War and Conflict

The Era Between the World Wars

What was Nazism?

Short for national socialism, “Nazi” was a derisive abbreviation that held. The Nazi doctrine rests on three philosophies: extreme nationalism, anti-Semitism, and anticommunism. As one of the Central Powers, Germany’s defeat in World War I (1914–18) resulted in severe punishment of that country and its seriously diminished role in Europe. The doctrines of Nazism took hold there, appealing to the masses with promises of a rebuilt Germany.

The “bible” of Nazism was Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (My Struggle; 1923), which asserted the superiority of a pure Aryan race (Aryans are non-Jewish Caucasians, particularly those of northern European descent), led by an infallible ruler (called “the führer”); the reestablishment of a German empire (the Third Reich); and the systematic annihilation of people who Nazis perceived to be Germany’s worst enemies: Jews and Communists. Nazis ruled Germany from 1933, when Hitler rose to power as head of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. In their own country, they enforced their policies through a secret police (the Gestapo), storm troops (called the SS), and Hitler’s bodyguard (called the SA). Elsewhere in Europe, the Nazis used sheer force in imposing their system. Their aggression and ruthlessness resulted in World War II (1939–45). During the Holocaust (1933–45), Nazi soldiers, led by “Hitler’s henchmen,” persecuted and exterminated upwards of 12 million people, at least half of whom were European Jews. Nazism ended in 1945, when Hitler killed himself and Germany lost the war. The doctrine, which demonstrated how detrimentally powerful a theory can be, was outlawed thereafter. Sadly, the late twentieth century saw a resurgence of “neo-Nazism” among extremists in Germany and the United States.


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