Menu
Section: How did the Nazis gain power?

The early years of the Nazi Party

German soldiers march through Berlin after their defeat in 1918
German soldiers march through Berlin after their defeat in 1918

In the chaotic aftermath of the First World war, many small extremist political parties were formed. One, The NSDAP or Nazi Party, was eventually to takeover power in Germany.

Who were the Nazis?

Adolf Hitler (front row far left) pictured during WW1. As a soldier he spent much of his time talking politics. After the war Hitler was given a job in the German army investigating small political parties.
Adolf Hitler (front row far left) pictured during WW1. As a soldier he spent much of his time talking politics. After the war Hitler was given a job in the German army investigating small political parties. © 2012 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The origins of the Nazi Party can be traced back to a small antisemitic group which developed into the German Workers’ Party (DAP).

Adolf Hitler was employed  by the German Army in Munich to investigate small political parties. Whilst observing the DAP, Hitler became involved in meetings and soon became an active member. The party was renamed the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazionalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – NSDAP or ‘Nazi’ for short.)

By 1921 Hitler became leader of the party (Führer). He was a powerful political speaker. By appealing to all their fears and discontents Hitler began persuading unemployed people and disaffected war-veterans that the Jews and communists were responsible for all the problems in Germany. By November 1921 the Nazis had 3,000 members with Hitler as Führer.

Hitler becomes involved in politics

Adolf Hitler (front row far left) pictured during WW1. As a soldier he spent much of his time talking politics. After the war Hitler was given a job in the German army investigating small political parties.
Adolf Hitler (front row far left) pictured during WW1. As a soldier he spent much of his time talking politics. After the war Hitler was given a job in the German army investigating small political parties. © 2011 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Born on 20 April 1889 in Braunau in Austria, near the border with Germany, Adolf Hitler was the son of a customs official.

Hitler’s mother was his father’s third wife, and 22 years her husband’s junior. When Hitler’s father died, he left a small pension for the family. As a schoolboy, Hitler was a shy loner, deeply influenced by his history teacher, a staunch, right-wing German nationalist. Hitler left school aged 16.

Hoping to become an artist, Hitler moved to Vienna in 1907. His mother died of cancer in 1908. He later described his time in Vienna as five years of misery and woe. In 1913 Hitler left for Munich, in southern Germany. At the outbreak of the First World War, he enlisted in the German army, and during the war was awarded medals for bravery. He was in hospital recovering from a gas attack when the war ended. After the war he returned to Munich, where a communist revolution had just been put down. Hitler was given a job in the German army investigating small political parties.

Hitler's ideas

Although Hitler wanted to become a military dictator, he saw that he would be unable to take the country by force. He now knew that he would have to use legal and democratic methods. Following Germany’s defeat in the First World War, Hitler became convinced that people in Germany – particularly Jews – had worked against the country to achieve their own ends. Hitler felt that, as Germany continued to suffer throughout the 1920s, drastic action was required to save the country. From his experiences both with the army and later with the NSDAP, Hitler learned to persuade others with his speeches.

While in prison after the  Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler wrote his book Mein Kampf, in which he set out his political ideas and developed his antisemitic ideas. Mein Kampf did not contain any new ideas. Many people in the 19th and 20th centuries had believed that races were not equal, and that some people were stronger or better than others. Hitler took on these ideas, and stated that Germans were part of a race called ‘Aryans’ who were superior to all others and would one day rule the world. In Hitler’s view, Jews were a separate race and could not be German. He believed the Jews conspired against Aryans to rule the world for themselves. As some of the most prominentGerman communists had been Jewish, Hitler believed Jews had created communism to destroy the Aryans. His aim became to destroy communism and the Jews.

The Beer Hall Putsch

In November 1923 at the time of hyperinflation, Adolf Hitler was convinced that the Weimar Republic would collapse. Accompanied by armed members of the NSDAP, he entered a beer hall in Munich and announced he was going to take control of the government. Erich Ludendorff, a famous German military leader from the First World War, supported him. Hitler claimed he was forming a provisional government. However, while he and his supporters were marching through the streets, the group was fired upon by police and easily dispersed. People were killed, and Hitler was arrested and put on trial. At his trial, Hitler addressed the Court with political and antisemitic speeches. He was found guilty of treason, but the court sentenced him to only five years in prison. In the end, Hitler spent only nine months in Landsberg Prison. During that time he was given enough freedom to be able to write his book Mein Kampf, which means ‘My Struggle’. Ludendorff was acquitted entirely.

Continue to next topic
How did the Nazis gain support?

How did the Nazis gain support?

What happened in February