Hitler and Nazi Germany
In twelve short years, from 1933 to 1945, Hitler and the Nazis turned the world upside down. Having gained power in Germany the Nazis created a regime based on terror and propaganda which was, apparently, supported by broad sections of the German people. Within a few years, Hitler had torn up the Treaty of Versailles, re-armed and expanded the army and set about re-drawing the map of Europe. As his successes mounted so did his popularity as he brought Germans in the Rhineland, Austria and the Sudetenland 'home to the Reich.' At the same time, the regime declared war on its political and racial enemies within Germany, persecuting the Jews and casting its political and social enemies into concentration camps. Yet such was the success of the regime and the charisma of Hitler that most Germans chose to look away from the brutality of the regime whilst enjoying the resurgence of German pride and power.
Hitler had consistently argued that Germany's future lay in the east - in Poland and the Soviet Union - where a vast new Germanic empire would be built upon the ruins of enslaved Slavic peoples and with the outbreak of war in 1939 the opportunity to put these ideas into practice had arrived. Hitler announced that the war in the east would be a war of 'annihilation', and in western Poland, Nazis murdered Poles and Jews indiscriminately. With the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 their murderous campaign against Jews and Communists knew no bounds. Whole villages were massacred in retaliation for partisan attacks. Jews and Communists were shot in their thousands, and, from late 1941 onwards, the industrial murder of Jews in specially designed extermination centres began. This culminated in the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz, which, Eichmann proudly boasted, could 'process' 2,500 'units' an hour: 60,000 people a day. Yet this was only one part of a global tragedy which included the deaths of 20,000,000 Soviet citizens in WW2, 3,000,000 Soviet prisoners of war, the destruction of most of central Europe; to say nothing of the war in the Far East and Pacific and the sufferings of the peoples of China and south-east Asia at the hands of the Japanese.
Murder on a scale practised by the Nazis is difficult to conceive or imagine, but some conclusions are possible which might help our understanding of these tragedies and that is the aim of this short course. These conclusions are rooted both in the nature of the society which produced Hitler and in his personal experience and psychology. By attempting to understand Hitler and his regime we can, perhaps, begin to conceive the inconceivable.
Dr Andrew Lacey