Fascism and National Socialism


The German Reichstag.  The original building, which opened in 1894, functioned as the parliament of the German Empire (before World War I) and then the Weimar republic in Germany after 1918.  Shortly after Hitler legally became chancellor of Germany (30 January 1933) the Reichstag burned "to the ground" (27 February 1933).  Conflicting evidence points to the Nazis as the culprits behind the fire, but in any case, the fire provided the pretext for Hitler and the Nazis to blame communist insurgents and then to suspend constitutional rights and embark on a dictatorship.  Soon thereafter, 23 March 1933 the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act which essentially gave Hitler dictatorial powers.  The building was heavily damaged by the Red Army during the battle for Berlin in April 1945, and after the war the Reichstag remained basically a ruin in the Western sector of Berlin.  It was never completely demolished, and in the early 1960s reconstruction took place.  As a symbol of German unity, the official German reunification ceremony took place in the Reichstag on 3 October 1990.  In the late 1990s the building was completely gutted and rebuilt once again.  The seat of parliament returned to the Reichstag in April 1999.  Photo courtesy Colocho at Wikipedia Commons

After the First World War, throughout much of the Western world there was a turn to authoritarian political figures who promised to provide final solutions to major social and political problems, such as unemployment, inflationary trends, alleged moral decline and political gridlock.  In many cases, the rise to power of these authoritarian leaders, usually dictators, was often aided by the creation of imaginary enemies as scapegoats for a country's problems (for example, Hitler's anti-Semitic propaganda campaigns blaming the Jews for Germany's travails).  Only a few countries, such as the United States, Great Britain and France, remained functioning democracies by the late 1930s, but even democratic countries faced political trouble trying to deal with the effects of the Great Depression.  The emergence of fascism and national socialism did not bode well for peace in Europe, as both movements lauded war as a glorious national activity.  Hitler, in particular, having served in the German army in World War I, possessed a deep belief in the cleansing powers of modern war and was always intent on war.  (See, for example, his Reichstag Speech of 20 February 1938.)

One of the factors that helped generate increased public support for both Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany was the widespread fear of Bolshevism present in the West after 1917.  All sorts of lurid stories spread about the Bolshevik regime in Russia; some true (the seizure of all foreign-owned property), some absurdly false (the nationalization of women).  The fact that communist parties were active in Western Europe and the United States (and in non-European areas such as India) led many to fear that it (a communist takeover) could happen again, anywhere, anytime.  Both Hitler and Mussolini claimed that they would end the Bolshevik menace and ensure that public order was maintained.  To a scared and unsettled middle class living in the inflationary period after the First World War, that was appealing.
Some recommended online lectures and websites:
  • Spanish Civil War
  • Hitler's Book "Mein Kampf" is about one page of remarks about the book from The History Place.
  • For extra credit please suggest to your instructor a relevant website for this unit of the course.
    Send the title of the site, the URL and a brief explanation why you find the information interesting and applicable to the material being studied in this unit.


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