Weimar Germany and the Rise of the Nazis

[Excerpted from East Germany: A Country Study, Stephen R. Burant, ed. (Washington, D. C.: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 1987).]

Germany and World War I

Declaration of war by Germany resulted largely as the consequence of the Schlieffen Plan--the German military strategy prepared by Alfred von Schlieffen, chief of staff (1892-1906). The plan was based on the idea that Franco-Russian rapprochement made a German two-front war inevitable. Schlieffen's successor, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger (1906-14), firmly committed himself to the plan. Thus Germany's declaration of war on Russia (August 1, 1914), a response to Russian mobilization, was followed immediately by its declaration of war on France (August 3). On August 4, Britain, the third member of the Triple Entente, declared war on Germany. In 1915 Italy, which had been allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary, switched allegiance and joined the Triple Entente powers.

The strategy of the Schlieffen Plan conceived a swift victory in the west in which German troops entering France via neutral Belgium and the Netherlands would envelop the French armies, pinning them against the Swiss border. The bulk of the German army would then be free for combat in the east. The plan failed, however, leaving German troops stalemated in trench warfare in France. As a result, Moltke, who had at first altered the Schlieffen Plan and later abandoned it, was relieved of his executive position in September 1914 and was succeeded by Erich von Falkenhayn. Conflict raged between Falkenhayn, who insisted on continued efforts in the west, and the eastern command of Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, who had achieved significant advances.

Bethmann-Hollweg's September Program of 1914 set forth Germany's war aims, which included an expanded Germany (Mitteleuropa) with Belgium and Poland as vassal states and German colonies in Africa. The program reflected a domestic political climate in which the German nation had been virtually unanimous in supporting the decision to go to war; in August 1914, even the Social Democrats voted in favor of war credits in the Reichstag. During the first years of the war, the Reichstag was controlled by the Kriegszielmehrheit (war aims majority), a parliamentary bloc including delegates from the National Liberal Party, Center Party, and Conservative Party. The Kriegszielmehrheit had pressed for an annexationist war aims program; influential German interest groups, such as the Pan-German League, the army and navy, agrarian and industrial associations, and the intelligentsia approved. The SPD alone remained adamantly opposed to all annexationist claims.

By the spring of 1915, the war of movement envisioned by the Schlieffen Plan had become a war of position, and political and social disagreements, temporarily forgotten during the upsurge of patriotic feeling, began to reappear. By late summer 1916, chances for a definitive German victory seemed remote, and consequently Bethmann-Hollweg considered peace negotiations. His peace note, however, was rejected by the Triple Entente powers. After the offer to negotiate was rejected, the Army High Command, headed by Chief of Staff Hindenburg and his adjutant general, Ludendorff, demanded passage of the Auxiliary Service Bill calling for the large-scale militarization of Germany; the Reichstag passed a considerably weakened version of the bill in early 1917.

To cripple operations of the Triple Entente by destroying a sufficient amount of shipping, Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare in January 1917. In the meantime, although the Army High Command increasingly gained control of political decision making, pressure for a peace settlement mounted in the Reichstag. Bethmann-Hollweg attempted to pacify the opposition in the Reichstag with a renewed pledge of democratic reform; and Wilhelm II, reacting to the first workers' strike in Germany, which had been sparked by the Russian Revolution of February 1917, issued his famous Ostergeschenk (Easter present) confirming his chancellor's promise of reform. The Social Democrats nevertheless proceeded to issue a manifesto demanding peace without annexations. The Army High Command, however, remained committed to war and annexation. In April and May 1917, Hindenburg and Ludendorff met with Wilhelm II at Kreuznach and persuaded the emperor to draft the Kreuznach claims confirming the goals of the September Program. Bethmann-Hollweg and the Reichstag rejected the Kreuznach claims, however, and in July an interparty Reichstag committee drafted a resolution demanding peace without annexations. Hindenburg and Ludendorff expressed their opposition by resigning their posts. Wilhelm, compelled to choose between Bethmann-Hollweg and the Army High Command, supported Hindenburg and Ludendorff and demanded the chancellor's resignation. Thus Hindenburg and Ludendorff gained de facto control of political decision making.

After the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917, Russia and Germany began peace negotiations. In March 1918, the two countries signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The defeat of Russia enabled Germany to transfer troops from the eastern to the western front. This advantage was by far outweighed, however, by the United States declaration of war against Germany in April 1917, provoked largely by Germany's continued unrestricted submarine warfare. In order to break the French and British lines before the arrival of the expeditionary force from the United States, Germany launched a large offensive in March 1918 and succeeded in reaching the Marne River. A second large offensive on July 15, aimed at definitively smashing the enemy, failed, and German troops were subsequently pressed back along their extended front. In the early fall of 1918, the Army High Command conceded and called for an armistice. The armistice, signed on November 11 after the Social Democrats had proclaimed a republic and formed a government, was later repudiated by the military, which, together with the extreme right, created the myth of the "stab in the back" that blamed defeat in World War I on left-wing elements. German military casualties in World War I amounted to 1.6 million dead, more than 4 million wounded, and more than 200,000 missing in action.

The Treaty of Versailles, which was signed in June 1919, called for German disarmament. As a result of the treaty, the Rhineland was demilitarized and occupied by the western Allied powers for fifteen years; Germany ceded Alsace-Lorraine, the Polish Corridor, northern Schleswig-Holstein, and all overseas colonies; and the Allied Reparations Commission was established and charged with deciding the total war damage payments to be demanded of Germany. The Treaty of Versailles also included the "war guilt clause," which, by its implicit suggestion of German responsibility for World War I, evoked generalized German contempt for the treaty. Historians debate Germany's responsibility for World War I; some claim that Germany's entry into the war was accidental and defensive, others that the war was the result of German imperialism. It remains to be shown, in either case, that Wilhelmine aspirations were indeed qualitatively different from the pre-World War I imperialist ambitions of Britain or France.

The Weimar Republic, 1918-1933

Weimar Constitution

The Weimar Republic, proclaimed on November 9, 1918, was born in the throes of military defeat and social revolution (see fig. 5). On November 3, mutiny had broken out among naval squadrons stationed at Kiel. Workers had joined the revolt, which had quickly spread to other ports and to cities in northern, central, and southern Germany, finally reaching Berlin on November 9. Largely as a result of the November Revolution, Prince Max von Baden, the German chancellor, announced the abdication of the emperor. Following the abdication, the Social Democrats in the Reichstag gained control of the government; they proclaimed the republic, formed a provisional cabinet, and organized the National Assembly. Another revolt instigated in Berlin by the Spartacus League, a group of left-wing extremists, was crushed by the army in January 1919. In February the National Assembly elected Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert to the presidency and drafted a constitution.

The Weimar Constitution of 1919 established a federal republic consisting of nineteen states (Länder). The republic was headed by a president who was to be elected by popular direct ballot for a seven-year term and who could be reelected . The president appointed the chancellor and, based on the chancellor's nominations, also appointed the cabinet ministers. He retained authority to dismiss the cabinet, dissolve the Reichstag, and veto legislation. The legislative powers of the Reichstag were further weakened by the provision for presidential recourse to popular plebiscite. Article 48, the so-called emergency clause, accorded the president dictatorial rights to intervene in the territorial states for the purpose of enforcing constitutional and federal laws and/or to restore public order.

The constitution provided for the Reichstag and the Reichsrat (council of German states' representatives). The Reichstag, elected by popular suffrage, voted on legislation introduced by the chancellor. By a vote of no confidence, it could call for the dismissal of both chancellor and cabinet ministers. The Reichsrat replaced the Bundesrat (see Political Consolidation , this ch.). Established to guarantee state government supervision of national legislation, it was nevertheless subordinated to national control in that members of the Reichstag cabinet convened and presided over Reichsrat sessions. The Reichstag was empowered to override Reichsrat opposition with a two-thirds majority vote.

The powers accorded to the president reflected the nineteenth century's conservative and liberal predilection for monarchical rule. But democratization of suffrage strengthened the Reichstag, and in theory both the military and the bureaucracy were subordinated to cabinet control. Thus the constitution established a republic based on a combination of conservative and democratic elements. It guaranteed civil liberties, but provisions for social legislation, including land reform and limited nationalization, were never implemented. The constitution adopted the colors black, red, and gold--the colors of the Holy Roman Empire--to replace the black, white, and red of Imperial Germany. The colors adopted by the constitution symbolized the idea of a "greater Germany," which was to include Austria; but the incorporation of Austria into the republic was opposed by the Allies, and Austria remained a separate state.

Problems of Parliamentary Politics

The Weimar Republic represented a compromise: German conservatives and industrialists had transferred power to the Social Democrats to avert a possible Bolshevik-style takeover; the Social Democrats, in turn, had allied with demobilized officers of the Imperial Army to suppress the revolution. The January 1919 National Assembly elections produced the Weimar coalition, which included the SPD, the German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei--DDP), and the Center Party. The percentage of the vote gained by the coalition (76.2 percent; 38 percent for the SPD) suggested broad popular support for the republic. The antirepublican, conservative German National People's Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei--DNVP) and the German People's Party (Deutsche Volkspartei--DVP) combined received 10.3 percent of the vote. The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, which had split from the SPD during the war, won 8 percent of the vote. But the lifespan of the Weimar coalition was brief, and the Weimar political system, which was achieving gains for both extreme left and extreme right, soon became radicalized.

The future of the Weimar Republic was shaped during the critical year separating the National Assembly elections and the June 1920 Reichstag elections. German public opinion was influenced by three major developments. First, the Treaty of Versailles shocked German nationalists and seriously damaged the republic's prestige. The treaty's provisions for Allied occupation of the Rhineland and reparations were considered unduly harsh. Second, German workers were disappointed by the failure to achieve social reform. Third, the Kapp Putsch of March 1920, an attempted coup staged by disaffected right-wing army officers, provided impetus for the political radicalization of rightist and leftist elements. In the June 1920 elections, the Weimar coalition lost its majority. An increase in votes (28.9 percent) for the DNVP and the DVP reflected German middle-class disillusionment with democracy. SPD strength fell to 21.7 percent as the German working class defected to the extreme left. The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany split as most members joined the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands--KPD), formed in December 1918, and the remainder reunited with the SPD.

The Weimar coalition never regained its majority. After 1920 the era of unpopular minority cabinets began. Postwar inflation and Allied demands for reparations contributed to political instability. In January 1923, French and Belgian troops occupied the highly industrialized Ruhr district as a protest against German defaults in reparations payment. The Weimar government responded by calling upon the Ruhr population to stop all industrial activity. In the summer of 1923, President Ebert asked Gustav Stresemann, the DVP chairman, to form a new cabinet coalition to resolve the crisis.

Stresemann Era

Stresemann typified the Weimar Vernunftrepublikaner (commonsense republican); a former National Liberal and annexationist, he supported the republic for pragmatic reasons. During his brief chancellorship (August-November 1923), he headed the "great coalition," an alliance that included the SPD, Center Party, DDP, and DVP. After his chancellorship ended because of combined opposition from the right and left, Stresemann served as German foreign minister until his death in 1929. The Stresemann era (1923-29) was a period of rapprochement with the West during which passive resistance in the Ruhr was ended. As foreign minister, Stresemann pursued negotiation rather than confrontation with the Allies. His policy, however, was strongly opposed by members of both the DNVP and the KPD.

In 1924 the German government adopted a plan for German economic recovery prepared by the American financier Charles G. Dawes. The Dawes Plan attempted to coordinate German reparations payments with a program of economic recovery whereby Germany was required to make only limited payments until 1929. To assist with the recovery, the Reichsbank was founded, and foreign credit, mainly from the United States, was filtered into Germany. As a result, between 1924 and 1929 German industry and commerce made unprecedented progress, and both the standard of living and real wages rose steadily. The Dawes Plan also provided for the withdrawal of French and Belgian troops from the Ruhr district. In 1925 President Ebert died, and the German people elected their national hero, Paul von Hindenburg, who supported the policies inaugurated by Stresemann until 1929, the year of Stresemann's death.

The Locarno treaties, signed in 1925 by Germany and the Allies, were part of Stresemann's attempt at rapprochement with the West. A prerequisite for Germany's admission to the League of Nations in 1926, the treaties accepted the demilitarization of the Rhineland and guaranteed the western frontier as defined by the Treaty of Versailles. Both Britain and Germany preferred to leave the question of the eastern frontier open. In 1925-26 the Allies withdrew their troops from the right bank of the Rhine. In 1926 the German and Soviet governments signed the Treaty of Berlin, which pledged Germany and the Soviet Union to neutrality in the event of an attack on either country by foreign powers.

The Locarno treaties, the Treaty of Berlin, and Germany's membership in the League of Nations were the successes that earned Stresemann world renown. The Young Plan of 1929, which was also introduced during the Stresemann era, formulated the final reparations settlement. Germany agreed to a 59-year schedule of payments averaging approximately 2 billion Deutsche marks annually. The Bank of International Settlement was established to facilitate transactions. The Allies, in turn, promised to complete the evacuation of the Rhineland.

Weimar Culture

The Weimar Republic was the first attempt to establish constitutional liberal democratic government in Germany. The republic's name symbolically evoked memories of the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who had spent a number of years at the court of Weimar, and of the nation's humanistic cultural traditions. Goethe's Weimar was contrasted with the Prussian Germany of authoritarianism, military swagger, and imperialism. Many Germans, however, remained attached to the old order and lacked a genuine commitment to republican ideals. Both the Social Democrats and those who harkened back to the Prussian past were opposed by the radical opposition, whose program included revolutionary tactics. German culture under the republic reflected the ideological diversity of a politically fragmented society.

The Warburg Library, the Psychoanalytic Institute, the German Academy for Politics, and the Marxist Institute for Social Research, founded soon after World War I, were dedicated to the critical analysis of political and social values. These institutions reflected the desire of Weimar intellectuals to reconsider the German past. Eckart Kehr's Schlachtflottenbau und Parteipolitik (Battleship Construction and Party Politics), published in 1930, pursued the same critical objective, revealing the domestic socioeconomic basis for Imperial Germany's naval policy.

The cult of the hero survived in the poet Stefan George's literary society, known as the George Circle, which, in addition to publishing "elevated" poetry and translating the classics, displayed its aristocratic mentality in biographies about great historical figures. Ernst Kantorowicz's Emperor Frederick II, a biography of the thirteenth- century Hohenstaufen ruler, received widespread public acclaim. Kantorowicz, a former Prussian army officer, describes the Weimar Republic as the triumph of mediocrity, and in his preface he speaks of Germany's secret longing for its emperors and heroes. In his biography, he mythically portrays Frederick II as a superman who defies all authority and is voraciously eager to taste all of life.

Many German artists during this period were part of the expressionist movement. Both literary and visual expressionism were primarily concerned with representing the immediate present. In contrast to the strict form in the writings of the George Circle, literary expressionism consciously simplified, abbreviated, and distorted sentence structures to give expression to passionate inner feeling. A reaction to inhuman social conditions and the horrors of World War I, expressionist writing called for a new man and a new world that would be united in brotherly love. The outsider, as a victim of society, became the hero. Writers whose works represent this kind of reaction include Georg Heym and Fritz von Unruh. Although some writers, for example, Kurt Hiller and Heinrich Mann, became politically active extremists, expressionists were, for the most part, solely literary revolutionaries. Inner experience is also emphasized in the bold and symbolic colors and distorted forms found in the drawings and paintings of expressionist artists such as Franz Marc and Emil Nolde. In his grotesque figures and suggestive juxtapositions, the postwar artist George Grosz satirized the materialistic pseudoculture of the bourgeoisie.

The dilemma of the Weimar intellectual, who had to choose between the conservative past and the liberal present, can be approached through the novelist Thomas Mann. A monarchist before World War I, a commonsense republican after the war, Mann finally made a genuine commitment to the republic in the mid-1920s. In 1924 he published Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain), a novel that describes Hans Castorp's education through life. While visiting a tubercular cousin in a Swiss sanatorium, the protagonist contracts the disease himself and stays for seven years. The sanatorium is a cross section of European civilization in which Castorp is exposed to a variety of political ideologies, including enlightened liberalism. Significantly Castorp (and the conservative Mann) cannot choose liberalism. Love, not reason, the novel concludes, will provide the basis for social reconciliation.

After 1929 national socialism offered a different social and political solution. The Nazi party took full advantage of political instability and economic depression, launched a largescale propaganda campaign, and won a mass following. Nazi ideology, authoritarian but promising social revolution, appealed particularly to German youth, who longed for the restoration of order.

Hitler and the Rise of National Socialism

Adolf Hitler was born in the Austrian border town of Braunau am Inn in 1889. At the age of seventeen, Hitler was refused admission to the Vienna Art Academy because of his lack of talent. He remained in Vienna, where he led a Bohemian existence, acquiring an ideology based on belief in the Germanic master race and a form of anti-Semitism that blamed social and political crises on Jewish subversive activities. Hitler remained in Vienna until 1913, when he moved to Munich to avoid the draft. After serving in the German army during World War I, he joined the right-wing Bavarian German Workers' Party in 1919. The following year, the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (National-Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei-- NSDAP); the members were known as Nazis, a term derived from the German pronunciation of "National". In 1921 Hitler assumed leadership of the NSDAP.

As führer (leader) of the NSDAP, Hitler reorganized the party on a monolithic basis and encouraged the assimilation of other radical right-wing groups. He was assisted by Ernst Röhm, Dietrich Eckart, and Alfred Rosenberg. Röhm's Stormtroopers (Sturmabteilung--SA) constituted Hitler's private army. Eckart published the Völkischer Beobachter, the official party newspaper. Rosenberg, the party ideologist, developed slogans and symbols and conceived the use of the swastika, the future emblem of the Third Reich. Under Hitler's leadership, the NSDAP denounced the republic and the "November criminals" who had signed the Treaty of Versailles. The postwar economic slump won the party a following among unemployed ex-soldiers, the lower middle class, and small farmers; in 1923 membership totaled 55,000. General Ludendorff supported the former corporal in his beer hall putsch of November 1923, an attempt to overthrow the Bavarian government. The putsch failed, and Hitler was imprisoned until December 1924. In prison he wrote Mein Kampf, the Nazi ideological tract.

After the failure of the putsch, Hitler chose "legal revolution" as the road to power and then pursued a double goal. First, the NSDAP employed propaganda to create a national mass party capable of seizing power through electoral successes. Second, the party developed a bureaucratic structure and prepared to assume the functions of

state. Beginning in 1924, numerous Nazi cells sprang up in parts of northern Germany; the northern groups were consolidated with the Munich-Bavarian party core. The NSDAP bureaucracy was established in 1926. The SA, which was subordinated to centralized political control, functioned primarily to train party members and to supervise the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend-- HJ). Postwar youth and university students increasingly formed the core of the NSDAP membership. In 1927 the NSDAP organized the first Nuremberg party congress, a mass political rally. By 1928 party membership exceeded 100,000; the Nazis, however, polled only 2.6 percent of the vote in the May Reichstag elections.

The NSDAP, a mere splinter party in 1928, began its rise to power the following year. The original breakthrough was the July 1929 alliance with the DNVP. Alfred Hugenberg, a DNVP leader, arranged the alliance for the purpose of launching a plebiscite against the Young Plan on the issue of reparations. Hugenberg, owner of a large chain of news media enterprises, considered the spellbinding Hitler to be a useful drummer who would attract the masses. The DNVP-NSDAP union brought the NSDAP within the framework of a socially influential coalition of the antirepublican right. As a result, Hitler's party acquired respectability and access to financial resources from a number of industrialists.

Had it not been for the economic depression of 1929, however, Hitler might have faded out of Germany's history. The depression greatly augmented political and social instability. By 1932 German unemployment figures had reached more than 6 million out of a population of 65 million. The situation caused the middle class, which had not fully recovered from the inflation of 1923, to lose faith in the economic system and in its future. The NSDAP exploited the situation, making an intensified appeal to the unemployed middle-class urban and rural masses and blaming the Treaty of Versailles and reparations for the developing crisis. Nazi propaganda attacked the Weimar political "system," the "November criminals," Marxists, internationalists, and Jews. In addition to promising a solution to the economic crisis, the NSDAP offered the German people a sense of national pride, the acquisition of lebensraum (living space), and the restoration of order. The racist concept of the "superior" Aryan requiring defense against foreign intrusion, i.e., Jews, was also proclaimed.

Frequent elections had to be held because no workable majority was possible in the Reichstag; the economic depression was causing an increase in votes only for the extremist parties. The cabinet crises of the depression years led to increased experimentation with authoritarian methods of rule. The most important consequence of this experimentation was President Hindenburg's appointment of chancellors whose politics favored the right. In the spring of 1930, Hindenburg appointed Heinrich Brüning as chancellor. The NSDAP won 18.3 percent of the vote that year and emerged as the second strongest Reichstag party (following the SPD, which had 38.2 percent). The KPD polled 13.1 percent of the vote. In 1931 the DNVP, which was devastatingly defeated in the elections, joined with the NSDAP to form the Harzburg Front coalition against Brüning's government. Under orders from Moscow, the KPD cooperated with the NSDAP in an attempt to destroy the Weimar Republic. Under attack from both sides, the Brüning government survived only until June 1932.

In July 1932, the NSDAP more than doubled its 1930 Reichstag representation and became the strongest German party. In the November 1932 election, however, NSDAP popularity declined as the economic depression began to abate. The KPD increased its representation in this election. In the same year, a group of conservative and antirepublican aristocrats and industrialists, thinking they could use to their advantage the wave of discontent that had contributed to Hitler's rise in popularity, supported the NSDAP with funds. Meanwhile, Brüning's successor, Franz von Papen, a strong authoritarian who wished to establish a corporate state under aristocratic leadership and thus circumvent the problems of parliamentary politics, sought NSDAP-DNVP support in May 1932. He, however, met with Hitler's refusal. After the electoral success of the NSDAP in the July 1932 elections, Hitler also refused Papen's offer to join the cabinet as vice chancellor.

General Kurt von Schleicher, having forced Papen's resignation, was appointed chancellor in December 1932. Unable to form a coalition in the Reichstag, Schleicher also offered Hitler the vice chancellorship, but the führer was determined to hold out for the highest government post. When Schleicher was dismissed, he and Papen, intriguing separately, prevailed upon President Hindenburg to appoint Hitler chancellor of a coalition government. On January 30, 1933, by entirely legal means, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of the republic.

Consolidation of Power

Hitler proceeded to transform the Weimar Republic into a totalitarian dictatorship. The National Socialist "revolution" was accomplished in gradual steps by using legal and semilegal methods as well as terror and persuasion. The NSDAP endeavored initially to establish National Socialist hegemony within the state. In this process, the old conservative-nationalist elite, while partially preserved, was subordinated to Nazi control. The state bureaucratic apparatus and the army, however, were retained, and the country's economic and social structure remained largely unchanged.

Because the government did not have a parliamentary majority, Hindenburg called for the dissolution of the Reichstag and set March 5 as the date for new elections. A week before election day, the Reichstag building was destroyed by fire. The Nazis, who presumably had set fire to the building themselves, blamed the fire on the communists, and on February 28 the president, invoking Article 48 of the constitution, signed a decree that enabled the Nazis to quash the political opposition. Authorized by the decree, the SA arrested socialist and liberal leaders as well as a large number of communists. State governments lacking a National Socialist majority were dissolved and subordinated to control by the central government. In March Hitler presented the Enabling Act to the Reichstag. The Reichstag, purged and intimidated, passed the act by a vote of 441 to 84, thereby according Hitler's cabinet dictatorial powers for a period of 4 years.

Hitler used the Enabling Act to implement Gleichschaltung (forced political coordination), the policy of subordinating all independent institutions and organizations to Nazi control. The state bureaucracy and the judiciary were purged of "non-Aryans," and all members were obliged to swear an oath of personal loyalty to the führer. The Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei--Gestapo) was created, and the People's Tribunal was established to deal with cases of treason. State governments were dismissed and replaced by Reich governors directly responsible to Hitler. Trade unions were dissolved, political parties other than NSDAP were disbanded, and the NSDAP was purged of its social-revolutionary wing. In July Germany was legally declared a National Socialist one-party state.

After Hindenburg's death in August 1934, Hitler promulgated a law that combined the offices of the president and the chancellor. The law violated the Enabling Act, but it was subsequently sanctioned by national plebiscite. Thus, in the pseudolegal fashion characteristic of Nazi tactics, Hitler established himself as German führer. The army swore an oath of allegiance pledging unconditional obedience to him, and Heinrich Himmler's Guard Detachment (Schutzstaffel--SS) replaced the SA as Hitler's private army. Nazi leadership was drawn from the lowermiddle class and, according to some estimates, came from nonPrussian regions such as Bavaria.

Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda, consolidated the National Socialist power and elite structure. Goebbels formulated the concept of "total propaganda" and established the Reich Cultural Chamber. The chamber extended Gleichschaltung to include the educational system, the media, and all cultural institutions. Germanic customs were revived, the worship of Germanic gods was encouraged, and ambiguous and exaggerated vocabulary was introduced into the language to promote Nazi ideology. Hitler's Mein Kampf and other racist-imperialist literature were also widely distributed. In its propaganda campaign, the NSDAP focused primarily on "gathering in" the German youth.