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Towards WWII: The Rise of Nazism

Hitler-Jugend (1933) - PICRYL Public Domain Search

Source: Picryl

The trauma of World War I, hardships of the Great Depression and the strict penalties imposed by the Treaty of Versailles left a growing sense of resentment and unrest in Germany. This unrest provided Hitler and Nazism with the opportunity to rise to power and ultimately lead the world to World War II and the deaths of millions of people. Read through the resources below to learn more about the rise of Nazism.

Interwar Period (1918-1939): Primary documents

This website links to primary documents relating to Interwar Germany, including documents about Nazi ideology and values, Nazi rise to power, Hitler, totalitarianism and political control, racial ideas, anti-Semitism and eugenics, social ideas, values and policies, work, economic policy and re-armament, and foreign policy.

Hungry boys eating a school lunch in Weimar-era Germany during its years of hyper-inflation and malnutrition (1921).

Women and children wait in line in Berlin, in hopes of buying sub-standard meat during a period of hyper-inflation in Weimar Germany (1923).

The original caption for this photo, taken in Weimar Germany during the Great Depression, reads: "When night comes! Picture taken in the municipal refuge for the homeless. View of one of the dormitories which can house up to 100 people."

The original caption for this photograph, taken during the Great Depression in Weimar Germany, reads: "A refuge for homeless women. After the women have put on their long gowns, which are the refuge's uniform, they are given soup and bread for supper."

German children build a pyramid with stacks of inflated currency, virtually worthless in 1923.

Unemployed woman living in Weimar Germany advertises her skills. Translation: "Hello! I'm looking for work. I can do shorthand and typing, can speak French and English, will accept any type of household job and can do anything that demands an attentive mind."

This chart shows the German population in both 1910 and 1925, and illustrates the demographic impact of World War I on the German people.

First Sign: Workers demonstration against bread tax and high rents! Second Sign: The upperclass form a dictatorship of wealth against the working class! 

A two-sided Nazi election flyer from the Prussian state elections of 1932. The poster appeals to Communists to leave their party and join Hitler. 'List 8' refers to the Nazi position on the ballot.

Translation, side 1: Communists! We are hungry and on the dole, we lack food and jobs. We have bitter wives at home, and children whose every wish we must deny, or discontented parents, brothers and sisters. It has been this way for months, years; how long can it go on this way! One week follows another. Everything stays the same, conditions get worse, never better. Things are the same for us as they are for you. Does it have to stay that way? No! It really is not necessary. A condition that people have caused can be changed by them too. You trust Russia. You have been fighting for your idea for years. What has happened? You have 3/4 of a million fewer votes than in September 1930. Despite the need, despite the misery! Do you really believe that your cause can lead us to better times, that your wavering, aimless leadership that has been wrong so often in the past can actually win? Do you believe that Russia will help? Would it not be better to help ourselves!? For the German proletariat to help itself? We Nazis help each other. He who has something to eat shares it with him who has nothing. He who has a spare bed gives it to him who has none. That is why we have become so strong. The election shows what we can do. Everyone helps! Everyone sacrifices! The unemployed give up their wedding rings. Everyone gives, even if it is but a penny. Many small gifts become a large one. Ten million 10 pfennig coins are a million Marks. We don't need any capitalists, the lie that you are always told. We do it ourselves, and are proud of it. We all help and sacrifice, because we believe in our idea and our Führer. Without our party program, we would not have become so large and strong. We believe in our program because it says that our leaders have pledged to carry it out, even if it requires the sacrifice of their own lives.

Translation, side 2: Adolf Hitler wrote the program, and we know that he will hold to it. Help build the people's state! It doesn't matter where you came from, we are interested only in what you can do, and in your character. We want to fight. We oppose current conditions! We want to escape this misery! That is why we fight today's system! That is why we want to rule Prussia! Help us! We can do it! Enough! Things have to change! Vote National Socialist (The Hitler Movement) List 8!

The Nazi poster on the left reads: "Workers: The Brain and the Fist! Vote for the front soldier Hitler!" The 1932 poster on the right reads: "Fight hunger and despair! Vote for Hitler!"

A cartoon with two panels. The first panel shows a man and a woman relaxing under a tree with a guitar. The second panel shows a man and woman sitting in a movie theater.

Title: "Jewish Culture"

Caption: "The natural and the unnatural." Explanation: A German couple enjoy the outdoors, while a Jew with his Gentile girlfriend are watching a pornographic movie. (August 1929) Der Stürmer was published by the Nuremberg Nazi leader Julius Streicher. It was the most vicious antisemitic newspapers among all those the Nazis published and combined racist stereotypes with pornographic material to accuse the Jews of race defilement.

A cartoon from antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer of an officer walks into a small apartment where a family has died.

Title: "The Way Out"

Caption: "Nothing the November Republic promised them has been fulfilled." Der Stürmer was published by the Nuremberg Nazi leader Julius Streicher. It was the most vicious antisemitic newspapers among all those the Nazis published and combined racist stereotypes with pornographic material to accuse the Jews of race defilement.

The poster features a Nazi officer with a extermination pump and several rats. The officer stands next to a tree with the German crest carved into the bark of the tree.

Title: "When the Vermin are Dead..."

Caption: "When the vermin are dead, the German oak will again flourish." Der Stürmer was published by the Nuremberg Nazi leader Julius Streicher. It was the most vicious antisemitic newspapers among all those the Nazis published and combined racist stereotypes with pornographic material to accuse the Jews of race defilement.

Eastern European Jewish women are asked for ID cards in Berlin's "Barn Quarter" in 1920.

Window display with skull measuring device meant to show the difference between Aryan and non-Aryan skulls circa 1933.

Bertha Pappenheim, Letter on Antisemitism (1923)

In a letter Bertha Pappenheim wrote in 1923, she recounts the story of a trip she took in Germany to inspect some foster homes. In this excerpt, she talks about an incident which occured on one of her train rides:

I waited for remarks about Jews, which did not come—the women were too preoccupied with themselves and their own burning problems—they seemed to have no strength left to think about anti-Semitism. Change from Eberstadt to Pfungstadt. The “parlor” car, fourth class, was crowded; a laborer gave me his seat. I noticed a red-haired Galician Jew involved in a loud exchange in the middle of the car, with seats only around its walls. Two packages were on the floor next to him, his yardstick pushed into his high boot. He was being battered by violently hostile words as by a hailstorm; his answers in Yiddish evoked furious laughter.

“What did we pay for potatoes in peacetime?” asked the main haranguer.

“Three marks for a hundred pounds,” yelled the chorus.

“What did we pay for apron fabric!”

“80 pfennige.”

“And this dirty Jew here’s asking today hundred pounds of potatoes for one meter of apron fabric!”

A roaring belched out. A woman cried, “Junghans ask just as much!”

“He’s even worse than a Jew,” screamed another woman, “You should be strung up.”

“All of them should be hung. A stone round their neck, dumped into a river, all of the mishpocheh!” Laughter. A certain humor was at the bottom of this terrible scene—a kind of coarse joke, which could have become an ugly, bitter outbreak through something in the atmosphere—maybe a drop of alcohol. We got off at Pfungstadt, where Mr. Bergen, the teacher, was to meet me with a car....

Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1927)

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were circulated by the Czarist Russian secret police in the early years of the twentieth century. This forged document purported to be an account of a meeting of Jewish leaders from many nations who were planning to dominate and enslave all mankind and destroy Christianity. The Russian government used this document to try to focus the anger and hostility of Russians who were suffering under poverty, illiteracy, censorship, and lack of civil rights on the Jews.

At the end of World War I, Alfred Rosenberg, who came to Germany from the Russian Empire and was an early influential member of the Nazi Party, introduced Adolf Hitler to the document and made it a staple of Nazi propaganda. Popular in many parts of the world to the present day and adopted to meet local conditions this document in the hands of the Nazis became what Norman Cohn has called a “Warrant for Genocide.”

This passport, belonging to Ida Reinisch from Vienna, was stamped with a ‘J’ for Jude (Jew) in 1938. All Jewish women also had the name ‘Sara’ inserted in their passports, while Jewish males had the name ‘Israel’ added.

Members of Hitler's storm troopers block the entrance to a Jewish-owned shop as part of the April 1933 boycott organised by the Nazi Party soon after it took power.