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Download Lesson 22 - E-book Handout - Opposition to the Nazis
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Opposition to the Nazis Opposition from civilians Political parties like the Communists and the Socialists opposed the Nazis. They were banned from 1933, but worked underground in secret, keeping their organisation together and publishing newsletters. The SPD (Social Democratic Party) managed to smuggle literature into Germany. The KPD (Communist Party of Germany) set up an underground that was never completely eliminated. But, the KPD was controlled from Moscow and seriously discredited by the Nazi-Soviet Pact and Soviet policy until June 1941. Most working men were not prepared to take either organisation seriously because of the economic benefits of National Socialism. Swing groups were widespread in the late 1930s and opposed the activities of the Youth Leagues. The most important were the Edelweiss Pirates who even acted as an underground during the war. They helped deserters and escaped prisoners of war; attacked military institutions and even murdered the head of the Cologne Gestapo. The White Rose group, headed by Hans and Sophie Scholl was idealistically Christian and distributed leaflets in Munich in 1942-3. The leaders were arrested, tried and shot in February 1943. Opposition to Nazification was led by Martin Niemoller who set up the Confessional Church; this soon claimed 75% support amongst church ministers. When attempts at compromise failed, the Nazis reacted by declaring the Church illegal and arresting ministers; 800 alone in 1937, many of whom were sent to concentration camps. These tactics enabled the ‘German Christians’ to gain control of the Confessional Church but did not end opposition to the Nazi regime. Church ministers continued to speak out against the Nazis until 1945. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Protestant minister, criticised Nazi policy during the Second World War and Bishop von Galen of Mainz attacked killings of Jews in 1941, but most Christians were prepared to keep quiet for their own safety. Even the Confessional Church tried to avoid outright criticism of the Nazis. Opposition from the military In 1938, Erich Kordt and General Beck had planned to arrest Hitler and declare martial law because they feared the prospect of a major war. In September 1939, a plan to kill Hitler by a bomb was cancelled when it became clear that he was not planning a major offensive against France. The Kreisau Circle was formed in 1941 and included politicians, priests and army officers. It met at Kreisau, the estate of Count Helmuth von Moltke. The Kreisau Circle was a radical group which envisaged a European Parliament with European elections. It was reluctant to take action against the Nazis and was more interested in planning for an idealistic new order after the end of hostilities. It was broken up in 1944. Opposition groups in the army planned attempts on Hitler’s life in 1943 but all failed. Operation Valkyrie was organised by Count Claus von Stauffenberg and tried twice to assassinate Hitler in July 1944. On the third attempt, the bomb went off but Hitler was saved by the leg of an oak table. The conspirators failed to seize control of the communications centre and news soon spread that Hitler was alive. 5,000 people were executed in the aftermath.