History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: World War II

Hitler's Germany click here for audio

A corporal in the Great War, Hitler was a man who embodied the frustrations of post-war Germany. His concepts regarding future glory for Germany, to be achieved through military expansion and racial cleansing, were rooted in his earlier years.

The swastika was an image associated with Indian/Aryan myths, and thus with Aryan ethnic superiority.

Like other Europeans, Hitler was influenced by diverse trends of anti-Jewish, anti-foreign, and anti-communist ideas popular through much of Europe. One influence was Lanz von Liebenfels, a mystic who believed in the purity of the Aryan race.

The Nazi (National Socialist) party was ultranationalist, and its precepts were based on Mussolini's fascism. Applying these ideas to the German situation (humiliation at Versailles, hyperinflation during the 1920s, total depression from 1929) was easy: fascism promised Germany glory, military expansion, and a leadership role in the world. Relying on history, the Nazis declared that a Third Reich, or empire, was coming (the First had been the uniting of the Germanic tribes under Charlemagne in AD 800, the Second the unification of Germany under Otto von Bismarck). After an unsuccessful attempt to take over the government, Hitler wrote about his struggle in jail.

bookWorkbook document: Mein Kampf (1925)
After the Stock Market crash disposed of the false prosperity of the 1920s, the Nazis used the republican system to their advantage. Hitler became Chancellor legally in 1933, and immediately pulled Germany out of the League of Nations and began building up the military. More information is at Germany in the 20s: Rise of Hitler (BBC). For information about life in Nazi Germany, see Life in Germany (BBC) [sorry, site removed].

Culturally, Hitler subjected the goals of modernists to ridicule. One way was to invoke the twin spectres of fascism in western Europe: Jewishness and communism. Anything that wasn't in line with nationalism according to fascist definition was unacceptable. Because Jews had international connections to other Jews, Hitler considered them traitors to Aryan culture who possessed no culture of their own. Because communists wanted a communal utopia that would cross national boundaries, they were traitors to the state.

Art of the Western World:
Nazism and Art

Small Version

Realizing their common goals for expansion, Hitler and Mussolini allied as the Axis powers in 1936. The concept was one of an "axis" or line running from Berlin to Rome, around which the world would turn. Though the two men were extremely different personalities, and both considered the other ultimately expendable, the alliance meant military goals would be met quickly.

6. Fascist Expansion ->