“In Germany the Nazis came for the Communists and
I did not speak up because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for Jews and
I did not speak up because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists and
I did not speak up because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics and
I was a Protestant so I did not speak up.
Then they came for me.
By that time there was no one left to speak up for anyone.”
(Martin Niemöller, Lutheran Clergyman, 1945)
Drittes Reich / Nazi Germany
The National Socialist (Nazi) Party, led by Adolf Hitler, stressed nationalist and racist themes while promising to put the unemployed back to work. The party blamed many of Germany's ills on the alleged influence of Jewish and non-German ethnic groups. The party also gained support in response to fears of growing communist strength.
The elites of a dominant national group create national unity through the reification, or ‘othering’ of ethnic minorities within their national borders. The national unity of the dominant group is a self-identity based on “an excess of ‘purism’” that in fact is racism. This racism stems from the mythological construction of the nation as “racially or culturally pure.” Any group that varies from the ethnic purity standards, or single ethnic identity, experiences discrimination that is grounded in the “stigmata of exteriority and impurity” and becomes an ethnic minority. Empowered by mythology to be the only legitimate national identity, the dominant ethnic group utilizes racism to construct the internal Other, i.e., those citizens whose ethnic origins vary from the national ideal.
In the 1932 elections, the Nazis won a third of the vote. In a fragmented party structure, this gave the Nazis a powerful parliamentary caucus, and Hitler was asked to form a government. He quickly declined. The Republic eroded and Hitler had himself nominated as Reich Chancellor in January 1933. After President Paul von Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler assumed that office as well.
Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor by the aged President Hindenburg on 30 January 1933 and the Enabling Act of the Reichstag on 23 March granted Hitler's National Socialist government dictatorial powers. To raise the Reich to what he considered its rightful place among the nations and to accomplish his foreign policy aims, Hitler had to have a large and well-equipped armed force and the war industry to support it.
Meanwhile, a series of conflicts had arisen between the more extreme elements of the National Socialist Party's uniformed Strwnabteilungen (SA), or Storm Troops, and the Reichsheer. Ernst Roehm, leader of the SA, advocated the absorption of the Reichsheer into his own uniformed force, to form an army more representative of the new National Socialist state. Hitler had to resolve the growing rift and decided in favor of the Reichsheer. On 30 June 1934 Roehm and several score others were executed without legal process of any kind as a threat to the security of the state. Needless to say, Hitler made use of this opportunity to rid himself of numerous political opponents as well as the embarrassing SA leaders.
Hindenburg as President was still the nominal Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The President's death on 2 August 1934 was followed immediately by a major change in this organization of command. Hitler adopted the title of Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor (Der Fuehrer und Reichskanzler), and the office of President was abolished. The functions of the Presidency were absorbed into the new office, and Hitler became Chief of State and Commander in Chief of its armed forces.
All officers and men of the Army and Navy were required to swear a personal oath of obedience to the new Chief of State and Commander in Chief. This was a radical departure from the practice of swearing allegiance only to the state, as had been done under the German Republic. A similar oath to the Kaiser had been the custom in imperial times, but under the pre-World War I system of government the Kaiser had personified the state and people. Hitler's assumption of authority was approved by a national plebiscite on 19 August 1934.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, many police remained skeptical of the Nazis because the Nazis previously had been investigated and jailed as agitators by the government. Nevertheless, Hitler posed as a champion of law and order and many police looked forward to the extension of police power promised by a strong, centralized state. Indeed, the Nazis did extend police power and alleviated many of the frustrations the police experienced in the Weimar Republic.
One practice, called "preventative police arrest," was used against repeat criminal violators, persons whose antisocial behavior constituted a public danger, and persons who refused to identify or falsely identified themselves in an attempt to hide previous criminal acts. Individuals under "preventative police arrest" had no lawyer and no trial. They could be interned directly in concentration camps for a period determined by police. In addition, "protective detention" or protective custody, allowed the police to indefinitely incarcerate people without specific charges and bring to trial persons deemed to be potentially dangerous to the security of Nazi Germany.
One of the initial thrusts of Nazi policy was to take women out of the workplace and return them to the home, where they were to have as many children as possible. The government pushed what it called the "four-child family" ideal. On 16 December 1938, Hitler announced the establishment of the "Honor Cross of German Motherhood," modeled on the Iron Cross and awarded in bronze for four children, silver for six, and gold for eight. After 1938 all public officials (including professors) were required to marry or else resign.
Once in power, Hitler and his party first undermined and then abolished democratic institutions and opposition parties. The Nazi leadership immediately jailed many Jewish citizens and opposition figures and withdrew their political rights. Hitler's Nuremburg Laws subsequently deprived all of Germany's Jews of their political rights and also of their economic assets and professional licenses, foreshadowing the systematic plundering of Jewish assets throughout Nazi-occupied territory. The Nazis implemented a program of genocide, at first through incarceration and forced labor and then by establishing death camps. In a catastrophe generally known as the Holocaust or Shoah, roughly six million European Jews from Germany and Nazi-occupied countries were murdered in these death camps and in the killing fields set up behind military lines on the Eastern Front. Hitler's henchmen also carried out a campaign of ethnic extermination against Europe's Roma/Sinti and murdered thousands of homosexuals, mentally disabled people, and opposition figures.
Organized resistance was essentially out of the question since the Gestapo was permitted to listen to any phone call, open any mail, or search anyone’s person, all without reason. Speaking openly and honestly with friends was also rare, since people never knew who was a Nazi spy, or which one of their friends or neighbors would turn them in.
The White Rose resistance movement in Nazi Germany was led by five students and one professor at the University of Munich in 1942 and 1943. This small group, comprised of mostly students, arose in opposition to the Nazis. They called themselves The White Rose [Die Weisse Rose] and distributed leaflets calling for active opposition to the Nazis. It is known that Hans Scholl coined the expression "leaflets of the White Rose", but the origin of the expression is unclear.
In the early summer of 1942, Hans Scholl and Alex Schmorell wrote the first four of six opposition leaflets, called the “Leaves of the White Rose.” These leaflets attacked the Nazi regime and mentioned its crimes, from the mass extermination of Jews, to the dictatorship and the elimination of the personal freedoms of Germany’s citizens. Furthermore, it called the Nazi regime evil, and called for Germans to rise up and resist the oppression of their government.
Although the pamphlets were the main method of opposition by the White Rose, on February 4, 8, and 15, 1942, they painted huge slogans on walls throughout Munich, including at the university. The graffiti was short and simple with statements such as: “Freedom!” “Down with Hitler!” and “Hitler the Mass Murderer!”
They published and widely distributed six lea?ets that called upon their nation to rise against the government by urging them to consider the “dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from eyes and the most horrible of crimes — crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure - reach the light of day.”
In February 1943, over eighty people implicated with the White Rose were arrested throughout Germany, some executed and some sent to concentration camps. On February 22, 1943, a “People’s Court” was opened in Munich and after a trial that lasted barely four hours, Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst were convicted of high treason and sentenced to death by the guillotine.
A second trial took place on April 19, at which Schmorell, Graf, and Huber were all tried and convicted. Schmorell and Huber were later executed on July 13, 1944, and Graf was executed on October 12. Hundreds of other people connected with the White Rose were arrested and sentenced to various punishments. George Wittenstein was the only among them to survive the war.
The group's sixth leaflet, their last, known as the “Manifesto of the Students of Munich,” was later airdropped over Germany in June 1943 by Allied planes.
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