Resistance to the Nazi State
Resistance against Nazi Rule came from a number of different quarters. Resistance methods were varied and changed over the period of the Third Reich’s existence.
It must be remembered that the Nazi Party gained power without an overall majority in the Reichstag. Whilst some Germans who voted for other parties would have sympathised with the Nazi Party and it’s views, others were politically and morally opposed to the Nazi ideal. These people resisted the Nazi regime in a number of ways.
The Church played an important role in German Society. Parties aligned to the Church had a long tradition of being a major force in German politics. They were generally speaking conservative in their approach to issues. The Church itself also taught, via sermons. Once the Nazi Party had taken control of Germany the church itself became the mouth piece of these people.
Opposition and resistance from within the Church was varied. Preachers spoke about right and wrong; spoke out against policies that were against God’s will and in some cases, chose to hide people who were wanted by the Nazi State: Jews escaping persecution, for example.
The Church spoke out and preached against Nazi methods and ideals. Many within the church did not go beyond passive resistance though. There were reasons behind this, of course. The State had created it’s own ‘church’ which was a direct threat to the existence of both Catholic and Protestant churches within Germany. Becoming too outspoken could drive the Churches underground, which would have criminalised their existence and made them potential victims of widespread persecution. Secondly, there were Nazi Policies that the church welcomed. The Soviet Union was a threat that loomed large. Religion in this communist state had been all but banished and the fear of a godless, communist, take over, was at the forefront of the minds of many both inside and out of the Church. Nazism was therefore the lesser of two evils.
Examples of members of the Church going beyond passive resistance are people such as Von Galen and Niemoller. They organised a ‘Congressional Church’ in direct opposition to the Reich’s own official church. Niemoller is remembered for his famous poem about persecution in the Third Reich. Von Galen, Niemoller and The Congressional Church will be discussed in more depth in separate posts in this site – check the Calendar (bottom left of this page) to see forthcoming posts.
Opposition from traditional groups such as political opponents and workers organisation was dealt with from the start by the Nazi regime. Opposition parties were banned; Unions done away. The state attempted to ensure that these groups did not have the opportunity to form any coherent form of opposition. The Gestapo searched for enemies of the state, political opponents were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The heart of potential opposition from the unions and Leftist parties was torn out. This is not to say that there was no resistance from these groups though. The KDP did continue to exist as an underground (and banned) organisation. However it was restricted in its effectiveness by: it’s leadership had been arrested or killed; it was disunited and disjointed in its approach to resistance. The main methods of ‘Leftist’ resistance was the publication of pamphlets and illegal newspapers. These rarely led to little more than grumbles from the readers though, as fear of concentration camps was more than enough to stop most people from taking any further action.
The Nazi’s also faced opposition from Conservative and Right Wing quarters. This may seem a little odd given the Nazi’s love of the military and rhetoric. However the old guard were quite at odds with the methods used and were not particularly impressed by Hitler or his methods. Within the political conservatives there was little ‘fight’ against the Nazi regime. They did not organise any mass resistance movements and were in general terms only willing to question, not particularly openly, issues and methods.
The army was different though. There were many within the armed forces who disliked the militaristic nature of the Nazi Party itself. It posed a threat. Furthermore, Hitler’s demands were to some, patently unrealistic. These thoughts manifested themselves in resistance to both the regime and its leadership. Whilst the Staffenburg Bomb Plot is the best known example of the military attempting to resist Hitler, there were other plots and attempts to change the way that the State (and war) was being run. These plots were all unsuccessful The reasons for this were: the Gestapo kept a very close eye on the actions of the General Staff and senior military officials; in the early years of the war, things were going quite well, so there was less support for a Military coup; early in the Nazi’s rule, there was the Night of the Long Knives which placated a large number of high ranking members of the Military; during the war, it was quite clear that the Allies would only accept unconditional surrender, so toppling Hitler would not necessarily result in aims being achieved. Finally, there was simple good luck and / or poor application of resistance plans.
Opposition also came from the young. The White Rose movement and the Eidelweiss Pirates are the best known of these groups. Here we see young people questioning the regime. They question the state, they probe, they ask questions. The White Rose Movement distributed leaflets and raised awareness of things that the state was doing.
Main methods of opposition:
– passive resistance. This included failing to give the Hitler salute, listening to illegal radio broadcasts and reading forbidden literature.
– Issuing pamphlets and newspapers. Used by many of the resistance groups. It spread messages but was more often than not stopped by the Gestapo.
– Regime change. There were some attempts to kill Hitler and the NSDAP leadership.
Articles are being prepared about each of the main opposition groups. These posts will include source material and Audi-Visual files about the activities of each group. They will be placed in a new Category on Opposition over the coming weeks.