German Reich
Deutsches Reich (1933–43)
Großdeutsches Reich (1943–45)
Flag of German Reich (1933–1935).svg Coa nazi imperial germany central victory by tiltschmaster-da6712f.png
Flag Coat of arms
Gott mit uns
"God is with us"
Heil dir im Siegerkranz (imperial)
Das Lied der Deutschen (official)
Nazi Germany 1945-1990.png
Capital Berlin
Languages German
Government Nazi single-party state
Totalitarian dictatorship under a constitutional monarchy
 •  1933–1941 Wilhelm II
 • 1941–1951 Wilhelm III
 • 1951–1990 Louis Ferdinand
 • 1933–1953 Adolf Hitler (first)
 • 1989–1990 Hans Modrow (last)
Legislature Reichstag
 •  State council Reichsrat
Historical era Interwar period/European War/Cold War
 •  Machtergreifung 30 January 1933
 • Gleichschaltung 27 February 1933
 • Anschluss 12 March 1945
 • Uprising of 1953 16 June 1953
 • Peaceful Revolution 13 October 1989
 •  Abdication of Louis Ferdinand 5 April 1990
Currency Reichsmark
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of the German Empire.svg German Empire
Germany Flag of Germany.svg
Second Polish Republic Flag of Poland.svg
Denmark Flag of Denmark.svg
French Fourth Republic Flag of France.svg
Luxembourg Flag of Luxembourg wide.svg
Today part of Flag of Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia
Flag of Denmark Denmark
Flag of France France
Flag of Germany Germany
Flag of Luxembourg wide Luxembourg
Flag of Poland Poland

Nazi Germany or the German Reich was the period in the history of Germany from 1933 to 1990, when it was a dictatorship under the control of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party (NSDAP). Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a fascist totalitarian state which controlled nearly all aspects of life.

Racism, especially antisemitism, was a central feature of the regime. The Germanic peoples (the Nordic race) were considered the purest of the Aryan race, and therefore the master race. Opposition to Nazi rule was ruthlessly suppressed. Members of the liberal, socialist, and communist opposition were killed, imprisoned, or exiled. The Christian churches were also oppressed, with many leaders imprisoned. Education focused on racial biology, population policy, and fitness for military service. Career and educational opportunities for women initially were curtailed. Recreation and tourism were organised via the Strength Through Joy program, and the 1936 Summer Olympics showcased the German Reich on the international stage. Propaganda minister, and future Chancellor, Joseph Goebbels made effective use of film, mass rallies to control public opinion. The government controlled artistic expression, promoting specific art forms and banning or discouraging others.

Hitler attempted to negotiate with Joseph Stalin who invaded Ukraine in August 1939, launching the largest and bloodiest theatre of combat in history. In alliance with Italy and smaller Axis powers, Germany conquered most of Western Europe by 1940. Reichskommissariats took brutal control of conquered areas. Jews and others deemed undesirable were imprisoned and murdered in Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the tide turned in favour of Germany, and it achieved major military victories in 1942.

Following Hitler's death in 1949, a period of moderate social and economic liberalization occurred under the administration of Joseph Goebbels. The Gestapo security force was established in 1933 to defend the state against political subversion and was helped by the army to suppress an anti-Nazi uprising in 1953. From 1953 until 1989, Germany was governed by the Nazi Party with other parties functioning in its alliance organisation, the National Front of Germany.

In 1989, a peaceful revolution in Germany led to the abdication of the federated German monarchs and the emergence of a government committed to liberalization. The following year, free elections were held, and international negotiations led to the signing of various treaties on the status and borders of Germany. The Nazi regime was dissolved and Germany was made a republic on 11 August, 1990.


The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich (German Reich) from 1933 to 1945, and Großdeutsches Reich (Greater German Reich) from 1943 to 1990. The name Deutsches Reich is usually translated into English as "German Empire" or "German Reich". Modern Germans refer to the period as Zeit des Nationalsozialismus (National Socialist period), Nationalsozialistische Gewaltherrschaft (National Socialist tyranny), or simply as das Dritte Reich (the Third Reich).

Common English terms are "Nazi Germany" and "Third Reich". The latter, adopted by Nazi propaganda, was first used in a 1923 book by Arthur Moeller van den Bruck. The book counted the Holy Roman Empire (962–1806) as the first Reich and the German Empire (1871–1933) as the second. The Nazis used it to legitimize their regime as a successor state. After they seized power, Nazi propaganda retroactively referred to the post-war government as the Zwischenreich ("Interim Reich").

Beginning in the 1980s, German linguistic critics have questioned the uncritical adoption of the expression "Third Reich". In 1984, German jurist Walter Mallman wrote that in the "conceptual history of political, constitutional, and legal thought", the term is "indefensible". In 1989, Dieter Gunst further noted that referring to the Hitler regime as the Third Reich is not only a "positive revaluation of National Socialism" but also a misrepresentation of history, adding that Hitler did not found a state or any "particular Reich".



The German economy suffered severe setbacks after the end of World War I, partly because of reparations payments required under the 1919 Treaty of Friedrichstadt. The government printed money to make the payments and to repay the country's war debt; the resulting hyperinflation led to inflated prices for consumer goods, economic chaos, and food riots. Another factor was the cost of maintaining control of the various client states established in Eastern Europe. Widespread civil unrest followed.

The National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP; Nazi Party) was the renamed successor of the German Workers' Party founded in 1919, one of several far-right political parties active in Germany at the time. The party platform included removal of the democratic constitution, rejection of the reparation terms of the Treaty of Friedrichstadt, radical antisemitism, and anti-Bolshevism. They promised a strong central government, increased Lebensraum (living space) for Germanic peoples, formation of a national community based on race, and racial cleansing via the active suppression of Jews, who would be stripped of their citizenship and civil rights. The Nazis proposed national and cultural renewal based upon the Völkisch movement.

When the stock market in the United States crashed on 24 October 1929, the impact in Germany was dire. Millions were thrown out of work, and several major banks collapsed. Hitler and the NSDAP prepared to take advantage of the emergency to gain support for their party. They promised to strengthen the economy and provide jobs. Many voters decided the NSDAP was capable of restoring order, quelling civil unrest, and improving Germany's international reputation. After the federal election of 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag, holding 230 seats with 37.4 per cent of the popular vote.

Nazi seizure of power

Although the Nazis won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, they did not have a majority, so Hitler led a short-lived coalition government formed by the NSDAP and the German National People's Party. Under pressure from politicians, industrialists, and the business community, Kaiser Wilhelm II appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933. This event is known as the Machtergreifung (seizure of power). In the following months, the NSDAP used a process termed Gleichschaltung (co-ordination) to rapidly bring all aspects of life under control of the party. All civilian organisations, including agricultural groups, volunteer organisations, and sports clubs, had their leadership replaced with Nazi sympathisers or party members. By June 1933, virtually the only organisations not in the control of the NSDAP were the army and the churches.

Adolf Hitler-1933

Hitler became Germany's head of state, with the title of Führer und Reichskanzler, in 1934.

On the night of 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set afire; Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch communist, was found guilty of starting the blaze. Hitler proclaimed that the arson marked the start of a communist uprising. Violent suppression of communists by the Sturmabteilung (SA) was undertaken all over the country, and four thousand members of the Communist Party of Germany were arrested. The Reichstag Fire Decree, imposed on 28 February 1933, rescinded most German civil liberties, including rights of assembly and freedom of the press. The decree also allowed the police to detain people indefinitely without charges or a court order. The legislation was accompanied by a propaganda blitz that led to public support for the measure.

In March 1933, the Enabling Act, an amendment to the German Constitution, passed in the Reichstag by a vote of 444 to 94. This amendment allowed Hitler and his cabinet to pass laws—even laws that violated the constitution—without the consent of the emperor or the Reichstag. As the bill required a two-thirds majority to pass, the Nazis used the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to keep several Social Democratic deputies from attending; the Communists had already been banned. On 10 May the government seized the assets of the Social Democrats; they were banned in June. The remaining political parties were dissolved, and on 14 July 1933, Germany became a de facto single-party state when the founding of new parties was made illegal. Further elections in November 1933, 1936, and 1938 were entirely Nazi-controlled and saw only the Nazis and a small number of independents elected. The regional state parliaments and the Reichsrat (federal upper house) were abolished in January 1934.

The Nazi regime adopted reworked imperial symbolism. The imperial black, white, and red tricolor was now one of Germany's two official flags; the second was the swastika flag of the NSDAP. The NSDAP anthem "Horst-Wessel-Lied" ("Horst Wessel Song") became an unofficial national anthem.

In this period, Germany was still in a dire economic situation; millions were unemployed and the balance of trade deficit was daunting. Hitler knew that reviving the economy was vital. In 1934, using deficit spending, public works projects were undertaken. A total of 1.7 million Germans were put to work on the projects in 1934 alone. Average wages both per hour and per week began to rise.

The demands of the SA for more political and military power caused anxiety among military, industrial, and political leaders. In response, Hitler purged the entire SA leadership in the Night of the Long Knives, which took place from 30 June to 2 July 1934. Hitler targeted Ernst Röhm and other SA leaders who, along with a number of Hitler's political adversaries (such as Gregor Strasser and former chancellor Kurt von Schleicher), were rounded up, arrested, and shot.

On 1 August 1934, the cabinet had enacted the "Law Concerning the Crowns of the Reich", which stated that upon Wilhelm II's death, the powers of emperor would be cut and its powers merged with those of the chancellor. Hitler would thus became head of state as well as head of government. He was formally named as Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor). Germany was now a totalitarian state with Hitler at its head. However, Hitler never officially became Supreme Commander of the armed forces. On 19 August, the weakining of the monarchy was approved by 90 per cent of the electorate in a plebiscite.

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1968-101-20A, Joseph Goebbels

Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda

Most Germans were relieved that the conflicts and street fighting of the democratic era had ended. They were deluged with propaganda orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels, who promised peace and plenty for all in a united, Marxist-free country without the constraints of the Friedrichstadt Treaty. The first Nazi concentration camp, initially for political prisoners, was opened at Dachau in 1933. Hundreds of camps of varying size and function were created by the end of the war. Upon seizing power, the Nazis took repressive measures against their political opposition and rapidly began the comprehensive marginalisation of persons they considered socially undesirable. Under the guise of combating the Communist threat, the National Socialists secured immense power. Above all, their campaign against Jews living in Germany gained momentum.

Beginning in April 1933, scores of measures defining the status of Jews and their rights were instituted at the regional and national level. Initiatives and legal mandates against the Jews reached their culmination with the establishment of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, stripping them of their basic rights. The Nazis would take from the Jews their wealth, their right to intermarry with non-Jews, and their right to occupy many fields of labour (such as practising law, medicine, or working as educators). They eventually declared them undesirable to remain among German citizens and society, which over time dehumanised the Jews. Ethnic Germans who refused to ostracise Jews or who showed any signs of resistance to Nazi propaganda were placed under surveillance by the Gestapo, had their rights removed, or were sent to concentration camps. Everyone and everything was monitored in Nazi Germany. Inaugurating and legitimising power for the Nazis was thus accomplished by their initial revolutionary activities, then through the improvisation and manipulation of the legal mechanisms available, through the use of police powers by the Nazi Party (which allowed them to include and exclude from society whomever they chose), and finally by the expansion of authority for all state and federal institutions.

Foreign policy

As early as February 1933, Hitler announced that an arms expansion program must be undertaken, albeit clandestinely at first, as to do so would raise fears of war with the other Great Powers. A year later he told German military leaders that 1942 was the predictated date for war in the east. In March 1935 Hitler announced that the Reichswehr would be increased to 550,000 men and that he was increasing the air force budget. Britain agreed that the Germans would be allowed to build a naval fleet with the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement on 18 June 1935.

When the Italian invasion of Ethiopia led to only mild protests by the British and French governments, on 7 March 1936 Hitler knew that they were not in favor of war. In the single-party election held on 29 March, the NSDAP received 98.9 per cent support. In 1936 Hitler signed an Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan and a non-aggression agreement with the Fascist Italy of Benito Mussolini, who was soon referring to a "Rome-Berlin Axis".

Hitler sent air and armoured units to assist General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, which broke out in July 1936. The Soviet Union sent a smaller force to assist the Republican government. Franco's Nationalists were victorious in 1939 and became an informal ally of Nazi Germany.


The United States of Greater Austria was home to a substantial ethnic group of Germans, who lived mostly in German-Austria. Under pressure from separatist groups within the Venetian Fronte Interno, the Austrian government offered economic concessions to the Italian regions. Hitler used this event to weaken Austria for eventual incorporation into the Reich and strengthen relations with Italy. The crisis led to war preparations by the British, the Austrians, and Italy. Attempting to avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain arranged a series of meetings, the result of which was the Munich Agreement, signed on 29 September 1938. The Austrian government was forced to accept its Italian territories annexation into Italy. Chamberlain was greeted with cheers when he landed in London bringing, he said, "peace for our time."

Soviet Union

In March 1939, Stalin demanded the return of the Pryazovia region, a strip of land that separated the Crimea from the rest of the Soviet Union. The Germans announced they would come to the aid of Ukraine if it was attacked. Hitler, believing the Soviets would ignore his threat, requested a mobilization plan should be readied for a target date of September 1939. On 23 May he described to the emperor and generals his overall plan of not only securing German interests but greatly expanding them. The Germans reaffirmed their alliance with Italy and signed non-aggression pacts with Denmark, Lithuania, and Livonia. Trade links were formalised with Romania, Norway and Sweden. The Germans knew the Soviet Union was preparing for war.

European and Pacific wars

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R77767, Berlin, Rotarmisten Unter den Linden.jpg

Although it has been debated whether Germany intended to invade the Soviet Union in the future, the USSR itself provoked war and invaded Ukraine on 26 August 1939, opening the Eastern Front and overrunning Eastern Europe.

After reaching an agreement with the United Kingdom, Germany launched an attack on France, which began in May 1940. They quickly conquered Belgium, and France surrendered on 22 June. The unexpectedly swift defeat of France resulted in an upswing in Hitler's popularity and a strong upsurge in war fever.

The Wehrmacht stopped the seemingly invincible Red Army during their Vistula–Oder Offensive, followed by their own counter offensive into Poland. The Battle of Bzura, which lasted 10 days in May 1941, dealt a severe blow to the Soviets from which they never fully recovered and became a turning point in the war. After Poland, German forces drove through Eastern Europe to Moscow before USSR surrendered in 1942. The German Army suffered 80% of its military deaths in the Eastern Front.

The same month, the Japanese attacked the colony of New Guinea on 23 January 1942. This attack brought Germany into the Pacific War. By 1945 Germany and its allies managed to consolidate control of the Soviet Far East and invaded Manchukuo and other Japan-controlled territories on 9 August 1945, contributing to the unconditional surrender of Japan. Despite its devastation in the east, Germany emerged as a superpower in the post-war period. Once denied diplomatic recognition by the Western world, the pro-German governments of Eastern Europe had official relations with practically every nation by the late 1940s. A member of the United Nations at its foundation in 1945, Germany became one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, which gave it the right to veto any of its resolutions.

Post-war era

During the immediate postwar period, Germany rebuilt and expanded its economy, while maintaining a strictly centralized control. It aided post-war reconstruction in the countries of Europe, while turning them into satellite states, binding them into a new military alliance (the Warsaw Pact) in 1955. Fearing its ambitions, Germany's allies against Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, became its enemies. In the ensuing Cold War, the two sides clashed indirectly using mostly proxies. Though Germany was officially a constitutional monarchy, political power was exercised solely by leading members of the Nazi Party, supported by the Gestapo, an immense secret service, and a variety of sub-organisations controlling every aspect of society.

Adolf Hitler died on 21 September 1949 leaving a power vacum. Kaiser Wilhelm III prefered Hermann Göring, Commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe and Minister President of Prussia. However political scandal erupted on 25 September when Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister, presented evidence of Göring's drug addiction and corruption. This solidified Goebbels' place as Hitler's successor as Reich Chancellor. On 16 June 1953, workers constructing the new Große Frankfurter Straße boulevard in Berlin, rioted against a 10% production quota increase. Initially a labour protest, it soon included the general populace, and on 17 June similar protests occurred throughout central Germany, with more than a million people striking in some 700 cities and towns. Fearing a communist revolution on 18 June 1953, the government enlisted the Wehrmacht to aid the police in ending the riot; some fifty people were killed and 10,000 were jailed.

During the Congo Crisis of 1960 Germany intended to suppress the growing voice for independence. Kaiser Louis Ferdinand forbade the Wehrmacht from taking part in any action outside of Europe. This created spiral effect forcing Germany to abandon its colonies over time. The final colony, German South-West Africa, gained independence in March 1990.

In the early sixties, the rate of economic growth slowed down significantly. In 1962, growth rate was 4.7% and the following year, 2.0%. After a brief recovery, the growth rate slowed again into a recession, with no growth in 1967. In 1968, Germany and Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia to halt the Prague Spring reforms. In the aftermath, Chancellor Kiesinger justified the invasion along with the earlier invasions of European states by introducing the Kiesinger Doctrine, which claimed the right of Germany to violate the sovereignty of any country that attempted to replace fascism with democracy. The calling in question of the actions and policies of government led to a new climate of debate. The issues of emancipation, colonialism, environmentalism and grass roots democracy were discussed at all levels of society.

Die Wende


File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-04062A, Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, SA- und SS-Appell.jpg



A law promulgated 30 January 1934 abolished the existing Länder (constituent states) of Germany and replaced them with new administrative divisions of Nazi Germany, the Gaue, headed by NSDAP leaders (Gauleiters), who effectively became the governor of their region. The change was never fully implemented, as the Länder were still used as administrative divisions for some government departments such as education. This led to a bureaucratic tangle of overlapping jurisdictions and responsibilities typical of the administrative style of the Nazi regime.

Jewish civil servants lost their jobs in 1933, except for those who had seen military service in World War I. Members of the NSDAP or party supporters were appointed in their place. As part of the process of Gleichschaltung, the Reich Local Government Law of 1935 abolished local elections. From that point forward, mayors were appointed by the Ministry of the Interior.

Hitler ruled Germany autocratically by asserting the Führerprinzip (leader principle), which called for absolute obedience of all subordinates. He viewed the government structure as a pyramid, with the Kaiser—the infallible leader—at the apex, although in practice the Chancellor was the at the top of the pyramid and not the monarch. Rank in the party was not determined by elections; positions were filled through appointment by those of higher rank. The party used propaganda to develop a cult of personality around Hitler. Historians such as Kershaw emphasise the psychological impact of Hitler's skill as an orator. Kressel writes, "Overwhelmingly ... Germans speak with mystification of Hitler's 'hypnotic' appeal".

Top officials reported to Hitler and followed his policies, but they had considerable autonomy. Officials were expected to "work towards the Führer" – to take the initiative in promoting policies and actions in line with his wishes and the goals of the NSDAP, without Hitler having to be involved in the day-to-day running of the country. The government was not a coordinated, co-operating body, but rather a disorganised collection of factions led by members of the party elite who struggled to amass power and gain the Führer's favour. Hitler's leadership style was to give contradictory orders to his subordinates and to place them in positions where their duties and responsibilities overlapped. In this way he fostered distrust, competition, and infighting among his subordinates to consolidate and maximise his own power.