Section: Life in Nazi-controlled Europe

Controlling everyday life

A sinister image; the SS march holding Nazi party flags, Nuremberg, 1933.
A sinister image; the SS march holding Nazi party flags, Nuremberg, 1933.

© 2011 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.

On coming to power the Nazis quickly began to assert their dominance on and control of the people of Germany. In dealing with all forms of opposition they developed many concentration camps, the first of these was established in the town of Dachau in March 1933. The network of camps would be employed to brutally support the Nazis’ control of Germany and later many peoples and lands across Europe.

Hitler and the Nazis sought to control every part of public life, including employment, education and the economy. The Nazis’ racial policies were at the centre of their ideals. The development of Germany as the master race was the focal point of their social, economic and political policies. Women had a key role in this area of Nazi policy.

The Nazi Party used all the propaganda at their disposal to reinforce their views on the German public. In defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, the Nazis also began a re-armament programme aimed at supplying tanks, aeroplanes, guns and ships for the military. These armaments would support the policy of expansionism towards the end of the 1930s.

This section will highlight the main policies the Nazis used to control everyday life in Germany. The text and media assets will help you gain an understanding of how these policies and events affected the people of Germany.

How did the Nazis consolidate power?

Dealing with opposition

The Nazis quickly began to attack all forms of opposition. Two months after the election, on 2 May 1933, the SA and SS raided offices of German trade unions whose leaders were arrested and imprisoned in Dachau. Between March and July 1933, they also raided offices of opposition political parties, destroyed equipment, confiscated funds and arrested their leaders. By July 1933, the Nazis had banned all opposition political parties and become the only political party in Germany.


Book Burning

On May 10 1933, the first of the book burnings was carried out outside the University of Berlin, with university students leading the parade. Dr Joseph Goebbels began by throwing the works of Sigmund Freud into the flames. All kinds of books were burned. The German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine had written 100 years earlier that ‘any people that burn books, will one day burn people.’ The book burning, with all the other propaganda devices, attempted to scare the population into agreeing with the Nazis.


Hitler eliminates internal opposition

By 1934 the SA was becoming increasingly powerful. Initially drawing from the ranks of young unemployed working class men, its membership had grown from 100,000 members in 1931 to 3,000,000 in 1934. During 1933, many ambitious men had joined the SA as a way to advance themselves.Though a long-time close friend of Hitler, Ernst Röhm, leader of the SA had become a potential rival. Röhm was calling for an even more radical programme than was being developed by Hitler. Many within the SA were unhappy that they hadn’t gained important posts during the first year of the Nazi regime. Röhm also wanted to join up he SA and the Germany Army into one organisation, with himself as commanding officer. This alienated the officer class. Hitler needed to reassure the army generals who feared for their own positions should the ill-disciplined SA take over the running of the well-trained, well-organised German Army. Other leading Nazis who were jealous of Röhm’s power, sought to convince Hitler of the threat posed by Röhm.

Through the events of 29 and 30 June 1934 (see slides above), Hitler showed how ruthless he was in the pursuit and defence of power. By August 1934 the Nazi regime had consolidated its position. Hitler’s personal power and supremacy had also been affirmed. When President Hindenburg died in August 1934 Hitler combined the roles of Chancellor and President, creating the new title of Führer.



On 1 July 1934, the generals of the German Army gave a vote of thanks to Hitler. German soldiers, who had previously taken an oath to the state, agreed to take a personal oath of loyalty to Hitler.

Ernst Rohm, the leader of the SA who challenged the power of others within the Nazi regime.

The Nazis introduce concentration camps

Inspection of inmates on arrival at Dachau concentration camp.
Inspection of inmates on arrival at Dachau concentration camp.

Courtesy of The Wiener Library

After Hitler had consolidated power, the local police and the SA and SS rounded up many thousands of communists, socialists, church leaders and anyone else who might oppose the Nazis.

Initially, these prisoners were held in local prisons and police stations. There were so many prisoners that makeshift buildings were converted to house them. However, this system was inefficient and not centrally run. The Nazis found a solution by establishing large, purpose-built camps to hold these prisoners.

These they called concentration camps. The first camp was established on 1 April 1933 at Dachau a south Bavarian town very near Munich.


Over the next 12 years, as they invaded and occupied lands all over Europe, the Nazis would build over 20,000 camps. These included concentration camps, transit camps, forced labour or work camps and death camps. To learn more about the camps click here.

The role of the SS and Gestapo

Heinrich Himmler with high-ranking members of the SS
Heinrich Himmler with high-ranking members of the SS

Courtesy of The Wiener Library

Fanatically loyal

In order to control Germany, Hitler needed the support of a well-organised Nazi party machine. The SS and the Gestapo were the instruments that Hitler used. From its establishment in 1925, by 1933 the SS had become a ruthless state with a state, whose members were fanatically loyal to Adolf Hitler. The SS was the ideological organisation responsible for all matters of security and racial policy within Germany.

In addition to controlling the police, the SS developed, administered and controlled the Nazi concentration camp system. From 1939, the SS assumed control of Nazi racial policy across occupied Europe.


The SS became an independent organisation

After the murder of Ernst Röhm and the SA leadership, Hitler announced that the SS would be an independent organisation led by Heinrich Himmler and answerable only to the Führer. The Gestapo, or secret state police played a key role in the terror and control of German citizens. With the ability to rely on a network of informers and enjoying the power to arrest and imprison without trial, the Gestapo had a significant influence on the Nazi state.

Implementing racial policies

Perfect ‘Aryans’

Central to the belief system of Nazism was the idea that race determined a person’s place in the world. Germans, along with the British and Scandinavians, were considered to be ‘Aryan’. The Nazis believed that they were the ‘master race’ and only they could rule.


The Nazis believed that several groups including Jews, Roma, black Germans, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mentally and physically disabled were undesirables and did not fit into German society. The Nazi Party used all the propaganda at their disposal to reinforce these views to the German public.

The role of women

In order to increase the ‘master race’ and to fit in with Nazi philosophy, women had a specific role. Discouraged from the workplace, seen as subservient to men, their job was to be mothers, organise the home and produce children for the ‘master race’. Their role was referred to as the ‘Three Ks’: Kinder, Kirche, Kuche (children, church, cooking). Furthermore, men and women were encouraged to marry, by being given loans equivalent to half a year’s pay. If they produced more than four children, the loan did not have to be repaid. In addition, they were awarded a bronze medal. Couples who had six children were awarded a silver medal and those with eight got a gold. The Nazis again used widespread propaganda and peer pressure to encourage women to be subservient, choose a husband of the same blood, keep in good health and be physically fit in order to have many children. In keeping with Nazi ideas, they were also encouraged to wear traditional dress.


How did the Nazis use propaganda?

In 1929, Hitler chose Josef Goebbels as his Minister of Propaganda. Goebbels developed extremely successful campaigns using simple slogans and images repeated over and again in order to win public support for the party. The Nazis spent huge sums on newspapers, leaflets and poster campaigns.

Once the Nazis came to power Goebbels developed the Nazi’s use of propaganda to even greater effect. He orchestrated large political military ‘rallies’ to build support. These were vast, highly organised events with banners and marching bands. Using his own skills of oratory Hitler appealed to the patriotism of the German people.


Mass Media

Control of the mass media was at the heart of Goebbels plan as he developed the cult of personality around Hitler. The rallies and Hitler’s speeches were broadcast on radio, purchased very cheaply as they were produced by the state.

Goebbels sought to Nazify the whole of German culture, wiping away what Hitler saw as the ‘decadence of 1920s Weimar Germany, painting instead a picture of a Germany with traditional values and with Hitler as the beloved Führer.

The promotion of Nazi racial policy was at the very centre of Goebbels’s message. The re-writing of school books and the production of antisemitic books, films and exhibitions supported this policy.

The role of women in Nazi Germany

Nazi propaganda photograph of woman doing exercises
Nazi propaganda photograph of woman doing exercises

Courtesy of The Wiener Library

Nazi ideology stated that according to the law of nature men and women should carryout different and separate roles. Women in Nazi Germany were expected to: give up employment once married, have children and look after them, and care for the home and their husband.

The Nazi party constitution excluded women from all senior positions within the organisation. From 1933 onwards, women were excluded from jobs in medicine, law and in leadership posts in the civil service. The number of women teachers was also reduced. A cap of 10 per cent was put on the proportion of women attending university.


Discouraged from the workplace, seen as subservient to men, a woman’s place was in the home, producing children for the master race.

The Nazis used widespread propaganda to encourage women to fulfil their role. They were expected keep in good health, be modest and physically fit. In keeping with Nazi ideology, Their aim in life was to be subservient.

How did the Nazis control education?

Race education class for German girls.
Race education class for German girls.

© 2011 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.

Controlling education

Controlling education was a way of shaping the minds of children from kindergarten to university. Education was a major tool by which the Nazis’ racial policies were promoted and implemented.

Initially, many teachers ignored the political changes. However, very soon, those German teachers who supported the Nazis or had been converted to Nazism began to develop new daily rituals and routines. 32 per cent of teachers became Nazi Party members, and many would wear their uniform to school.

All teachers had to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler and teach in accordance with Nazi ideas and values. All Jewish teachers were dismissed, as were teachers who refused to support the Nazi Party’s ideals.

The atmosphere within the classroom was very different from the one students had known previously. The teacher would enter the classroom and welcome the group with a ‘Hitler salute’, shouting “Heil Hitler!” Students would have to respond in the same manner, often eight times each day – at the start and end of the day, as well as the beginning and end of each lesson.

The Nazi curriculum

Hitler and the Nazis wanted all young ‘Aryans’ to be physically fit and perfectly obedient. In Nazi Germany nobody was allowed to think for themselves. A core curriculum was introduced, so that the Nazis could monitor, at all times, what was being taught in schools. All textbooks were re-written and had to be passed by the Nazi Party. The Nazi national curriculum included PE, German history, geography, biology and maths.


How did the Nazis control employment?

Employment schemes

Many people had voted for Hitler because he had promised to end unemployment. Once the Nazi Party came to power everyone had to work. Between 1933 and 1939, unemployment fell from six million in 1933 to 100,000 in 1939. Trade unions were banned and wages were fixed and not up for negotiation.

Workers lost their rights and were often sent to work on heavy manual labour schemes for low pay. However, people who worked hard were rewarded by being sent on holiday to workers’ camps. This was part of the campaign to control every aspect of life in Germany. The Nazi Party established its own trade union, the DAF.

Building programme

The government began to build motorways, schools and hospitals. In defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, the Nazis also began a rearmament programme aimed at supplying tanks, aeroplanes, guns and ships for the military. Not only did it lead to a boom in steel and manufacturing industries, it was very popular with people who felt that the treaty had humiliated Germany.

The size of the armed forces was increased, with all males between 18 and 25 years old having to complete two years of military service. In addition, men between 18 and 25 years of age had to undertake six months of compulsory duty in the National Labour Service. In return for pocket money, food and accommodation, they had to carry out heavy outdoor work and take part in military drill and instruction.

Anyone who refused to work was branded ‘work-shy’ and sent to a concentration camp for correction. The police rounded up beggars, Roma and those deemed criminals. In 1933 alone, 500,000 people were sent to concentration camps for ‘work training’.



In order to employ more men, the Nazis removed women from jobs in state institutions, such as doctors, teachers and civil servants. The Careers Civil Service Act of April 1933 removed all Jews from the civil service, which also included the teaching profession. All these jobs were taken over by those who were designated to be ‘Aryan’. In line with their racial policies, the Nazis sought to remove Jews from the employment register.


How did the Nazis control leisure?

Propaganda photograph showing a member of the League of German Girls
Propaganda photograph showing a member of the League of German Girls

Courtesy of The Wiener Library

Strength Through Joy

The Nazi Party established control even over leisure time. Physical fitness was at the core of Nazi philosophy. Compulsory deductions were made from workers’ wages to pay for the ‘Strength through Joy’ programme. Two cruise liners were built to take workers on holidays. In addition the Nazi government financed sports facilities and provided theatre visits for its good, hardworking workers. These programmes appealed to many people. Workers could pay five marks a month towards the ownership of a ‘people’s car’ (Volkswagen), which they were told they would receive ‘at some point’ in the future. In fact no one ever received his or her ‘people’s car’.

Hitler Youth

In 1922, whilst still in its infancy, the Nazi Party established the Hitler Youth. By the end of 1933, when the Nazis had seized power, 30 per cent of young Germans had become members with hundreds of thousands joining that year. Great pressure was brought to bear on families to encourage young people to be members. By 1939 over 80 per cent of Germany’s young people had joined the Hitler Youth. Boys in the Young German Folk (10-14 yrs) and Hitler Youth (14-18 yrs) participated in physical activities to develop both fitness and fearlessness. Following Nazi ideas, girls would join the Young Maidens (10-14 yrs) or League of German Girls (14-18 yrs). They attended both home-building classes and exercises to develop their physical fitness. Girls’ membership of the League of German Girls included a year of farm work or domestic service, while boys in the Hitler Youth would take part in the National Labour Service. Both boys and girls were indoctrinated in Nazi ideology and swore an oath of loyalty to Hitler.

The Nazi effect on the Churches

The Catholic Church

In July 1933, the Nazis signed an agreement (Concordat) with the Catholic Church. The Vatican would accept the Nazi government in return for the Nazis not interfering with the Catholic Church. The Papal Nuncio, Eugenio Pacelli who signed the agreement was elected Pope Pius XII in 1939. Pius XII remained silent throughout throughout the war although he had unrivalled knowledge of the treatment of Jews and other minorities. He did, however, attempt to save Christian converts. This proved irrelevant because the Nazi definition of a Jew was racial and not religious. Nevertheless, certain individual priests and nuns risked everything and sometimes lost their lives saving Jews.  The German Protestant church was split in its dealings with the Nazis. Nazi supporters became known as the German Christians, whereas opponents broke away and became known as the Confessing Church.

The ‘Confessing Church’ opposed the Nazis, but did not challenge the passing of anti-Jewish legislation. Some members encouraged Jews to convert to Christianity, but a small group did help Jews by hiding them or assisting them to escape from Germany.


From support to opposition

Initially, many leading Protestants supported the Nazis; however, when Nazi policy grew more extreme, they changed their minds. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor and theologian, initially supported the Nazi actions against the Jews. However, he then spoke out against the persecution of Jewish converts to Christianity. Pastor Martin Niemöller also initially supported the Nazis. However, he protested when Hitler appointed a Nazi as head of the Protestant Church. Niemöller survived the war despite being imprisoned by the Nazis.


Pastor Martin Niemöller, once a Nazi supporter.

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The Nazi effect on the Churches

The Nazi effect on the Churches

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