The Rise of the Nazis

Fifty years ago this month, Adolf Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor of Germany by the aging President Hindenburg. How were the Nazis able to 'seize power' in this way? Jeremy Noakes begins our special feature by explaining their success.

Fifty years ago, on January 30th, 1933, Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, was appointed Reich Chancellor of Germany. A regime began which, within twelve years, had been responsible – directly or indirectly – for the death of some forty million people, including around six million Jews murdered simply on the grounds of their ethnic origin. The Nazi take-over of power is still one of the central issues of twentieth-century history. How was it possible for such a barbaric regime as the Nazi Third Reich to gain power in one of the most economically advanced and culturally sophisticated countries in the world? Foreign historians have sometimes blamed the German national character; conservative German historians have blamed the coming of mass democracy and the demonic nature of Hitler; Marxist historians have blamed the machinations of monopoly capitalism. Others have looked to simpler, immediate explanations: Versailles, fear of Communism, unemployment, Hitler's demagogy, Goebbels' clever propaganda, and so on. When submitted to detailed investigation, none of these explanations is satisfactory, though each contains a grain of truth. To understand how the Nazis rose to power requires answers to two separate but related questions: first, how did the Nazis achieve mass support; secondly, how did Hitler secure his appointment as Chancellor?

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