History of Germany between 1933 - 1945
In order to secure a majority for his Nazi Party in the Reichstag, Hitler called for new elections in 1933. On the evening of 27 February 1933, a fire was set in the Reichstag building. Hitler swiftly blamed an alleged Communist uprising, and convinced President Hindenburg to sign the Reichstag Fire Decree. This decree, which would remain in force until 1945, repealed important political and human rights of the Weimar constitution. Eleven thousand Communists and Socialists were arrested and brought into hastily prepared Nazi concentration camps and 9,000 were found guilty and most executed.
From 1933 the Nazi regime restored economic prosperity and ended mass unemployment using heavy spending on the military, while suppressing labor unions and strikes. The return of prosperity gave the Nazi Party enormous popularity, with only minor, isolated and subsequently unsuccessful cases of resistance among the German population over the 12 years of rule. The Gestapo (secret police) under Heinrich Himmler destroyed the political opposition and persecuted the Jews, trying to force them into exile, while taking their property. The Party took control of the courts, local government, and all civic organizations except the Protestant and Catholic churches. All expressions of public opinion were controlled by Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, who made effective use of film, mass rallies, and Hitler's hypnotic speaking.
However, many leaders of the Nazi SA (Sturmabteilung) were disappointed. Hitler had long been at odds with Chief Röhm and felt increasingly threatened by these plans and in the "Night of the Long Knives" in 1934 killed Röhm and the top SA leaders using their notorious homosexuality as an excuse. The SS became an independent organisation under the command of the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler. He would become the supervisor of the Gestapo and of the concentration camps, soon also of the ordinary police. Hitler also established the Waffen-SS as a separate troop.
Hitler re-established the Luftwaffe (air force) and reintroduced universal military service. This was in breach of the Treaty of Versailles; Britain, France and Italy issued notes of protest. Hitler had the officers swear their personal allegiance to him. In 1936 German troops marched into the demilitarised Rhineland. Britain and France did not intervene. The move strengthened Hitler's standing in Germany. His reputation swelled further with the 1936 Summer Olympics, which were held in the same year in Berlin, and which proved another great propaganda success for the regime as orchestrated by master propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
The Nazi regime was particularly hostile towards Jews, who became the target of unending antisemitic propaganda attacks. The Nazis attempted to convince the German people to view and treat Jews as "subhumans" and immediately after winning in the 1933 federal elections the Nazis imposed a nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses. On March 20, 1933 the first Nazi concentration camp was established at Dachau in Bavaria and from 1933 to 1935 the Nazi regime consolidated their power and imposed the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 which banned all Jews from civil service and academics positions. Jews lost their German citizenship, and a ban on sexual relations between people classified as "Aryans" and "non-Aryans" was created. Jews continued to suffer persecution under the Nazi regime, exemplified by the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938, and about half of Germany's 500,000 Jews fled the country before 1939, after which escape became almost impossible.
In 1941, the Nazi leadership decided to implement a plan that they called the "Final Solution" which came to be known as the Holocaust. Under the plan, Jews and other "lesser races" along with political opponents from Germany as well as occupied countries were systematically murdered at murder sites, Nazi concentration camps, and starting in 1942, at extermination camps. Between 1941 and 1945 Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, communists, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled and members of other groups were targeted and methodically murdered in the largest genocide of the 20th century. In total approximately 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust including 1.1 million children.
At first Germany's military moves were brilliantly successful, as in the "blitzkrieg" invasions of Poland (1939), Norway (1940), the Low Countries (1940), and above all the stunningly successful invasion and quick conquest of France in 1940. Hitler probably wanted peace with Britain in late 1940, but Prime Minister Winston Churchill, standing alone, was dogged in his defiance. Churchill had major financial, military, and diplomatic help from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the U.S., another implacable foe of Hitler. Hitler's emphasis on maintaining high living standards postponed the full mobilization of the national economy until 1942, years after the great rivals Britain, Russia, and the U.S. had fully mobilized. Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 – weeks behind schedule – but swept forward until it reached the gates of Moscow.
The tide turned in December 1941, when the invasion of Russia stalled in cold weather and the United States joined the war. After surrender in North Africa and losing the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942–43, the Germans were on the defensive. By late 1944, the United States, Canada, France, and Great Britain were closing in on Germany in the West, while the Soviets were closing from the East. Overy estimated in 2014 that in all about 353,000 civilians were killed by British and American strategic bombing of German cities, and nine million left homeless.
Nazi Germany collapsed as Berlin was taken by the Red Army in a fight to the death on the city streets. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945. Final German surrender was signed on 8 May 1945.
By September 1945, the Third Reich and its Axis partners (Italy and Japan) had been defeated, chiefly by the forces of the Soviet Union, the United States, and Great Britain. Much of Europe lay in ruins, over 60 million people had been killed (most of them civilians), including approximately 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews in what became known as the Holocaust. World War II resulted in the destruction of Germany's political and economic infrastructure and led directly to its partition, considerable loss of territory, and historical legacy of guilt and shame.
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the main sights of St. Petersburg. The church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was dedicated in his memory. Construction began in 1883 under Alexander III, as a memorial to his father, Alexander II. Work progressed slowly and was finally completed during the reign of Nicholas II in 1907. Funding was provided by the Imperial family with the support of many private donors.
Architecturally, the Cathedral differs from St. Petersburg's other structures. The city's architecture is predominantly Baroque and Neoclassical, but the Savior on Blood harks back to medieval Russian architecture in the spirit of romantic nationalism. It intentionally resembles the 17th-century Yaroslavl churches and the celebrated St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.
The Church contains over 7500 square metres of mosaics — according to its restorers, more than any other church in the world. The interior was designed by some of the most celebrated Russian artists of the day — including Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov and Mikhail Vrubel — but the church's chief architect, Alfred Alexandrovich Parland, was relatively little-known (born in St. Petersburg in 1842 in a Baltic-German Lutheran family). Perhaps not surprisingly, the Church's construction ran well over budget, having been estimated at 3.6 million roubles but ending up costing over 4.6 million. The walls and ceilings inside the Church are completely covered in intricately detailed mosaics — the main pictures being biblical scenes or figures — but with very fine patterned borders setting off each picture.
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the church was ransacked and looted, badly damaging its interior. The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s. During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad by Nazi German military forces, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat and from starvation and illness. The church suffered significant damage. After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Saviour on Potatoes.
In July 1970, management of the Church passed to Saint Isaac's Cathedral (then used as a highly profitable museum) and proceeds from the Cathedral were funneled back into restoring the Church. It was reopened in August 1997, after 27 years of restoration, but has not been reconsecrated and does not function as a full-time place of worship; it is a Museum of Mosaics. Even before the Revolution it never functioned as a public place of worship; having been dedicated exclusively to the memory of the assassinated tsar, the only services were panikhidas (memorial services). The Church is now one of the main tourist attractions in St. Petersburg.