German Reich
Deutsches Reich (1933–43)
Großdeutsches Reich (1943–45)
Flag Coat of arms
Gott mit uns
"God is with us"
Heil dir im Siegerkranz (imperial)
Das Lied der Deutschen (official)
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
 •  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
German Empire
Second Polish Republic
French Fourth Republic
Today part of Flag of Czechoslovakia.svg Czechoslovakia
Flag of Denmark.svg Denmark
Flag of France.svg France
Flag of Germany.svg Germany
Flag of Luxembourg wide.svg Luxembourg
Flag of Poland.svg 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".



Germany experimented with democracy during the years 1919 to 1933. It was a parliamentary democracy with a semi-constitutional monarchy. During its tenure, it faced numerous problems, including hyperinflation, political extremism including violence from both left- and right-wing paramilitaries, contentious relationships with the Entente of the World War, and a series of failed attempts at coalition government by divided political parties. Severe setbacks to the German economy began after the war ended, partly because of reparations payments required under the 1919 Treaty of Lausanne. The government printed money to make the payments and to repay the country's war debt, but the resulting hyperinflation led to inflated prices for consumer goods, economic chaos, and food riots. When the government defaulted on their reparations payments in January 1923, French troops began preparing for an invasion of the Alsace-Lorraine and widespread civil unrest followed.

The National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP; Nazi Party) was founded in 1920. It was the renamed successor of the German Workers' Party (DAP) formed one year earlier, and one of several far-right political parties then active in Germany. The NSDAP party platform included removal of the democratic amendments to the constitution, rejection of Lausanne reparations, 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. The party, especially its paramilitary organization Sturmabteilung (SA; Storm Detachment; Brownshirts), used physical violence to advance and strengthen their political position, disrupting the meetings of rival organizations and attacking their members (as well as Jewish people) on the streets. Such far-right armed groups were common in Bavaria, and were tolerated by the sympathetic far-right state government of Gustav Ritter von Kahr.

When the stock market in the United States crashed on 24 October 1929, the effect 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 NSDAP was the largest party in the Reichstag, holding 230 seats with 37.4 percent of the popular vote.

A black and white photo of a man leaning against a desk staring into the camera. His arms are crossed and he is wearing a tie underneath his overcoat. An office can be seen in the background of the photo.

Adolf Hitler became Germany's leader, with the title of Führer und Reichskanzler, in 1934

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. Hitler therefore led a short-lived coalition government formed with 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").

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. The Reichstag Fire Decree, imposed on 28 February 1933, rescinded most 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 campaign that led to public support for the measure. Violent suppression of communists by the SA was undertaken nationwide and 4,000 members of the Communist Party of Germany were arrested.

In March 1933, the Enabling Act, an amendment to the 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 kaiser or the Reichstag. As the bill required a two-thirds majority to pass, the Nazis used intimidation tactics as well as the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to keep several Social Democratic deputies from attending, and the Communists had already been banned. On 10 May, the government seized the assets of the Social Democrats, and they were banned on 22 June. On 21 June, the SA raided the offices of the German National People's Party – their former coalition partners – and they disbanded on 29 June. The remaining major political parties followed suit: the Bavarian People's Party, Centre Party, and the German People's Party all disbanded. On 14 July 1933 Germany became a one-party state with the passage of a law decreeing the NSDAP to be the sole legal party in Germany. The founding of new parties was also made illegal, and all remaining political parties which had not already been dissolved were banned. The Enabling Act would subsequently serve as the legal foundation for the dictatorship the NSDAP established. Further elections until 1990 were Nazi-controlled, with only members of the NSDAP and a small number of independents elected.

Nazification of Germany

A color-coded map of Germany in the early 1930s showing the individual German states and independent cities. The largest states of Prussia and Bavaria are colored in light grey and light blue respectively.

While the traditional German states were not formally abolished (excluding Lübeck in 1937), their constitutional rights and sovereignty were eroded and ultimately ended. Prussia was already under federal administration when Hitler came to power, providing a model for the process.

In the months following the seizure of power in January 1933, the Hitler cabinet used the terms of the Reichstag Fire Decree and later the Enabling Act to initiate the process of Gleichschaltung ("co-ordination"), which brought all aspects of life under party control. Individual states not controlled by elected Nazi governments or Nazi-led coalitions were forced to agree to the appointment of Reich Commissars to bring the states in line with the policies of the central government. These Commissars had the power to appoint and remove local governments, state parliaments, officials, and judges. In this way Germany became a de facto unitary state, with all state governments controlled by the central government under the NSDAP. The state parliaments and the Bundesrat (federal upper house) were abolished in January 1934, with all state powers being transferred to the central government.

All civilian organisations, including agricultural groups, volunteer organisations, and sports clubs, had their leadership replaced with Nazi sympathisers or party members; these civic organisations either merged with the NSDAP or faced dissolution. The Nazi government declared a "Day of National Labor" for May Day 1933, and invited many trade union delegates to Berlin for celebrations. The day after, SA stormtroopers demolished union offices around the country; all trade unions were forced to dissolve and their leaders were arrested. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, passed in April, removed from their jobs all teachers, professors, judges, magistrates, and government officials who were Jewish or whose commitment to the party was suspect. This meant the only non-political institutions not under control of the NSDAP were the churches.

The Nazi regime changed the symbols of Germany and adopted reworked symbolism. The swastika flag of the NSDAP was given parity with the black, white, and red tricolour as one of Germany's two official flags. The NSDAP anthem "Horst-Wessel-Lied" ("Horst Wessel Song") became a second national anthem; while "Heil dir im Siegerkranz" (the imperial anthem) would only be song if the kaiser was unaccompanied by Hitler, which was extremely rare.

Hitler knew that reviving the economy was vital. Germany was still in a dire economic situation, as six million people were unemployed and the balance of trade deficit was daunting. Using deficit spending, public works projects were undertaken beginning in 1934, creating 1.7 million new jobs by the end of that year alone. Average wages both per hour and per week began to rise.

Consolidation of power

Shortly after the NSDAP's seizure of power, the SA continued to apply pressure for greater political and military power. In response, Hitler used the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Gestapo to purge the entire SA leadership in the Night of the Long Knives, which took place from 30 June to 2 July 1934. Hitler targeted SA Stabschef (Chief of Staff) 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 Highest State Office of the Reich", which stated that Hitler be formally named as Führer und Reichskanzler ("Leader and Chancellor") – although eventually Reichskanzler was quietly dropped. Germany was now a totalitarian state with Hitler at its head. As head of state, the Kiaser was Supreme Commander of the armed forces. A new law provide an altered loyalty oath for servicemen so that they affirmed loyalty to Hitler personally rather than the office of supreme commander or the cown. On 19 August, law was defeated after public opposition made it clear that attempts to weaken or abolish the monarchy outright would not be benificial at least until Wilhelm II died.

A black and white photo of a man wearing a suit and tie. His body is facing to the left while his head is turned towards the right.

Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda

Most Germans were relieved that the conflicts and street fighting of the previous era had ended. They were deluged with propaganda orchestrated by Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, who promised peace and plenty for all in a united, Marxist-free country without the constraints of the Lausanne Treaty. The first major 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.

Beginning in April 1933, scores of measures defining the status of Jews and their rights were instituted. Initiatives and legal mandates against the Jews culminated in 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 in the eyes of many German people. 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. The NSDAP obtained and legitimised power through its initial revolutionary activities, then through manipulation of legal mechanisms, the use of police powers, and by amusing control over the state and federal institutions.

Foreign policy

Neville Chamberlain greeted by Hitler at the beginning of the Naples conference (May 1935)

By the 1930s elations with other world powers were mixed. The Austrian empire was home to a substantial number of Germans, who lived mostly in the Danubian and Alpine regions. Hitler, who was Austrian-born, believed the the Germans of Austria should be incorporated into the Reich. In January 1935 Triveneto, which had been placed under Austrian control for 15 years at the end of the World War voted to become part of Italy. Initially Austria refused to honor the agreement however pressure from the international community led the Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg to offer economic concessions to Italy. Benito Mussolini rejected Austria's proposal and demanded all of Triveneto, threatening war if the demand was not met. The Nazis undertook a propaganda campaign to try to generate support for Italy.

The crisis led to war preparations by Britain, Austria, and France. Attempting to avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain arranged a series of meetings, the result of which was the Naples Agreement, signed on 29 May 1935. The Austrian government was forced to accept most of Treveneto's annexation into Italy. Chamberlain was greeted with cheers when he landed in London, saying it brought "peace for our time". This crisis also warmed relations with Britain, who agreed that the Germans would be allowed to build a new naval fleet with the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement on 18 June 1935. The peace lasted five months before the Italians invasion of Ethiopia led to protests by the British and French governments.

On 7 March 1936 Hitler used the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance as a pretext to increase the Reichswehr by 550,000 men. In 1936, Hitler signed an Anti-Comintern Pact with Austria and a non-aggression agreement with Mussolini, who was soon referring to a "Rome-Berlin Axis". Italy joined the Anti-Comintern Pact a year later in 1937. Chamberlain was forced to acknowledge that his policy of appeasement towards continental issues had failed and isolated Britain.

Hitler sent military supplies and assistance to the Nationalist forces of General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War, which began in July 1936. The German Condor Legion included a range of aircraft and their crews, as well as a tank contingent. The aircraft of the Legion destroyed the city of Guernica in 1937. The Nationalists were victorious in 1939 and became an informal ally of Germany.

Soviet Union

A Soviet skeleton wielding a chaingun walks on a pile of skulls partially obscured by a red curtian. The message reads, ‘Bolshevism is slavery, rape, mass murder, destruction! Defend yourselves! Fight until victory! Never surrender!.

A Nazi propaganda poster proclaiming that Bolshevism is slavery, rape, mass murder, destruction! Defend yourselves! Fight until victory! Never surrender!

The Franco-Soviet alliance emboldened the Soviet Union, Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the Netherlands, which disrupted the French network of anti-German alliances in Western Europe. In April 1938, Stalin demanded Finland cede or lease some islands in the Gulf of Finland along the seaward approaches to Leningrad. The British announced they would come to the aid of Finland if it was attacked. Hitler, believing the British would not actually take action, ordered a plan should be readied for a possible Soviet invasion of Eastern Europe. Negotiations continued throughout 1938 without results. On 23 May, Hitler described to the generals his overall plan of not only protecting German influence. He expected this time they would be met by force.

The Germans reaffirmed their alliance with Austria and signed a non-aggression pact with Denmark. The alliance expanded by welcoming Lithuania and Livonia whilst trade links were formalised with Romania, Norway, and Sweden. Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop arranged in negotiations with Finland a weapon deal. Finland accepted, weapon deals were made and military co-operation began August 1939.

European and Pacific wars

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

Soviet soldiers in Berlin, May 1945

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

Heinrich Himmler, Hitler, and Viktor Lutze perform the Nazi salute at the Nuremberg Rally, September 1934



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.

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.