To combat the Great Depression, Hitler launched large public works programs (as did Britain and the United States). Tens of thousands of people were put to work building highways and housing or replanting forests. Hitler also repudiated, or rejected, the Versailles treaty. He launched a crash program to rearm Germany and schemed to unite Germany and Austria.
Like Mussolini, Hitler preserved capitalism but brought big business and labor under government control. Few objected to this loss of freedom because their standard of living rose. Nazi propaganda highlighted the improvements.
To achieve his goals, Hitler organized an efficient but brutal system of terror, repression, and totalitarian rule. Nazis controlled all areas of German life—from government to religion to education. Elite, black-uniformed troops, called the SS, enforced the Führer's will. His secret police, the Gestapo(guh STAH poh), rooted out opposition.
At first, many Germans welcomed Hitler, who took forceful action to ease the effects of the Great Depression and promised to revive German greatness. Any people who criticized Hitler became victims of terror or were cowed into silence in fear for their own safety.
The Gestapo was the official secret police agency of Nazi Germany. It was formed in 1933 and was under the administration of Heinrich Himmler by April 1934.
In his fanatical anti-Semitism, Hitler set out to drive Jews from Germany. In 1935, the Nazis passed the Nuremberg Laws, which deprived Jews of German citizenship and placed severe restrictions on them. They were prohibited from marrying non-Jews, attending or teaching at German schools or universities, holding government jobs, practicing law or medicine, or publishing books. Nazis beat and robbed Jews and roused mobs to do the same. Many German Jews fled, seeking refuge in other countries, but these countries often closed their doors and limited Jewish immigration.
On November 7, 1938, a young German Jew whose parents had been deported to their native Poland shot and wounded a German diplomat in Paris. Hitler used the incident as an excuse to stage an attack on all Jews. The incident became known as Kristallnacht (krih STAHL nahkt), or the “Night of Broken Glass.” On the night of November 9 and into the following day, Nazi mobs in Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia smashed the windows of Jewish homes and businesses. The experience was terrifying for Jews.
They broke our windowpanes, and the house became very cold.”…We were standing there, outside in the cold, still in our night clothes, with only a coat thrown over…Then they made everyone lie face down on the ground…‘Now, they will shoot us,’ we thought. We were very afraid.”
—Sophie Nussbaum, quoted in 48 Hours of Kristallnacht
Over 1,000 synagogues were burned and more than 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed. Many Jewish schools, hospitals and homes were damaged, and many Jews were injured and killed. The Nazis arrested 30,000 Jews and forced them into concentration camps.
Kristallnacht reflected so badly on Germany that it was not repeated. Yet Hitler made the Jewish victims of the attacks pay for the damage. Before long, Hitler and his henchmen were making even more sinister plans for what they called the “Final Solution”—the extermination of all Jews.
Like Italian Fascists and Soviet Communists, the Nazis indoctrinated young people with their ideology. In passionate speeches, the Führer spewed his message of racism.
He urged young Germans to destroy their so-called enemies without mercy. On hikes and in camps, the “Hitler Youth” pledged absolute loyalty to Germany and undertook physical fitness programs to prepare for war. School courses and textbooks were rewritten to reflect Nazi racial views.