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Great Depression in Germany


The Depression and Germany

In Europe the impact of the Depression was at its greatest in Germany. By 1932 German factories were only producing about 60 per cent of the output of 1928. By 1932 one out of every three of the working population was unemployed. The slump hurt farmers as well as factory workers. The income of German farmers fell by about half between 1928 and 1932. The result was massive discontent.


Democratic government was already in trouble before the Depression started. On both the left and the right, some German politicians had been unhappy for years with democracy. In addition. many senior army officers and civil servants disliked the rule of parliament. The Depression added a new sense of crisis to German politics. As early as 1930 emergency powers were given to the president that limited the power of the parliament or Reichstag.


Hitler's luck

The Depression was a tremendous piece of good luck for Adolf Hitler. Before the Depression his Nazi Party was very small. There were elections in Germany in 1928 and the Nazis won only 12 seats in parliament. Hitler's breakthrough came in September 1930 when the party won 107 seats and became the second largest party in Germany.


At the same time, there was an increase in support for the communist party. As people lost their faith in democracy they turned to the two parties that wished to destroy parliament. Although deadly enemies, both Nazis and communists agreed that democracy was weak and worthless.


As unemployment rose in Germany there was an increase in street violence between gangs of Nazis and communists. The Nazis made further progress in the elections of July 1932 when they won 230 seats and became the largest party in the Reichstag. Hitler's appeal was based on the problems of the Depression: most of his supporters were impressed by the way his propaganda called for 'Work and Bread'.


Hitler takes over

Hitler was now in a powerful position. There were further elections in November 1932. The Nazis lost a little ground but remained the single largest party. Although he did not win an outright majority, Hitler was able to do deals with other parties and he became the Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933.


After elections in March 1933 Hitler took complete control. Democracy came to an end on 23 March 1933 when the Reichstag passed the so-called 'Enabling Law'. This gave Hitler the power to introduce future laws without the agreement of the Reichstag. Hitler was now the dictator of Germany.


German rearmament

Hitler's rise to power did not lead to immediate war between Germany and other states. However in October 1933 Hitler showed his contempt for the Versailles settlement by withdrawing Germany from the League of Nations. At the same time he withdrew Germany from the Disarmament Conference that had been meeting at Geneva since 1932. In the following two years he concentrated on strengthening his position in Germany and rearming Germany.


In February 1933, days after he came to power, Hitler instructed the German general, Von Fritsch, to end German disarmament and to create an army of the greatest possible strength . This was a breach of the Treaty of Versailles.


Germany began a remarkable increase in its level of weaponry that was to gather momentum during the mid-1930s. By July 1933 tanks were being produced. By 1934 Germany was making aircraft and warships.


The airforce did particularly well from the first days of rearmament. The production of military aircraft rose from 36 planes in 1932 to 1 938 planes in 1934 and 5 112 planes in 1936. In 1935 Hitler introduced conscription and began to increase massively the number of German soldiers. The limits on German power in the Treaty of Versailles had been completely overturned.