30: We Live in a Society


The Nazi leaders had goals, and those goals required changes to be made. The people, the church, and the children would be only some of the areas effected.



  • The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans
  • Germany and the Second World War Volume 1: The Build-Up of German Aggression by Wilhelm Deist, Manfred Messerschmidt, Hans-Erich Volkmann, and Wolfram Wette
  • Hitler: A Biography by Ian Kershaw
  • The Third Reich by Thomas Childers
  • The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer
  • France and the Remilitarization of the Rhineland, 1936 by Stephen A. Schuker
  • The First Capitulation: France and the Rhineland Crisis of 1936 by R.A.C. Parker (1956)
  • France, Germany, and the Saar by A.J.P. Taylor (1952)
  • The Franco-Polish Alliance and the Remilitarization of the Rhineland by George Sakwa
  • French Intelligence and Hitler’s Rise to Power by Peter Jackson
  • Great Britain and the Saar Plebiscite of 13 January 1935 by C.J. Hill
  • Hitler, Intelligence and the Decision to Remilitarize the Rhine by Zach Shore
  • Hitler’s Thirty Days to Power: January 1933 by Henry Ashby Turner Jr.
  • Prologue to Peacekeeping: Ireland and the Saar, 1934-35 by Michael Kennedy
  • Fantasy and Reality in Nazi Work-Creation Programs, 1933-1936 by Dan P. Silverman
  • Franz von Papen, the German Center Party, and the Failure of Catholic Conservatism in the Weimar Republic by Larry Eugene Jones
  • Causes and Consequences of the Plebiscite in the Saar by E.W (1955)
  • The Purge of the SA Reconsidered: “An Old Putschist Trick”? by Eleanor Hancock
  • The Remilitarization of the Rhineland and its Impact on the French-Polish Alliance by Roman D. Bicki (1969)
  • Rohm and Hitler: The Continuity of Political-Military Discord by David Jablonsky
  • The German Roman Catholic Hierarchy and the Saar Plebiscite of 1935 by Guenter Lewy (1964)
  • Saar Coal After Two World Wars by O.R. Reischer
  • Schacht’s Regulation of Money and the Capital Markets by Arthur Schweitzer (1948)
  • The Myth of Chancellor Von Schleicher’s Querfront Strategy by Henry Ashby Turner Jr.
  • The Struggle for Control of the German Economy by Amos E. Simpson
  • The Nazi State and German Society: A Brief History with Documents by Robert G. Moeller
  • Franz von Papen, Catholic Conservatives, and the Establishment of the Third Reich, 1933-1934 by Larry Eugene Jones
  • Franz von Papen, the German Center Party, and the Failure of Catholic Conservatism in the Weimar Republic by Larry Eugene Jones
  • British Establishment Perspectives on France, 1936-1940 by Michael Dockrill


Hello everyone and welcome to History of the Second World War Episode 30 - The Third Reich Part 16 - We’re Living in a Society. This week a big thank you goes out to Shrenik and Gary for choosing to support this podcast on Patreon, where they now get access to ad free versions of all of these episodes and special Patreon only episodes released once a month. If that sounds interesting to you, head on over to historyofthesecondworldwar.com/members to find out more. When they achieved power there were many ways in which the Nazi party leadership hoped to alter the course of the German nation. Many of these related to Germany’s relationship with other nations, both economically and militarily, but there were also goals that dealt with items far closer to home. Some of these we have already discussed, and will continue to discuss for almost the entire length of this podcast, such as anti-Semitism and the racist overtones of many Nazi policies. There were also societal goals that they hoped would shape German society in many ways. To accomplish these goals the Nazi regime would alter the contents of what the German children learned in school, the relationship that Germans had with the church, the relationship between people and social organizations, how they displayed their feelings about the party and the government through flags and uniforms, and a whole host of other alterations that all revolved around the Nazi leaders trying to assert more control over the private life of every citizen of Germany. They then hoped that this would allow them to mold Germany, and all of the individuals within it, into a very specific version of what it meant to be German and what German society should be. Those goals, and the efforts to attain them, will be the topic of this episode.

When it came to German culture, the objective of the Nazis was to make the government the sole arbiter of what did and did not quality. This began very soon after they had taken power in early 1933. A few episodes ago we discussed the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service which removed many Jewish individuals from the ranks of the civil service. It would also require the immediate dismissal of any “non-Aryans” from state subsidized cultural institutions like theatres, museums, etc. This was just one part of a campaign that rejected almost all of the cultural evolutions that had occurred in Germany after the First World War. The 1920s had been a period of drastic changes within Germany culture: experimental art, jazz, theater, film, all had blossomed during the Weimar republic. All of those were then rejected, and much of it would be destroyed, by the Nazi regime. Perhaps the most famous of these actions were the book burnings that would occur in Germany during and after 1933. For example on May 10th, 1933 20,000 books would be burned outside the University of Berlin library, an act which thousands of students would participate in. This would be just one of many book burning events that would occur during this period in Germany. Various forms of art were also heavily targeted and thousands of paintings, drawings, and sculptures would be either destroyed or confiscated, with around 17,000 seized before the start of the war. There was a special hatred for many varieties of modern art, which Hitler personally disliked. In September 1933 a new group was setup within the government, the Reich Chamber of Culture and it was given the purpose of: “In order to pursue a policy of German culture, it is necessary to gather together the creative artists in all spheres into a unified organization under the leadership of the Reich. The Reich must not only determine the lines of progress, mental and spiritual, but also lead and organize the professions.” All of these actions, and the control that the government tried to exert on these aspects of culture would cause a massive exodus of artists, writers, and others involved with the creation of German art. Around 2,000 artists of various types would make the journey out of Germany to escape the fact that if they wanted to create art in Germany it had to be specifically approved for production. Such government control would also effect the newspapers. Before 1933 Germany, like many other nations, had a thriving newspaper industry. However, in the years after 1933 circulation of papers actually began to decline, and the total number of newspapers being printed decreased by almost a thousand. Even Nazi party newspapers were not immune to this drop in desire to actually read them. The biggest issue was simply that so much of what was allowed to be published was controlled and specified by the Propaganda Ministry. This allowed for control over what was printed in the same way that the content on the radio was controlled, but it caused many Germans to simply stop reading.

The relationship between the Nazi government and the churches of Germany was, well it was complicated. On July 20th, 1933 the Vatican and the German government had signed a concordat which formalized an arrangement whereby Catholic clergy would withdraw from German politics. This essentially destroyed the Zentrum, or the Catholic Center party, and in return the German government agreed to always recognize the Catholic faith and to not interfere with the actions of the church. The agreement also included an oath to be loyal to the German state which all of the clergy would have to swear when they took up their positions around Germany. Almost immediately after the concordat was signed the Nazi leaders would begin to first test the limits of its clauses, and then they would eventually completely ignore them. Early efforts to push the concordat would come to the forefront in September 1933 when the oath that was taken by German clergy was altered for both Catholic and other Christian faiths. This change meant that instead of swearing an oath of loyalty to Germany, it was also expected that Hitler and National Socialism would be included. This would prove to be far too much for some clergy, and there would be many that would refuse to take the oath which resulted in their removal from their positions. These types of actions continued throughout the 1930s as the government push back Catholic control and Catholic influence in many areas of German life. Eventually, in January 1937 a collection of German bishops and cardinals went to Rome to discuss with the Pope what was happening in Germany. This would result in an encyclical, or a papal letter, that would be sent to all German Catholic officials entitled Mit brennender Sorge, or With Burning Concern. It would, in 44 clauses, criticize the German government’s interactions with the church, giving a litany of examples of how it had violated the concordat. However, criticisms went beyond specific actions or policies but would also question and condemn some fundamental concepts of Nazi policy, like racism. For example clause 11 would say “None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race.” It is however interesting, and a common point of criticism, that the document does not directly name the Nazi regime, Hitler, or National Socialism. This had caused many, both at the time and in the years that followed, to criticize the church for not more strongly condemning specific actions, beliefs, or individuals who pushed those beliefs and turned them into actions. 300,00 copies of the encyclical would be secretly printed and distributed throughout Germany, to be released on Palm Sunday 1937. When he was notified of the encyclical and its contents Hitler was apparently furious, and the next day all copies that could be found were confiscated, and printing presses that had assisted in their creation were closed. As much as possible the national press and the government simply suppressed as much information as possible about the contents of the encyclical, and it did not cause a drastic change in Nazi policies towards the Catholic church, and if anything it much made it worse.

Its relations with the church would be just one area where the Nazi regime would alter its course after coming to power, another would be in the role that women were to play in society. So much of Nazi rhetoric during the party’s rise to power, and then in the time between 1933 and 1934, revolved around restoring the traditional Germany family, and that meant restoring the traditional place of women within that family. This was a direct reaction to the feminist movement that took place during the Weimar years which saw many women break away from the roles traditionally set aside for them as wives and mothers. This was attacked in Nazi rhetoric, and in September 1934 Hitler would say in a speech that “The phrase ‘women’s liberation’ is a phrase invented only by Jewish intellectualism, and its content is shaped by the same spirit. The German women never needed to be emancipated in the really good times of German life. […] For her world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home.” The government would instead focus on a very specific view of what women were supposed to do within society, and most of that view revolved around one thing, having babies. This was initially wrapped in the bounds of the traditional family, but as the years progressed the emphasis on starting a traditional family receded into the background and the focus became solely on procreation. Families were given loans and tax breaks based on the number of children they had, and there were even public awards created in 1938 for mothers of 4, 6, and 8 children, the Mother’s Cross of Honor. All of this was of course steeped in the values of the Party with such an emphasis placed upon reproduction due to the perceived place of the resulting “aryan” children in the future of Germany. Initially women were also discouraged from working in many jobs outside the home, partially due to the unemployment crisis of the early 1930s. They were still mobilized for various public service activities, and they were allowed to take very specific types of jobs, that they were mostly forbidden from working in several sectors of the economy. This began a drastic shift after 1935, it was in that year that the government began its major rearmament program, and for that program it needed workers, a lot of workers. These could not all come from just the men in Germany, especially as the size of the armed forces quickly ballooned under conscription, and so women were once again mobilized into the workforce. This completely shifted the Nazi message from one of traditional motherhood to a message that they were needed in the factories, and so between 1933 and 1939 two million more married women would be working outside the home. This resulted in a situation for many women and mothers were they were forced into doing exactly what the Nazi leaders had claimed was such a problem in 1933, balancing work outside of the home with taking care of their families. This would of course only become more stressful as the war approached and the German military continued to expand.

Any attempt to change German society over a long term period of time required that the education system in Germany be shifted to support those changes. The Nazi leaders fully understood this fact and there were multiple changes made to the education that was experienced by German children. The first was based around ensuring that teachers, at all levels, would not be an avenue for anti-Nazi feelings to be delivered. Hitler was personally not a huge fan of professional academics, and this was reflected in the treatment of teachers and professors by the regime. All teachers had to take an oath of loyalty and obedience to the party and to Hitler, much like the oaths that were being used in other areas of society. There was not a large amount of dissent from teachers to these actions after 1934, if only because by that point 15% of all university professors had already been removed form their positions, and similar dismissals were made at other levels. There was also strong support for Nazi policies among older students, especially at universities around Germany, and this added local pressure on educators to toe the party line. What dissent that did exist was often expressed in the form of very specific criticisms of specific policies that had been put in place by the government. This specificity was crucial because it avoided a wider criticism of Nazi beliefs and practices, which would have been seen as seditious. Most educators in Germany would not fall foul of the regime and they would remain in their positions, the exception to this was of course Jewish academics and teachers, which made up about 12 percent of all professors in Germany in 1933. Several prominent academics, including Nobel prize winners like James Franck, Hans Krebs, and of course Albert Einstein were either pushed out of their positions or forced to resign. Along with ensuring the loyalty of those teaching children, efforts were also made to ensure that what they were teaching was deemed to be correct. To accomplish this textbooks were largely rewritten. History was altered to fit within the Nazi ideology, creating a completely false perspective on both German and world history. New subjects like racial sciences were added to the curriculum to indoctrinate young Germans into the racial policies of the Nazi party. Main Kampf was included as part of this instruction, which if you have ever tried to read it should only be considered as a punishment. The goal of all of these changes to the educational content was to essentially push propaganda to all Germans at the earliest possible opportunity, and when they were most vulnerable to it.

The results of all of these efforts was, well it was pretty catastrophic in terms of the quality of education in Germany, and the quality of the resulting students. In later years this was felt at all levels of the work force. In the chemical industry, which was an absolutely critical piece of rearmament, there were complaints that Germany was losing what had once been a solid lead on the rest of the world in certain chemistry disciplines. The large chemical firms would claim that this put at risk not just the national economy but also national defense given the importance of the chemical industry in the German war effort. They put the blame on the drastic shortage of new scientists and the very disappointing quality of those that were graduating in the late 1930s. During these later years it was also difficult to find enough people who completed university as university students, who had gravitated toward the Nazi party due to the economic issues in the early 30s which left them with little prospects of employment after their studies were over, were siphoned off to the army in ever growing numbers. By the late 1930s the drop in educational quality was even seen in individuals who were joining the military, with military officers beginning to register complaints about the recruits that they were receiving. So many men leaving for military training also caused enrollment problems for higher education. Their places were also not filled by young women because of the emphasis on returning women to their more traditional role within the family. Between 1932 and 1938 university enrollment in Germany would decrease by half, but the percentage of those students that were women would also be reduced in half. Many students, those who were aware that their education had been compromised placed at least some of the blame on all of the other activities that they had been expected to participate in. This would rob them of any available time to study outside of school, and was due at least party on an obsession with physical fitness which was the policy of the regime, stemming straight from Hitler. He would make this emphasis clear as early as Mein Kampf, saying “The whole education by a national state must aim primarily not at the stuffing with mere knowledge but at building bodies which are physically healthy to the core.”

With the goal of building bodies, a new organization was created, the Hitler Youth. The Hitler Youth predated 1933 by almost a decade, being founded in the 1920s as part of the SA. The objective of the group was to cause greater involvement in the Nazi movement among young boys, who would then go on to be important supporters of the party in their later years. When Hitler came to power the organization expanded, although membership was not required until 1936. Even before it became compulsory, many joined due to it being very clear that it was the best path for their future. After 1936 any parents that tried to keep their children out of the youth organizations could be sentenced to prison sentences. The term Hitler Youth is a blanket term for a system of youth organizations which young boys at the age of 6 would begin participating in. The first such organization would be populated by boys between the ages of 6 and 10. This was seen primarily as a precursor stage, it would be the time that records would begin to be kept of the young boys and their physical progress and ideological adherence, but it was also just a way to make these groups a part of their lives. At age 10 things got a bit more serious, after passing several tests the young boys would be admitted to the Young Volk. At this point they would swear an oath to Hitler: “In the presence of this blood banner, which represents our Fuehrer, I swear to devote all my energies and my strength to the savior of our country, Adolf Hitler. I am willing and ready to give up my life for him, so help me God. We are born to die for Germany.” After another four years in the Young Volk at age 14 the boys would officially enter the Hitler Youth, at which point their training shifted in a decidedly militaristic fashion. At the age of 18 most would either go into several months in the national Labor Service or directly into the Army. The core values of what boys were taught during this time were summarized by Thomas Childers as “Militarism, nationalism, racism, and Führer worship, along with the martial virtues of duty, obedience, honor, courage, physical strength, and ruthlessness, were the virtues they wished to inculcate in the young.” There were many unintended consequences to the creation of the Hitler Young, it created behavior issues both at school and at home as many members felt that they were above such discipline. Academic performance also suffered as so much time was taken up by these outside activities. The program did certainly achieve its goals though, it allowed the government to spent 12 years feeding constant propaganda and indoctrination to German boys in their formative years.

Young boys were not the only ones brought into these types of organizations, and at age 10 girls would join the Jungmaden or Young Girls. They would spend four years in the organization before transitioning to the League of German Girls from ages 14 to 18, and then afterwards they would also spent some time in the Labor Front. In some ways the training and activities done by girls in these organizations were similar to the boys of similar ages, and there was a similar emphasis on physical activity and education in Nazi beliefs. Along with this there was also a clear emphasis on the expected role of these young women in the Third Reich, which was an emphasis on having children, preferably a lot of children. Speaking of children, there were more attempts to keep young girls out of these groups because of the reputation that they had for producing pregnancies. This was mostly attributable to the 6 months of service in the Labor Front that the young women would do after they turned 18. There were reports of many pregnancies that resulted from the fact that the Labor Front camps for both young women and men were located very close together, often in rural areas. I was a young man once, I know how that ends. In a nation like Nazi Germany, where access to birth control of any kind had been curtailed, and after being told for most of their lives that the greatest contribution to their nation was to have babies, well, mission accomplished. It would get so bad in some camps that they would have to be closed due to how many women were getting pregnant, and the rumors of these events caused many parents to try and find ways to keep their daughters away from these activities altogether. In March 1939 the government would put in place a law conscripting all young Germans into the appropriate Hitler Youth organization, essentially treating the act the same as conscription into the army and removing any real control that parents had over the experiences of their children.