World War I (1914–18) marked the first great international conflict of the twentieth century. The trauma of the war would profoundly shape the attitudes and actions of both leaders and ordinary people during the Holocaust. The impact of the conflict and its divisive peace would echo in the decades to come, giving rise to a second world war and genocide committed under its cover.
"Weimar Republic" is the name given to the German government between the end of the Imperial period (1918) and the beginning of Nazi Germany (1933). Political turmoil and violence, economic hardship, and also new social freedoms and vibrant artistic movements characterized the complex Weimar period. Many of the challenges of this era set the stage for Adolf Hitler's rise to power.
Adolf Hitler was the undisputed leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party—known as Nazis—since 1921. In 1923, he was arrested and imprisoned for trying to overthrow the German government. His trial brought him fame and followers. He used the subsequent jail time to dictate his political ideas in a book, Mein Kampf—My Struggle. Hitler’s ideological goals included territorial expansion, consolidation of a racially pure state, and elimination of the European Jews and other perceived enemies of Germany.
Before the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, Germany had a thriving Jewish population with strong community organizations. Jews had lived in Germany since Roman times. They were well integrated into German society—they spoke the language, identified with the nationality, and worked alongside non-Jews.
The Nazi Party was one of a number of right-wing extremist political groups that emerged in Germany following World War I. Beginning with the onset of the Great Depression it rose rapidly from obscurity to political prominence, becoming the largest party in the German parliament in 1932.
The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators. The Nazis came to power in Germany in January 1933. They believed that the Germans belonged to a race that was "superior" to all others. They claimed that the Jews belonged to a race that was "inferior" and a threat to the so-called German racial community.
The Nazis effectively used propaganda to win the support of millions of Germans in a democracy and, later in a dictatorship, to facilitate persecution, war, and ultimately genocide. The stereotypes and images found in Nazi propaganda were not new, but were already familiar to their intended audience.
The Nazis frequently used propaganda to disguise their political aims and deceive the German and international public. They depicted Germany as the victim of Allied and Jewish aggression to hide their true ideological goals and to justify war and violence against innocent civilians.
Shortly after taking power in January 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis succeeded in destroying Germany’s vibrant and diverse newspaper culture. The newly created Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda handed out daily instructions to all German newspapers, Nazi or independent, detailing how the news was to be reported.
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