Nazi Party (National Socialist German Workers’ Party)

Nazi Party propaganda poster
Nazi Party propaganda poster

The NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter partei), typically called the Nazi Party in English, was a political party in Germany from 1920 to 1945. The party was founded in Munich under a slightly different name in early 1919, one of many political organizations formed in the wake of Germany's defeat in World War I. In September 1919 Adolf Hitler joined the party as a spy for German army intelligence.

The party and its ideology of nationalism, authoritarianism, and anti-Semitism appealed to Hitler so much that he quit his job with the army to devote himself full time to the party. Hitler soon discovered that he was a great orator who could draw new membership to the party. He soon became the party chairman.

He changed the party structure from one of elected leadership and collective decision making to that of Fuhrerprinzip—he was the sole leader and dictated party strategy and policy. He saw the Nazi Party as a revolutionary organization and sought to gain control of Germany through the violent overthrow of the Weimar Republic.


Hitler and the Nazi Party believed that the Weimar government was controlled by socialists, Jews, and the "November Criminals" who had forced Germany to surrender at the end of World War I, backstabbing the German soldiers at the front just as they were about to see victory.

Hitler added a focus of national expansion and pushed policies of anti-Semitism while downplaying the socialistic ideas of the party's founders. Racialism gained prominence through the adoption of the swastika and Aryan identity politics. This racial component and the stated goal of helping the Aryan race to achieve its true destiny set Nazism apart from true fascism.

By 1923 party membership had risen to more than 20,000 through campaigning with this new message. To showcase their ideas, the Nazis held rallies once a year at Nuremberg. The rallies advertised Nazi power, unity, and a religious loyalty to Hitler as Germany's savior.

Nazi party rally at Nuremberg
Nazi party rally at Nuremberg

The Nazi masses were paraded before Hitler as oaths of loyalty were taken. During the rallies the Nazis introduced new policies and party doctrine. The Nuremburg race laws were unveiled at the 1935 rally. The 1934 rally was best known for the documentary Triumph of the Will, created by Leni Riefenstahl to showcase the ceremonies. It became one of the bestknown propaganda films of all time.

To enforce Nazi policy on the street and to protect party speakers at political functions, the Sturmabteilung, or SA (also known as the Brown Shirts for the color of their uniforms), was formed. They acted as a party militia and used quasimilitary ranks and organization. Their main visible function was to prevent the disruption of Nazi speeches by communist-based militias.

Later they were used by the party for fundraising, political canvassing, and abuse of party enemies. The SA came into conflict with the German army in 1934 after pushing to become the new national German army. The SA leadership was murdered, and the organization became marginalized thereafter.

Huge gathering at nuremberg
Huge gathering at nuremberg

In Munich on November 7, 1923, the Nazis launched an attempted coup d'état known as the Beer Hall Putsch. The coup quickly failed, and the ringleaders, including Hitler, were rounded up and sent to prison for short sentences. During his jail stay Hitler wrote a combined autobiography and political manifesto titled Mein Kampf (My struggle).

This book outlined the ideas of a cultural hierarchy with the German Aryans at the top and with Slavs, communists, and Jews at the bottom. The lower people were to be purged from the nation so they could not impede its growth. Hitler also stated that nations grew from military power and civil order. Germany was to grow by expanding to the east into its lebensraum (living space).

The people of Germany were to be led through the principles of Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer (one people, one nation, one leader). The relationship between the people and the state was that of loyalty, duty, and honor for the state, while the leader was responsible for protecting the Aryan race against those who sought to destroy it.

While reflecting on politics during his prison sentence, Hitler decided to switch tactics. The Nazi Party would quit attempting to seize power by force. Power would now be achieved through legal means by winning elections.

After his release Hitler's personal bodyguard unit, the SS (Schutzstaffel), or protection squadron, became more important, and notable senior Nazi leaders such as Hess, Himmler, Goebbels, and Göring emerged.

During the new political period the "Heil Hitler" greeting and the Nazi salute were adopted. Electoral success was very small in the 1924 and 1928 elections, in which the Nazi Party only won 3 percent and 2.6 percent of the votes.

The party continued to grow, in part because of the fading of other right-wing political parties and because Hitler assumed leadership of right-wing German politics. The Nazis found support from all areas including small business owners, Protestants, students, rural farmers, and those attracted to paramilitary displays put on by the SA and SS.

The biggest upsurge in Nazi support came as a direct result of the Great Depression of 1929. The economic hardships caused by the worldwide depression compounded Germany's existing problems and set the stage for Nazi expansion by creating a receptive audience. The German left was divided, and its elements could not work together to counter Nazi propaganda.

The 1930 elections gave the Nazis 18.3 percent of the vote. In the weeks leading up to this election, Germany was blanketed by Nazi campaigning techniques, propaganda delivered by radio and through rapid travel by airplane. The continued economic chaos played into the Nazis' hands and pushed more people into the party. In March 1932, Hitler ran for president, losing to Hindenburg.

During the campaign the SA and SS battled in the streets against left-wing militias; the escalating violence threatened to throw Germany into chaos. Hitler continued to gain support by promising law and order, while at the same time the Nazis were guilty of instigating most of the violence they preached against.

After the elections, neither the Nazi Party nor the communist parties were willing to form a coalition government, so new elections had to be held with much the same result. After much political manipulation, Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor in January 1933.

This was seen as a way to solve the electoral deadlock and also as a way to shift blame to the Nazis for Germany's ongoing problems. Hitler did not play into Hindenburg and the cabal's hands.

Shortly after Hitler's appointment, the Reichstag was burned down. Hitler and the Nazis used this opportunity to pass the "Enabling Act," which gave the president dictatorial powers in order to prevent a communist revolution. Hitler used his new powers to gain complete control over the government, police, and communications.

The German people were lulled into complacency by the new Nazi economic practices, which were able to bring Germany out of the Great Depression by ending unemployment, stopping hyperinflation, and increasing the standard of living.

German Synthesis

The period from 1933 to 1939 saw the gradual synthesis of the German state and the Nazi Party. The 1935 Nuremburg laws stripped Jews of civil rights, citizenship, and economic rights and banned their marriage to non-Jews.

In 1938 active pogroms began with the infamous Kristallnacht, which resulted in a number of Jewish murders and involved the destruction of stores, homes, and synagogues; it ended with the deportation of 30,000 Jews to the first concentration camps.

During the war years the party and the state became fused, and Nazism gradually transformed into loyalty to Adolf Hitler. With Hitler's death in April 1945, there was little will to keep the party alive. The party was outlawed after the war, and its trappings were removed from society as part of the Allied occupation.