German resistance to Hitler has been greatly exaggerated in its extent and its strength of purpose

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Last updated: November 13, 2019

It was due to the incomplete nature of German totalitarianism that meant that opposition was not only possible, but that it was a reality. It took various forms, from day to day grumbling to complaints about specific issues, general political deviance and most threatening of all, resistance to the regime. The reason for most of the opposition that occurred is that the person or group in question wanted a more democratic regime than Hitler’s, yet they clearly did not get this between 1933 and 1939, so therefore it can be seen that the extent and strength of purpose in terms of resistance has been greatly exaggerated.However, what must be assessed, however, is the extent to which the people acted on this resistance, that is, did they actively oppose Hitler and the Nazi regime? The term resistance can be seen, as was done by Dr Martin Huysden, as an ‘active participation in an organised attempt to undermine the Third Reich.

‘ However, this is a fairly narrow definition.Hans-Adolf Jacobsen states that resistance was, ‘all that was done despite the terror of the Third Reich, despite the suffering and martyrdom, for the state of humanity… nd the word resistance in some cases applies too, to certain forms of standing aside in silence.

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‘ The latter of these definitions by Jacobsen is more or less opposition, and it is only the active act of opposing the Regime that would see any change in the way Germany was being governed. Germany at the time was in a dire economic state, and there was huge unemployment as a result of the Weimar Republic. Hitler may have, therefore, been seen as an improvement to a desperate situation.Opposition perhaps did exist in Germany by the German people, yet there was a fierce repressive machinery, reinforced by widespread denunciations that made open criticism to the regime a brave, and perhaps foolhardy, act. Opposition could cost you your job, freedom, or your life. Therefore, even if the German people felt much to oppose to, unless in the form of a mass movement, then it is unlikely that any action by the people as a whole would have been taken for fear of persecution and punishment.

The Church came into conflict with the regime on many occasions.The establishment of the Confessing Church was objected by Pastor Niemoller. However, he was more concerned with protecting the Church rather than weakening the Regime. Catholics were greatly opposed to it, as the Government ordered crucifixes to be replaced by portraits of Hitler in Catholic schools.

However, the most significant stance was taken in opposition to the Nazi Regimes euthanasia programme from 1939 onwards. One particular group of resistors associated with the Church was that of the Kreisau Circle.It was made up of resistors who agreed that the Hitler regime was bound to collapse and that a representative cross-section of anti-Nazi German society should prepare plans for reconstruction. They stressed Christianity as the basis of society, and they believed that, ‘Jesus, alone, is the Christian leader. ‘ The Church was obviously opposed to many elements of the regime, yet could act to do little in the changing of the running of the state. Also in opposition to the Nazi regime, were the Communists and the Social Democrats.

All political parties were banned in July 1933, but Left-Wing parties continued illegal activities. These two particular parties expressed more general opposition as might be expected from the two parties which had previously had the support of the largest part of the Working Class. The Communists tried to oppose the regime actively, but failed badly. The KPD had formed underground cells, and the Communists failure was due to the success of the Gestapo in identifying and eradicating Communist cells. The SPD, however, had been less directly involved in political activism.The SPD in exile (SOPADE) was based in Prague and then in Paris.

They were more restrained and cautious than the KPD in their actions. However, despite the KPD’s and the SPD’s obvious dislike of the Nazi Regime, there was little chance pf persuading workers to risk their livelihood, families and lives in the expression of political opposition. However, there were some groups, normally smaller, who were prepared to make such a sacrifice, and the strongest form of opposition took the form of resistance, an attempt to remove the Regime altogether.Realistically, this could be done by a Coup, but the key to any chance of success was the Army. Ironically, those who remained suspicious of Hitler and Nazism were members of the Prussian Aristocracy, who were deeply Conservative in their outlook. However, despite this, not all Conservative forces within the Army were generally anti-Nazi, and this is one of the reasons for failed Armed resistance, the fact that there was simply no depth in numbers to offset the failure of individual attempts. An example is that of General Becks.He attempted to persuade the General Staff to remove Hitler in 1938, which was ruined by Hitlers success at the Munich Conference.

Many other attempts by other officers failed. But, ultimately, all such resistance failed in its objective- which was to replace Hitler’s Regime with a more Democratic one. Therefore, the Army as a whole never realistically posed a threat to the regime as it was not the entire Army, but merely individuals who chose to act in resistance to the Regime. One category of opposition greatly puzzled the authorities, and that was that of the youth.Social deviance was most apparent amongst younger Germans who had more liberal minds, and especially those from the working class. These pointed to the deficiencies of the Hitler Youth as a channel of indoctrination.

What the youth feared most was the consequence of their thoughts being revealed or spoken out. As spoke Sophie Scholl, who was later executed for distributing anti-Government leaflets, ‘What we have written and said is in the minds of all of you, but you lack the courage to say it aloud. ‘The Hitler Youth was seen by many opponents of the Hitler Regime as becoming part of the establishment rather than a rival to it.

Hence there developed alternative and even oppositional groups amongst the youth, such as the Edelweiss Pirates and the Swing Youth. The Pirates were antagonistic to authority and in particular to the Hitler Youth. They deliberately opposed what the authorities liked, such as having a much more liberal approach to sexuality. They ambushed and beat up members of the Hitler Youth.The Swing Youth, or Swing Movement, were much less militant and more cultural than the Pirates. It adopted purposefully provocative influences from the British, and especially the American Jazz scene.

Jazz was seen as degenerate, as it was ‘negro music. ‘ However, whilst the authorities did not truly know what to do in order to combat these opposition groups, aside from a few hangings of opposers, neither did the groups have the organisational edge to be anything more than an embarrassment to the regime.Social deviance, or youth opposition, was, therefore, never likely to amount to serious political opposition.

Theoretically speaking, the Nazi state was totalitarian in that it eradicated institutions allowing for the formal expression, dissent and opposition. However, the fact that opposition did develop in such a variety of forms, from Left-Wing groups to the youth, indicates that totalitarianism was only partly successful.The Gestapo, as seen in the Communists Cell example, were used with the SS to eradicate individual manifestations of anti-Nazi behaviour. Therefore, the combined process was successful, and there was, after all, never any real threat to the regime except for the occasional act of violence. Therefore, it can be said that German resistance to Hitler has been greatly exaggerated in both its extent and its strength of purpose, as there was never any real threat posed to the Regime.

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