Section B - Controversay #2: How popular were the Nazis?

Sample materials

Q6. Use Sources 4, 5 and 6 and your own knowledge.

‘The Nazi regime depended more on its broad popularity than on terror in the years 1933–39.’
How far do you agree with this opinion? Explain your answer, using the evidence of Sources 4, 5 and 6 and your own knowledge of the issues related to this controversy. (Total 40 marks)


(From Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler, published 2001)

Most people in Nazi Germany had no direct confrontation with the Gestapo, Kripo, or the concentration
camps. Moreover, while they read many stories about the ‘People’s Court’, rather few people attended
its sessions. In other words, for most Germans, the coercive or terroristic side of Hitler’s dictatorship was created by what passed along by word of mouth, by what they read in the press, or heard on the radio. Historians have paid remarkably little attention to these representations, when in fact these played an important role in the dictatorship. At every level, there was much popular support for the expanding missions of the new police and the camps, especially as the latter were presented in the media and elsewhere as boot-camps in which the state would confine both ‘political criminals’ and variously defined asocials, in order to subject them to ‘work therapy’.


(From Richard J Evans, The Third Reich in Power, published 2005)

At the same time, the Gestapo was only part of a much wider net of surveillance, terror and persecution cast by the Nazi regime over German society in the 1930s; others included the SA and SS, the Criminal Police, the prison service, the social services and employment offices, the medical profession, health centres and hospitals, the Hitler Youth, the Block Wardens. Even apparently politically neutral organizations like tax offices, the railway and the post office were involved. All of these provided information about deviants and dissidents to the Gestapo, the courts and the prosecution service, forming a very mixed, uncoordinated but pervasive system of control, in which the Gestapo was merely one institution among many. Everything that happened in the Third Reich took place in a pervasive atmosphere of fear and terror, which never slackened and indeed became far more intense towards the end. ‘Do you know what fear is?’ an elderly worker asked an interviewer some years after it was all over: ‘No’. ‘The Third Reich was fear,’ the worker replied.


(From E A Johnson, The Nazi Terror, published 1999)

The key to understanding the sometimes brutal, but always effective, Nazi terror lies in its selective nature. Never implemented in a blanket or indiscriminate fashion, it specifically targeted and ruthlessly moved against the Nazi regime’s racial, political and social enemies; at the same time it often ignored or dismissed expressions of non-conformity and mild disobedience on the part of other German citizens. The two-way treatment of different sections of the German population helped the Nazi regime to gain support among the populace. Indeed, many Germans perceived the terror not as a personal threat to them but as something that served their interests by removing threats to their material well-being and to their sense of community and order.

June 2010

Q6 Use Sources 4, 5 and 6 and your own knowledge.

To what extent do you agree with the view that Hitler was ‘a non-interventionist dictator’ (Source 4)?
Explain your answer, using Sources 4, 5 and 6 and your own knowledge of the issues related to this controversy. (Total for Question 6 = 40 marks)


(From Ian Kershaw in The Third Reich, edited by Christian Leitz, published 1999)

Hitler was, on the whole, a non-interventionist dictator as far as government administration was concerned. His sporadic directives, when they came, tended to be unclear and to be conveyed verbally, usually by Lammers, the head of the Reich Chancellery. Hitler chaired no formal committees after the first years of the regime,when the Cabinet (which he hated chairing) faded into non-existence.


(From Joseph W. Bendersky, A History of Nazi Germany, published 1985)

Government in the Third Reich was characterized by jealousy and bureaucratic empire-building. Party officials, more often than not, tended to view the will of the Führer and the welfare of the nation from the point of view of their own career advancement, or the narrow interests of their own particular organisation. Party officials engaged in bureaucratic wars to expand their power as well as to prevent encroachments by rival organisations.


(From Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, published 2005)

Hitler’s Bohemian lifestyle did not mean that he was lazy or inactive, or that he withdrew from domestic politics after 1933. When the occasion demanded, he could intervene powerfully and decisively. Albert Speer, who was with him often in the second half of the 1930s, observed that, while he appeared to waste a great deal of time, ‘he often allowed a problem to mature during the weeks when he seemed entirely taken up with trivial matters. Then, after the “sudden insight” came, he would spend a few days of intensive work giving final shape to his solution.’ Hitler, in other words, was erratic rather than lazy in his working habits. He wrote his own speeches, and he frequently engaged in lengthy and exhausting tours around Germany, speaking, meeting officials and carrying out his ceremonial functions as head of state. In areas where he did take a real interest, he did not hesitate to give a direct lead, even on matters of detail. In art and culture, for instance, Hitler laid down the policy to be followed, and personally inspected the pictures selected for exhibition or suppression. His prejudices – against the composer Paul Hindemith, for example – invariably proved decisive. In racial policy, too, Hitler took a leading role, pushing on or slowing down the implementation of antisemitic and other measures as he thought circumstances dictated. In areas such as these, Hitler wasnot merely reacting to initiatives from his subordinates, as some have suggested.