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National Socialist German Workers' Party
Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei
ChairmanAnton Drexler
(24 February 1920 – 29 July 1921)[1]
FührerAdolf Hitler
(29 July 1921 – 30 April 1945)
Party MinisterMartin Bormann
(30 April 1945 – 2 May 1945)
Founded24 February 1920; 104 years ago (1920-02-24)
Banned10 October 1945; 78 years ago (1945-10-10)
Preceded byGerman Workers' Party
HeadquartersBrown House, Munich, Germany[2]
NewspaperVölkischer Beobachter
Student wingNational Socialist German Students' Union
Youth wingHitler Youth
Women's wingNational Socialist Women's League
Paramilitary wingsSA, SS, Motor Corps, Flyers Corps
Sports bodyNational Socialist League of the Reich for Physical Exercise
Overseas wingNSDAP/AO
Labour wingNSBO (1928–35), DAF (1933–45)[3]
  • Fewer than 60 (1920)
  • 8.5 million (1945)[4]
Political positionFar-right[5][6]
Political alliance
  •   Black   White   Red
    (official, German Imperial colours)
  •   Brown (customary)
SloganDeutschland erwache!
("Germany, awake!") (unofficial)
Party flag

The Nazi Party,[b] officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei[c] or NSDAP), was a far-right[10][11][12] political party in Germany active between 1920 and 1945 that created and supported the ideology of Nazism. Its precursor, the German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei; DAP), existed from 1919 to 1920. The Nazi Party emerged from the extremist German nationalist ("Völkisch nationalist"), racist and populist Freikorps paramilitary culture, which fought against communist uprisings in post–World War I Germany.[13] The party was created to draw workers away from communism and into völkisch nationalism.[14] Initially, Nazi political strategy focused on anti–big business, anti-bourgeois, and anti-capitalist rhetoric; it was later downplayed to gain the support of business leaders. By the 1930s, the party's main focus shifted to antisemitic and anti-Marxist themes.[15] The party had little popular support until the Great Depression, when worsening living standards and widespread unemployment drove Germans into political extremism.[12]

Central to Nazism were themes of racial segregation expressed in the idea of a "people's community" (Volksgemeinschaft).[16] The party aimed to unite "racially desirable" Germans as national comrades while excluding those deemed to be either political dissidents, physically or intellectually inferior, or of a foreign race (Fremdvölkische).[17] The Nazis sought to strengthen the Germanic people, the "Aryan master race", through racial purity and eugenics, broad social welfare programs, and a collective subordination of individual rights, which could be sacrificed for the good of the state on behalf of the people. To protect the supposed purity and strength of the Aryan race, the Nazis sought to disenfranchise, segregate, and eventually exterminate Jews, Romani, Slavs, the physically and mentally disabled, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and political opponents.[18] The persecution reached its climax when the party-controlled German state set in motion the Final Solution – an industrial system of genocide that carried out mass murders of around 6 million Jews and millions of other targeted victims in what has become known as the Holocaust.[19]

Adolf Hitler, the party's leader since 1921, was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg on 30 January 1933, and quickly seized power afterwards. Hitler established a totalitarian regime known as the Third Reich and became dictator with absolute power.[20][21][22][23]

Following the military defeat of Germany in World War II, the party was declared illegal.[24] The Allies attempted to purge German society of Nazi elements in a process known as denazification. Several top leaders were tried and found guilty of crimes against humanity in the Nuremberg trials, and executed. The use of symbols associated with the party is still outlawed in many European countries, including Germany and Austria.

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The renaming of the German Worker's Party (DAP) to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) was partially driven by a desire to draw upon both left-wing and right-wing ideals, with "Socialist" and "Workers'" appealing to the left, and "National" and "German" appealing to the right.[25] Nazi, the informal and originally derogatory term for a party member, abbreviates the party's name (Nationalsozialist [natsi̯oˈnaːlzotsi̯aˌlɪst]), and was coined in analogy with Sozi (pronounced [ˈzoːtsiː]), an abbreviation of Sozialdemokrat (member of the rival Social Democratic Party of Germany).[d][26] Members of the party referred to themselves as Nationalsozialisten (National Socialists), but some did occasionally embrace the colloquial Nazi (so Leopold von Mildenstein in his article series Ein Nazi fährt nach Palästina published in Der Angriff in 1934). The term Parteigenosse (party member) was commonly used among Nazis, with its corresponding feminine form Parteigenossin.[27]

Before the rise of the party, these terms had been used as colloquial and derogatory words for a backward peasant, or an awkward and clumsy person. It derived from Ignaz, a shortened version of Ignatius,[28][29] which was a common name in the Nazis' home region of Bavaria. Opponents seized on this, and the long-existing Sozi, to attach a dismissive nickname to the National Socialists.[29][30]

In 1933, when Adolf Hitler assumed power in the German government, the usage of "Nazi" diminished in Germany, although Austrian anti-Nazis continued to use the term.[26] The use of "Nazi Germany" and "Nazi regime" was popularised by anti-Nazis and German exiles abroad. Thereafter, the term spread into other languages and eventually was brought back to Germany after World War II.[30] In English, the term is not considered slang and has such derivatives as Nazism and denazification.


Origins and early years: 1918–1923

The Nazi Party grew out of smaller political groups with a nationalist orientation that formed in the last years of World War I. In 1918, a league called the Freier Arbeiterausschuss für einen guten Frieden (Free Workers' Committee for a good Peace)[31] was created in Bremen, Germany. On 7 March 1918, Anton Drexler, an avid German nationalist, formed a branch of this league in Munich.[31] Drexler was a local locksmith who had been a member of the militarist Fatherland Party[32] during World War I and was bitterly opposed to the armistice of November 1918 and the revolutionary upheavals that followed. Drexler followed the views of militant nationalists of the day, such as opposing the Treaty of Versailles, having antisemitic, anti-monarchist and anti-Marxist views, as well as believing in the superiority of Germans whom they claimed to be part of the Aryan "master race" (Herrenvolk). However, he also accused international capitalism of being a Jewish-dominated movement and denounced capitalists for war profiteering in World War I.[33] Drexler saw the political violence and instability in Germany as the result of the Weimar Republic being out-of-touch with the masses, especially the lower classes.[33] Drexler emphasised the need for a synthesis of völkisch nationalism with a form of economic socialism, in order to create a popular nationalist-oriented workers' movement that could challenge the rise of communism and internationalist politics.[34] These were all well-known themes popular with various Weimar paramilitary groups such as the Freikorps.

Nazi Party badge emblem

Drexler's movement received attention and support from some influential figures. Supporter Dietrich Eckart, a well-to-do journalist, brought military figure Felix Graf von Bothmer, a prominent supporter of the concept of "national socialism", to address the movement.[35] Later in 1918, Karl Harrer (a journalist and member of the Thule Society) convinced Drexler and several others to form the Politischer Arbeiter-Zirkel (Political Workers' Circle).[31] The members met periodically for discussions with themes of nationalism and racism directed against Jewish people.[31] In December 1918, Drexler decided that a new political party should be formed, based on the political principles that he endorsed, by combining his branch of the Workers' Committee for a good Peace with the Political Workers' Circle.[31][36]

On 5 January 1919, Drexler created a new political party and proposed it should be named the "German Socialist Workers' Party", but Harrer objected to the term "socialist"; so the term was removed and the party was named the German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, DAP).[36] To ease concerns among potential middle-class supporters, Drexler made clear that unlike Marxists the party supported the middle-class and that its socialist policy was meant to give social welfare to German citizens deemed part of the Aryan race.[33] They became one of many völkisch movements that existed in Germany. Like other völkisch groups, the DAP advocated the belief that through profit-sharing instead of socialisation Germany should become a unified "people's community" (Volksgemeinschaft) rather than a society divided along class and party lines.[37] This ideology was explicitly antisemitic. As early as 1920, the party was raising money by selling a tobacco called Anti-Semit.[38]

From the outset, the DAP was opposed to non-nationalist political movements, especially on the left, including the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Members of the DAP saw themselves as fighting against "Bolshevism" and anyone considered a part of or aiding so-called "international Jewry". The DAP was also deeply opposed to the Treaty of Versailles.[39] The DAP did not attempt to make itself public and meetings were kept in relative secrecy, with public speakers discussing what they thought of Germany's present state of affairs, or writing to like-minded societies in Northern Germany.[37]

NSDAP membership book

The DAP was a comparatively small group with fewer than 60 members.[37] Nevertheless, it attracted the attention of the German authorities, who were suspicious of any organisation that appeared to have subversive tendencies. In July 1919, while stationed in Munich, army Gefreiter Adolf Hitler was appointed a Verbindungsmann (intelligence agent) of an Aufklärungskommando (reconnaissance unit) of the Reichswehr (army) by Captain Mayr, the head of the Education and Propaganda Department (Dept Ib/P) in Bavaria. Hitler was assigned to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate the DAP.[40] While Hitler was initially unimpressed by the meetings and found them disorganised, he enjoyed the discussion that took place.[41] While attending a party meeting on 12 September 1919 at Munich's Sterneckerbräu, Hitler became involved in a heated argument with a visitor, Professor Baumann, who questioned the soundness of Gottfried Feder's arguments against capitalism; Baumann proposed that Bavaria should break away from Prussia and found a new South German nation with Austria. In vehemently attacking the man's arguments, Hitler made an impression on the other party members with his oratorical skills; according to Hitler, the "professor" left the hall acknowledging unequivocal defeat.[42] Drexler encouraged him to join the DAP.[42] On the orders of his army superiors, Hitler applied to join the party[43] and within a week was accepted as party member 555 (the party began counting membership at 500 to give the impression they were a much larger party).[44][45] Among the party's earlier members were Ernst Röhm of the Army's District Command VII; Dietrich Eckart, who has been called the spiritual father of National Socialism;[46] then-University of Munich student Rudolf Hess;[47] Freikorps soldier Hans Frank; and Alfred Rosenberg, often credited as the philosopher of the movement. All were later prominent in the Nazi regime.[48]

Hitler later claimed to be the seventh party member (he was in fact the seventh executive member of the party's central committee[49] and he would later wear the Golden Party Badge number one. Anton Drexler drafted a letter to Hitler in 1940—which was never sent—that contradicts Hitler's later claim:

No one knows better than you yourself, my Führer, that you were never the seventh member of the party, but at best the seventh member of the committee... And a few years ago I had to complain to a party office that your first proper membership card of the DAP, bearing the signatures of Schüssler and myself, was falsified, with the number 555 being erased and number 7 entered.[50]

Although Hitler initially wanted to form his own party, he claimed to have been convinced to join the DAP because it was small and he could eventually become its leader.[51] He consequently encouraged the organisation to become less of a debating society, which it had been previously, and more of an active political party.[52] Normally, enlisted army personnel were not allowed to join political parties. In this case, Hitler had Captain Karl Mayr's permission to join the DAP. Further, Hitler was allowed to stay in the army and receive his weekly pay of 20 gold marks a week.[53] Unlike many other members of the organisation, this continued employment provided him with enough money to dedicate himself more fully to the DAP.[54]

Hitler's first DAP speech was held in the Hofbräukeller on 16 October 1919. He was the second speaker of the evening, and spoke to 111 people.[55] Hitler later declared that this was when he realised he could really "make a good speech".[37] At first, Hitler spoke only to relatively small groups, but his considerable oratory and propaganda skills were appreciated by the party leadership. With the support of Anton Drexler, Hitler became chief of propaganda for the party in early 1920.[56] Hitler began to make the party more public, and organised its biggest meeting yet of 2,000 people on 24 February 1920 in the Staatliches Hofbräuhaus in München. Such was the significance of this particular move in publicity that Karl Harrer resigned from the party in disagreement.[57] It was in this speech that Hitler enunciated the twenty-five points of the German Workers' Party manifesto that had been drawn up by Drexler, Feder and himself.[58] Through these points he gave the organisation a much bolder stratagem[56] with a clear foreign policy (abrogation of the Treaty of Versailles, a Greater Germany, Eastern expansion and exclusion of Jews from citizenship) and among his specific points were: confiscation of war profits, abolition of unearned incomes, the State to share profits of land and land for national needs to be taken away without compensation.[59] In general, the manifesto was antisemitic, anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist and anti-liberal.[60] To increase its appeal to larger segments of the population, on the same day as Hitler's Hofbräuhaus speech on 24 February 1920, the DAP changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei ("National Socialist German Workers' Party", or Nazi Party).[61][62][e] The name was intended to draw upon both left-wing and right-wing ideals, with "Socialist" and "Workers'" appealing to the left, and "National" and "German" appealing to the right.[65] The word "Socialist" was added by the party's executive committee (at the suggestion of Rudolf Jung), over Hitler's initial objections,[f] in order to help appeal to left-wing workers.[67]

In 1920, the Nazi Party officially announced that only persons of "pure Aryan descent [rein arischer Abkunft]" could become party members and if the person had a spouse, the spouse also had to be a "racially pure" Aryan. Party members could not be related either directly or indirectly to a so-called "non-Aryan".[68] Even before it had become legally forbidden by the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, the Nazis banned sexual relations and marriages between party members and Jews.[69] Party members found guilty of Rassenschande ("racial defilement") were persecuted heavily. Some members were even sentenced to death.[70]

Hitler quickly became the party's most active orator, appearing in public as a speaker 31 times within the first year after his self-discovery.[71] Crowds began to flock to hear his speeches.[72] Hitler always spoke about the same subjects: the Treaty of Versailles and the Jewish question.[60] This deliberate technique and effective publicising of the party contributed significantly to his early success,[60] about which a contemporary poster wrote: "Since Herr Hitler is a brilliant speaker, we can hold out the prospect of an extremely exciting evening".[73][page needed] Over the following months, the party continued to attract new members,[49] while remaining too small to have any real significance in German politics.[74] By the end of the year, party membership was recorded at 2,000,[72] many of whom Hitler and Röhm had brought into the party personally, or for whom Hitler's oratory had been their reason for joining.[75]

Hitler's membership card in the DAP (later NSDAP). The membership number (7) was altered from the original.

Hitler's talent as an orator and his ability to draw new members, combined with his characteristic ruthlessness, soon made him the dominant figure. However, while Hitler and Eckart were on a fundraising trip to Berlin in June 1921, a mutiny broke out within the party in Munich. Members of its executive committee wanted to merge with the rival German Socialist Party (DSP).[76] Upon returning to Munich on 11 July, Hitler angrily tendered his resignation. The committee members realised that his resignation would mean the end of the party.[77] Hitler announced he would rejoin on condition that he would replace Drexler as party chairman, and that the party headquarters would remain in Munich.[78] The committee agreed, and he rejoined the party on 26 July as member 3,680. Hitler continued to face some opposition within the NSDAP, as his opponents had Hermann Esser expelled from the party and they printed 3,000 copies of a pamphlet attacking Hitler as a traitor to the party.[78] In the following days, Hitler spoke to several packed houses and defended himself and Esser to thunderous applause.[79]

Hitler's strategy proved successful; at a special party congress on 29 July 1921, he replaced Drexler as party chairman by a vote of 533 to 1.[79] The committee was dissolved, and Hitler was granted nearly absolute powers in the party as its sole leader.[79] He would hold the post for the remainder of his life. Hitler soon acquired the title Führer ("leader") and after a series of sharp internal conflicts it was accepted that the party would be governed by the Führerprinzip ("leader principle"). Under this principle, the party was a highly centralised entity that functioned strictly from the top down, with Hitler at the apex. Hitler saw the party as a revolutionary organisation, whose aim was the overthrow of the Weimar Republic, which he saw as controlled by the socialists, Jews and the "November criminals", a term invented to describe alleged elements of society who had 'betrayed the German soldiers' in 1918. The SA ("storm troopers", also known as "Brownshirts") were founded as a party militia in 1921 and began violent attacks on other parties.

Mein Kampf in its first edition cover

For Hitler, the twin goals of the party were always German nationalist expansionism and antisemitism. These two goals were fused in his mind by his belief that Germany's external enemies—Britain, France and the Soviet Union—were controlled by the Jews and that Germany's future wars of national expansion would necessarily entail a war of annihilation against them.[80][page needed] For Hitler and his principal lieutenants, national and racial issues were always dominant. This was symbolised by the adoption as the party emblem of the swastika. In German nationalist circles, the swastika was considered a symbol of an "Aryan race" and it symbolised the replacement of the Christian Cross with allegiance to a National Socialist State.

The Nazi Party grew significantly during 1921 and 1922, partly through Hitler's oratorical skills, partly through the SA's appeal to unemployed young men, and partly because there was a backlash against socialist and liberal politics in Bavaria as Germany's economic problems deepened and the weakness of the Weimar regime became apparent. The party recruited former World War I soldiers, to whom Hitler as a decorated frontline veteran could particularly appeal, as well as small businessmen and disaffected former members of rival parties. Nazi rallies were often held in beer halls, where downtrodden men could get free beer. The Hitler Youth was formed for the children of party members. The party also formed groups in other parts of Germany. Julius Streicher in Nuremberg was an early recruit and became editor of the racist magazine Der Stürmer. In December 1920, the Nazi Party had acquired a newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, of which its leading ideologist Alfred Rosenberg became editor. Others to join the party around this time were Heinrich Himmler and World War I flying ace Hermann Göring.

Adoption of Italian fascism: The Beer Hall Putsch

On 31 October 1922, a fascist party with similar policies and objectives came into power in Italy, the National Fascist Party, under the leadership of the charismatic Benito Mussolini. The Fascists, like the Nazis, promoted a national rebirth of their country, as they opposed communism and liberalism; appealed to the working-class; opposed the Treaty of Versailles; and advocated the territorial expansion of their country. Hitler was inspired by Mussolini and the Fascists, beginning to adopt elements of the Fascist's and Mussolini for the Nazi Party and himself.[81] The Italian Fascists also used a straight-armed Roman salute and wore black-shirted uniforms; Hitler would later borrow their use of the straight-armed salute as a Nazi salute.

When the Fascists took control of Italy through their coup d'état called the "March on Rome", Hitler began planning his own coup less than a month later.[81] In January 1923, France occupied the Ruhr industrial region as a result of Germany's failure to meet its reparations payments. This led to economic chaos, the resignation of Wilhelm Cuno's government and an attempt by the German Communist Party (KPD) to stage a revolution. The reaction to these events was an upsurge of nationalist sentiment. Nazi Party membership grew sharply to about 20,000,[82] compared to the approximate 6,000 at the beginning of 1923.[83] By November 1923, Hitler had decided that the time was right for an attempt to seize power in Munich, in the hope that the Reichswehr (the post-war German military) would mutiny against the Berlin government and join his revolt. In this, he was influenced by former General Erich Ludendorff, who had become a supporter—though not a member—of the Nazis.[84]

Nazis during the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich

On the night of 8 November, the Nazis used a patriotic rally in a Munich beer hall to launch an attempted putsch ("coup d'état"). This so-called Beer Hall Putsch attempt failed almost at once when the local Reichswehr commanders refused to support it. On the morning of 9 November, the Nazis staged a march of about 2,000 supporters through Munich in an attempt to rally support. The two groups exchanged fire, after which 15 putschists, four police officers, and a bystander lay dead.[85][86][87] Hitler, Ludendorff and a number of others were arrested and were tried for treason in March 1924. Hitler and his associates were given very lenient prison sentences. While Hitler was in prison, he wrote his semi-autobiographical political manifesto Mein Kampf ("My Struggle").

The Nazi Party was banned on 9 November 1923; however, with the support of the nationalist Völkisch-Social Bloc (Völkisch-Sozialer Block), it continued to operate under the name "German Party" (Deutsche Partei or DP) from 1924 to 1925.[88] The Nazis failed to remain unified in the DP, as in the north, the right-wing Volkish nationalist supporters of the Nazis moved to the new German Völkisch Freedom Party, leaving the north's left-wing Nazi members, such as Joseph Goebbels retaining support for the party.[88]

Rise to power: 1925–1933

Hitler with Nazi Party members in 1930

Pardoned by the Bavarian Supreme Court, Hitler was released from prison on 20 December 1924, against the state prosecutor's objections.[89] On 16 February 1925, Hitler convinced the Bavarian authorities to lift the ban on the NSDAP and the party was formally refounded on 26 February 1925, with Hitler as its undisputed leader. It was at this time Hitler began referring to himself as "der Führer".[90] The new Nazi Party was no longer a paramilitary organisation and disavowed any intention of taking power by force. In any case, the economic and political situation had stabilised and the extremist upsurge of 1923 had faded, so there was no prospect of further revolutionary adventures. Instead, Hitler intended to alter the party's strategy to achieving power through what he called the "path of legality".[91] The Nazi Party of 1925 was divided into the "Leadership Corps" (Korps der politischen Leiter) appointed by Hitler and the general membership (Parteimitglieder). The party and the SA were kept separate and the legal aspect of the party's work was emphasised. In a sign of this, the party began to admit women. The SA and the SS members (the latter founded in 1925 as Hitler's bodyguard, and known originally as the Schutzkommando) had to all be regular party members.[92][93]

In the 1920s the Nazi Party expanded beyond its Bavarian base. At this time, it began surveying voters in order to determine what they were dissatisfied with in Germany, allowing Nazi propaganda to be altered accordingly.[94] Catholic Bavaria maintained its right-wing nostalgia for a Catholic monarch;[citation needed] and Westphalia, along with working-class "Red Berlin", were always the Nazis' weakest areas electorally, even during the Third Reich itself. The areas of strongest Nazi support were in rural Protestant areas such as Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg, Pomerania and East Prussia. Depressed working-class areas such as Thuringia also produced a strong Nazi vote, while the workers of the Ruhr and Hamburg largely remained loyal to the Social Democrats, the Communist Party of Germany or the Catholic Centre Party. Nuremberg remained a Nazi Party stronghold, and the first Nuremberg Rally was held there in 1927. These rallies soon became massive displays of Nazi paramilitary power and attracted many recruits. The Nazis' strongest appeal was to the lower middle-classes—farmers, public servants, teachers and small businessmen—who had suffered most from the inflation of the 1920s, so who feared Bolshevism more than anything else. The small business class was receptive to Hitler's antisemitism, since it blamed Jewish big business for its economic problems. University students, disappointed at being too young to have served in the War of 1914–1918 and attracted by the Nazis' radical rhetoric, also became a strong Nazi constituency. By 1929, the party had 130,000 members.[95]

The party's nominal Deputy Leader was Rudolf Hess, but he had no real power in the party. By the early 1930s, the senior leaders of the party after Hitler were Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring. Beneath the Leadership Corps were the party's regional leaders, the Gauleiters, each of whom commanded the party in his Gau ("region"). Goebbels began his ascent through the party hierarchy as Gauleiter of Berlin-Brandenburg in 1926. Streicher was Gauleiter of Franconia, where he published his antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer. Beneath the Gauleiter were lower-level officials, the Kreisleiter ("county leaders"), Zellenleiter ("cell leaders") and Blockleiter ("block leaders"). This was a strictly hierarchical structure in which orders flowed from the top and unquestioning loyalty was given to superiors. Only the SA retained some autonomy. Being composed largely of unemployed workers, many SA men took the Nazis' socialist rhetoric seriously. At this time, the Hitler salute (borrowed from the Italian fascists) and the greeting "Heil Hitler!" were adopted throughout the party.

Nazi Party election poster used in Vienna in 1930 (translation: "We demand freedom and bread")

The Nazis contested elections to the national parliament (the Reichstag) and to the state legislature (the Landtage) from 1924, although at first with little success. The "National Socialist Freedom Movement" polled 3% of the vote in the December 1924 Reichstag elections and this fell to 2.6% in 1928. State elections produced similar results. Despite these poor results and despite Germany's relative political stability and prosperity during the later 1920s, the Nazi Party continued to grow. This was partly because Hitler, who had no administrative ability, left the party organisation to the head of the secretariat, Philipp Bouhler, the party treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz and business manager Max Amann. The party had a capable propaganda head in Gregor Strasser, who was promoted to national organizational leader in January 1928. These men gave the party efficient recruitment and organizational structures. The party also owed its growth to the gradual fading away of competitor nationalist groups, such as the German National People's Party (DNVP). As Hitler became the recognised head of the German nationalists, other groups declined or were absorbed. In the late 1920s, seeing the party's lack of breakthrough into the mainstream, Goebbels proposed that instead of focusing all of their propaganda in major cities where there was competition from other political movements, they should instead begin holding rallies in rural areas where they would be more effective.[96]

Despite these strengths, the Nazi Party might never have come to power had it not been for the Great Depression and its effects on Germany. By 1930, the German economy was beset with mass unemployment and widespread business failures. The Social Democrats and Communists were bitterly divided and unable to formulate an effective solution: this gave the Nazis their opportunity and Hitler's message, blaming the crisis on the Jewish financiers and the Bolsheviks, resonated with wide sections of the electorate. At the September 1930 Reichstag elections, the Nazis won 18% of the votes and became the second-largest party in the Reichstag after the Social Democrats. Hitler proved to be a highly effective campaigner, pioneering the use of radio and aircraft for this purpose. His dismissal of Strasser and his appointment of Goebbels as the party's propaganda chief were major factors. While Strasser had used his position to promote his own leftish version of national socialism, Goebbels was completely loyal to Hitler, and worked only to improve Hitler's image.

The 1930 elections changed the German political landscape by weakening the traditional nationalist parties, the DNVP and the DVP, leaving the Nazis as the chief alternative to the discredited Social Democrats and the Zentrum, whose leader, Heinrich Brüning, headed a weak minority government. The inability of the democratic parties to form a united front, the self-imposed isolation of the Communists and the continued decline of the economy, all played into Hitler's hands. He now came to be seen as de facto leader of the opposition and donations poured into the Nazi Party's coffers. Some major business figures, such as Fritz Thyssen, were Nazi supporters and gave generously[97] and some Wall Street figures were allegedly involved,[citation needed] but many other businessmen were suspicious of the extreme nationalist tendencies of the Nazis and preferred to support the traditional conservative parties instead.[98]

German NSDAP Donation Token 1932, Free State of Prussia elections

In 1931 the Nazi Party altered its strategy to engage in perpetual campaigning across the country, even outside of election time.[99] During 1931 and into 1932, Germany's political crisis deepened. Hitler ran for president against the incumbent Paul von Hindenburg in March 1932, polling 30% in the first round and 37% in the second against Hindenburg's 49% and 53%. By now the SA had 400,000 members and its running street battles with the SPD and Communist paramilitaries (who also fought each other) reduced some German cities to combat zones. Paradoxically, although the Nazis were among the main instigators of this disorder, part of Hitler's appeal to a frightened and demoralised middle class was his promise to restore law and order. Overt antisemitism was played down in official Nazi rhetoric, but was never far from the surface. Germans voted for Hitler primarily because of his promises to revive the economy (by unspecified means), to restore German greatness and overturn the Treaty of Versailles and to save Germany from communism. On 24 April 1932, the Free State of Prussia elections to the Landtag resulted in 36% of the votes and 162 seats for the NSDAP.

On 20 July 1932, the Prussian government was ousted by a coup, the Preussenschlag; a few days later at the July 1932 Reichstag election the Nazis made another leap forward, polling 37% and becoming the largest party in parliament by a wide margin. Furthermore, the Nazis and the Communists between them won 52% of the vote and a majority of seats. Since both parties opposed the established political system and neither would join or support any ministry, this made the formation of a majority government impossible. The result was weak ministries governing by decree. Under Comintern directives, the Communists maintained their policy of treating the Social Democrats as the main enemy, calling them "social fascists", thereby splintering opposition to the Nazis.[g] Later, both the Social Democrats and the Communists accused each other of having facilitated Hitler's rise to power by their unwillingness to compromise.

Chancellor Franz von Papen called another Reichstag election in November, hoping to find a way out of this impasse. The electoral result was the same, with the Nazis and the Communists winning 50% of the vote between them and more than half the seats, rendering this Reichstag no more workable than its predecessor. However, support for the Nazis had fallen to 33.1%, suggesting that the Nazi surge had passed its peak—possibly because the worst of the Depression had passed, possibly because some middle-class voters had supported Hitler in July as a protest, but had now drawn back from the prospect of actually putting him into power. The Nazis interpreted the result as a warning that they must seize power before their moment passed. Had the other parties united, this could have been prevented, but their shortsightedness made a united front impossible. Papen, his successor Kurt von Schleicher and the nationalist press magnate Alfred Hugenberg spent December and January in political intrigues that eventually persuaded President Hindenburg that it was safe to appoint Hitler as Reich Chancellor, at the head of a cabinet including only a minority of Nazi ministers—which he did on 30 January 1933.

Ascension and consolidation

Reichsparteitag (Nuremberg Rally): Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler and SA-leader Ernst Röhm, August 1933

In Mein Kampf, Hitler directly attacked both left-wing and right-wing politics in Germany.[h] However, a majority of scholars identify Nazism in practice as being a far-right form of politics.[101][page needed] When asked in an interview in 1934 whether the Nazis were "bourgeois right-wing" as alleged by their opponents, Hitler responded that Nazism was not exclusively for any class and indicated that it favoured neither the left nor the right, but preserved "pure" elements from both "camps" by stating: "From the camp of bourgeois tradition, it takes national resolve, and from the materialism of the Marxist dogma, living, creative Socialism".[102]

The votes that the Nazis received in the 1932 elections established the Nazi Party as the largest parliamentary faction of the Weimar Republic government. Hitler was appointed as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933.

The Reichstag fire on 27 February 1933 gave Hitler a pretext for suppressing his political opponents. The following day he persuaded the Reich's President Paul von Hindenburg to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended most civil liberties. The NSDAP won the parliamentary election on 5 March 1933 with 44% of votes, but failed to win an absolute majority. After the election, hundreds of thousands of new members joined the party for opportunistic reasons, most of them civil servants and white-collar workers. They were nicknamed the "casualties of March" (German: Märzgefallenen) or "March violets" (German: Märzveilchen).[103] To protect the party from too many non-ideological turncoats who were viewed by the so-called "old fighters" (alte Kämpfer) with some mistrust,[103] the party issued a freeze on admissions that remained in force from May 1933 to 1937.[104]

On 23 March, the parliament passed the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave the cabinet the right to enact laws without the consent of parliament. In effect, this gave Hitler dictatorial powers. Now possessing virtually absolute power, the Nazis established totalitarian control as they abolished labour unions and other political parties and imprisoned their political opponents, first at wilde Lager, improvised camps, then in concentration camps. Nazi Germany had been established, yet the Reichswehr remained impartial. Nazi power over Germany remained virtual, not absolute.

NSDAP federal election results (1924–1933)[105]
Election Votes Seats Notes
No. % +/– No. +/–
May 1924
(as National Socialist Freedom Movement)
1,918,300 6.5 (No. 6)
32 / 472
Hitler in prison
December 1924
(as National Socialist Freedom Movement)
907,300 3.0 (No. 8) Decrease 3.5
14 / 493
Decrease 18 Hitler released from prison
May 1928 810,100 2.6 (No. 9) Decrease 0.4
12 / 491
Decrease 2
September 1930 6,409,600 18.3 (No. 2) Increase 15.7
107 / 577
Increase 95 After the financial crisis
July 1932 13,745,000 37.3 (No. 1) Increase 19.0
230 / 608
Increase 123 After Hitler was candidate for presidency
November 1932 11,737,000 33.1 (No. 1) Decrease 4.2
196 / 584
Decrease 34  
March 1933 17,277,180 43.9 (No. 1) Increase 10.8
288 / 647
Increase 92 During Hitler's term as Chancellor of Germany

After taking power: intertwining of party and state

The Nazis embarked on a campaign of Gleichschaltung (coordination) to exert their control over all aspects of German government and society. During June and July 1933, all competing parties were either outlawed or dissolved themselves and subsequently the Law Against the Formation of Parties of 14 July 1933 legally established the Nazi Party's monopoly. On 1 December 1933, the Law to Secure the Unity of Party and State entered into force, which was the base for a progressive intertwining of party structures and state apparatus.[106] By this law, the SA—actually a party division—was given quasi-governmental authority and their Stabschef became a cabinet minister without portfolio. By virtue of the 30 January 1934 Law on the Reconstruction of the Reich, the Länder (states) lost their sovereignty and were demoted to administrative divisions of the Reich government. Effectively, they lost most of their power to the Gaue that were originally just regional divisions of the party, but took over most competencies of the state administration in their respective sectors.[107]

During the Röhm Purge of 30 June to 2 July 1934 (also known as the "Night of the Long Knives"), Hitler disempowered the SA's leadership—most of whom belonged to the Strasserist (national revolutionary) faction within the NSDAP—and ordered them killed. He accused them of having conspired to stage a coup d'état, but it is believed that this was only a pretense to justify the suppression of any intraparty opposition. The purge was executed by the SS, assisted by the Gestapo and Reichswehr units. Aside from Strasserist Nazis, they also murdered anti-Nazi conservative figures like former chancellor von Schleicher.[108] After this, the SA continued to exist but lost much of its importance, while the role of the SS grew significantly. Formerly only a sub-organisation of the SA, it was made into a separate organisation of the NSDAP in July 1934.[109]

Upon the death of President Hindenburg on 2 August 1934, Hitler merged the offices of party leader, head of state and chief of government in one, taking the title of Führer und Reichskanzler by passage of the Law Concerning the Head of State of the German Reich. The Chancellery of the Führer, officially an organisation of the Nazi Party, took over the functions of the Office of the President (a government agency), blurring the distinction between structures of party and state even further. The SS increasingly exerted police functions, a development which was formally documented by the merger of the offices of Reichsführer-SS and Chief of the German Police on 17 June 1936, as the position was held by Heinrich Himmler who derived his authority directly from Hitler.[110] The Sicherheitsdienst (SD, formally the "Security Service of the Reichsführer-SS") that had been created in 1931 as an intraparty intelligence became the de facto intelligence agency of Nazi Germany. It was put under the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) in 1939, which then coordinated SD, Gestapo and criminal police, therefore functioning as a hybrid organisation of state and party structures.[111]

Adolf Hitler in Bonn in 1938
NSDAP election and referendum results in the Reichstag under Nazi Germany (1933–1938)
Election Votes % Seats
November 1933 39,655,224 92.1
661 / 661
1936 44,462,458 98.8
741 / 741
1938 44,451,092 99.0
813 / 813

Defeat and abolition

Officially, Nazi Germany lasted only 12 years. The Instrument of Surrender was signed by representatives of the German High Command at Berlin, on 8 May 1945, when the war ended in Europe.[112] The party was formally abolished on 10 October 1945 by the Allied Control Council, followed by the process of denazification along with trials of major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg.[113] Part of the Potsdam Agreement called for the destruction of the Nazi Party alongside the requirement for the reconstruction of the German political life.[114] In addition, the Control Council Law no. 2 Providing for the Termination and Liquidation of the Nazi Organization specified the abolition of 52 other Nazi affiliated and supervised organisations and outlawed their activities.[115] The denazification was carried out in Germany and continued until the onset of the Cold War.[116][page needed][117]

Between 1939 and 1945, the Nazi Party led regime, assisted by collaborationist governments and recruits from occupied countries, was responsible for the deaths of at least eleven million people,[118][119] including 5.5 to 6 million Jews (representing two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe),[19][120][121] and between 200,000 and 1,500,000 Romani people.[122][123] The estimated total number includes the killing of nearly two million non-Jewish Poles,[123] over three million Soviet prisoners of war,[124] communists, and other political opponents, homosexuals, the physically and mentally disabled.[125][126]

Political programme

The National Socialist Programme was a formulation of the policies of the party. It contained 25 points and is therefore also known as the "25-point plan" or "25-point programme". It was the official party programme, with minor changes, from its proclamation as such by Hitler in 1920, when the party was still the German Workers' Party, until its dissolution.

Party composition

Command structure

Top leadership

Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess in Weimar in 1930

At the top of the Nazi Party was the party chairman ("Der Führer"), who held absolute power and full command over the party. All other party offices were subordinate to his position and had to depend on his instructions. In 1934, Hitler founded a separate body for the chairman, Chancellery of the Führer, with its own sub-units.

Below the Führer's chancellery was first the "Staff of the Deputy Führer", headed by Rudolf Hess from 21 April 1933 to 10 May 1941; and then the "Party Chancellery" (Parteikanzlei), headed by Martin Bormann.

Following Hitler's suicide on 30 April 1945, Bormann would be named as Party Minister, which gave him the top position in the Nazi Party itself;[127] unlike Hitler, however, Bormann would not have a leadership role over the government of Nazi Germany.[127] Bormann, whose fate would remain unknown for several decades, would soon afterwards commit suicide as well on 2 May 1945 while trying flee Berlin around the time Soviet Union forces captured the city.[128][129] his remains were first identified in 1972, then again in 1998 through DNA testing.[130][131]


Directly subjected to the Führer were the Reichsleiter ("Reich Leader(s)"—the singular and plural forms are identical in German), whose number was gradually increased to eighteen. They held power and influence comparable to the Reich Ministers' in Hitler's Cabinet. The eighteen Reichsleiter formed the "Reich Leadership of the Nazi Party" (Reichsleitung der NSDAP), which was established at the so-called Brown House in Munich. Unlike a Gauleiter, a Reichsleiter did not have individual geographic areas under their command, but were responsible for specific spheres of interest.

Nazi Party offices

The Nazi Party had a number of party offices dealing with various political and other matters. These included:

Paramilitary groups

The SA in Berlin in 1932. The group had nearly two million members at the end of 1932.

In addition to the Nazi Party proper, several paramilitary groups existed which "supported" Nazi aims. All members of these paramilitary organisations were required to become regular Nazi Party members first and could then enlist in the group of their choice. An exception was the Waffen-SS, considered the military arm of the SS and Nazi Party, which during the Second World War allowed members to enlist without joining the Nazi Party. Foreign volunteers of the Waffen-SS were also not required to be members of the Nazi Party, although many joined local nationalist groups from their own countries with the same aims. Police officers, including members of the Gestapo, frequently held SS rank for administrative reasons (known as "rank parity") and were likewise not required to be members of the Nazi Party.

A vast system of Nazi Party paramilitary ranks developed for each of the various paramilitary groups. This was part of the process of Gleichschaltung with the paramilitary and auxiliary groups swallowing existing associations and federations after the Party was flooded by millions of membership applications.[132]

The major Nazi Party paramilitary groups were as follows:

The Hitler Youth was a paramilitary group divided into an adult leadership corps and a general membership open to boys aged fourteen to eighteen. The League of German Girls was the equivalent group for girls.

Affiliated organisations

Certain nominally independent organisations had their own legal representation and own property, but were supported by the Nazi Party. Many of these associated organisations were labour unions of various professions. Some were older organisations that were nazified according to the Gleichschaltung policy after the 1933 takeover.

The employees of large businesses with international operations such as Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, and Commerzbank were mostly party members.[133] All German businesses abroad were also required to have their own Nazi Party Ausland-Organization liaison men, which enabled the party leadership to obtain updated and excellent intelligence on the actions of the global corporate elites.[134][page needed]

Regional administration

Administrative units of the Nazi Party in 1944

For the purpose of centralisation in the Gleichschaltung process, a rigidly hierarchal structure was established in the Nazi Party, which it later carried through in the whole of Germany in order to consolidate total power under the person of Hitler (Führerstaat). It was regionally sub-divided into a number of Gaue (singular: Gau) headed by a Gauleiter, who received their orders directly from Hitler. The name (originally a term for sub-regions of the Holy Roman Empire headed by a Gaugraf) for these new provincial structures was deliberately chosen because of its mediaeval connotations. The term is approximately equivalent to the English shire.

While the Nazis maintained the nominal existence of state and regional governments in Germany itself, this policy was not extended to territories acquired after 1937. Even in German-speaking areas such as Austria, state and regional governments were formally disbanded as opposed to just being dis-empowered.

After the Anschluss a new type of administrative unit was introduced called a Reichsgau. In these territories the Gauleiters also held the position of Reichsstatthalter (Reich Governor) thereby formally combining the spheres of both party and state offices. The establishment of this type of district was subsequently carried out for any further territorial annexations of Germany both before and during World War II. Even the former territories of Prussia were never formally re-integrated into what was then Germany's largest state after being re-taken in the 1939 Polish campaign.

The Gaue and Reichsgaue (state or province) were further sub-divided into Kreise (counties) headed by a Kreisleiter, which were in turn sub-divided into Zellen (cells) and Blöcke (blocks), headed by a Zellenleiter and Blockleiter respectively.

A reorganisation of the Gaue was enacted on 1 October 1928. The given numbers were the official ordering numbers. The statistics are from 1941, for which the Gau organisation of that moment in time forms the basis. Their size and populations are not exact; for instance, according to the official party statistics the Gau Kurmark/Mark Brandenburg was the largest in the German Reich.[135][page needed] By 1941, there were 42 territorial Gaue for Greater Germany.[i] Of these, 10 were designated as Reichsgaue: 7 of them for Austria, one for the Sudetenland (annexed from Czechoslovakia) and two for the areas annexed from Poland and the Free City of Danzig after the joint invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 at the onset of World War II.[136] Getting the leadership of the individual Gaue to co-operate with one another proved difficult at times since there was constant administrative and financial jockeying for control going on between them.[137]

The first table below describes the organizational structure for the Gaue that existed before their dissolution in 1945.[138] Information on former Gaue (that were either renamed, or dissolved by being divided or merged with other Gaue) is provided in the second table.[139]

Nazi Party Gaue

Nr. Gau Headquarters Area (km2) Inhabitants (1941) Gauleiter
01 Baden-Alsace Strasbourg 23,350 2,502,023 Robert Heinrich Wagner from 22 March 1941
02 Bayreuth, renaming of Gau Bayerische Ostmark 2 June 1942 Bayreuth 29,600 2,370,658 Hans Schemm (1933–1935)
Fritz Wachtler (1935–1945)
Ludwig Ruckdeschel from 19 April 1945
03 Berlin Berlin 884 4,338,756 Joseph Goebbels from 1 October 1928
04 Danzig-Westpreußen Danzig 26,057 2,287,394 Albert Forster from 10 October 1939
05 Düsseldorf Düsseldorf 2,672 2,261,909 Friedrich Karl Florian from 1 August 1930
06 Essen Essen 2,825 1,921,326 Josef Terboven from 1 August 1928
07 Franken, renaming of Gau Mittelfranken 21 April 1933 Nuremberg 7,618 1,077,216 Julius Streicher (1929–1940)
Hans Zimmermann (1940–1942)
Karl Holz from 19 March 1942
08 Halle-Merseburg Halle an der Saale 10,202 1,578,292 Walter Ernst (1925–1926)
Paul Hinkler (1926–1931)
Rudolf Jordan (1931–1937)
Joachim Albrecht Eggeling from 20 April 1937
09 Hamburg Hamburg 747 1,711,877 Josef Klant (1925–1926)
Albert Krebs (1926–1928)
Hinrich Lohse (1928–1929)
Karl Kaufmann from 15 April 1929
10 Hessen-Nassau Frankfurt 15,030 3,117,266 Jakob Sprenger from 1 January 1933
11 Kärnten Klagenfurt 11,554 449,713 Hans Mazenauer (1926–1927)
Hugo Herzog (1927–1933)
Hans vom Kothen (1933)
Hubert Klausner (1933–1936)
Peter Feistritzer (1936–1938)
Hubert Klausner (1938–1939)
Franz Kutschera (1939–1941)
Friedrich Rainer from 27 November 1941
12 Köln-Aachen Köln 8,162 2,432,095 Joseph Grohé from 1 June 1931
13 Kurhessen, renaming of Gau Hessen-Nord 1934 Kassel 9,200 971,887 Walter Schultz (1925–1928)
Karl Weinrich (1928–1943)
Karl Gerland from 6 November 1943
14 Magdeburg-Anhalt, renaming of Gau Anhalt-Provinz Sachsen Nord 1 October 1928 Dessau 13,910 1,820,416 Gustav Hermann Schmischke (1926–1927)
Wilhelm Friedrich Loeper (1927–1935) with a short replacement by Paul Hofmann from August to December 1932
Joachim Albrecht Eggeling (1935–1937)
Rudolf Jordan from 20 April 1937
15 Mainfranken, renaming of Gau Unterfranken 30 July 1935 Würzburg 8,432 840,663 Otto Hellmuth from 1 October 1928
16 Mark Brandenburg, renaming of
Gau Kurmark 1 January 1939
Berlin 38,278 3,007,933 Wilhelm Kube (1933–1936)
Emil Stürtz from 7 August 1936
17 Mecklenburg, renaming of
Gau Mecklenburg-Lübeck 1 April 1937
Schwerin 15,722 900,427 Friedrich Hildebrandt from 1925 with a short replacement by Herbert Albrecht (July 1930 – January 1931)
18 Moselland Koblenz 11,876 1,367,354 Gustav Simon from 24 January 1941
19 München-Oberbayern Munich 16,411 1,938,447 Adolf Wagner (1930–1944)
Paul Giesler from 12 April 1944
20 Niederdonau, renaming of
Gau Niederösterreich 21 May 1938
Nominal capital: Krems, District Headquarters: Vienna 23,502 1,697,676 Leopold Eder (1926–1927)
Josef Leopold (1927–1938)
Hugo Jury from 21 May 1938
21 Niederschlesien Breslau 26,985 3,286,539 Karl Hanke from 27 January 1941
22 Oberdonau, renaming of
Gau Oberösterreich 22 May 1938
Linz 14,216 1,034,871 Albert Proksch (1926–1927)
Andreas Bolek (1927–1934)
Rudolf Lengauer (1934–1935)
Oscar Hinterleitner (1935)
August Eigruber from 22 May 1938
23 Oberschlesien Kattowitz 20,636 4,341,084 Fritz Bracht from 27 January 1941
24 Ost-Hannover, renaming of
Gau Lüneburg-Stade 1 October 1928
Buchholz, after 1 April 1937 Lüneburg 18,006 1,060,509 Otto Telschow from 27 March 1925
25 Ostpreußen Königsberg 52,731 3,336,777 Wilhelm Stich (1925–1926)
Bruno Gustav Scherwitz (1926–1927)
Hans Albert Hohnfeldt (1927–1928)
Erich Koch from 1 October 1928
26 Pommern Stettin 38,409 2,393,844 Theodor Vahlen (1925–1927)
Walther von Corswant (1927–1931)
Wilhelm Karpenstein (1931–1934)
Franz Schwede-Coburg from 21 July 1934
27 Sachsen Dresden 14,995 5,231,739 Martin Mutschmann from 27 March 1925
28 Salzburg Salzburg 7,153 257,226 Karl Scharizer (1932–1934)
Anton Wintersteiger (1934–1938)
Friedrich Rainer (1938–1941)
Gustav Adolf Scheel from 27 November 1941
29 Schleswig-Holstein Kiel 15,687 1,589,267 Hinrich Lohse from 27 March 1925
30 Schwaben Augsburg 10,231 946,212 Karl Wahl from 1 October 1928
31 Steiermark Graz 17,384 1,116,407 Walther Oberhaidacher (1928–1934)
Georg Bilgeri (1934–1935)
Sepp Helfrich (1936–1938)
Siegfried Uiberreither from 25 May 1938
32 Sudetenland (also known as Sudetengau) Reichenberg 22,608 2,943,187 Konrad Henlein from 1 October 1938
33 Südhannover-Braunschweig Hannover 14,553 2,136,961 Bernhard Rust (1928–1940)
Hartmann Lauterbacher from 8 December 1940
34 Thüringen Weimar 15,763 2,446,182 Artur Dinter (1925–1927)
Fritz Sauckel from 30 September 1927
35 Tirol-Vorarlberg Innsbruck 13,126 486,400 Franz Hofer from 25 May 1938
36 Wartheland (also known as Warthegau), renaming of Gau Posen (29 January 1940) Posen 43,905 4,693,722 Arthur Karl Greiser from 21 October 1939
37 Weser-Ems Oldenburg 15,044 1,839,302 Carl Röver (1928–1942)
Paul Wegener from 26 May 1942
38 Westfalen-Nord Münster 14,559 2,822,603 Alfred Meyer from 31 January 1931
39 Westfalen-Süd Bochum 7,656 2,678,026 Josef Wagner (1931–1941)
Paul Giesler (1941–1943)
Albert Hoffmann from 26 January 1943
40 Westmark Saarbrücken 14,713 1,892,240 Josef Bürckel (1940–1944)
Willi Stöhr from 29 September 1944
41 Wien Vienna 1,216 1,929,976 Walter Rentmeister (1926–1928)
Eugen Werkowitsch (1928–1929)
Robert Derda (1929)
Alfred Frauenfeld (1930–1933)
Leopold Tavs (1937–1938)
Odilo Globocnik (1938–1939)
Josef Bürckel (1939–1940)
Baldur von Schirach from 8 August 1940
42 Württemberg-Hohenzollern Stuttgart 20,657 2,974,373 Eugen Munder (1925–1928)
Wilhelm Murr from 1 February 1928
43 Auslandsorganisation (also known as NSDAP/AO) Berlin Hans Nieland (1932–1933)
Ernst Wilhelm Bohle from 17 February 1934

Later Gaue:

Gaue dissolved before 1945

The numbering is not based on any official former ranking, but merely listed alphabetically. Gaue that were simply renamed without territorial changes bear the designation RN in the column "later became." Gaue that were divided into more than one Gau bear the designation D in the column "later became." Gaue that were merged with other Gaue (or occupied territory) bear the designation M in the column "together with."

Nr. Gau in existence later became together with Gauleiter
01 Anhalt 1925–1926 Anhalt-Provinz Sachsen Nord
(1 September 1926)
Magdeburg & Elbe-Havel M from 17 July 1925 to 1 September 1926 Gustav Hermann Schmischke
02 Anhalt-Provinz Sachsen Nord 1926–1928 Magdeburg-Anhalt
(1 October 1928) RN
see above table
03 Baden 1925–1941 Baden-Elsaß
(22 March 1941)
Alsace M from 25 March 1925 to 22 March 1941 Robert Heinrich Wagner
04 Bayerische Ostmark 1933–1942 Bayreuth
(2 June 1942) RN
see above table
05 Berlin-Brandenburg 1926–1928 Berlin &
Brandenburg (II)
(1 October 1928) D
from 26 October 1926 to 1 October 1928 Joseph Goebbels
06 Brandenburg (I) 1925–1926 Potsdam
(February 1926) RN
from 5 November 1925 to February 1926 Walter Klaunig
07 Brandenburg (II) 1928–1933 Kurmark
(6 March 1933)
Ostmark M from 1 October 1928 to 1930 Emil Holtz, then from 18 October 1930 to 16 March 1933 Ernst Schlange
08 Burgenland 1935–1938 Niederdonau & Steiermark
(1 October 1938) D
from May 1935 to 1 October 1938 Tobias Portschy
09 Danzig 1926–1939 Danzig-Westpreußen
(10 October 1939)
Westpreußen M from 11 March 1926 to 20 June 1928 Hans Albert Hohnfeldt, then from 20 August 1928 to 1 March 1929 Walter Maass, then from 1 March 1929 to 30 September 1930 Erich Koch, then from 15 October 1930 to 10 October 1939 Albert Forster
10 Elbe-Havel 1925–1926 Anhalt-Provinz Sachsen Nord
(1 September 1926)
Anhalt & Magdeburg M from 25 November 1925 to 1 September 1926 Alois Bachschmid
11 Göttingen 1925 Hannover-Süd
(December 1925) RN
from 27 March 1925 to December 1925 Ludolf Haase
12 Groß-Berlin 1925–1926 Berlin-Brandenburg
(26 October 1926)
Potsdam M from 27 March 1925 to 20 June 1926 Ernst Schlange, then from 20 June 1926 to 26 October 1926 Erich Schmiedicke
13 Groß-München ("Traditionsgau") 1929–1930 München-Oberbayern
(15 November 1930)
Oberbayern M from 1 November 1929 to 15 November 1930 Adolf Wagner
14 Hannover-Braunschweig 1925 Hannover-Nord
(December 1925) RN
from 22 March 1925 to December 1925 Bernhard Rust
15 Hannover-Nord 1925–1928 Süd-Hannover-Braunschweig &
Weser Ems
(1 October 1928) D
from December 1925 to 30 September 1928 Bernhard Rust
16 Hannover-Süd 1925–1928 Süd-Hannover-Braunschweig
(1 October 1928)
Hannover-Nord M from December 1925 to 30 September 1928 Ludolf Haase
17 Harzgau 1925–1926 Magdeburg
(April 1926) RN
from August 1925 to April 1926 Ludwig Viereck
18 Hessen-Darmstadt 1927–1933 Hessen-Nassau
(1 January 1933)
Hessen-Nassau-Süd M from 1 March 1927 to 9 January 1931 Friedrich Ringshausen, then Peter Gemeinder to 30 August 1931, then Karl Lenz to 15 December 1932
19 Hessen-Nassau-Nord 1925–1934 Kurhessen
(1934) RN
see above table
20 Hessen-Nassau-Süd 1925–1932 Hessen-Nassau
(1 January 1933)
Hessen-Darmstadt M from 1 April 1925 to 22 September 1926 Anton Haselmayer, then from 1 October 1926 to 1 April 1927 Karl Linder, then from 1 April 1927 to 1 January 1933 Jakob Sprenger with a short replacement by Karl Linder (August 1932 – December 1932)
21 Koblenz-Trier 1931–1941 Moselland
(24 January 1941)
Luxembourg M from 1 June 1931 to 24 January 1941 Gustav Simon
22 Köln 1925 Rhineland-Süd
(27 March 1925) RN
from 22 February 1925 to 27 March 1925 Heinrich Haake
23 Kurmark 1933–1939 Mark Brandenburg
(1 January 1939) RN
see above table
24 Lüneburg-Stade 1925–1928 Ost-Hannover
(1 October 1928) RN
see above table
25 Magdeburg 1926 Anhalt-Provinz Sachsen Nord
(1 September 1926)
Anhalt &
Elbe-Havel M
from April 1926 to 1 September 1926 Ludwig Viereck
26 Mecklenburg-Lübeck 1925– 1937 Mecklenburg
(1 April 1937) RN
see above table
27 Mittelfranken 1929–1933 Franken
(21 April 1933) RN
see above table
28 Mittelfranken-West 1928–1929 Mittelfranken
(1 March 1929)
Nürnburg-Fürth-Erlangen M from 1 October 1928 to 1 March 1929 Wilhelm Grimm
29 Niederbayern (I) 1925–1926 Niederbayern-Oberpfalz (I)
(December 1926)
Oberpfalz (I) M from February 1925 to December 1926 Gregor Strasser
30 Niederbayern (II) 1928–1932 Niederbayern-Oberpfalz (II)
(1 April 1932)
Oberpfalz (II) M from 1 October 1928 to 1 March 1929 Gregor Strasser, then from 1 March 1929 to 1 April 1932 Otto Erbersdobler, then from 1 April 1932 to 17 August 1932 Franz Maierhofer
31 Niederbayern-Oberpfalz (I) 1926–1928 Oberpfalz (II) & Niederbayern (II)
(1 October 1928) D
from December 1926 to 1 October 1928 Gregor Strasser
32 Niederbayern-Oberpfalz (II) 1932–1933 Bayerische Ostmark
(19 January 1933)
Oberfranken M from 17 August 1932 to 13 January 1933 Franz Maierhofer
33 Niederösterreich 1926–1938 Niederdonau
(21 May 1938) RN
see above table
34 Nordbayern 1925–1928 Mittelfranken-West,
Nürnburg-Fürth, Oberfranken & Unterfranken
(1 October 1928) D
from 2 April 1925 to 1 October 1928 Julius Streicher
35 Nürnburg-Fürth-Erlangen 1925–1929 Mittelfranken
(1 March 1929)
Mittelfranken-West M from 2 April 1925 to 1 March 1929 Julius Streicher
36 Oberbayern 1928–1930 München-Oberbayern
(15 November 1930)
Groß-München M from 1 October 1928 to 1 November 1930 Fritz Reinhardt
37 Oberbayern-Schwaben 1926–1928 Oberbayern & Schwaben
(1 October 1928) D
from 16 September 1926 to May 1927 Hermann Esser, then from 1 June 1928 to 1 October 1928 Fritz Reinhardt
38 Oberfranken 1929–1933 Bayerische Ostmark
(19 January 1933)
Niederbayern-Oberpfalz (II) M from 1 March 1929 to 19 January 1933 Hans Schemm
39 Oberösterreich 1926–1938 Oberdonau
(22 May 1938) RN
see above table
40 Oberpfalz (I) 1925–1926 Niederbayern-Oberpfalz (I)
(December 1926)
Niederbayern (I) M unknown
41 Oberpfalz (II) 1928–1932 Niederbayern-Oberpfalz (II)
(17 August 1932)
Niederbayern (II) M from 1 October 1928 to 1 November 1929 Adolf Wagner, then from 1 November 1929 to June 1930 Franz Maierhofer, then from June 1930 to November 1930 Edmund Heines, then from 15 November 1930 to 17 August 1932 Franz Maierhofer
42 Ostmark 1928–1933 Kurmark
(6 March 1933)
Brandenburg (II) M from 2 January 1928 to 6 March 1933 Wilhelm Kube
43 Ostsachsen 1925–1926 Sachsen
( 16 May 1926)
Sachsen M from 22 May 1925 to 16 May 1926 Anton Goss
44 Pfalz-Saar 1935–1936 Saarpfalz
(13 January 1936) RN
from 1 March 1935 to 13 January 1936 Josef Bürckel
45 Posen 1939–1940 Wartheland
(29 January 1940) RN
see above table
46 Potsdam 1926 Berlin-Brandenburg
(26 October 1926)
Groß-Berlin M from February to June 1926 Walter Klaunig
47 Rheinland 1926–1931 Köln-Aachen &
(1 June 1931) D
from July 1926 to 1 June 1931 Robert Ley
48 Rheinland-Nord 1925–1926 Ruhr
(7 March 1926)
Westfalen (I) M from March 1925 to July 1925 Axel Ripke, then from July 1925 to 7 March 1926 Karl Kaufmann
49 Rheinland-Süd 1925–1926 Rhineland
(July 1926) RN
27 March 1925 to 1 June 1925 Heinrich Haake, then from July 1925 to July 1926 Robert Ley
50 Rheinpfalz 1925–1935 Pfalz-Saar
(1 March 1935)
Saar M from February 1925 to 13 March 1926 Friedrich Wambsganss, then from February 1926 to 1 March 1935 Josef Bürckel
51 Rhein-Ruhr 1926 Ruhr
(July 1926) RN
from 7 March 1926 to 20 June 1926 Karl Kaufmann
52 Ruhr
("Großgau Ruhr")
1926–1928 Düsseldorf,
Essen &
Westfalen (II)
(1 October 1928) D
from 20 June 1926 to 1 October 1928 Karl Kaufmann
53 Saar 1926–1935 Pfalz-Saar
(1 March 1935)
Rheinpfalz M from 30 May 1926 to 8 December 1926 Walter Jung, then from 8 December 1926 to 21 April 1929 Jakob Jung, then from 21 April 1929 to 30 July 1929 Gustav Staebe (acting), then from 30 July 1929 to 1 September 1931 Adolf Ehrecke, then from 15 September 1931 to 6 May 1933 Karl Brück, then from 6 May 1933 to 1 March 1935 Josef Bürckel
54 Saarpfalz 1936–1940 Westmark
(7 December 1940)
Lorraine M from 13 January 1936 to 7 December 1940 Josef Bürckel
55 Schlesien 1935–1941 Niederschlesien &
(27 January 1941) D
from 15 March 1925 to 4 December 1934 Helmuth Brückner, then from 12 December 1934 to 9 January 1941 Josef Wagner
56 Tirol 1932–1938 Tirol-Vorarlberg
(22 May 1938)
Vorarlberg M from 1 November 1932 to July 1934 Franz Hofer, then from 28 July 1934 to 1 February 1935 Friedrich Plattner, then from 15 August 1935 to 11 March 1938 Edmund Christoph
57 Unterfranken 1928–1935 Mainfranken
(30 July 1935) RN
see above table
58 Vorarlberg 1932–1938 Tirol-Vorarlberg
(22 May 1938)
Tirol M from 12 March 1938 to 22 May 1938 Anton Plankensteiner
59 Westfalen (I) 1925–1926 Ruhr
(7 March 1926)
Rheinland-Nord M from 27 March 1925 to 7 March 1926 Franz Pfeffer von Salomon
60 Westfalen (II) 1928–1931 Westfalen-Nord &
(1 January 1931) D
from 1 October 1928 to 1 January 1931 Josef Wagner
61 Westgau 1928–1932 Salzburg,
Tirol &
(1 July 1932) D
from 1 October 1928 to 1931 Heinrich Suske, then from 1931 to 1 July 1932 Rudolf Riedel

Associated organisations abroad

Gaue in Switzerland

The irregular Swiss branch of the Nazi Party also established a number of Party Gaue in that country, most of them named after their regional capitals. These included Gau Basel-Solothurn, Gau Schaffhausen, Gau Luzern, Gau Bern and Gau Zürich.[140][141][142] The Gau Ostschweiz (East Switzerland) combined the territories of three cantons: St. Gallen, Thurgau and Appenzell.[143]


General membership

Membership of the Nazi Party from 1939

The general membership of the Nazi Party mainly consisted of the urban and rural lower middle classes. 7% belonged to the upper class, another 7% were peasants, 35% were industrial workers and 51% were what can be described as middle class. In early 1933, just before Hitler's appointment to the chancellorship, the party showed an under-representation of "workers", who made up 30% of the membership but 46% of German society. Conversely, white-collar employees (19% of members and 12% of Germans), the self-employed (20% of members and 10% of Germans) and civil servants (15% of members and 5% of the German population) had joined in proportions greater than their share of the general population.[144] These members were affiliated with local branches of the party, of which there were 1,378 throughout the country in 1928. In 1932, the number had risen to 11,845, reflecting the party's growth in this period.[144]

When it came to power in 1933, the Nazi Party had over 2 million members. In 1939, the membership total rose to 5.3 million with 81% being male and 19% being female. It continued to attract many more and by 1945 the party reached its peak of 8 million with 63% being male and 37% being female (about 10% of the German population of 80 million).[4][145]

Military membership

Nazi members with military ambitions were encouraged to join the Waffen-SS, but a great number enlisted in the Wehrmacht and even more were drafted for service after World War II began. Early regulations required that all Wehrmacht members be non-political and any Nazi member joining in the 1930s was required to resign from the Nazi Party.

However, this regulation was soon waived and full Nazi Party members served in the Wehrmacht in particular after the outbreak of World War II. The Wehrmacht Reserves also saw a high number of senior Nazis enlisting, with Reinhard Heydrich and Fritz Todt joining the Luftwaffe, as well as Karl Hanke who served in the army.

The British historian Richard J. Evans wrote that junior officers in the army were inclined to be especially zealous National Socialists with a third of them having joined the Nazi Party by 1941. Reinforcing the work of the junior leaders were the National Socialist Leadership Guidance Officers, which were created with the purpose of indoctrinating the troops for the "war of extermination" against Soviet Russia.[146] Among higher-ranking officers, 29% were NSDAP members by 1941.[147]

Student membership

In 1926, the party formed a special division to engage the student population, known as the National Socialist German Students' League (NSDStB). A group for university lecturers, the National Socialist German University Lecturers' League (NSDDB), also existed until July 1944.

Women membership

The National Socialist Women's League was the women's organization of the party and by 1938 it had approximately 2 million members.

Membership outside Germany

Party members who lived outside Germany were pooled into the Auslands-Organisation (NSDAP/AO, "Foreign Organization"). The organisation was limited only to so-called "Imperial Germans" (citizens of the German Empire); and "Ethnic Germans" (Volksdeutsche), who did not hold German citizenship were not permitted to join.

Under Beneš decree No. 16/1945 Coll., in case of citizens of Czechoslovakia membership of the Nazi Party was punishable by between five and twenty years of imprisonment.

Deutsche Gemeinschaft

Deutsche Gemeinschaft was a branch of the Nazi Party founded in 1919, created for Germans with Volksdeutsche status.[148] It is not to be confused with the post-war right-wing Deutsche Gemeinschaft [de], which was founded in 1949.

Notable members included:[149][page needed]

Party symbols

  • Nazi flags: The Nazi Party used a right-facing swastika as their symbol and the red and black colours were said to represent Blut und Boden ("blood and soil"). Another definition of the flag describes the colours as representing the ideology of National Socialism, the swastika representing the Aryan race and the Aryan nationalist agenda of the movement; white representing Aryan racial purity; and red representing the socialist agenda of the movement. Black, white and red were in fact the colours of the old North German Confederation flag (invented by Otto von Bismarck, based on the Prussian colours black and white and the red used by northern German states). In 1871, with the foundation of the German Reich the flag of the North German Confederation became the German Reichsflagge ("Reich flag"). Black, white and red became the colours of the nationalists through the following history (for example World War I and the Weimar Republic).
The Parteiflagge design, with the centred swastika disc, served as the party flag from 1920. Between 1933 (when the Nazi Party came to power) and 1935, it was used as the National flag (Nationalflagge) and Merchant flag (Handelsflagge), but interchangeably with the black-white-red horizontal tricolour. In 1935, the black-white-red horizontal tricolour was scrapped (again) and the flag with the off-centre swastika and disc was instituted as the national flag, and remained as such until 1945. The flag with the centred disk continued to be used after 1935, but exclusively as the Parteiflagge, the flag of the party.
  • German eagle: The Nazi Party used the traditional German eagle, standing atop of a swastika inside a wreath of oak leaves. It is also known as the "Iron Eagle". When the eagle is looking to its left shoulder, it symbolises the Nazi Party and was called the Parteiadler. In contrast, when the eagle is looking to its right shoulder, it symbolises the country (Reich) and was therefore called the Reichsadler. After the Nazi Party came to national power in Germany, they replaced the traditional version of the German eagle with the modified party symbol throughout the country and all its institutions.

Ranks and rank insignia

1: Anwärter (not party member), 2: Anwärter, 3: Helfer, 4: Oberhelfer, 5: Arbeitsleiter, 6: Oberarbeitsleiter, 7: Hauptarbeitsleiter, 8: Bereitschaftsleiter, 9: Oberbereitschaftsleiter, 10: Hauptbereitschaftsleiter
11: Einsatzleiter, 12: Obereinsatzleiter, 13: Haupteinsatzleiter, 14: Gemeinschaftsleiter, 15: Obergemeinschaftsleiter, 16: Hauptgemeinschaftsleiter, 17: Abschnittsleiter, 18: Oberabschnittsleiter, 19: Hauptabschnittsleiter
20: Bereichsleiter, 21: Oberbereichsleiter, 22: Hauptbereichsleiter, 23: Dienstleiter, 24: Oberdienstleiter, 25: Hauptdienstleiter, 26: Befehlsleiter, 27: Oberbefehlsleiter, 28: Hauptbefehlsleiter, 29: Gauleiter, 30: Reichsleiter

Slogans and songs

Election results

German Reichstag

Election year Votes % Seats won +/– Notes
1928 810,127 2.6
12 / 491
Increase 12
1930 6,379,672 18.3
107 / 577
Increase 95
July 1932 13,745,680 37.3
230 / 608
Increase 123
November 1932 11,737,021 33.1
196 / 584
Decrease 34 Last free and fair election.
March 1933 17,277,180 43.9
288 / 647
Increase 92 Semi-free yet questionable election.
Last multi-party contested election.
November 1933 39,655,224 92.1
661 / 661
Increase 373 Sole legal party.
1936 44,462,458 98.8
741 / 741
Increase 80 Sole legal party.
1938 44,451,092 99.0
813 / 813
Increase 72 Sole legal party.

Presidential election

Election year Candidate First round Second round
Votes % Place Votes % Place
1925 endorsed Ludendorff (1.1%) endorsed Hindenburg (48.3%)
1932 Adolf Hitler 11,339,446 30.1 2nd 13,418,547 36.8 2nd

Volkstag of Danzig

Election year Votes % Seats won +/–
1927 1,483 0.8
1 / 72
Increase 1
1930 32,457 16.4
12 / 72
Increase 11
1933 107,331 50.1
38 / 72
Increase 26
1935 139,423 59.3
43 / 72
Increase 5

See also


Informational notes

  1. ^ Officially called the "Reich Committee for the German People's Initiative against the Young Plan and the War Guilt Lie" (Reichsausschuß für die Deutsche Volksinitiative gegen den Young-Plan und die Kriegsschuldlüge)[7]
  2. ^ English: /ˈnɑːtsi,ˈnætsi/ NA(H)T-see[9]
  3. ^ Pronounced [natsi̯oˈnaːlzotsi̯aˌlɪstɪʃəˈdɔʏtʃəˈʔaʁbaɪtɐpaʁˌtaɪ]
  4. ^ or Sozialdemokrat (pronounced [zoˈtsi̯aːldemoˌkʁaːt], "social democrat")
  5. ^ Some sources say the name change happened on 1 April 1920.[63][64]
  6. ^ Hitler's original name suggested was the Social Revolutionary Party (German: Sozialrevolutionäre Partei).[66]
  7. ^ "Social democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism. ... These organisations (ie Fascism and social democracy) are not antipodes, they are twins." (J.V. Stalin: Concerning the International Situation (September 1924), in Works, Volume 6, 1953; p. 294.) This later led Otto Wille Kuusinen to conclude that "The aims of the fascists and the social-fascists are the same." (Report To the 10th Plenum of ECCI, in International Press Correspondence, Volume 9, no. 40, (20 August 1929), p. 848.)
  8. ^ Hitler stated: "Today our left-wing politicians in particular are constantly insisting that their craven-hearted and obsequious foreign policy necessarily results from the disarmament of Germany, whereas the truth is that this is the policy of traitors [...] But the politicians of the Right deserve exactly the same reproach. It was through their miserable cowardice that those ruffians of Jews who came into power in 1918 were able to rob the nation of its arms."[100]
  9. ^ The 43rd Gau known as the Auslandsorganisation was non-territorial.


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  2. ^ Steves 2010, p. 28.
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  6. ^ Orlow 2010, p. 29.
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External links

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