Hitler had come to power through legitimate means. The Reichstag burned down on 27 February, 1933. Hitler took this opportunity to gain emergency powers which he used to dismantle the Weimar government.
On 5 March, 1933, a democratic election confirmed the rule of the Nazi government.
On 23 March, Hitler passed the Enabling Act 1933 (Germany) which gave Hitler and the Nazi government power to pass legislation, make foreign policy decisions and alter the constitution without consulting the Reichstag.
Once Hitler came to power, he took swift actions to abolish all other political parties and setting down the framework for the Third Reich. See image 1
Hitler in power
The Third Reich was Hitler's name for the new age Germany had entered under the guidance of the Nazi Party. Germany was to enter a new age of prosperity - the 1000 year Reich. Greatness would be achieved under the Fuhrer's leadership.
The policies and goals of the Third Reich were outlined in Hitler's Mein Kampf (My Struggle) which was both an autobiography of Hitler's life and a guidebook to the Nazi ideology. See animation
Hitler wanted to create Greater Germany - the unification of all German-speaking people.
The concept of the Aryan was important. Eastern Europe and Russia would be settled with ethnic Germans and Slavs. The Aryan race was supreme, that is all blonde haired, blue eyed, tall people of Nordic stock.
Hitler believed that the Aryan race was ancient and powerful. It was Hitler's goal to unite all Aryan people and make them the supreme leaders of the world, while people of other races were relegated to slave status. Hitler's belief in the supremacy of the Aryan was associated with the concept of volk, people and their national/cultural spirit.
The concept of volk was extended to political parties - the Communist party was associated with Jews, Asians, and Slavs who were thought to be sub-human. The Third Reich was a quest for racial, social and cultural purity. It saw the persecution of slaves, gypsies, political opponents, homosexuals, religious dissidents, and Jews.
Anti-Semitism was one of the driving forces behind the Third Reich. Jews were seen as the conspirators against the Aryans. By controlling economy and being closely linked to communism, the Jews were a sub-human race that had to be eliminated. There was no place for the Jew in the Third Reich and they were targeted from the beginning and systematically exterminated throughout the course of the war.
In October 1933, Hitler removed Germany from the Disarmament Conference and League of Nations.
On 30 January 1934 Hitler passed the 'Act to Rebuild the Reich'. This centralised the administration of Germany and gave more power to the Nazi party.
On 30 June 1934 the 'Night of the Long Knives' saw the leadership of the SA, a paramilitary organisation that had assisted in Hitler's rise to power, purged by Hitler's SS, the Schutzstaffel another paramilitary organisation. Army leaders swore obedience to Hitler.
On 2 August 1934, Hitler was formally installed as Fuhrer und Reichskanzler, leader and chancellor.
The Nazi party began to improve the economy through harsh measures. It abolished trade unions, instituted strict wage controls and removed the right for a worker to resign. There was full employment in the mid-1930s.
On 18 October 1936, the Four Year Plan was announced. It involved full economic recovery through massive public works projects and rearmament.
The rest of Europe watched Hitler with mixed feelings. Hitler was rebuilding Germany after her defeat in World War I. He was, however, perpetuating racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination. All that European countries could do was watch and wait for his next move.
A highway to war
Hitler began to violate the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. See image 2
On 16 March, 1935, Hitler took steps to re-arm Germany. He introduced military conscription.
The Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed, authorising Germany to build a fleet one-third the size of Britain's Royal Navy.
German troops were moved into the formerly demilitarised Rhineland. This was France's buffer zone as negotiated by the Treaty. Poland was alarmed. Despite protests from France, there was the belief that Hitler would not go further. This constant underestimation of Hitler's ambitions led to the policy of appeasement adopted by British Prime Minister Chamberlain.
From 1936 to 1938, the British adhered to the policy of appeasement granting many concessions to Hitler. Britain and France were more concerned about communism than an extreme right-wing government.
On 12 March, 1938, Germany announced its anschluss (annexation or absorption) of Austria. Austria was made the German province 'Gau Ostmark'. The independent country of 6 million German-speaking people was invaded - one more step towards uniting all the Aryans under the Third Reich. There was no reaction from Britain and France.
Hitler turned his attentions to Czechoslovakia. He seized the Sudetenland, a large mountainous border region of Czechoslovakia. The Sudetenland was an important part of Czechoslovakia, containing a large percentage of the population and a strong economy. Czechoslovakia also had a large army and armament industry Hitler wished to acquire.
The Czech army mobilised over one million soldiers and prepared to fight Hitler's invading force. Czechoslovakia invoked the military alliances she had with France and England, but to no avail.
On 30 September 1938, in the Munich Agreement, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain used his policy of appeasement. Hitler was allowed to occupy the Sudetenland 'for the sake of peace'.
Czechoslovakia was forced to allow the Germans to occupy first the Sudetenland, then the rest of Czechoslovakia. Hitler was taking advantage of the British and French appeasement and reluctance to go to war over the invasion of small countries in Europe.
Hitler then planned to seize Poland. After a series of ultimatums made to the Polish government to add the Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor to the Third Reich, Hitler ceased diplomatic relations and invaded Poland on 1 September 1939.
The policy of appeasement was abandoned by the British and French. It was clear that Hitler's ambitions were boundless and he had abused their diplomacy. War was declared on 3 September 1939.