The National Socialist German Workers' Party "Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei", abbreviated NSDAP, commonly known in English as the Nazi Party was a political party in Germany between 1918 and 1945. It was known as the German Workers' Party "DAP" prior to a change of name in 1920.
The party grew out of smaller political groups with a nationalist orientation that formed in the last years of World War I. In the early months of 1918, a party called the Free Committee for a German Worker's Peace "Freier Ausschuss für einen deutschen Arbeiterfrieden" was created in Bremen, Germany.
Anton Drexler, an avid German nationalist, formed a branch of this league on 7 March 1918, in Munich. Drexler was a local locksmith in Munich who had been a member of the militarist Fatherland Party during World War I, and was bitterly opposed to the armistice of November 1918 and to the revolutionary upheavals that followed in its wake. Drexler followed the typical views of militant nationalists of time, such as opposing the Treaty of Versailles, having anti-Semitic, anti-monarchist, and anti-Marxist views, and believing in the superiority of Germans whom nationalists claimed to be part of the Aryan "master race", but he also accused international capitalism of being a Jewish-dominated movement and denounced capitalists for war profiteering in World War I.
On 5 January 1919, Drexler, together with Gottfried Feder, Dietrich Eckart and Karl Harrer, and 20 workers from Munich's railway shops and some others met to discuss the creation of a new political party based on the political principles which Drexler endorsed. Drexler proposed that the party be named the German-Socialist Workers Party, but Harrer objected to using the term "socialist" in the name, the issue was settled by removing the term from the name, and it was agreed that the party was named the German Worker's Party "Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, DAP". Like other ethnic "völkisch" groups, the DAP advocated the belief that Germany should become a unified "national community" rather than a society divided along class and party lines. This ideology was explicitly anti-Semitic as it declared that the "national community" must be free of Jews "Judenfrei".
While attending a party meeting, Adolf Hitler got involved in a heated political argument and made an impression on the other party members with his oratory skills. He was invited to join and, after some deliberation, chose to accept.
On 24 February 1920, the party added "National Socialist" to its official name, becoming the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP).
Hitler discovered that he had talent as an orator, and his ability to draw new members, combined with his characteristic ruthlessness, soon made him the dominant figure. Drexler recognized this, and Hitler became party chairman on 28 July 1921.
In January 1923 France occupied the Ruhr industrial region as a result of Germany's failure to meet its reparations payments. This led to economic chaos, the resignation of german government and an attempt by the Communist Party (KPD) to stage a revolution. The reaction to these events was an upsurge of nationalist sentiment. Nazi Party membership grew sharply, to about 20,000.
By November, Hitler as the leader, had decided that the time was right for an attempt to seize power in Munich, in the hope that the post-war German army "Reichswehr" would mutiny against the Berlin government and join his revolt. In this he was influenced by former General Erich Ludendorff, who had become a supporter though not a member of the Nazis.
On the night of 8 November, the Nazis used a patriotic rally in a Munich beer hall to launch an attempted putsch. The so-called "Beer Hall Putsch" attempt failed almost at once when the local Reichswehr commanders refused to support it. On the morning of 9 November the Nazis staged a march of about 2,000 supporters through Munich in an attempt to rally support. Troops opened fire and 16 Nazis were killed.
Hitler, Ludendorff and a number of others were arrested, and were tried for treason in March 1924. The Nazi Party was banned but continued to operate under the name of German Party " Deutsche Partei or DP" from 1924 to 1925.
Adolf Hitler was released in December 1924. In the following year he re-founded and reorganized the Nazi Party, with himself as its undisputed Leader. The new Nazi Party was no longer a paramilitary organization, and disavowed any intention of taking power by force. In any case, the economic and political situation had stabilized and the extremist upsurge of 1923 had faded, so there was no prospect of further revolutionary adventures.
The Nazi Party of 1925 was divided into the "Leadership Corps" , appointed by Hitler, and the general membership. The party and the SA "Sturmabteilung" were kept separate and the legal aspect of the party's work was emphasized. In a sign of this, the party began to admit women. The SA and the SS "Schutzstaffel", founded in April 1925 as Hitler's bodyguard, commanded by Himmler, were described as "support groups", and all members of these groups had first to become regular party members.
The party's nominal Deputy Leader was Rudolf Hess, but he had no real power in the party. By the early 1930s the senior leaders of the party after Hitler were Himmler, Goebbels and Göring.
The Nazis contested elections to the national parliament, the "Reichstag", and to the state legislatures, the "Landtags", from 1924, although at first with little success. By 1929 the party had 130,000 members.
The 1930 elections changed the German political landscape by weakening the traditional nationalist parties, the DNVP and the DVP, leaving the Nazis as the chief alternative to the discredited SPD and the Central Party, whose leader, Heinrich Brüning, headed a weak minority government. The inability of the democratic parties to form a united front, the self-imposed isolation of the KPD and the continued decline of the economy all played into Hitler's hands.
During 1931 and into 1932, Germany's political crisis deepened. In March 1932 Hitler ran for President against the incumbent President Paul von Hindenburg, polling 30.1% in the first round and 36.8% in the second against Hindenburg's 49 and 53%. By now the SA had 400,000 members and its running street battles with the SPD and KPD paramilitaries (who also fought each other) reduced some German cities to combat zones. Germans voted for Hitler primarily because of his promises to revive the economy (by unspecified means), to restore German greatness and overturn the Treaty of Versailles, and to save Germany from communism.
On July 1932 on the "Reichstag" election the Nazis made another leap forward, polling 37.4% and becoming the largest party in the Reichstag by a wide margin. Furthermore, the Nazis and the KPD between them won 52% of the vote and a majority of seats. Since both parties opposed the established political system and neither would join or support any ministry, this made the formation of a majority government impossible. The result was weak ministries governing by decree.
Chancellor Franz von Papen called another Reichstag election in November, hoping to find a way out of this impasse. The result was the same, with the Nazis and the KPD winning 50% of the vote between them and more than half the seats, rendering this Reichstag no more workable than its predecessor.
But support for the Nazis had fallen to 33.1%, suggesting that the Nazi surge had passed its peak – possibly because the worst of the Depression had passed, possibly because some middle-class voters had supported Hitler in July as a protest but had now drawn back from the prospect of actually putting him into power. The Nazis interpreted the result as a warning that they must seize power before their moment passed.
Had the other parties united, this could have been prevented, but their shortsightedness made a united front impossible. Papen, his successor Kurt von Schleicher, and the nationalist press magnate Alfred Hugenberg spent December and January in political intrigues which eventually persuaded President Hindenburg that it was safe to appoint Hitler Reich Chancellor at the head of a cabinet which included only a minority of Nazi ministers, which he did on 30 January 1933.
On 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire. This Reichstag fire was blamed on a communist conspiracy and the KPD's offices were closed, its press banned and leaders were arrested. Hitler convinced President von Hindenburg to sign the "Reichstag Fire Decree", suspending most of the human rights provided for by the 1919 constitution of the Weimar Republic. A further decree enabled preventive detention of all communist leaders, amongst many thousands of others.
Since the new government lacked a majority in parliament, Hitler held a new election in March 1933. With the communists eliminated, the Nazis dominated the election with 43.9%, and with their Nationalist (DNVP) allies, achieved a parliamentary majority (51.8%).
A further decisive step in the Nazi seizure of power was the "Enabling Act", which granted the cabinet (and therefore Hitler) legislative powers. The Enabling Act effectively abolished the separation of powers. The Enabling Act, termed for four years, gave the government the power to enact laws without parliamentary approval, to enact foreign treaties abroad and even to make changes to the Constitution.
The Nazis did not keep their promises to their political allies, banning all other parties just as they had banned the communists and socialists. Following this, the Nazi government banned the formation of new parties on 14 July 1933, turning Germany into a single-party state.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, the party to some extent came back into its own, particularly after 1941 as the war dragged on and the military situation began to turn against Germany. As Hitler withdrew from domestic matters to concentrate on military matters, civil administration ground to a halt and the German state became more disorganized and ineffective.
The Nazis took control of rationing, labor direction, the allocation of housing, air-raid protection and the issuing of the multiplicity of permits Germans needed to carry on their lives and businesses.
The army was the last area of the German state to succumb to the Nazi Party, and it never did so entirely. Hitler made himself Defence Minister, and the new army leaders, , were in awe of Hitler. By 1945 the Nazi Party and the Nazi state were inseparable.
The Nazi Party was banned by the Allied occupation authorities and an extensive process of denazification was carried out to remove former Nazis from the administration, judiciary, universities, schools and press of occupied Germany.