Nazism was the ideology behind the National Socialist Party (Nationalsozialismus) which ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945.

Led by Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) the party rose to prominence in a heavily demoralised Germany left reeling from defeat in World War I, shamed and angry over the 1919 Versailles Treaty (which insisted that Germany assume sole responsibility for the war) and the blights of the worldwide Great Depression. The party was elected in 1933.

The Nazis claimed to offer a “third way” to the people of Germany – neither capitalism nor communism, the dominant ideological poles of the time. They promised a nationalist form of socialism that would provide for their people, who they believed were the summit of the Aryan race (to them, the Master Race). This particular strand of fascism held that the biggest threat to said race and Germany’s future was the Jews, who they considered to be a parasites bent on self preservation through alignment with Enlightenment values like liberalism, democracy, parliamentary politics, capitalism, industrialisation, Marxism and trade unionism. Unsurprisingly, all such things were anathema to the Nazi party.

Gates to Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGates to Auschwitz Concentration Camp - Credit: Tulio Bertorini
To this end, the Nazis began their drive by passing legislation that effectively barred Jewish people from participating in public life, herding them into filthy, unsanitary and crowded ghettos and passing the Nuremburg Laws in 1935. Long before World War II began, concentration camps were being set up (Dachau was the first, in 1933) where inmates either starved or were literally worked to death. During the war, it is estimated that the Nazis set up 15,000 camps in occupied territories, mainly in Poland. Alongside approximately six million European Jews, an unspecified number of Poles, Romany gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals, lesbians (who were often imprisoned, despite belief to the contrary), people of colour, trade unionists, communists, dissidents, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Soviets were murdered in the camps, bringing the number of Holocaust victims to an estimated 17 million.

It is one of humanity’s greatest failures.