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Nazi Germany chronology

Learn all about the significant dates and events that shaped the Nazi Germany era, from the end of World War 1 all the way to World War 2 with our timeline.

1918-1922: The background

Germany’s defeat at the hands of the Entente powers in World War One came as a shock to the German people; few realised how damaging the allied offensive of autumn 1918 had been and there was anger at a defeat which had cost the lives of 1.7million Germans. As the Weimar Republic tried to establish democratic control, military leaders blamed defeat on left-wing politicians, particularly communists and Jews, who they claimed had ‘stabbed Germany in the back’ and destroyed German national pride by accepting a peace treaty that included harsh reparations and demilitarisation. Many new political parties emerged to represent these feelings, including the DAP (German Workers’ Party) which promoted nationalism, militarism, and a commitment to the racial purity of the ‘Volk’ (German nation). At the point at which Adolf Hitler became its leader, the (now renamed) Nazi party had just 3,000 members.

Key dates include:

9th November 1918 – Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and the Weimar Republic is formed

11th November 1918 – The armistice is signed on the Western Front, ending WW1

28th June 1919 – The Treaty of Versailles is signed

September 1919 – Hitler joins the DAP

24th February 1920 – The DAP becomes the NSDP (National Socialist German Workers Party), known as the Nazis

29th June 1919 – Hitler becomes leader (or Fuhrer) of the NSDP

4th November 1921 – The Nazi militia, the SA (Sturm Abteilung), is formed

1923-1930: Early development

Hitler used his trial for treason following the Munich Putsch (a failed attempt to seize control from local Bavarian government officials) to criticise the Weimar Government and won a reduced sentence from the sympathetic judges. He served just ten months of his five year sentence, penning ‘Mein Kampf’ to set out his opposition to Jews and Bolsheviks and his belief in Social Darwinism, which focused on the idea that the strong should triumph over the weak. After his release, Hitler centralised the Nazi Party into a highly organised structure, with auxiliary units for different members that were united by their loyalty to Hitler through the ‘Fuhrerprinzip’ (leader principle). Yet, the Nazis remained on the fringes of politics until the Wall Street Crash severed the US loans and foreign trade that Germany relied on. The economic misery that followed caused the government to collapse and President Hindenburg to begin ruling by emergency decree, triggering further elections and a surge in support for the Nazis, who had 178,000 members by 1930.

Key dates include:

8th November 1923 – The Munich (Beer Hall) Putsch

February 1924 – Hitler is sent to prison for treason

April 1925 – The Schutzstaffel (or SS, Blackshirts) are formed as Hitler’s bodyguards

July 1925 – Mein Kampf is first published

July 1926 – Hitler Youth is formed

20th August 1927 – The First Nuremburg Rally (party conference is held)

29th October 1929 – The Wall Street Crash triggers the Great Depression

September 1930 – The Nazis become the second biggest party in the Reichstag after winning 18.3% of the vote.

1931-1934: The establishment of power

As the depression wore on, industrialists and military personnel became increasingly drawn to Hitler’s promise of restoring German economic independence and offered him support in the presidential elections against the aging Paul Hindenburg, who was standing for another term with great reluctance. Although Hitler only secured one third of the votes and lost the contest, Goebbels’ effective propaganda machine massively raised the profile of the Nazi party and Hitler was then able to skilfully manipulate the divisions amongst key political personnel to increase his own power. Kurt von Schleicher secured his support in a plot to remove Chancellor Bruening, who was replaced by the ineffective Franz von Papen. His short tenure was followed by Schleicher assuming the role of chancellor but neither could gain control of a working government, with the Nazis in the Reichstag regularly disrupting proceedings and the SA intimidating opposition on the streets. This infighting left Hindenburg with little choice but to appoint Hitler as Chancellor and he quickly capitalised on this by persuading parliament to grant him four years of unopposed rule through the Enabling Act. Although SA thugs were contributing greatly to rising lawlessness on the streets, Hitler was seen by many as the only one who could restore order, particularly after the communists were blamed for the Reichstag fire. By the time of Hindenburg’s death, there was little viable opposition left to oppose Hitler and he had also used the SS to execute over 150 key SA leaders as a way to gain tighter control over this unruly element of the party.

Key dates include:

13th March 1932 – Hindenburg defeats Hitler in the Presidential elections

July 1932 – The Nazis become the largest party in the Reichstag, with 37.4% of the vote

30th January 1933 – Hitler is appointed chancellor

27th February 1933 – The Reichstag Fire

20th March 1933 – The first Nazi concentration camp opens at Dachau

23rd March 1933 – The Enabling Act is passed

2nd May 1933 – Trade Unions are banned

14th July 1933 – All other political parties are banned

30th June 1934 – The Night of the Long Knives

2nd August 1934 – Hindenburg dies and Hitler combines the roles of President and Chancellor

1935-1939: The creation of the Nazi state

By the mid-thirties, Hitler and the Nazi party was in a position to begin implementing racial and foreign policy unopposed. Concentration camps were expanded as undesirables were increasingly targeted; Jehovah Witnesses, communists, gypsies and the unemployed were all incarcerated. A series of decrees also rapidly undermined the rights of the Jewish population, beginning with a restriction in martial relations and escalating into state-sponsored violence against 7,500 Jewish shops and 400 synagogues in Kristallnacht (or the Night of the Broken Glass). As non-Aryans were persecuted, the German economy was centralised in a bid to create self-sufficiency. This enabled increasing defiance of the Treaty of Versailles as rearmament began and the army was expanded through two year compulsory military service. Hitler also sought to forge military alliances with other countries, signing pacts with Italy and Japan and formally uniting with Austria (in the Anschluss) to make it part of a racially defined Third Reich. The appeasement of Germany at the Munich Conference gave Nazi forces the green light to occupy the Sudetenland, despite the protests of both Czechoslovakia and Russia. Britain and France both mistakenly hoped that this would be enough to satisfy Hitler’s territorial ambitions.

Key dates include:

March 1935 – Conscription introduced

September 1935 – The Nuremburg Laws ban relations between Jews and Aryans

7th March 1936 – German forces reoccupy the Rhineland

9th September 1936 – Four Year economic plan in introduced

25th November 1936 – Japan joins Italy and Germany in the Anti-Comintern Pact

14th March 1938 – The Anschluss is formed

30th September 1938 – The Munich Agreement

9th November 1938 – Kristallnacht

15th November 1938 – All Jewish schoolchildren are expelled from school

3rd December 1938 – All Jewish businesses to be transferred to Aryans

1939-1945: The Second World War

Hitler’s priorities in the last years of the Nazi state were two-fold. He aimed to achieve ‘lebensraum’, or living space, for the Aryan race by expanding German territory to the east and he also aimed to rid this territory of perceived ‘undesirable elements’, particularly Jews. The attacks on France and Britain during World War Two aimed to secure Germany’s western border so plans in the east could be conducted unhindered. Yet, despite the rapid occupation of France, the efforts of the RAF prevented Nazi occupation of Britain and eventually allowed a counter-attack to liberate France through the D-Day landings. Although the Nazis had successfully occupied nine countries by mid-1940, Russia proved a much more formidable enemy and Operation Barbarossa was far from the rapid success Hitler hoped for. Although Stalin was temporarily panicked by the abandonment of the Nazi-Soviet pact, Russian troops refused to surrender and by early 1945, Nazi control of France was lost and the Russians were advancing from the East. After Hitler’s suicide effectively ended the war in Europe, the full horror of Nazi racial policy emerged. Treatment of Jews in occupied territory had begun with forced removal to ghettos but then escalated into a systematic genocide in the gas chambers that had been decided as the ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘Jewish Problem’ at the Wannsee Conference. Over six million victims suffered this fate in the final years of the war.

Key dates include:

August 23rd 1939 – The Nazi-Soviet Pact

August 27th 1939 – Rationing is introduced

September 1st 1939 – Germany invades Poland

May 10th 1940 – The Invasion of France begins

June 14th 1940 – Paris is occupied by German troops

August 15th 1940 – The Battle of Britain begins

June 22nd 1941 – Operation Barbarossa begins

August 1941 – Systematic executions of occupied Jews begin

20th January 1942 – The Wannsee Conference

Spring 1943 – Auschwitz-Birkenau becomes operational

June 1944 – The D Day Landings

Spring 1945 – The Russian army enters Berlin

April 30th 1945 – Hitler commits suicide