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GEllately, Backing Hitler cover

The Curse of the Nazi State: Unemployment, Communism, and the Jewish People

Book Essay on: Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 406 pages.
UCSB: DD256.5.G45

by Daniel Schneiderman
March 13, 2009

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1900-1945
UC Santa Barbara, Spring 2009

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links

About Daniel Schneiderman

I am currently a student at UCSB finishing my senior year. I am a Political Science major with a History minor and will graduate in the Spring of 2009. I have always been interested the Holocaust and Germany history not only because of certain aspects of my family background, but because these themes seem to mirror many contemporary events for which past events may be able to serve as a model. German history, before, during and after the Nazi period are integral to world history in that the actions of this country have been pivotal in global relations even up until the end of the 20th Century.

Abstract (back to top)

In his book Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, Robert Gellately describes the public outcry present after the downfall of the Weimar Republic and how Hitler was able to use popular disappointments to rally the German people around the National Socialist movement. Although Gellately acknowledges how at first many Germans chose not to support the Nazis, he explains how Hitler was able to consolidate Nazi power and eventually gain the support of outliers by mending the economic and social base of Germany. As a result, by associating Judaism with the frustrations of the German people, Hitler was able to use certain target areas, specifically the high unemployment rate, a rising Communist movement, and what he called a decade-long crime wave to gain support for his later antisemitic policies. Thus, as can be seen in the legislation and actions of the Third Reich, Hitler was able to gain the support of the German people in order to realize his version of the German dream as well as his overall hatred of the Jewish people.

Essay (back to top)


In his book Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, Robert Gellately explains how the German people came to support Hitler, concluding that they were not only aware of the atrocities committed by the National Socialist movement, but they also played an integral part in maintaining the antisemitic nature of the Third Reich. Although at first many Germans chose to support other political parties, the Nazis were able to consolidate their power and eventually gain the support of outliers by mending the economic and social base of Germany. As their accomplishments accumulated, Hitler became powerful enough to implement his more dramatic policy objectives, specifically, the total removal of Jews from German society. Thus, Gellately argues, as the war neared, public legislation was slowly transformed into wartime policy with many elements of Nazi ideology, such as antisemitism, directly reflected in the law of the land. In this essay I argue that Hitler used the misfortunes of the Weimar Republic, specifically high unemployment, a widening Communist movement, and what he claimed was a decade-long crime wave, to gain widespread public support for his radical antisemitic policies.

The Early Years: From Democracy to Dictatorship

Pests of the Past: Unemployment, Communism, and the Breakdown of German Morality

For those Germans who lived through the Weimar Republic, the image of Germany portrayed by the National Socialist party was a beacon of light in a country many felt had been taken over by vagrants, thieves, and worst of all, Communists. The failed democratic experiment that preceded Hitler’s takeover set the stage for the progressive nationalist movement to come, a movement that promised to return Germany to the glory that was taken away by the traitors of World War I. Along with this initial spurt of support, Hitler was able to consolidate his power and push radical reforms through the Reichstag by showing dramatic accomplishments in three main areas. First, Hitler promised to put an end to social degeneracy by restoring German morals and humanity. This attitude would become increasingly crucial during the Third Reich in that Hitler would later associate Judaism with the overall breakdown of German morality.

The next big step in gaining the support of the German public was to reduce the unemployment crisis that was rampant throughout Germany. Following the Great Depression, millions of German found themselves without any reliable source of income. In response to this social crisis, Hitler immediately ordered the creation of large state-sponsored programs to employ the thousands that had suffered from the inaction of the previous decade. Although women on the left of the political spectrum were initially critical of the Hitler government, policies such as marriage loans helped Hitler gain the conservative female vote.

Conservative, Catholic, and even liberal woman by and large shared the point of view advocated by the Nazis, as to a ‘naturally’ determined sexual division of labor, and that it was important to reconstruct a ‘community of people’ in which they would be involved primarily as wives and mothers, and not be forced to compete with men for scarce jobs and political influence (Gellately 10).

In addition to the problem of unemployment and social corruption was the emergence of the Nazis’ next obstacle: the rise of the Communist movement. Being that the German democratic experiment was a failure, Hitler focused the frustrations of the German people on the opposition parties that had supported the previous administration. As Gellately explains, “to the extent that terror was used, it was selective, and it was initially aimed mainly at communists and other (loosely defined) opposition individuals who were portrayed as the ‘enemies of the people’” (Gellately 12). Much like the well known George W. Bush cliché using the Axis of Evil to justify new government powers, upon his appointment, Hitler used his battle against moral indecency, Marxist corruption, and unemployment to gain support for his more radical policies to come.

Finding the Answer in Antisemitism

The Downfall of German Morality: The Jewish Problem

As mentioned before, Hitler would eventually come to associate the Jewish people with the overall downfall of German society and Aryan morality. Upon his appointment as Grand Chancellor, legislation aimed at the persecution of the Jews began to dominate active social policy. Although at first many of the initial laws passed were fairly mild and broad in that they were meant to target Communists and social vagrants, by the end of 1933, Judaism had become associated with these “enemies of the people”. This was important because by appealing to the German people’s want to reduce crime, Hitler was effectively able to associate those of Jewish descent to a culture of criminality. Thus, if a person was Jewish, they were immediately seen as an antagonist to Germany’s wellbeing; this is was Hitler’s intent. Consequently, it was not too long before abuse and violence became daily practice; as Gellately describes it, “A stranger from another country walking the streets would have concluded that the Jews were not just hated, but in danger of their lives” (Gellately 27). As one can see, antisemitism became embedded in Nazi ideology and the German culture in general, a fact that would be reinforced in Hitler’s later speeches. For example at the Nuremburg Rally on September 11, 1935,

Hitler announced by proclamation what he termed a ‘struggle against the internal enemies of the nation’. These ‘enemies’ were vaguely defined as ‘Jewish Marxism and the parliamentary democracy associated with it’ (Gellately 39).

Following this portrayal as the enemies of the motherland, “many Germans clearly supported the crackdown on those whom the Nazis branded as political criminals, and were certainly pleased to see such persons sent off to newly established concentration camps” (Gellately 257). This became a key in that hundreds of news stories became dedicated to the point that the concentration camps and overall separation of the Jews from normal society was needed in order to maintain the morality of the German people.

Antisemitism and Unemployment

As seen in his dissolution of Jewish businesses and the passage of the Nuremburg Laws, Hitler was also able to use the unemployment rate to his benefit when it came to passing social policies. From 1933 to 1938, the new dictator was able to gather immense support from the German people by liquidating all Jewish businesses and factories. As Hitler would go on to preach in his later speeches, the new German economy would be forged by German blood and would not be tainted by the Jews. This mindset yielded several results. First, it reinforced an already present sense of superiority that “Aryans” held over the Jewish people; in a sense, being a Jew meant that one was sub-human. Following this mindset, instead of blaming the Great Depression for the economic depression throughout the country, Jews became the common target of public outrage and violence. Even the educated Jewish elite came under fire when Jewish doctors, judges, lawyers, professors, etc. were removed in order to employ those of pure-blood. Thus, “by the summer of 1938 an estimated 75 to 80 per cent of all Jewish businesses that existed in 1933 had been liquidated” (124). As long as more and more Aryans were being employed, the means by which Hitler created more jobs was almost always overlooked, specifically when it came down to the mistreatment of the Jewish Germans. As Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propoganda, said “the Jewish influence on the economy would be broken within a short time ‘by legal measures’” (Gellately 124).

In addition to his implementation of welfare and job programs, Hitler also ordered the passage of several marital policies in order to reinforce the strength of Germany’s Aryan-male industrial sector. The “government measures combined economics and ideology, like the introduction of marriage loans for medically fit and ‘racially correct couples” (Gellately 14). Social encouragement through racialized policies such as these not only encouraged woman to be housewives, but it also reinforced the goal towards racial purity. This fact would later become embodied in the 1935 passage of the Nuremburg Laws.

The ‘Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour’ as it was called outlawed new marriages between Jews and non-Jews; forbad extramarital sexual relations between them; made it illegal for Jews to employ non-Jewish women under 45 as servants; and illegal for Jews to raise the German flag. There was a lack of clarity on key points, however, especially on the definition of who was a Jew and who was a person of ‘mixed race’” (Gellately 122)

As can be seen in the text, the line between who was a Jew and who wasn’t was often overlooked. This being the case, the Marriage Laws, the racialization of labor and the Nuremburg Laws provided a stepping stone for the next big step towards Jewish segregation.

The Elimination of Jewish Marxism

As mentioned before, the primary way in which Hitler was able to spread his antisemitic ideology was by linking it to the initial factors that gave him support.

Immediately on the heels of Hitler’s appointment, Nazi newspapers made it seem that bloodthirsty Communists were fomenting revolution in the streets … newspapers were full of stories of the ongoing battle in the streets between Nazis and Communists…news stories said that steps had to be taken to protect public security and private property against Communism (Gellately 17).

Much like how he did with unemployment, through the manipulation of the media, Hitler was able to successfully associate the common hatred of Jewish in Germans with the extreme dislike of the Communists. “The Nazis said that to stop the Jews was to stop Communism, and so used one of its foundational appeals to spread anti-Semitism” (125). This message was reinforced through the media’s depiction of the evil “Jewish Marxist.” Gellately goes on to explain this relationship between Judaism and Communism: “In the press, Jews were linked to Bolshevism, Stalin, and the Soviet Union” (Gellately 125), all of which Hitler had openly declared war on within Germany’s borders. This fact would be embodied in the April Boycott of 1933, in which

the major theme in the press leading up to it was that it was a ‘counter-measure’ of the Party against the ‘atrocity propaganda’ already allegedly spread by Jews abroad, including those in the Socialist and Communist movement (Gellately 26).

This point became a driving force in the 1933 boycott and the subsequent antisemitic policies that would come later in the decade in that it openly condoned antisemitism in the workplace and society in general. Especially during wartime, this line between antisemitism and Communism would become thinner and thinner as the Jewish people would eventually become known as political criminals.


Although antisemitism was present in Germany long before Hitler came to power, as can be seen in Backing Hitler, there were several key factors that yielded the support needed to perpetuate Nazi ideology and implement the eventual genocide of the Jewish Germans. By associating Judaism with the downfall of German society and more importantly by labeling them as the cause of unemployment and a growing Communist movement, Hitler motivated the German people in a way unseen elsewhere in history. Thus, as can be seen in the legislation and actions of the Third Reich, through the manipulation of the media and the allocation of certain target areas (unemployment and communism) within the public eye, Hitler was able to gain the direct support of the German people in both his depiction of the German dream as well as his overall hatred of the Jewish people.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 3/x/09)

Book Reviews:

Herbert Ulrich. Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany Book Review. American Historical Review. February 2003. Pg. 276-277.
In his review of “Backing Hitler”, Ulrich highlights the more important aspects of Gellately’s thesis, specifically that more than 50% of Jewish denunciations to the Nazi Gestapo came from the German public rather than Hitler’s “organization of terror”. However, Ulrich also points out that Gellately does not fully support the argument that the Gestapo had a relationship with the general public.

Fischer, Conan. “Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany Book Review”. Institute of Historical Research. November 2002. http://www.history.ac. uk/reviews/paper/fischerC.html
In his review, Fischer provides a brief overview of Gellately’s general argument, focusing mainly on the fact that the German people rallied around the Nazi message of hate through publications and propaganda. Although he agrees with Gellately’s general thesis, the reviewer also criticizes Gellately saying how “Gellately’s current work includes a full discussion of these same issues, leaving parts of the book feeling very familiar indeed. However the author promises much more than this at the outset and to a degree delivers.” In the end, however, it is clear that Gellately has covered most if not all of his points by the books conclusion.

Editor Reviews. Amazon.com, 3/3/09. http://www.amazon.com/Backing-Hitler-Consent-Coercion-Germany/dp/0192802917/. 2 reviews.
This link provides two reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Although they summarize two different aspects of the book, they both dote on Gellately’s main thesis that through the image of “law and order” the Nazis were able to gain public support in their reign of terror and antisemitism.

Hist 133b review essay by Eric Schnaubelt, March 2009

Web Sites:

“A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust: The German Experience”. Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida, 2005. http://fcit.usf.edu/HOLOCAUST/arts/litGerma.htm.
This website provides an in depth summary of each major piece of literature or speech created by Adolf Hitler. By looking at Hitler’s memoirs and examinations of his work, one is able to see how Hitler’s antisemitism grew over the years of his life, resulting in the overall Nazi ideology we find during the Third Reich.

“The Holocaust Project”. The Holocaust History Project, 1998-2003. 1 March 2009. http://www.holocaust-history.org/.
The Holocaust History Project is a free archive of documents, photographs, recordings, and essays regarding the Holocaust, including direct refutation of Holocaust-denial. It provides many materials on antisemitic propaganda and gives evidence proving that Nazi hatred was the primary source of Jewish segregation and annihilation throughout the Third Reich.

“Professor Robert Gellately’s Faculty Website”. Department of History, Florida State University. http://www.fsu.edu/~history/staff/gellately.html.
This is Robert Gellately’s personal faculty website at Florida State University. It provides the other books that he has written as well as a full summary of the authors work on the subject.

Books and Articles:

Herf, Jeffrey. The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust (United States of America: Harvard University Press, 2006).
This book sheds light on Hitler’s manipulation of the media during Nazi Germany, and how he used propaganda to gain public support for his antisemitic policies. Herf explains, instead of being seen as the perpetrators of a horrific genocide, the actions taken by the Nazi party were seen as a way of fighting back against Jewish traitors and conspirators.

Landau, Ronnie S. The Nazi Holocaust: Its History and Meaning (New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 1994).
In this book, Ronnie Landau summarizes Jewish history from back more than two thousand years before the Nazi Holocaust. Through his analysis, he argues that Hitler was able to perpetuate mass genocide by dehumanizing the Jewish people and associating them with stereotypes that had been present hundreds of years before the National Socialists came to power.

Berkowitz, Michael. The Crime of My Very Existence: Nazism and the Myth of Jewish Criminality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).
The Crime of My Very Existence brings up a vital discussion about the antisemitism present throughout the Third Reich and how Hitler was able to perpetrate the immense genocide of the Holocaust. Much like Gelltately, Berkowitz analyzes the association made between Judaism and criminality under Nazi power and how this fact helped the German people turn a blind eye to the injustices of the day.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

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