The Nazis created a terror-state. This was achieved through intimidation and brutality. Those living in Germany were too scared to disobey Nazi laws.
Hitler used a number of organisations to uphold and extend his control of Germany.
Dachau, the first concentration camp, before its official opening in 1933
The SS (Schutzstaffel) was originally Hitler’s elite personal body guard. It grew into a formidable private army, made up of fanatical supporters of Hitler. He used them as his execution squad to eliminate his opponents.
By 1934,the SS had been put in charge of securing Germany from internal and external enemies.
They controlled the concentration camps, where ‘undesirable people’ were imprisoned.
These included groups of people who the Nazis had deemed either dangerous to the state, to Nazi policies or were to be eradicated from society:
- political opponents
- certain religious figures
Life in the concentration camps was extremely harsh. Prisoners were made to work in horrendous conditions.
When reports of what prisoners experienced leaked out to the general population increased fear of being arrested was greatly increased.
This helped the Nazis keep the majority of citizens at bay.
The SD and Gestapo
The SD (Sicherheitsdienst) was the Nazi Party's intelligence and security service. Under the command of Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heidrich, the SD aimed to keep every individual in Germany under constant supervision.
After the Reichstag Fire, the SD started compiling a card index of the Nazis' opponents. They could arrest and imprison anyone and worked on the asumption that suspects were guilty. Once imprisoned, it was difficult for anyone to prove their innocence.
The SD was also responsible for tracking foreign opposition to the Nazis. This included censoring media.
The Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, Secret State Police) were the Nazis’ secret police. It played a crucial role in Germany’s internal security.
Over 150,000 informants throughout the country would report any anti-Nazi feeling to the Gestapo.
The Gestapo and informants did not wear uniforms so Germans did not know when they were being spied on. Many ordinary Germans also informed on one another for personal gain or out of jealousy. This created tension and fear throughout the country.
Members of the Gestapo had powers to arrest and detain those people who were considered enemies of the state/Nazi Party. These preventative arrests were carried out separately from judicial control.
Those who were arrested were often violently treated, prior to release or imprisonment. Gestapo tactics included murder and torture of prisoners.
In 1939 the Reich Security Head office (RSHA) was formed. This amalgamated the Gestapo and the SD under the leadership of the SS.
The police force and people’s courts
Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, was also in charge of the police. This meant no-one investigated the crimes committed by the Nazis
Special 'People's Courts' made sure that opponents of the Nazis charged with treason were found guilty, even if there was little or no evidence.
Judges had to swear an oath of loyalty to the Nazis. This gave the Nazis greater power over the sentencing of political enemies and those deemed to be criminals.
The army became a visible presence in everyday German life. Flags, symbols and uniformed troops on the streets all created a clear impression of the power of the Nazi government.
Together with the use of informants this made people very cautious in raising any opposition to Nazi policy or rule.
These Nazi Germany essay questions have been written and compiled by Alpha History authors, for use by teachers and students. They can also be used for short-answer questions and other research or revision tasks. If you would like to contribute a question to this page, please contact Alpha History.
1. Describe the life of Adolf Hitler between 1905 and 1918. How might Hitler’s experiences in this period have shaped his political views and ideas?
2. Identify and discuss five key elements of Nazi ideology. What did the Nazis believe and what were their objectives?
3. Nazism presented as a new ideology but drew heavily on traditional ideas. Identify links between Nazism and German ideas and values of the 19th century.
4. Discuss how Germany’s defeat in World War I contributed to the ideology of nationalist groups like the NSDAP.
5. With reference to primary sources, explain the relationship between the NSDAP and communism. Why were the Nazis so antagonistic towards communist and socialist parties?
6. Compare the organisation, membership and ideology of the NSDAP with another post-war nationalist group, such as the German National People’s Party (DNVP). In what ways were the Nazis different from other nationalists?
7. What were the functions of the NSDAP’s two paramilitary branches: the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the Schutzstaffel (SS). Discuss the organisation, culture and ideology of these groups.
8. Hitler was inspired by fascist ideology and Mussolini’s successful ‘March on Rome’ in 1922. In what ways were German Nazism and Italian fascism both similar and different?
The Nazi rise to power
1. The German Workers’ Party (DAP) was one of many small nationalist groups in post-war Germany. What factors led to this group becoming a major political force in Germany?
2. Chart the course of Hitler’s rise in the NSDAP. Was it leadership qualities or political manipulation that allowed Hitler to gain control of the party?
3. What were the objectives of the NSDAP’s Munich putsch? Why did this putsch ultimately fail?
4. How did the NSDAP evolve and change after Hitler’s time in prison in 1924? How and why did the party change its tactics?
5. What impact did the Great Depression have on German society? How did this benefit Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP?
6. Discuss the outcomes of Hitler’s failed bid for the presidency in 1932.
7. Paul von Hindenburg was initially reluctant to appoint Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany. With reference to particular people and events, explain what changed his mind.
8. How did Germans respond to Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in January 1933?
The Nazi state
1. How did Hitler and the Nazis use the Reichstag fire of February 1933 to consolidate and extend their power over Germany?
2. Investigate how the world press responded to Hitler’s appointment as chancellor, the Reichstag fire and the Enabling Act.
3. With reference to five specific policies or events, explain how the Nazis marginalised or eliminated resistance in 1933 and 1934.
4. Explain the structure and organisation of the Nazi government. Where did real power reside in the Nazi state: with Hitler, with other leaders or elsewhere?
5. How did the Nazis attempt to resolve Germany’s economic woes? Who were the key players in Nazi economic policy?
6. Discuss the relationship between Hitler, the NSDAP and the Reichswehr or German military between 1933 and 1939. What issues or policies parties agree and disagree about?
7. What were the roles of paramilitary groups the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Sturmabteilung (SA) in the Nazi state?
8. Explain why propaganda was a critical part of the Nazi state. Who was responsible for Nazi propaganda and how did they justify it?
Life in Nazi Germany
1. Discuss how women were viewed by the Nazi regime and incorporated into Nazi society. How did German women respond to Hitler and his program for them?
2. Why did Hitler and the NSDAP place a high priority on children? Explain how children were embraced and incorporated into the Nazi movement.
3. How did work and workplaces change in Germany in the 1930s? Were German workers better or worse off under a Nazi state?
4. Referring to specific examples, explain how propaganda promoted Nazi ideas about society, family and gender.
5. Discuss how the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games was used by the Nazi regime to reinforce and promote their ideas and values.
6. The German Weimar period (1918-1933) was known for its artistic innovation and modern culture. Discuss how art and culture changed under the Nazi government.
7. Investigate the methods used by Nazi security agencies, particularly the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). How did these bodies minimise and eliminate resistance and opposition?
8. Discuss how eugenics determined or influenced Nazi social policies during the 1930s. Which people or groups were most affected by eugenics-based policies?
9. It is often claimed that Hitler and the Nazis were atheists. Was this really the case? Explain Nazi attitudes toward both God and organised religion and how these attitudes were reflected in Nazi policy.
10. Anti-Semitism underpinned many Nazi actions and policies during the 1930s. Referring to specific laws and policies, explain how the Nazi regime attempted to extract German Jews from positions of influence.