The Rise of Hitler

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B02607, Berlin, Reichstagssitzung, Rede Adolf Hitler Perhaps the most important cause of WWII and the Holocaust was the rise of Adolf Hitler to supreme power in Germany during the 1930's. Had this not happened, it is entirely likely that neither event would have taken place. Understanding his rise to power, helps students understand the most common questions they have when studying WWII and the Holocaust: Why? How?

A Democratically Elected Dictator

People often forget that Hitler was democratically elected to head the German government. Germany was a democracy in the 1920's and 30's Technically it remained so under Hitler, but he had taken all the power for himself through "emergency measures". Follow this link to read a timeline that shows Hitler's progression from given speeches to drunks in a bar to leader of the most powerful nation in Europe. Also study the image below that shows how Germany's government was structured during this time. Can you see how Hitler was able to take power for himself?

Structure of the Wiemar Republic.
In short, Hitler was able to help his political party, the Nazis, gain popularity among the German people. In 1932, the Nazis won the most seats in the German legislature and Hitler was made Chancellor. As Chancellor, he was able to push through laws, and the Nazification of Germany began. In 1933, a fire at the Reichstag, the German capitol building, broke out. Arson was suspected, and a Communist was arrested for the crime. Hitler declared a state of emergency which consolidated power in the President and Chancellor positions, allowing them to bypass the legislature to enact law. Many civil rights were suspended and the constitution thrown aside. In 1934, President Hindenburg dies, and Hitler illegally makes himself President AND Chancellor, essentially becoming Supreme Leader of Germany. 

German democracy was now dead. Follow this link and read through the timeline to get a better idea of how this all happened.

Hitler the Speaker

Adolf Hitler was able to rise to power because of his charismatic personality and his erratic speaking style. He was known to electrify crowds. In a time before rock stars, his speeches filled stadiums. He was the most popular and loved (and hated) person in all of the German speaking world. Crowds as large as 250,000 people came out to listen to him speak. Below are some videos of Hitler's speeches. Can you see why he was able to gain the support of the people? The documentary on Hitler in color is especially interesting. When you finish, proceed to the WWII page.