To replace them, a Labor Front was established to include all wage earners, salaried persons, professionals, and employers. Strikes and lockouts were forbidden. Workers were assured of jobs as long as they accepted the system. The Labor Front was also a spy organization, constantly on the alert for anti-Nazis in the factories; it could reduce their pay, fire them, or put them in jail.
As the second four-year plan went into effect, the workers became less mobile. They had work books detailing their past training and positions, and they could not get a new job unless the state decided it was more suitable. All graduates of secondary schools had to register with employment authorities, and men and women of working age could be conscripted for labor.
Just before the outbreak of war, all agricultural and mining workers and certain industrial workers were frozen in their jobs. Meanwhile, the big cartel became the all-pervasive feature of German industrial organization—a system of profitable monopoly under state control. The minister of economics authorized controlled plant expansion, imports and exports, fixed prices and established costs, and allocated raw materials.
These processes of Gleichschaltung (coordination) were applied throughout German life, including education and the arts. Goring is said to have remarked, “When I hear anyone talk of culture, I reach for my revolver.” Hitler’s own artistic views were extremely simple: He denounced most modern art as non-Aryan. The school curriculum, especially history, had to be taught in accord with the Nazi doctrine of “blood and soil.” Nazi racial doctrine, the great achievements of Germany’s illustrious past, the military spirit, and physical fitness were the cornerstones of the new education.
The Christian churches, both Protestant and Catholic, were a problem for the Nazis. Extremists among Hitler’s followers favored a return to a mystical paganism and the old German gods celebrated by Wagner’s operas. Hitler himself, born a Catholic, had once declared that Germany was his only god. Yet power politics required him to come to terms with the churches, which still commanded the allegiance of most Germans. In the hope of avoiding state domination, the Lutheran ministry in 1933 organized a national synod, which the Nazis almost immediately took over by appointing their own bishop. The efforts of extremist Nazis to purge the Bible and to abandon the crucifix led to discontent.
In July 1933 Hitler and the Vatican reached a concordat guaranteeing freedom of worship and permitting religious instruction in the schools. Catholics were to be allowed to form youth groups and to appoint professors of theology. But the Nazis did not live up to these terms.
On the other hand, the Catholic church found much to oppose in the teachings to which Catholic children were exposed in the Hitler youth groups; in 1937 a papal encyclical attacked National Socialism. Still, Catholics supported Hitler’s territorial ambitions, and the church took an ambiguous position on his treatment of the Jews. In general, Hitler carefully avoided a direct clash with the churches, and they remained silent.