1.08 Seduction and Terror: Hitler’s Germany
Language of instruction: English
Course type: Subject course
Contact hours: 48 (6 per day)
Course days: see class schedule
ECTS credits: 5
Course fee: € 1,300
The ‘Thousand Year Reich’ promised by Hitler when he became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933 lasted but 12 years. During this time, Hitler and his Nazi Party came to dominate the continent, terrorized vast numbers of Germans and Europeans, launched a devastating war, dominated, and laid waste to much of Europe, and orchestrated the murder of more than five million Jews. Despite the terror and vast destruction, Hitler and the Nazi Party gained and retained the active support and involvement of most Germans. How was this possible? What roles did seduction and terror, consent and coercion, play?
This class focuses on Hitler’s Germany, and it begins with the 19th century background. Central to this session will be a discussion of the broad political currents, the agitators and petty demagogues who fueled the dissatisfaction and spread it widely. We will also examine the popular literature that Hitler and many of his supporters read and absorbed.
Crucial to understanding the lure of Hitler and the Nazi Party was Germany’s experience in the First World War, a conflict that decimated a generation and destroyed Europe as it was known. In its wake it left a shattered, humiliated, and deeply torn Germany. In this climate of uncertainty and despair, Hitler and the Nazi Party grew from a small group on the fringe of radical politics in Munich into a national force. This development is of central importance to this session. Those traits of Hitler crucial to his success, particularly his charisma, will be defined and analyzed within the broader political context of the political and cultural life of the Weimar Republic.
On January 30, 1933, Hitler gained the long desired but elusive goal: he became chancellor of Germany, the leader of a coalition government. The political intrigues leading to his appointment will be discussed. Much attention will be paid in this session to how Hitler, his cabinet, and supporters were able to consolidate the control over the state and society within a matter of months. This came at the cost of political liberties, through the growing use of terror, oppression, and intimidation. Yet, Hitler gained supporters as he seemingly offered economic stability and a new unity to the German people. How did the regime solidify its control over society and over political life? Was it seduction or terror, consent or coercion?
A key element of Hitler’s rule was the concentration camp system, what came to be a vast network of prisons, centers of oppression and death. How this developed from the hundreds of small concentration camps set up in Berlin and across Germany shortly after Hitler’s takeover of power in 1933 to the well-organized and highly centralized system by 1939 will be the focus of this session. During the war, the concentration camp system spread across Germany and occupied Europe.
Hitler’s ambitions, the conquest of ‘living space’ in Eastern Europe, the ruthless exploitation of these territories, and the annihilation of the Jews, motivated his foreign ambitions and led directly to World War II, the most destructive conflict in human history. We will also discuss the measures taken against POWs, the handicapped, homosexuals, Sinti and Roma within Germany and in the occupied territories.
In Germany and in occupied Europe opposition and resistance emerged and challenged Nazi rule. Opponents were motivated by a variety of reasons, some personal, some political. These too will be discussed as well as the regime’s ruthless efforts to eradicate all opposition.
Lastly, the class will examine the end of the war, the so-called ‘zero hour’, the destruction and collapse of Nazi Germany. Soon, the reckoning with the Nazi past through investigations and criminal prosecutions, and the widespread non-reckoning among the German public, began. Only since the late 1960s has Germany looked openly and critically at its Nazi past and only then began establishing a series of memorials and monuments, a number of which we will be visiting.
We will be visiting local museums, historical sites and locations that reveal the operations of Nazi rule. These visits to sites in and near Berlin are a key element of the class and the experience of studying here. Please note that field trips are subject to change depending on the availability of appointments and speakers; on field trip days, class hours may be adjusted.Download Syllabus (printable PDF incl. day-to-day schedule)