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Definition: Third Reich from Philip's Encyclopedia

Official name of Nazi Germany (1933-45). The first Reich (Ger. 'Empire') was the Holy Roman Empire, the second the German Empire of 1871-1918.


Summary Article: Third Reich from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Germany during the years of Adolf Hitler's dictatorship after 1933. Hitler and the Nazis wanted to place their government into the history of Germany for both historical precedent and legitimacy. The idea of the Third Reich was based on the existence of two previous German empires: the medieval Holy Roman Empire, and the second empire of 1871 to 1918.

The term was coined by the German writer Moeller van den Bruck (1876–1925) in the 1920s and was used by the Nazis.

Germany's earlier empires were seen as golden ages of German power and unity, something that Hitler valued greatly. Charlemagne, king of the Franks (a Germanic peoples) from 768 and Holy Roman Emperor from 800, unified much of Western Europe in the 9th century and spread German culture and law across his empire. The kingdom of the western Franks later became France, the kingdom of the eastern Franks became Germany. The empire of Charlemagne and his successors lasted in various forms until destroyed by the French emperor Napoleon I (Bonaparte) in 1806. For Hitler the idea of creating an empire by conquest and then unifying the German people was attractive.

Prussia's unification of Germany by force, including the defeat of Austria in 1866 and France in 1870, was equally inspiring to Hitler. He greatly admired Otto von Bismarck, prime minister of Prussia 1862–90 and chancellor of the German empire 1871–90, who had directed Prussian economic and military might in a campaign of conquest. Bismarck's aggressive expansionist policies fitted in with Hitler's own plans to gain Lebensraum (‘living space’) for the German people in Eastern Europe. The second empire, or Reich, that began in 1871 had made Germany into a world power, only to see the gains taken away at the end of World War I in the Treaty of Versailles (1919). Hitler never accepted that Germany was defeated in 1918, so for him the second Reich should never have ended.

By using the title ‘Third Reich’, Hitler was able to place the Nazi regime into the natural flow of German history. Hitler talked of establishing a 1000-year Reich, suggesting that his empire would be greater and more successful than either of the previous two. Since the first and second Reichs were established by war and conquest, Hitler felt justified in expanding the Third Reich by conquest as well, leading to the conflict of World War II.

essays

Hitler and Germany's unemployment problems

Rise of the Nazis

Education under the Nazis

Nazi and German youth

Nazis and religious groups

Hitler's foreign policy

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