Conformity and Consent: 1930s Germany| Facing History & Ourselves
A crowd salutes Nazi Leader Adolf Hitler outside the Reich Chancellery in Berlin after a plebiscite, which gave Hitler absolute power as German Fuhrer. August 19, 1934.

Conformity and Consent in the National Community

Investigate factors that influenced Germans in the 1930s to conform, if not consent, to the Nazi vision for society, and learn about the consequences for those excluded from that vision.


At a Glance

chapter copy


English — US


  • History


  • The Holocaust


About this Chapter

By 1934, Hitler considered the National Socialist revolution in Germany complete.  In control of the nation, the Nazis turned their attention to creating a racially pure “national community” in which Nazism was not revolutionary but normal.  This chapter focuses on the methods the Nazis used to get individuals to conform, if not consent, to their vision for German society. It also focuses on the consequences faced by those who did not fit into the “national community” the Nazis envisioned. 

  • In what ways did the Nazis use laws to create “in” groups and “out” groups in German society? How did they also appeal to people’s hearts and minds?
  • What were some of the reasons that the Nazis’ idea of a “national community” appealed to many Germans? Why did it appeal to particular groups, like young people? 
  • What did it mean to be an outsider or even a dissenter in an otherwise “racially pure and harmonious national community”? What did it mean to be an insider?

This chapter is from the Conformity and Consent in the National Community section of Holocaust and Human Behavior and includes:

  • 19 readings 
  • 1 visual essay
  • Connection Questions

By 1934, Germany was firmly under Nazi control. After President von Hindenberg’s death in August of that year, Adolf Hitler declared himself not only the nation’s chancellor but also its Führer. The revolution was over, he told his closest associates. It was now time to consolidate power and normalize life in the “new Germany” they had created. The Nazis were determined to create a Volksgemeinschaft—a “national community” or, literally, a “people’s community.”

The term had become popular during World War I as a way of rallying support for the conflict. At that time, it simply meant that all Germans, regardless of class, religious, and social differences, would work together to achieve a national purpose—winning the war. But the Nazis interpreted its meaning differently. They used the word to advance the idea of a racially pure and harmonious national community united in its devotion to the German people, their nation, and their leader. In the words of a popular Nazi slogan, the goal was “Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Führer!” (“One People! One Empire! One Leader!”)

As the slogan suggests, the Nazis viewed National Socialism as more than a set of political ideas. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, called it a “total and all-encompassing general perspective on all public matters.” It was an ideology—a system of closely related ideals and beliefs. Goebbels said of Nazi ideology: 

We hope that the day will come when nobody needs to talk about National Socialism any more, since it has become the air that we breathe! . . . People must get used inwardly to this way of behaving; they must make it into their own set of attitudes. 1  

Hitler described the foundation for the national community in his book Mein Kampf

If one were to divide mankind into three species: the culture-creators, the culture-bearers, and the culture-destroyers, the Aryan would fit the first definition. It is to him that we must trace the foundations and the walls of all that human beings have created.
. . . The most powerful [opposite] to the Aryan is the Jew . . . The Jew possesses no culture-creating ability whatever, since he does not, and never did have that quality without which man cannot truly develop toward a higher order: idealism. Therefore, his intellect will never act as a constructive force. . . . He is and remains the typical parasite, a sponger who, like a malign bacillus, spreads more and more as long as he will find some favorable feeding ground. 2

While the Nazis were clear about their ultimate goal of creating a “racially pure” state, they were also conscious of public opinion. They worked to cultivate consensus in German society even as they suppressed dissent. They established organizations for workers, women, young people, and other groups to build a feeling of connection to the Nazi government. They produced all kinds of propaganda designed to create allegiance to Nazi ideas. In an effort to avoid the appearance of lawlessness to order-minded Germans, they wrote most of their policies into new laws. They encouraged Germans to police their own behavior, and that of their neighbors, in accordance with those laws. And through their policies and propaganda, they set out to prepare Germans for war to acquire the “living space” that the “Aryan” race needed in order to grow and expand. Chapter 6 examines the Nazis’ efforts to create a Volksgemeinschaft and the important questions those efforts raise about obedience and conformity, persuasion and dissent.

  • 1Quoted in Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power (New York: Penguin, 2005), 221.
  • 2Quoted in Joachim Remak, ed., The Nazi Years: A Documentary History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1969), 34.

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Inside this Chapter

Analysis & Reflection

Enhance your students’ understanding of our readings on Nazi Germany society with these follow-up questions and prompts.

  1. How did the Nazis attempt to build a “racially pure and harmonious national community”? What were the roles of law, propaganda, the media, arts, education, and family? How do the readings in this chapter illustrate the power and the limits of each of these influences?
  2. What difficult choices were young people faced with—at home, in school, and in their communities—during this period? How did these choices challenge the way these young people saw themselves and understood their identities?
  3. What kinds of resistance to the Nazi government between 1933 and 1938 are described in this chapter? Which of these examples seemed most successful?
  4. How do the readings in this chapter help you understand what the Nazis meant by a Volksgemeinschaft, or “national community”? How do these readings help you understand what it was like to live in such a state?
  5. How did Germany’s universe of obligation change from 1933 to 1938? What factors were most important in bringing about this change?

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