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Hitler Takes Power


A mesmerizing speaker, Hitler won over Germans by promising jobs and more land. After Hitler became chancellor in 1933, he consolidated his power by imprisoning opponents (which frightened others into silence) and suspending democratic procedures.

Complete Video Script

While Mussolini was forging the first fascist state in Italy, back here in Germany Hitler was taking notes. Once out of prison, he played on many of the same themes as Mussolini: rousing a disillusioned workforce, reviving a struggling economy, and fixing what was considered a weak government. At first, the boom times of the Roaring '20s blunted his populist message. But then the Great Depression hit in 1929, the working masses were angry again, and Hitler's promises gained traction. Fascism was now taking root in Germany.

Georg: So Hitler promised jobs, jobs, jobs, to everybody, and of course people needed jobs. That was exactly what they wanted to hear.

Andreas: Hitler promised the people everything, everything they wanted. He promised them a bright future, he promised them work, he promised them Lebensraum — "living space"…

Hitler was a powerful, mesmerizing speaker.

Holger: People were taken by Hitler's speech — not so much by the beauty of his arguments, but by his shear fanaticism, by his anger, by his rage, and his repetitive rhetoric. And people — eyewitness accounts — would describe it as barbaric, primitive effect.

Georg: What he was telling people was a disaster, but the performance he delivered was a big artistic show.

Andreas: He repeated a lie endlessly, and he didn't make it a small lie; he'd make a big lie and he kept hammering it into their heads. He also dumbed it down as much as possible.

His simplistic promises were made to order for his political base: more prosperity and expanded borders for more room in which to live, or Lebensraum.

Andreas: Fascism is perceived as a strong movement with simple answers for complicated problems.

Georg: Giving simple answers and simple solutions — that's exactly what people wanted to hear, because they gave them the hope that it will change soon. Not in 10 years, but now.

He blamed Germany's problems on scapegoats — like Jews and Communists…fears that the Communist Revolution in Russia would spread to Germany. People were singing "Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles…" — "Germany, Germany above all, above all the world"…and they trusted Hitler to take them there.

In 1932 the Nazi party won only about a third of the seats in parliament. But Hitler managed to take power. He put together a ruling coalition — partnering with conventional conservative politicians who figured they could control him. After struggling to find an alternative, German President von Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Hitler Chancellor in January 1933. It was the only way he could form a government with a parliamentary majority. Suddenly Adolf Hitler was heading a new German government.

Then, just a few weeks into Hitler's rule, under mysterious circumstances, there was a fire in Germany's parliament building, or "Reichstag."

A disaster like this (which many historians believe was actually the work of Hitler's people), is an answer to an aspiring dictator's prayer. With this "national security emergency," Hitler now had his excuse to crush the Communists, silence moderates, and create laws giving him sweeping new powers. Suddenly, in Germany, there was no middle ground: You were either with Hitler…or against him. Hitler followed a playbook that has inspired autocrats — left and right — ever since.

Hitler proceeded to consolidate his power in the most ruthless ways. He locked up the few courageous politicians who voted against him and established his total control of the German government.

This poignant memorial remembers those who resisted Hitler's power grab. The German equivalent of congressmen and senators, they were silenced. You can see the dates they were arrested, sent to concentration camps, and executed.

Holger: I think the rise of Hitler was done with a mix of two things. One is fascination, and the other is terror. So basically, give people something that they can believe in, by false promises; the other thing was, that whoever does not fit in will get beaten up, or put in prison, or killed.

Andreas: A lot of the Third Reich was actually based on violence, or at least the implied threat of violence.

Georg: There was a private army Hitler had. He had terror on the streets. He had a big protection of his political movement…

Andreas: And of course, people knew about concentration camps in Germany — for political enemies — and they were supposed to know, so they would keep their mouths shut.

Hitler had hijacked Germany's democracy. He was given extraordinary powers to temporarily suspend democratic procedures in order to get things done. A dictator now in charge of a mighty industrial nation, Hitler and his team began to lay out his plan for Germany and the world.