Resistance to the Nazis 1933-39

Resistance to the Nazis 1933-39
Resistance – the Context
• The Nazis used propaganda, terror and
volksgemeinschaft to make sure the German
people didn’t resist their rule
• There was very little active resistance to the Nazis
between 1933-39
• Economic recovery and full employment meant
most accepted the new system as better than
what came before
• There were some small acts of resistance 33-39
but these are very difficult for the historian to
Problems of evidence
• No free elections, no free press so very difficult to gauge public opinion
• Reichstag elections continued 34, 36 and 38 but only the Nazis put of
candidates and the elections played out in the glare of Nazi propaganda so
the 99% support for the Nazis recorded each time is not really proof of
• Hitler instructed the Gestapo to compile regular reports on the state of
public opinion which are more helpful to the historian but even these
need to be treated with caution as much of them were based on the
testimony of informers who may have told the Gestapo what they thought
they wished to hear
• The SPD in exile (SOPADE) also compiled its own reports on public opinion
– their reports may tend to exaggerate the level of anti Nazi feeling in the
public at larger
HOWEVER all the available evidence suggests that between 33-39 there was
very little active resistance to Nazi rule in Germany
Political (SPD)
• Within 6 months of taking power Hitler had established a one party
police state within which resistance was very difficult
SPD (Socialists) were completely unprepared for the new situation.
They fought the March 33 election in the context of violence and
suppression by the SA and then very bravely voted against the
Enabling law, but once the dictatorship had been established the
SPD quickly disintegrated.
1,000s were either murdered or imprisoned and most of the remaining
leadership fled to Czechoslovakia where under the leadership of
Ernst Schumacher they tried to coordinate the production and
distribution of propaganda pamphlets
A small number of underground socialist cells existed for a while in the
industrial areas e.g. The Berlin red Patrol and the Hannover Socialist
Front but their activities were severely restricted by the Gestapo,
and few people were willing to take the risk of getting involved
Political (KPD)
• The Communists were brutally repressed by the Nazis from
the start. KPD was the first party to be banned and have
their leader Thalmann arrested
• 10% of all communists had been murdered by the Nazis by
the end of 1933
• KPD did manage to set up an underground network in
Berlin, Hamburg and Mannheim but all of these had been
destroyed by the Gestapo by 1935
• A small number of factory based communist cells remained
in industrial areas but given the risks involved in joining and
in the context of the ‘Nazi economic miracle’ they failed to
attract significant support
Trade Unions
• Independent unions banned in 1933 and the link between
the unions and the SPD broken
• Workers organisations absorbed into DAF
• DAF encouraged workers that the interests of Aryan
workers and Aryan bosses were the same and drip fed
them with constant Nazi propaganda
• Despite this there were a small number of strikes during
the Nazi period.
• 1936 – 100 strikes reported by Gestapo
• 1937 – 250 strikes reported by the Gestapo
Mostly about long hours, low wages and high food prices –
dealt with very harshly by Gestapo e.g. 4,000 strikers
imprisoned in 1937
Other Forms of Worker Resistance
• Absenteeism (not turning up for work)
• Working slowly
• Sabotage (deliberately breaking machines or
halting production)
All 3 three appeared in Gestapo reports 1933-39
In 1938 the Gestapo arrested 114 workers in
Gleiwitz munitions factory for slow working
1938 sabotage made a criminal offence
Church Resistance: Protestants
• Reluctant to challenge the Nazis as the Nazis held all
the power – also some Christians shared the anti
communism and anti Semitism of the Nazis
• Some protestant resistance in the setting up of the
Confessional church in 1934 in response to the attempt
to coordinate Protestantism under the Reich church
• Many pastors had their salaries stopped and over 700
were arrested – most noticeably the Confessional
Church’s leader Niemoller who became Hitler’s
‘personal prisoner’ at Sachsenhausen Concentration
Church Resistance: Catholics
• Better placed to resist because they were organised internationally
• At first compromised with the Nazis with the Concordat – some
catholic resistance occurred as the concordat began to unravel
• 1935 Cardinal Galen spoke out against the atheism of leading Nazis
• 1938 Pope issued his encyclical ‘With Burning Concern’ which was
smuggled into Germany and read from every catholic church and
was openly critical of Nazi ideas and Hitler personally – led to sever
repression of catholic youth groups and harassment of members of
the clergy
• Significantly the Catholic Church remained silent on issues such as
the Nuremberg laws and Kristalnacht
• Tended only to speak out on matters concerning their own
independence or theology
Resistance by Youth
• In 1936 membership of the HJ was made compulsory.
Up to this point most youths enjoyed HJ activities
enthusiastically but after it marks the beginnings of
youth resistance
• HJ activities deliberately took huge chunks of teenagers
time and from 1936/7 the Gestapo start to report
absenteeism from compulsory activities such as
gymnastics and military drill
• As early as 1937 illegal youth gangs were emerging
• Youth resistance was to peak in the war years but had
clearly begun already by 36/7
Resistance by Elites
• Many leading figures in the army and civil service had serious
misgivings about Hitler from the start. Hitler was poorly educated
and lower class.
• Most in the army were placated by the Night of the Long Knives
which got rid of most radical Nazis and ‘thugs’.
• However in 1938 there was a potentially serious threat to Hitler
from the army generals anxious at the speed of rearmament and
the ‘rush to war’
• In 1938 General Beck plotted a detailed military coup against Hitler
over the decision to invade Czechoslovakia and therefore risk world
war with Britain and France. He even sent delegates to Britain to
discuss his plans and seek support
• However with the decision by Britain and France to ‘allow’ Hitler to
take control of Czechoslovakia in the Munich Conference of 1938
the plot disintegrated
• Resistance 1933-39 was small scale, uncommon,
expressed in many different ways, motivated by
many different factors, disunited and generally
• There was no organised resistance movement
1933-39 as full employment and relentless
propaganda created more supporters of the
regime than opponents
• Resistance and opposition was to intensify from
1939-45 as the war progressed.

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