To deepen your understanding of the ideas in this lesson, read Chapters 3 and 4 of Holocaust and Human Behavior.
The purpose of Lessons 6 and 7 is to help students understand the conditions in the Weimar Republic that resulted in Germany’s transition from a democracy to a dictatorship. Part of understanding this history, or any history, is not simply to memorize dates, events, and people, but to understand the reasons why and how things occurred in the past. By establishing a context for Weimar Germany and helping students understand the main beliefs of the Nazi Party, this lesson provides the background information students need to answer the question: In 13 years, how did the Nazi Party go from being an
unknown political party to the most powerful political party in Germany? [Note: Students are not expected to have an answer to this question until after Lesson 7.]
At its core, this lesson is about membership. Reading the Nazi Party platform provides important information about how the Nazis defined German citizenship, and these ideas are fundamental to understanding the laws Hitler put in place once he came to power in 1933. This lesson helps students continue to develop their awareness of how rules of membership—norms that establish who is included and who is excluded—have implications for an entire community. This issue is not only relevant to understanding Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, but also relates to how communities and nations today welcome or reject immigrants and establish citizenship policies. Students will be able to tap into their experience as adolescents, many of whom are preoccupied with issues of belonging, as they try to make sense of this history. In this way, this lesson helps students see how their own experience can help them understand the past, and vice versa.
The purpose of this lesson is to help students:
Reflect on these guiding questions:
What are the main ideas in the Nazi Party platform?
According to the Nazi Party platform, who is included in German society? Who is excluded?
What might be the consequences for the people who are not included in how a group, or nation, defines itself?
Practice these interdisciplinary skills:
Analyzing primary documents
Deepening understanding of historical documents by making text-to-text, text-to- self, and text-to-world connections
Deepen understanding of these key terms:
(See the main glassary in the unit's "Introduction" for definitions of these key terms.)
In this lesson, students analyze the Nazi Party platform, written in 1920. To understand this document requires going backwards in time a few years to World War I. Because of inaccurate or incomplete record keeping, it is impossible to know the exact number of military and civilian casualties of World War I. Researchers have estimated that at least 40 million women, children, and men were killed or wounded as a result of the Great War.1 Considering the indirect impact of the war in terms of disease, malnutrition, and mental illness, the actual number of people who suffered as a result of the First World War was likely significantly higher than this estimate. Moreover, World War I devastated Europe, not only in terms of loss of lives, but also in terms of damage to basic infrastructure (i.e., factories, roads, bridges, hospitals, homes, etc.). While the fighting ceased in 1918, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 marked the official end to this war and firmly established Germany’s defeat to the victorious Allied powers (primarily Britain, France, Russia, and later others including the United States).
The harsh penalties for Germany authorized by the Treaty of Versailles following World War I came as quite a shock to most Germans. The German people knew nothing about Germany’s surrender until November 9—the day the Kaiser, the monarch ruling Germany, fled to the Netherlands and the Social Democrats declared Germany a republic. That same day, the nation’s new leaders learned that the Allies expected Germany to give up its armaments, including its navy, and evacuate all troops west of the Rhine River. If the Germans did not accept those terms within 72 hours, the Allies threatened to invade the nation. Germany’s new leaders turned to the military for advice. Paul von Hindenburg, the commander of the German Armed Forces, and other military leaders convinced civilians that they had to accept the truce. German soldiers could not hold out much longer. Early on the morning of November 11, 1918, three representatives of the new republic traveled to France to sign an armistice agreement. They made the trip alone; the generals chose not to attend the ceremony.
As soon as the agreement was signed, people in many countries rejoiced, but there were no celebrations in Germany, where people were in shock. How could they possibly have lost the war? Many agreed with General Hindenburg who, although he had earlier urged surrender, now claimed that Germany had been “stabbed in the back” by traitors at home. Within just 48 hours, Germany was turned upside down. The stunned nation lost its monarch, its empire, and the war itself. To make matters worse, there was now fighting in the streets of many German cities, as the communists tried to bring about a revolution. Berlin was so unsettled that the nation’s new leaders met in the city of Weimar— hence the new German democracy was known as the Weimar Republic.
The Weimar Republic established the first democracy in Germany’s history, with a constitution, elections, a parliament, and separation of powers. In 1920, 459 elected representatives served in Germany’s parliament, called the Reichstag. At this time, the Nazi Party did not garner enough support to send even one representative to the Reichstag. By 1933, the Nazi Party earned enough votes to seat 288 of its members in the Reichstag, occupying 45% of the seats, enough to give the Nazis power to place Adolf Hitler in the position of Chancellor, the leader of the Reichstag and second only to the President in political power.
When studying this history, one of the most important questions to answer is, “How were Hitler and the Nazis able to use the instruments of democracy to create a dictatorship?” Students will address this question in Lesson 7. But, first, in order to understand why so many Germans were attracted to the Nazi Party, students need to understand the core beliefs of the Nazis. The Nazis succinctly articulated their beliefs in the party platform they wrote in 1920. A close reading of this document reveals how various groups within Germany might be impacted if the Nazis came to power. This text indicates that a cornerstone of Nazi ideology was a belief in race science and the superiority of the Aryan race (or “German blood”). Nazis used this belief to determine who should be a citizen in Nazi Germany and who should be excluded from citizenship. How might those with “German blood”—those who are granted legal membership into German society—be affected by laws based on Nazi beliefs? This document reveals the Nazi belief that certain rights and privileges (the right to vote, run for office, and own a newspaper) should be bestowed only on citizens; according to the platform, German citizens would be guaranteed jobs, food, and land on which to live.
What might be the implications of the beliefs espoused in the Nazi Party platform for those without “German blood”—for those who fall outside of what Holocaust scholar Helen Fein calls a nation’s “universe of obligation.” Helen Fein refers to a nation’s universe of obligation as the circle of individuals and groups “toward whom obligations are owed, to whom rules apply, and whose injuries call for [amends].”2 The Nazi Party platform provided considerable information about who the Nazis would include in their universe of obligation, and who would be excluded. The fourth point in the platform singles out Jews as a group that must be stripped of citizenship. (Note: Jews had been living in Germany for a thousand years, and since 1870, Jews had been living in Germany as citizens with the same rights afforded to non-Jewish Germans.) Point number five states that non-citizens must follow special rules, yet, having lost the right to vote, they would have no say over these rules. The ideology underlying the Nazi Party platform suggests that groups stripped of citizenship are vulnerable to the whims of those in power. President Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked on the relationship between the treatment of minorities and democracy when he argued, “No democracy can long survive which does not accept as fundamental to its very existence the recognition of the rights of minorities.”3 History demonstrates that human rights abuses can flourish when people are denied protection from the government of the land in which they reside.
Related readings in Holocaust and Human Behavior:
Optional: With this lesson, students begin the historical case study by exploring the fragility of democracy in Weimar Germany. To understand the choices individuals and groups made that resulted in the Nazis’ rise to power, students will draw from the core concepts they explored in section one (i.e., identity, belonging, conformity, stereotypes and labels, ostracism, etc.). To reinforce students’ understanding of these concepts and to prepare them to apply these themes to the new material, give students time to review what they have learned thus far in this unit. You might give students a few moments to review the journal entries they have written and then ask each student to present one “take away” or “key learning point.” This list of main ideas can be recorded on a large piece of paper that can hang in the room as a reminder of prior learning.
Inform students that over the next several weeks, they will explore how these key ideas played out during a critical time in world history when the choices of people resulted in a democratic government turning into a dictatorship. These are big concepts that may be unfamiliar to students at this time. So, you might begin this lesson by having students brainstorm the ingredients that make up our democratic government. Prompts you might use to structure students’ thinking include: What are the main parts of our government? When you think of U.S. democracy, what words come to mind? If you were taking a test on U.S. government, what items might be included?
Students may suggest words such as elections, separation of powers, Congress, courts, laws, Constitution, freedom of speech, president, and political parties (i.e., Democrats and Republicans). You can present key ideas students do not include. With this list on the board, you can transition to the study of Weimar Germany—a time when all of these ingredients were in place. This is also an appropriate time to have students locate Germany on a map.
Part I: Establishing historical context for the Nazi Party platform
Before introducing the Nazi Party platform, give students some context for this document. Below are some talking points highlighting the ideas about Germany students should understand before analyzing the Nazi Party platform. (As you explain this history, you may wish to draw parallels to U.S. government. For example, when explaining how the Nazis were a political party, you can make a connection to political parties in the United States.)
Background information about the founding of the Weimar Republic
In 1918, at the end of World War I, the German monarch (king) fled the country, opening the way for Germans to replace a monarchy with a different form of govern- ment. Many Germans (but not all) wanted the people to have a voice in government and adopted a new constitution to set up a democratic system with elections, representatives, and civil rights. Because this constitution was adopted in a town called Weimar, the first democratic government in Germany is often referred to as the “Weimar Republic.”
The Nazi Party platform was written in 1920 when Germany was a young democracy. The Nazis were a German political party. While the U.S. has relatively few powerful political parties, in 1920 Germany had many political parties and at least seven of those had enough seats to be a powerful force in the Reichstag, the German parliament. In 1920, the Nazi Party was very weak. In fact, it did not get enough votes to have any representation in the Reichstag. Thirteen years later, in 1933, the Nazis received a majority of votes and had more seats in parliament than any other party. In other words, they were the most powerful political party in Germany. When the Nazi Party had the majority, it gave its leader, Adolf Hitler, control of the government. By the middle of 1933, Hitler and the Nazis passed new rules that made all other political parties illegal and gave Hitler complete control of the government. In 13 years Germany went from being a democracy to a dictatorship.
The purpose of the next few lessons is to help students answer this key question: In 13 years, how did the Nazi Party go from being a little-known political party to the most powerful political party in Germany? Write this question on the board as a reminder to students of what they will be responsible for answering in a few days. Before students can answer this question, they need to understand what the Nazis stood for. To learn about the main ideas of the Nazis, they will study the Nazi Party platform. Explain that political parties write documents called “platforms” to articulate the core beliefs the party stands for. [You might ask students to consider what might happen if political parties did not write platforms. How would people know the difference between parties? How would the members of a party know if they agree with their parties’ beliefs? How would people know which party to join or vote for?]
Part II: Interpreting the Nazi Party platform
Now students have sufficient context to begin exploring the Nazi Party platform (Handout 1). There are many ways you could structure this task. You could have students answer the true/false statements on Handout 2, “What did the Nazis believe?” To adapt this handout for students of different levels, you can write the appropriate statement number from the Nazi Party platform next to the relevant statement on the true/false sheet. This makes it easier for students to know where to find the statement that will help them answer true or false. To make students’ task more challenging, you can ask them to rewrite all false statements to make them true.
You could also structure students’ analysis of the Nazi Party platform as a press confer- ence. Divide students into groups and assign several platform statements to each group. Each group will be responsible for answering questions about these statements at a press conference. When staging the press conference, students should not assume the role of Nazis. It is unwise to put students in the same shoes as perpetrators of major crimes against humanity and to provide them with an opportunity to characterize, or even satirize, a group who inflicted serious harm on millions of people. Students could answer questions as historians, reporters, or experts.
You can write the questions for the press conference, or you can ask students to come up with questions. Press conference questions might include the following:
How do Nazis define a German citizen? Who do they believe should enjoy the rights of German citizenship?
Which groups of people might be stripped of their citizenship if Nazis were in control?
How will Nazis help Germans put food on the table for their families?
What do Nazis believe about the Versailles Treaty?
What ideas in this platform might be most appealing to German citizens? Why?
What ideas in this platform might offend some German citizens? Why?
As you debrief students’ analysis of the Nazi Party platform, the most important idea for students to come away with is how the Nazis defined German citizenship: they believed only those people who could prove that they belonged to the Aryan race (had “German blood”) should enjoy the rights of citizens. One way to reinforce students’ understanding of this concept is to have them draw a circle in their journals (or you could use Handout 3). Inside the circle, ask students to describe the groups that the Nazis believed should be included in the definition of German citizen. Outside of the circle, ask students to describe the groups that the Nazis believed should be excluded form German citizenship, such as Jews, those without “German blood,” and foreigners. It is a good idea to post this circle chart on the wall because you will be able to come back to it throughout the unit as students confront more information about groups that the Nazis excluded from German citizenship.
The concept of membership—who is included and who is excluded—is a central theme of the Nazi Party platform. As students look at who is inside and outside of the circle representing the Nazi’s vision of Germany (see Handout 3), ask them to think about what this might mean to those outside of the circle and inside of the circle. How might being included in the circle of citizenship impact someone’s life? How might being excluded from the circle of citizenship impact someone’s life? Students can respond to these questions in their journals. Encourage them to connect their prior knowledge and experience, including their work in Lesson 2 with the ostracism case study, to the history they are studying. What were the implications for Sue when she was excluded from her group of friends? What have been the implications for students you know when they have been included or excluded from groups? How do you imagine it might feel to be Rhonda or Jill, the girls who led others to ostracize Sue? What are the costs and benefits to those who have the power to exclude others from membership?
Another way to help students connect the ideas in the Nazi Party platform to issues in their own lives (as well as to reinforce students’ understanding of the Nazi Party platform), is to use a literacy strategy called Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World. This can be assigned for homework or these prompts can be used as the basis for a class discussion.
In this lesson, students begin to explore the history of the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Many teachers have found it useful to provide students with the opportunity to build a timeline of this period. As students learn new material, they can add it to their timelines. Teachers have had students record their timelines in their journals or on special sheets of large paper. These timelines can be used as a formative and summative assessment tool, allowing you to track students’ historical understanding throughout the unit and at the end of the unit. Timeline building can also be structured as a small group or a whole class activity. Many Facing History classes maintain a timeline on the wall. Timelines might include short captions of key events, dates, images, important quotations, and key questions.
By the end of this lesson, students should understand that the Nazis wanted to restrict citizenship to those who could prove they had “German blood.” They could demonstrate this understanding through their responses on handout 2 or through how they label their circle chart. Students should also begin to understand how practices of inclusion and exclusion have consequences for the entire community. This might be revealed through students’ journal entries and/or a class discussion. For example, those who were included in the Nazis’ definition of citizenship would have access to better jobs and have the opportunity to influence political decisions by voting or running for office. Those who were excluded from the Nazis’ definition of citizenship could be exiled from the country, have their job taken away, or be subject to laws agreed on by people who might not represent their views (seeing that non-citizens can’t vote).