Section: Life in Nazi-controlled Europe

Everyday life

The Nazis’ antisemitic beliefs were filtered into all aspects of life in the Third Reich. This drawing was created by a young girl, Gerda Nabe, in one of her school textbooks. The drawing shows the infamous Nuremberg Laws, explaining how to define if a person is a Jew.

The Nazis’ antisemitic beliefs were filtered into all aspects of life in the Third Reich. This drawing was created by a young girl, Gerda Nabe, in one of her school textbooks. The drawing shows the infamous Nuremberg Laws, explaining how to define if a person is a Jew.

Courtesy of The Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

Following their rise to power in 1933, Hitler and the Nazi Party started to infiltrate almost all aspects of everyday life in Germany.

This section will explore exactly how and where the Nazis attempted and carried out this process of Nazification.

Young People

The Nazis used children’s leisure organisations to indoctrinate young people in their National Socialist ideology.

The two main Nazi youth organisations were the Hitlerjugend ( Hitler Youth ) and the Bund Deutscher Mädel ( League of German Girls ). In 1936, membership of these groups became compulsory.

The Hitler Youth was for boys aged between ten and eighteen.  By 1932, it had just over 100,000 members. By 1934, this number would rise to over three and a half million.

The Hitler Youth took part in a range of activities, focusing on sports and physical ability. Examples of their activities include boxing and camping trips, instruction in National Socialist ideology, such as antisemitism and commitment to Hitler, and military training, such as shooting.

The League of German Girls was split into two divisions. The Jungmädel (Young Girls League) was for girls aged fourteen and under, and the Gluabe und Schönheit (Faith and Beauty) was for young women aged seventeen to twenty-one.

The Young Girls League focused on similar activities to the Hitler Youth, with activities such as camping, sports, and instruction in National Socialist ideology. In contrast to the Hitler Youth, girls were also instructed in chores such as making beds, in line with the Nazis views on women’s place in society.

The Faith and Beauty organisation followed a similar agenda, but also emphasised the Nazi ideal image of a woman.

All youth organisations under the Nazi Party were anti-intellectual. Whilst they did not replace school, they reduced the influence and importance of education to children.


Women were central to the Nazis’ vision of the Third Reich and their future Volksgemeinschaft .

Küche, Kinder and Kirche

According to Nazi ideology, a woman’s place was in the home. In their approach to German women, the Nazis’ emphasised three traditional guiding principles: Küche, Kinder and Kirche (kitchen, children and church).

Of these, Kinder was of particular importance and women in Nazi Germany were encouraged to marry and have as many children as possible to further the Nazis’  eugenic goals of building a strong German ‘ Aryan ’ race. To promote this, a law was passed in June 1933 allowing newly married couples to claim interest free loans of 1000 Reichsmarks . Each time the couple then had a child, 25% of the loan was written off.  Childbirth and pregnancy were further encouraged by bans on abortions (which were made punishable by death),  sterilisations (for ‘ Aryan ‘ women), and contraception .


The First World War had increased the number of women in employment, and the postwar economic difficulties in Germany meant that many German women continued to work throughout the 1920s. In line with their belief that women’s lives should revolve around family and home, the Nazis actively discouraged women from having a profession and working. During a reform of the  Civil Service shortly after the Nazis rose to power in 1933, 19,000 women lost their jobs.

However, the Nazis’ ideology towards women did not reflect the needs of the economy, and between 1937 and 1939 female employment rose from 5.7 million to 7.1 million. By 1939, the demands of the Second World War forced the Nazis to promote female employment. By 1945, as many as 500,000 women worked in a variety of roles for the German armed forces – ranging from secretaries to concentration camp guards.

Participation and resistance

Many women played an active role in supporting the Nazis’ ideology and activities. Of the approximately forty million German women in the Third Reich, thirteen million were actively involved in Nazi Party organisations, such as the National Socialist Women’s League .

Other women opposed the Nazis’ beliefs and actions and took part in activities to resist and undermine the regime. Sophie Scholl , for example, a student at the University of Munich, was a member of the anti-Nazi resistance group the White Rose. In 1943, Scholl was arrested alongside her brother Hans Scholl, imprisoned and then executed by the Nazis for her resistance to the regime.


The National Socialist Women’s League

The National Socialist Women’s League (Nationalsozialistische Frauenschaft) was a Nazi organisation for women led by  Gertrud Scholtz-Klink and founded in October 1931.

The league organised a variety of activities, including educational classes on subjects such as cookery, motherhood and using German products. The league also published a bi-weekly magazine, NS Frauenwarte.

In total, approximately 2.3 million German women were members of the league.


Another way in which the Nazis aimed to indoctrinate the younger population was through reforming the education system.

They aimed to de-intellectualise education: they did not want education to provoke people to ask questions or think for themselves. They believed this approach would instill obedience and belief in the Nazi worldview, creating the ideal future generation.

The Nazis first focused on changing what students learned. They changed the core curriculum to emphasise sports, history and racial science as the most important subjects. In 1936, sport was taught for a minimum of two to three hours every school day. By 1938, this had been increased to five hours every day. Subjects such as religion became less important, and were eventually removed from the curriculum altogether.

The Nazis also adapted where the students learned from. They introduced new textbooks which were often racist, and promoted ideas such the need for Lebensraum . Any textbooks used to educate students had to be approved by the party.

The Nazis also placed great emphasis on who the teachers were. Under the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service Act of 7 April 1933, just three months after Hitler became chancellor, all Jewish teachers, and teachers with undesirable political beliefs (such as communists), were dismissed.

This act also made membership of the Nazi Party compulsory for all teachers. The National Socialist Teachers League, creation in 1929, became responsible for the control and education of teachers following the Nazi rise to power. All teachers were required to attend a one-month compulsory Nazi training course, which emphasised Nazi ideology and the importance of advocating the regime’s ideas.

In universities, all Jewish professors were dismissed. This had a large impact, as these professors made up twelve percent of all German professors. This group also comprised 25% of Germany’s Nobel Prize winners.

In 1933, in addition to the dismissal of teachers, a quota was imposed on schools and universities, so that they could only accept a certain number of Jewish students. In 1938, these students were banned from attending public schools and universities entirely.


New schools

In addition to these changes, the Nazis also created several new schools which aimed to train the future Nazi elite.

Napolas were for students hoping to become future political and military leaders, and Adolf Hitler Schools were solely to train those hoping to go into Nazi politics.

The Nazis also created another school called Order Castles. Order Castles were the pinnacle of Nazi education, aimed at young adults who aspired to the highest ranks of the Nazi party. To be considered for entry, applicants had to have attended an Adolf Hitler School for six years, undertaken state labour for two and a half years, and spent four years in full-time work. Only four Order Castles were ever established.

All three of these new types of schools focused on indoctrinating pupils in Nazi policies and beliefs to the highest possible degree.


When the Nazis rose to power in 1933, there was an unemployment crisis with over six million people unemployed. In their election campaign the Nazis had promised to reduce unemployment. After in year in power, by 1934, unemployment had dropped to 3.3 million. By 1938, the Nazis claimed to have no unemployment.

On the surface, these figures suggest that the Nazis were able to successfully control and boost the employment for workers in the Third Reich.

Controlling work: The German Labour Front and Strength Through Joy Programme

On the 2 May 1933, the Nazis banned trade unions and arrested their leaders. As part of Gleichschaltung , a new centralised Nazi ‘trade union’ was created. This was called the German Labour Front. The German Labour Front took control over workers’ rights, setting the conditions of work, such as hours of work and rate of pay.

The German Labour Front also had other initiatives, such as the popular ‘Strength Through Joy’ programme. This programme aimed to give opportunities to working class people for leisure activities usually reserved for the middle classes, such as sports facilities or holidays. The programme was relatively popular, and some groups, such as the 28,500 workers from Siemens in Berlin, were able to take a holiday. However, smaller incentives such as free theatre tickets or subsidized day trips were much more common.

This programme helped to convince workers to believe in the benefits of the Nazi ideal of working towards the greater Volksgemeinschaft, or people’s community, in spite of the growing control.

Reducing Unemployment: The Reich Labour Service

The Reich Labour Service was an organisation that used unskilled or unemployed workers to complete large-scale government projects. This was part of the government’s policy to reduce unemployment. Examples of these projects include the building of the Autobahn , and the 1936 Olympic stadium. The service primarily employed men between the ages of 18-25. In 1935, the service became compulsory for men, as Germany adopted a rearmament policy.

Whilst these schemes helped Germany’s unemployment numbers to drop, conditions for workers did not necessarily improve. Whilst most people were now employed, wages were fixed at a lower level than they had been prior to the Wall Street Crash and were not up for negotiation. The maximum working hours per week were increased from 60 to 72.

The Nazis’ claim that unemployment no longer existed in Germany was false, as this did not include those who had been forced out of work, such as political opponents, Jews, and women, or take into consideration those in part-time work.

The schemes also limited the choice of profession open to workers in Germany. Many were forced to work as laborers or in factories for the war effort. Those who refused were listed as ‘work-shy’ and were subject to horrific treatment by the Gestapo, or inhumane conditions in concentration camps.


Germany, like the rest of Europe, was primarily Christian when the Nazis rose to power. In 1933 the country had approximately 45 million Protestant Christians, 22 million Catholic Christians, 500,000 Jews and 25,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses. Religion was a huge part of people’s everyday life and culture.

As with trade unions and other group organisations, the Nazis saw religion as a threat to their total power.

Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses were the major religious minorities in Germany in the 1930s. Hitler and the Nazis oppressed and persecuted all Jews. Jehovah’s Witnesses faced similar persecution and oppression for their disobedience to the regime.

As the majority religion, the Nazis approached the complex ‘problem’ of Christianity differently. Whilst the Nazis believed that Christianity and Nazism were ideologically incompatible, they were not initially openly hostile to the Protestant and Catholic Churches.

In his first speech as chancellor, Hitler acknowledged the ‘central’ role that Christianity played in Germany. However, this approach did not last long.

Treatment of Catholicism

Catholics made up a smaller faction of the population than Protestants, but still made up approximately one third of the population.

As Catholics had a single, central leader in the Pope, infiltrating and taking control of the religion was extremely difficult. Instead, Hitler opted for a policy of conciliation towards Catholics.

In July 1933, the Nazis signed a Concordat with the Vatican . The Concordat agreed that the Nazis would not interfere in the Catholic Church. In return, the Vatican would diplomatically recognise the Nazi regime.

The Nazis soon broke their Concordat with the Vatican. The Ministry for Church Affairs was established in 1935 with a range of anti-religious policies aimed at undermining the influence of religion on the German people.

Catholic schools were gradually shut. As the regime intensified its oppressive policies in the late 1930s, members of the Catholic Clergy were killed and imprisoned for opposing the Nazi regime. Johannes Neuhäusler is just one example of a Catholic priest who was imprisoned at the hands of the Nazis.

Treatment of Protestantism

Protestantism was the primary religion in Germany and the Protestant Church was viewed as one of the main pillars of society. There were many different factions of Protestantism in Germany. These different factions, and lack of a single central leader, made Protestantism easier for the Nazis to infiltrate than Catholicism.

Some Protestants supported the Nazis during their rise to power. They had been hostile to the Weimar Republic, and agreed with some of the Nazis policies. These protestants were known as ‘German Christians’.

As part of the Gleichschaltung process, the Nazis’, with the support of the German Christians, established the Reich Church under the leadership of Ludwig Müller  in 1933. The Reich Church aimed to be a new national church which advocated a form of Nazi Christianity. It instructed preachers to exclude any teaching from the Old Testament, as this was considered a Jewish document.

However, not everyone was willing to accept this new church. In 1934, the Confessing Church was founded by Martin Niemöller . The Confessing Church openly opposed the Nazi regime, and stressed the church’s autonomy from political interference. Many of the pastors from the Confessing Church, such as Niemöller, were imprisoned in concentration camps for their views.


Culture was integral to the Nazis’ aim to infiltrate and control all areas of life. In 1933, the Reich Chamber of Culture was established under the leadership of Joseph Goebbels . The department was split into seven different sections aiming to cover all areas of cultural life: the press, art, theatre, radio, music, films and literature.

This topic will use three of these sections, art, literature and music, to evidence how Goebbels used culture to achieve control over the German public.


The Nazis promoted traditional forms of German art and photography, such as landscapes. They despised any art in the modernist style , believing it to be ‘degenerate’ and communist.

In 1936, the Nazis carried out a review of all art in Germany’s museums and galleries. As a result of this review, 13,000 paintings that the Nazis considered ‘degenerate’ were confiscated and removed.

Some of these paintings were used in the Entartete Kunst or Degenerate Art Exhibition. This exhibition was organised by the Nazi Party to show how modern art was corroding traditional German ‘ Aryan ‘ culture.

The exhibition ran from the 19 July 1937 to the 30 November 1937.

The exhibition was created to contrast with the Great German Art exhibition, an exhibition put on by the Nazis to exemplify what good German art was. This exhibition was held nearby to the Degenerate Art exhibition in the House of German Art in Munich.

As a result of these oppressive actions, many artists fled Germany to try and escape persecution and find creative freedom.


As a primary source of education and enjoyment, literature was a key target for Nazi reform.

The Nazis initially blacklisted authors they did not like or approve of. Many of the authors targeted were Jewish, such as Max Brod, but the Nazis had a range of other opponents who were also targeted, from communists, such as Karl Marx, to socialists, to foreign influences.

This blacklisting led to a series of book burnings led by the National Socialist German Students Association, a group of university students who strongly supported the Nazis.

The majority of the book burnings took place on the 10 May 1933 after a call for suggestions of books to blacklist a month before. Students led parades and threw blacklisted books onto huge bonfires in towns throughout Germany. Over 25,000 books were burned in a single night.

Opponents of the Nazi regime were soon persecuted physically as well as having their works shunned, and many of them, such as the philosopher Ernst Bloch, attempted to flee to more liberal countries.


The Reich Music Chamber was established in 1933. The chamber had two main aims.

The first was to promote ‘good’ German music, created by ‘Aryan’ composers in a traditional genre, such as the classical music of Wagner and Beethoven.

The second was to suppress any music that was considered ‘bad’ or ‘degenerate’, such as jazz, swing, or music composed by Jews. Music and composers that were not approved of were slowly repressed, and then banned entirely.

The chamber also functioned as a membership organisation, so anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry had to be a member of the Reich Music Chamber. Membership was subject to a variety of conditions and was often refused on the basis of race or political views.


The case studies above emphasise the Nazis anti-intellectual approach to culture. They focused on promoting simple and traditional aspects of German culture whilst removing any new ideas, or opposition, to the Nazi ideal. The process was widespread and highly bureaucratic .

Whilst some aspects of banned or suppressed culture survived, none were able to thrive under the Third Reich.

Those who resisted the suppression of culture found themselves victims of the new Nazi terror.


The media played a vital role in producing and sharing the Nazis’ propaganda . Under Goebbels’ new Chamber of Culture, all aspects of the media were Nazified and controlled.

In 1933, prior to the Nazi rise to power, over 4700 newspapers freely operated across Germany. Shortly after Hitler became chancellor, all opposition newspapers were banned. Those that remained were subject to strict censorship laws, so open opposition to the regime became increasingly difficult. On the 4 October 1933 the Editorship Law, the Schriftleitergesetz, was passed. This law stated that all editors must be ‘Aryan’, dismissing hundreds of non-‘Aryan’ editors on purely racial grounds.

The Nazis also focused on using more modern and innovative methods of media.  Goebbels in particular was keen to spread propaganda through radio and film.

The Nazis created discount schemes where people could buy radios cheaply or pay for them via monthly installments. By 1939, 70% of all German households possessed a radio, providing the Nazis with an outlet straight into people’s homes. The Nazi programmes featured a range of different content, from speeches, to party news, to traditional music and readings.

Film and cinema were seen by senior Nazis as key to consolidating , and then maintaining, people’s faith in the Nazi vision. Goebbels was particularly keen on developing films, as was Hitler. Between 1933 to 1945, 1361 films were produced by Goebbels. The content of the films varied, from the antisemitic The Eternal Jew to idealistic films intended to raise the moral of citizens during the war.


Propaganda is information (often misleading, one-sided or false) that is used to promote a political cause or point of view. The Nazis used propaganda to encourage popular support for National Socialism and its ideas. They did this through a variety of different media, including radio, print (newspapers, magazines, posters, literature), popular culture (music, theatre), and film.

The Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda was founded on 14 March 1933, just six weeks after the Nazi rise to power. It was spearheaded by Joseph Goebbels , a former journalist and leading Nazi who served as the Minister of Propaganda until 1945. The Ministry’s aim was to encourage popular support for the regime and its actions by centralising and controlling all means of public information and entertainment.

To make their propaganda more effective, the Nazis tailored messages to different sections of society to appeal to them more specifically. For example, the Nazis believed that the youth of Germany were the future of both the country and of the party, and as such they were a key target group for propaganda advocating the Nazis’ ideological beliefs. To achieve their aim of indoctrinating children, the Nazis infiltrated both their formal education and their leisure time. Examples of the Nazis’ youth propaganda campaign include: editing and producing new, Nazi approved school textbooks, authorising Nazi writers to produce literature based on the Nazis’ values and ideas, and creating and distributing films on Nazi approved subjects, such as the heroic history of Germany, the future of the Third Reich, or current political issues.

As well as targeting propaganda throughout their time in power to specific groups of people, the Nazis also targeted their propaganda to encourage obedience towards specific political policies at certain points. For example, during the mid-1930s, the Nazis used propaganda to promote their new policy of Autarky (economic self-sufficiency). Much of this propaganda was particularly aimed at female housewives. The outpouring of propaganda aimed at women included exhibitions, adverts, posters, leaflets, radio shows, films, and brochures – all with the aim of encouraging responsible patterns of spending, preferably on German products which were marketed as being superior.

In summary, the Nazis’ propaganda was intended to manipulate civilians into not just understanding but actively supporting the government’s actions, ideas and policies. Those who did not conform this were threatened by the regime’s terror apparatus, the SA and SS.


How effective was the Nazis' propaganda?

Despite the Nazis’ extensive use of propaganda, its effectiveness was, in some ways, limited.

The historian Richard Evans has highlighted how the Nazis’ propaganda was most effective when it built upon pre-existing ideas. For example, many Germans believed that after the failures of the First World War and Weimar Republic, Germany needed a strong, decisive, leader. As such, propaganda presenting Hitler as a dynamic and formidable politician was particularly persuasive amongst the German public.

In contrast, propaganda advocating the Nazis’ more extreme eugenic and racial ideas, such as the propaganda which advocated boycotting German Jewish businesses in 1933, was not immediately as successful, with many ignoring the boycott altogether.

The public’s condemnation of the T4 euthanasia programme in 1940 reinforced the difficulties the Nazis faced in manipulating the German public to openly support some of their more extreme, racist, ideas. Similarly, Nazi propaganda also struggled to maintain public support and morale for the war from 1941 onwards, despite the barrage of radio shows, newspapers and films promoting the Nazis’ so-called military successes.

Thus, while certain aspects of the Nazis’ extensive and diverse propaganda campaign were highly successful, other aspects had less impact.


The threat and use of terror, and the fear that terror spread, was the most defining feature of the Nazi regime.

On the 22 March 1933, just under two months after Hitler had become chancellor, the first concentration camp was established in Dachau . A concentration camp is a place where people are imprisoned or detained against their will and usually in harsh and inhumane conditions. Those in concentration camps were often forced to complete work for the Nazis.

Over the following nine months, between 150,000 to 200,000 people were imprisoned in concentration camps across Germany. Initially, those imprisoned were primarily people who opposed the Nazis politically, or those who were not sympathetic to the Nazis views and held influential positions. As part of the Gleichschaltung  movement, these people had to be removed to allow for the Nazis total consolidation of power.

In 1934, following the purge of the SA leadership in Night of Long Knives, Himmler and the SS had increased autonomy. They became responsible for the administration of the concentration camps, which expanded to six large camps by the start of the Second World War in September 1939.

Whilst initially the SA and later the SS played a large part in the violent terror of the Nazi regime, there was also another instrument of control, the Gestapo.

Established on the 27 April 1933, the Gestapo were the state’s secret police. By 1934, they fell under the direction of Heinrich Himmler . Following the enactment of the Enabling Law, the Gestapo could arrest anyone for any or no reason, and imprison them without trial. The Gestapo also had a network of informants , who would look out for people disobeying the Nazi regime and report them to the Gestapo. This network of informants created fear, and made expressing any form of discontent regarding the political situation extremely difficult.


This image shows the front page of the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, a weekly magazine published in Berlin from 1892-1945. This issue was dedicated to the Berlin 1936 Olympics.

This image shows the front page of the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, a weekly magazine published in Berlin from 1892-1945. This issue was dedicated to the Berlin 1936 Olympics.

Courtesy of The Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

In 1936 Germany hosted the Olympic games. Hitler and the Nazis used the worldwide sporting event to showcase their regime to the world, and smooth over international relations following the reoccupation of the Rhineland three months prior.

Germany was awarded the Olympics prior to the Nazi rise to power in 1931. As the Olympics drew closer, several boycott movements appeared across the world in response to the increasing Nazi persecution of the Jews.

Prior to the event, many international Jewish athletes chose not to compete at the games, and almost all Jewish athletes in Germany were not selected to compete.

Despite this pressure, when the year came, no action was taken. The games went ahead in Berlin as planned. 49 countries were represented, taking part in 129 events from the 1-16 of August 1936. The Nazis, desperate to ensure the event was a success that showcased their regime to the world, removed antisemitic signs and propaganda, and rounded up the 800 Roma who lived in Berlin.

The response to the games was overwhelmingly positive. Visitors found Germany clean, well-run and efficient. They didn’t respond to the antisemitic violence, because signs of it were extremely rare, having been removed by the Nazis from the public eye.  Many felt that Germany had recovered its prestige as a world power.

The Olympics’ helped to give a positive worldwide impression of Germany, as a nation that was strong, welcoming, and committed to peace.

What happened in July