What Did the Average 1930s German Think of the Nazi Regime?
The word “Nazi” has become interchangeable with “evil.” People tend to look back on this time in history with bewilderment (“How could something like this happen?”) and a sense of superiority towards the Germans (“They’re savages. Who could support such atrocities?”).
It’s easy to imagine what side of history you would have fallen on. The good side.
But what did the actual Germans feel and think as they watched Hitler rise to power? Were they all evil? Were they all brainwashed? Were they all so different from us?
Let’s ask Elisabeth
Elisabeth Gebensleben was a woman who was born and raised in the German town of Braunschweig. This is where she married a man named Karl and where she raised her children — a daughter, Irmgard, and a son, Eberhard.
In 1920, 13-year old Irmgard moved to the Netherlands. Nine years later, just as the Nazis were coming to power in her home country, she married a Dutchman and started her own family. Irmgard spent the next decade in the Netherlands, frantically exchanging letters with her family members who were still in Germany.
The letters, discovered and published in a book years later by Irmgard’s descendants, provide an intimate look at a family torn by war, death, loss, chaos, and uncertainty.
They also show a family of Nazi sympathizers.
The bulk of the letters were exchanged between Irmgard, and her mother Elisabeth. In the early 1930s, before the war, and before the Holocaust, what did Elisabeth have to say about Hitler’s regime?
Make Germany Great Again
Germany had suffered a soul-crushing defeat in World War I (WWI). The German people felt humiliated and wronged.
More pressingly, they were struggling economically. The inflation was so bad in the 1920s, the money you needed to buy a suit tie in the morning could only get you a loaf of bread in the evening. People were starving, hopeless, and angry.