For some the mere mention of the Third Reich, or Nazi Germany, instills horror, thoughts of genocide, and the deaths of millions of people. For others, the name is but pages in a history book or characters in old movies.
On the other hand, there were those who were filled with German pride — wanting to do what they thought would make for a better Germany in a time that was filled with German Nationalism.
All are true.
There was a young German boy living in one of the Baltic States at the time of the Nazis. His father, having fought for Germany in the First World War (and losing a leg in the process), was told (ordered, really) to return back Germany.
Here he was, just a young child uprooted from the only home he knew — to return to the “Fatherland” in the midst of Germany’s (and the world’s) most notorious time periods. The point being the Nazis, thus the Third Reich, was trying to “Germanize” areas of Eastern Europe. Germans who refused were imprisoned in concentration camps, non-Germans were thrown-out.
He didn’t know that back then, as he does now.
Sure, this blond, blue-eyed youngster was the Nazi ideal — even better that his dad had sacrificed for the German cause during the Great War. He was the living embodiment of what the Third Reich said they were fighting for.
More than six decades later, he was asked if he had seen the trains of people being transported to the “East,” he said his (and other) parents did their best to keep many of the children away from what was happening, even going so far as to tell them that “Jews ate German children, so stay away.”
It’s unthinkable in today’s society to tell our children such things; it might even have Child Services knocking down your door. But, this isn’t today. This was the message that the Third Reich sent to Germans and non-Germans alike all those decades ago.
I know this doesn’t tell you much in terms of an encyclopedic version of the Third Reich’s history. And that very well might be true, but it speaks volumes. The ripple effect of Nazi ideology and brutality of the Third Reich struck a much deeper chord than one could ever imagine.
According to historians the Nazis didn’t like the term the “Third Reich” or Drittes Reich in German (the First Reich being the Holy Roman Empire and the Second Reich the German Empire), preferring to use the term Großdeutsches Reich or Greater German Reich — even going so far as to “outlaw” the terminology.
But, one term they couldn’t seem to get around was hegemony, which is one state or nation’s rule or dominance over another’s. The Nazis wanted to “rule” over Europe to establish a New Order. Their motto: Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer (One People, One Reich, One Leader) says it all.
You have to understand the Germany of the time, which was completely different from today’s Germany. The country was in turmoil, its pride broken after the Treaty of Versailles (the ending of World War I), and unemployment and inflation were rampant. All these factors contributed to the Nazis rising to power, with Adolf Hitler at the helm promising to cure Germany’s ills.
Once Hitler (and his cronies) had complete government control, the Third Reich then turned its sites on the media (controlling the newspapers and television) and imprisoning more than 3 million of its own people (communists, Marxists, and those who opposed the totalitarianism regime). That’s not even getting into the other 8 million people Hitler and the Nazis deemed “undesirable.”
One thing did change under the Third Reich’s leadership, Germany got back to work. By ignoring the Treaty of Versailles, Germany re-armed itself, thus kick starting the economy. Partly.
Women of the Third Reich were encouraged to give up their jobs and return to the home to raise German children. Special “awards” were given to the ladies of the Reich for having four or more children.
By getting the women out of the workforce jobs opened up for the men, helping further the economic recovery. For some, this economic turnaround was a savior to the people.
The Third Reich’s part in starting World War II is well-documented and known by millions around the world and the everyday people who lived it. But, quite a few years transpired before the start of the war in September 1939.
The Nazis came to power in 1933, giving the people of Germany six years of propaganda (newspapers like Der Stürmer and blaming the Weimar Republic’s liberal democracy), racial profiling, and laws that limited the rights and citizenship of its people. The Third Reich’s ideology was a gradual process to rally the people of its country.
The Nazi’s power eventually came to an end in 1945 when Germany was defeated by the Allies, or did it?
According to one prison guard (a U.S. soldier) at the infamous Spandau Prison in Berlin, which by this time only housed Rudolf Hess (the last remaining prisoner of the Spandau Seven), orders were given not to speak to the prisoner; and guards were rotated once a week. This was in addition to the Allies (the United States, France, Britain, and the Soviets) trading off guarding the prisoner every three months — no one was to get too close.
After the death of Hess in the 1980’s the prison was torn down, its rubble thrown into the Sea — never to be a shrine to anyone loyal to the Third Reich or the neo-Nazi groups out there.
Forty-five years after the fall of the Third Reich, Germany was again united under one flag, this time a more economically stable country, thanks in part to West Germany’s Wirschaftswunder (the Economic Miracle) and another democratic system firmly in place.
Good for all, because now everyone can enjoy the beautiful country that I know it to be.