How effective was resistance and opposition to Nazi rule from within Germany?

Hitler had secured a tight grip over Germany by the mid 1930s. Effective propaganda and a brutal police state forced many people to conform with Nazism. But Hitler still faced some resistance from his own people. Who made up this resistance, and how effective was it?

You can download the worksheet for today’s lesson here. If you are unable to download the worksheet, please complete the tasks in the yellow boxes below.

Conform = Comply with the rules.
Resistance = Refusing to support something or speaking against it.
Opposition = Actively working against something in order to remove it.

Consider being a German person in 1935. Your country has gone through some tough times in the last twenty years, and you have just witnessed Hitler’s rise to power.

a) Why might you be happy to see Hitler come to power? Bullet point as many ideas as you can.
b) Why would you be scared to speak out against Hitler? Bullet point as many ideas as you can.
c) Therefore how much resistance and opposition do you think there would be against Hitler from other German people?

TASK ONE: Who resisted Nazi rule?

Read the information below on resistance and opposition to the Nazi regime. Draw a table like the ones below on a page, and input information in it to outline who resisted Nazi rule, why they resisted, and how effective this resistance was.

Who resisted Nazi rule in Germany?

Resistance and opposition from the youth.

Hitler had put a large amount of work in to controlling the thoughts and the actions of young people during his rise to power. The Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls had a large reach over Germany. By the time Hitler became Fuhrer, all young people were expected to attend these institutions. But some young people opposed these groups.

The Edelweiss Pirates emerged in the late 1930s, and was predominantly made up of working class boys from industrial cities, although some girls also joined. These young people often wore American-style clothing, like jeans and teeshirts, and proudly wore the white edelweiss flower to show their appetite for resistance.

The Pirates would often target members of the Hitler Youth, taunting them or even beating them up. To avoid being caught, the Pirates would meet up and take long walks in to the German countryside. They would pitch tents and spend time together away from the seriousness of Nazi life. This would often involve singing songs and making jokes about Nazi officials and policy.

A group of Edelweiss Pirates. Notice their checked shirts – a very American look at the time. The guitar was also loved by the Pirates, another American instrument in popular American folk music. It was all about freedom for these young people.

The Swing Youth were another group of young people that resisted Nazism. Unlike the Edelwiess Pirates, however, they were made up of slightly older youths, mainly from middle class backgrounds from wealthier cities like Berlin or Hamburg.

These youths often took their record players to gatherings to play swing music from artists like the Glen Miller Orchestra, or jazz music from artists like Louis Armstrong. These illegal dances would involve hundreds of young people drinking, smoking and having a good time. It was a time to go out, have fun and meet girls or boys that you might fancy away from a strict, regimented Nazi society where too many rules applied.

Jazz had been censored by Goebbels and his ministry of propaganda as it was associated with black people. These illegal dances were directly opposed to how the Nazis wanted its people to think.

The Glen Miller Orchestra was a firm favourite with the Swing Youth.

Both the Pirates and the Swing Youth actively resisted the Nazis, but aside from anti-Nazi graffiti and the odd attack on a Nazi officer, they didn’t do anything to make the lives of the Nazi Party more difficult. The Edelweiss Pirates began to make more physical attacks against the government after 1939, but their membership was so low that it didn’t really matter (they had a peak membership of 2,000 compared with the Hitler Youth that had 8 million). These groups were not political organisations out to oppose Nazi rule, just simply rebel a little to escape the strict rules imposed upon them by the Nazis.

Opposition from the Church.

Resistance and opposition to Nazi rule came from both the Protestant Church and Catholic Church in Nazi Germany.

The biggest form of opposition in the Protestant Church came from Martin Niemoller and his Pastors’ Emergency League (PEL). The PEL was set up in 1933 to oppose Nazi interference with the Church system. They were against bringing all churches in Germany together under the ‘Reich Church’, and wanted to allow Jews to convert to Christianity if they wished.

In 1934, the PEL set up the Confessing Church. This now meant that there were two Protestant Church systems in Germany – the Reich Church, controlled by the Nazi Party, and the Confessing Church, which opposed Nazi interference. About 2,000 pastors remained in the Reich Church, but a huge 6,000 chose to join the Confessing Church instead. This was a huge number of churchmen that actively opposed Nazi policy.

Many pastors in the Confessing Church spoke out against the Nazi Party. Some 800 were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Niemoller himself was repeatedly arrested from 1934 to 1937, until he was charged with ‘treasonable statements’ and sent to a concentration camp in 1938.

Martin Neimoller was instrumental in forging opposition to the Nazis from within the German Protestant Church.

Opposition also came from within the German Catholic Church, but the opposition was not as broad as Protestant opposition. Nonetheless, many Catholic priests were arrested and imprisoned for speaking out against the Nazi regime. In Dachau concentration camp, so many priests were arrested that it had its own ‘Priests Block’ to hold members of the clergy. Around 400 priests were sent there in total.

Although both churches spoke out against the Nazi regime, their opposition centred around opposing changes to the way the Church system was run. They frequently resisted by speaking out against the evils of the Nazi regime, but many priests and pastors were simply too afraid to speak out for their own safety.

Opposition in politics.

Trade unions had been banned by the Nazi Party. It was expected that every worker joined the German Labour Front (DAF) instead so that they could be controlled by the Nazis. The Communist Party (KDP) still encouraged workers to resist Nazi rule, and formed small underground secret trade unions. These encouraged workers to stay off work by calling in ‘sick’, or by breaking machinery when working at construction sites.

In addition to this, the Social Democrat Party (SPD) printed a secret opposition newspaper called the Red Shock Troop in 1933 that had a circulation of about 3,000 readers. It’s leaders were quickly rounded up and sent to concentration camps, however. The SPD set up the SOPADE (the SPD abroad), that continued to print newspapers and smuggle them in to Germany.

Opposition also came from within Hitler’s own army. General Ludwig Beck was the German Army’s Chief of Staff who had strong views against Hitler’s work. In 1938, he tried to convince his fellow officers to arrest Hitler. He even wrote to the British army saying that the German army wouldn’t attack if Britain invaded Germany. As the Second World War was coming to an end, Beck led plots to kill Hitler in 1943 and 1944. He was shot by a firing squad in 1944 after these plots were uncovered.

General Ludwig Beck was the most senior officer who attempted to bring down the Nazi regime from the inside.

TASK TWO: How effective was resistance and opposition to Nazi rule from within Germany?

Look at the table you have just completed, with specific focus on the last column where you have given each case study a mark out of 10 for their effectiveness.

a) Which form of opposition do you think had the biggest impact? Why did you give it this score?
I think the most significant form of opposition was ____ because…

b) ‘Every form of opposition from within Germany was completely ineffective’. How far do you agree with this statement? Just write two paragraphs on this statement looking at points to agree and points to disagree, coming up with your own conclusion.

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