The Rise of the Nazi Party | Facing History & Ourselves
 The Parade of the Political Administrators in Nuremberg, Germany.

The Rise of the Nazi Party

Students examine how choices made by individuals and groups contributed to the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1920s and 1930s.


At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • Civics & Citizenship
  • History
  • Social Studies




One 50-min class period
  • The Holocaust
  • Human & Civil Rights


About This Lesson

In a previous lesson, students explored the politics, culture, economics, and social trends in Germany during the years of the Weimar Republic (1919 to 1933), and they analyzed the strength of democracy in Germany during those years. In this lesson, students will continue the unit’s historical case study by reexamining politics in the Weimar Republic and tracing the development of the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party throughout the 1920s and early 1930s.

Students will review events that they learned about in the previous lesson and see how the popularity of the Nazis changed during times of stability and times of crisis. They will also analyze the Nazi Party platform and, in an extension about the 1932 election, compare it to the platforms of the Social Democratic and Communist Parties. By tracing the progression of the Nazis from an unpopular fringe group to the most powerful political party in Germany, students will extend and deepen their thinking from the previous lesson about the choices that individuals can make to strengthen democracy and those that can weaken it.

This lesson includes multiple, rich extension activities if you would like to devote two days to a closer examination of the rise of the Nazi Party.

How can learning about the choices people made during past episodes of injustice, mass violence, or genocide help guide our choices today?

How did the Nazi Party, a small and unpopular political group in 1920, become the most powerful political party in Germany by 1933?

  • Through class discussion and a written response, students will examine how choices made by individuals and groups contributed to the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1920s and 1930s.
  • Students will label the 1920 Nazi Party platform and use it to draw conclusions about the party’s universe of obligation and core values.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-minute class period and includes:

  • 5 activities
  • 2 teaching strategies
  • 2 readings, available in English and Spanish 
  • 2 handouts, available in English and Spanish 
  • 1 video, available in English and Spanish subtitles
  • 1 assessment 
  • 3 extensions

Adolf Hitler, an Austrian-born corporal in the German army during World War I, capitalized on the anger and resentment felt by many Germans after the war as he entered politics in 1919, joined the small German Workers’ Party, and quickly became the party’s leader. By February 1920, Hitler had given it a new name: the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), or Nazi, for short.

Originally drafted in 1920, the Nazi Party platform (see the reading National Socialist German Workers’ Party Platform) reflects a cornerstone of Nazi ideology: the belief in race science and the superiority of the so-called Aryan race (or “German blood”). For the Nazis, so-called “German blood” determined whether one was considered a citizen. The Nazis believed that citizenship should not only bestow on a person certain rights (such as voting, running for office, or owning a newspaper); it also came with the guarantee of a job, food, and land on which to live. Those without “German blood” were not citizens and therefore should be deprived of these rights and benefits.

Fueled by post-war unrest and Hitler’s charismatic leadership, thousands joined the Nazis in the early 1920s. In an effort to capitalize on the chaos caused by runaway hyperinflation, Hitler attempted to stage a coup (known as the Beer Hall Putsch) in Munich to overthrow the government of the German state of Bavaria on November 23, 1923. The attempt failed and resulted in several deaths. Hitler and several of his followers were arrested, but rather than diminish his popularity, Hitler’s subsequent trial for treason and imprisonment made him a national figure.

At the trial, a judge sympathetic to the Nazis’ nationalist message allowed Hitler and his followers to show open contempt for the Weimar Republic, which they referred to as a “Jew government.” Hitler and his followers were found guilty. Although they should have been deported because they were not German citizens (they were Austrian citizens), the judge dispensed with the law and gave them the minimum sentence—five years in prison. Hitler only served nine months, and the rest of his term was suspended.

During his time in prison, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle). In the book, published in 1925, he maintained that conflict between the races was the catalyst of history. Because he believed that the “Aryan” race was superior to all others, he insisted that “Aryan” Germany had the right to incorporate all of eastern Europe into a new empire that would provide much-needed Lebensraum, or living space, for it. That new empire would also represent a victory over the Communists, who controlled much of the territory Hitler sought. Hitler, like many conservative Germans, regarded both Communists and Jews as enemies of the German people. He linked the Communists to the Jews, using the phrase “Jewish Bolshevism” and claiming that the Jews were behind the teachings of the Communist Party. (The Bolsheviks were the communist group that gained power in Russia in 1917 and established the Soviet Union.) The Jews, according to Hitler, were everywhere, controlled everything, and acted so secretly and deviously that few could detect their influence.

By 1925, Hitler was out of prison and once again in control of the Nazi Party. The attempted coup had taught him an important lesson. Never again would he attempt an armed uprising. Instead, the Nazis would use the rights guaranteed by the Weimar Constitution—freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and freedom of speech—to win control of Germany.

However, in 1924 the German economy had begun to improve. By 1928, the country had recovered from the war and business was booming. As a result, fewer Germans seemed interested in the hatred that Hitler and his Nazi Party promoted. The same was true for other extreme nationalist groups. In the 1928 elections, the Nazis received only about 2% of the vote.

Then, in 1929, the stock market crashed and the worldwide Great Depression began. Leaders around the world could not stop the economic collapse. To an increasing number of Germans, democracy appeared unable to rescue the economy, and only the most extreme political parties seemed to offer clear solutions to the crisis.

The Communist Party in Germany argued that to end the depression, Germany needed a government like the Soviet Union’s: the government should take over all German land and industry from capitalists, who were only interested in profits for themselves. Communists promised to distribute German wealth according to the common good. The Nazis blamed the Jews, Communists, liberals, and pacifists for the German economic crisis. They promised to restore Germany’s standing in the world and Germans’ pride in their nation as well as end the depression, campaigning with slogans such as “Work, Freedom, and Bread!”

Many saw the Nazis as an attractive alternative to democracy and communism. Among them were wealthy industrialists who were alarmed by the growth of the Communist Party and did not want to be forced to give up what they owned. Both the Communists and the Nazis made significant gains in the Reichstag (German parliament) elections in 1930.

In 1932, Hitler became a German citizen so that he could run for president in that year’s spring election. His opponents were Ernst Thälmann, the Communist candidate, and Paul von Hindenburg, the independent, conservative incumbent. In the election, 84% of all eligible voters cast ballots, and the people re-elected President Hindenburg. Hitler finished second. But in elections for the Reichstag held four months later, the Nazis’ popularity increased further. They won 37% of the seats in the legislature, more than any other party, and 75 seats more than their closest competitor, the Social Democrats.

President Hindenburg and his chancellors could not lift Germany out of the depression. Their popular support began to shrink. In January 1933, Hindenburg and his advisors decided to make a deal with Hitler. He had the popularity they lacked, and they had the power he needed. Hindenburg’s advisors believed that the responsibility of being in power would make Hitler moderate his views. They convinced themselves that they were wise enough and powerful enough to “control” Hitler. They were also certain that he, too, would fail to end the depression. When he failed, they would step in to save the nation. But they were tragically mistaken.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to the lessons’ contexts and needs for the students.

As in the past two lessons about the Weimar Republic, it is important that students can identify those junctures or moments in the history of the Nazi Party’s rise where individuals and groups made choices “for the good” that had horrific consequences. This helps to show that history isn’t inevitable and that history is made through our individual and collective choices on.

Nazi racial ideology—including their belief that history is propelled by clashes between races and that supposedly superior races such as the mythical “Aryans” would ultimately dominate the so-called inferior races such as Jews and Slavs—was rooted in pseudoscientific ideas about race and Social Darwinism that emerged in the nineteenth century. If your class has not been introduced to the history of “race science” and Social Darwinism, consider sharing with them the reading Breeding Society’s "Fittest" and leading a class discussion based on the connection questions that follow.  For a deeper exploration of the social construction of race, consider showing clips from the documentary Race: the Power of Illusion or teaching the lesson The Concept of Race.

The reading National Socialist German Workers’ Party Platform contains a number of vocabulary terms that students may find unfamiliar. You might need to pre-teach or be prepared to explain the following terms: national self-determination, revocation, surplus, and alien (in the context of a foreigner).

In addition to the terms above in the Nazi Party platform, the following are key vocabulary terms used in this lesson:

  • Platform
  • Political party
  • Coup

Add these words to your Word Wall, if you are using one for this unit, and provide necessary support to help students learn these words as you teach the lesson.

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Lesson Plan


  • As students transition from learning about various aspects of German society during the years of the Weimar Republic to tracing the rise of the Nazi Party during those same years, it can be helpful to pause for a moment to reflect on how the values of a society are shaped. Ask students to spend a few minutes responding in their journals to the following prompt:
    Who or what shapes the values of a society? What roles do political and business leaders, the media, artists, and education play? What roles do individual citizens play?
  • After students have had a few minutes to write, let them share their thinking in a brief discussion. 
  • Explain to students that they are now going to learn about the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, and throughout this unit they will observe how the Nazis shaped the values of German society.  
  • The video Hitler’s Rise to Power, 1918–1933 (09:30) provides an overview of the beginning of the Nazi Party in the early years of the Weimar Republic and the party’s growth in relation and reaction to key events in Germany in the 1920s. Explain to students that as they watch this video, they will recognize events that they learned about in the previous two class periods about the Weimar Republic, but now they will focus on how those events affected the growth of the Nazi Party in Germany.
  • Before beginning the video, write the full name of the Nazi Party, in both English and German, on the board:
    • The National Socialist German Workers’ Party
    • Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei  
  • Students can then see how “Nazi” is an abbreviation of the first word of the party’s name in German. Tell students that they may see and hear a variety of related names for the Nazis in resources throughout this unit, including National Socialists and the initials NSDAP.  
  • Pass out the handout Hitler’s Rise to Power, 1918–1933 Viewing Guide and instruct students to respond to the questions with information from the video as they watch. To help students prepare to answer, have them read the questions before watching.
  • Show the video Hitler’s Rise to Power, 1918–1933 to the class. You might choose to pause the video so students can add to their notes or, if time permits, consider showing the video twice in a row.
  • Debrief the video by reviewing the questions on the viewing guide and discussing the information students recorded, helping them fill in important ideas they may have missed. You might have students debrief in groups of three or four, or you might go over the viewing guide as a whole group.
  • As you discuss the video with students, emphasize the choices that individuals, other than Hitler, made during this time period that contributed to the Nazis’ rise to popularity and power. You might ask students to underline on the viewing guide evidence of where individuals and groups made such choices and record a list of these key moments on the board.
  • Pass out the reading National Socialist German Workers’ Party Platform.
  • Explain that a political platform is an official statement by a party of its beliefs and positions on important issues. Read aloud with students the platform of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party from the handout.  
  • To help students comprehend the Nazi Party’s platform, ask them to label each bullet point with a word or phrase that captures the promise of each provision. For example, students might write “citizenship” or “education” or “insurance” or “jobs.” When you have finished the reading, you might ask students to share what they notice about their lists.
    • Do any categories appear multiple times or seem to get more or less attention?
    • What might the list of provisions suggest about the message the Nazis wanted to convey to German voters?
  • Pass out the handout What Did the Nazis Believe? and instruct students to answer the true/false statements using evidence from the Nazi platform. It is important for students, as they progress through this unit, to have a firm basic understanding of the Nazis’ core beliefs, and this activity will allow students to examine the Nazi platform more closely. You might ask students to underline where in the platform they found evidence to support each of their true/false choices.
  • Use the Think, Pair, Share strategy to have students share and discuss their responses to the handout What Did the Nazis Believe? As students share their answers, make sure that they also cite the part of the platform that helped them determine each answer.
  • Finally, ask students to use the evidence they have so far to illustrate what the Nazis believe should be Germany’s universe of obligation. They can draw concentric circles (similar to the handout they used in Lesson 4) in their journals to help illustrate the Nazi universe of obligation visually.
  • It is important for students to end the lesson with the understanding that, while Hitler was never elected president (and the Nazis never won a majority of the Reichstag seats), he was appointed chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg as a result of the popularity of the Nazi Party and other political circumstances. If necessary, review the branches of government in the Weimar Republic in order to help students understand the relationship between the president and chancellor.
  • The reading Hitler in Power explains how Hitler’s appointment came about. You might either read aloud this handout with the class or use it to create a mini-lecture if you don’t have time for students to complete the reading in class.
  • After discussing Hitler’s appointment, return to the handout The Bubbling Cauldron from Lesson 9. Students completed the graphic organizer on this handout before learning about the rise of the Nazi Party during the years of the Weimar Republic. Now that they have learned about the Nazis’ rise, ask them to revisit their work. What would they add now? Is there anything they would erase or change?  
  • Give students a few minutes to complete the handout, and then lead a class discussion about how what students learned in this lesson has affected their understanding of the Weimar Republic. 


  • Assign students to write a short reflection in response to the following prompt: 
    What did the Nazis think were the most important problems facing Germany? What solutions did they propose? Why do you think so many Germans supported the Nazi Party by the 1930s?  
  • Re-examine students’ Bubbling Cauldron handouts after they have added new ideas from this lesson. Look for evidence that students recognize the Nazis as one of many influences that shaped German society during the years of the Weimar Republic.

Extension Activities 

If you can devote an additional day to the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, consider teaching the lesson Choices in Weimar Republic Elections. This lesson provides students with the opportunity to explore the issues at play in the 1932 Reichstag election from the viewpoints of German citizens with different perspectives and values. The lesson helps students understand the complexity of the choices citizens make at the voting booth and leads to additional insight into the appeal of not only the Nazi Party but also the Social Democratic and Communist Parties in Germany at the time.  

To deepen their understanding of the challenges democracy faced during the Weimar years, show students the image 1932 Reichstag Election Ballot, and then lead a discussion with the following questions:

  • How many parties were on the ballot in 1932? How many parties are typically represented in the legislature of your country?
  • What might be the benefit of having so many political parties competing in an election? What might be the drawbacks?
  • In a democracy, is it important for election winners to receive a majority of the vote? Why or why not?  

The handout 1932 Election Results provides two tables of data showing the results of the 1932 elections for both president and the Reichstag. Share these two tables with students and lead a discussion about the results that focuses on the following questions:

  • Which political parties in Germany gained and lost seats between 1928 and 1932? Why did some parties and candidates become more appealing as the depression took hold in 1929?
  • If all Germans lived through the same economic, political, and cultural events, why didn’t all Germans vote the same way?
  • Is it significant that Hitler lost the presidential election and that the Nazis never held a majority of the seats in the Reichstag? How could other parties have worked together to keep the Nazis from controlling the government?

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