Solid Silver 2 Marks WWII Nazi Germany (Munich) 1937-D $69.99 - SOLD
Solid Silver 2 Marks WWII Nazi Germany (Munich) 1937-D with Swastika Emblem.
Obverse President Paul von Hindenburg; Reverse Reichseagle on Swastika. Very light circulatory wear, complete themes and legends.
This is a historically significant 25mm solid silver two mark coin struck in Nazi Germany, at the Munich Mint, at the height of the Nazi's pre-war power in 1937. Nazi Germany had already commenced their campaign to turn Europe into a continent unified under Nazi rule, though up to this point they had done so virtually unopposed. The major powers were still trying to appease Hitler at this point, and Hitler was invading other countries "historically German" with the blessing of the continental powers. Very shortly this would change with Germany's invasion of Poland, just months away, which would precipitate the involvement of France, England, and eventually America in World War II.
The obverse of this specimen depicts the bust of Paul von Hindenburg, German general and second president of the Weimar Republic, who played a key role in unwittingly assisting Adolf Hitler to achieve dictatorial powers in pre-war Germany. Were it not for von Hindenburg's well-intentioned though tragic appointment of Hitler as Chancellor of Germany, Hitler and his Nazi party would likely have faded into obscurity with the end of the world wide recession. The reverse of the coin depicts a majestic Reichseagle perched atop a wreathed Nazi swastika. Even the edge of the coin is engraved with the denomination in German and the name "von Hindenburg", a very nice and elegant touch followed by some of the predominant continental powers in the early part of the 20th century.
As you can see, the specimen evidences very little circulatory wear. It could not have been in circulation for more than a few months, perhaps a year at the most. All of the themes and legends, both obverse and reverse, are entirely discernable and very distinct. This coin represents a very significant point in the history of Germany, and the coin was a masterstroke of propaganda. The depiction of the lawfully elected second President of the Weimar Republic, deceased war hero, and legitimate politician, together with the Nazi Reichseagle and Swastika, somehow seemed to lend legitimacy to Hitler's takeover of power.
The obverse of the coin features the bust right of President Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934). True to the German tradition of fine craftsmanship, the features of this coin are finely detailed, an excellent example of the engraver's art form. You can see the finely detailed individual hair strands showing only light traces of circulatory wear. Likewise you can see the very fine and elaborate details skillfully depicted such as the wrinkles above Hindenburg's brow, the very fine wrinkles around his eyes, and even the very intricate details such as his eyelids, lips, and the fine mustache hairs. Of course the large Germanic nose and ears are very prominent.
This coin is truly an exceptional example of the engraver's art, and this specimen is exceptionally well preserved. The rim is well-formed and in high relief, protecting the legend which reads, "PAUL VON HINDENBURG 1847-1934". The legend is in a very aesthetically appealing Germanic almost script-like font which is very distinctive and unusual even for issues of the Deutschland. Of course the legend is quite sharp and distinct in a specimen evidencing very little wear. To the left and below the legend "1847-1934" you can see a tiny upper-case letter "D", the mint mark for Munich. Overall this specimen possesses both an exceptionally well detailed and preserved theme and legend.
The reverse features a very regal depiction of the Reichseagle wings spread wide, standing atop a wreathed swastika. As was the case with the obverse, the details of the reverse are elaborately engraved and well-preserved. Each magnificent feather of the eagle's wings are very sharp and preserved in high relief. The cross-hatched chest feathers, the talons, beak, and even the tiny eye are all very fine and exquisitely detailed - and well preserved. The eagle's legs are realistically feathered, and there is even a trace of a tail feather engraved between the eagle's legs. The talons rest upon a oak-leave laurel wreath.
The leaves comprising the wreath are very nicely detailed, depicting well-preserved center veins and nicely serrated leaf edge detail. Of course the Nazi Swastika is prominent within the laurel wreath. The legend is of two parts. First is the denomination, to the eagle's left a number "2", and to the right tucked beneath the wing the tiny legend "REICHSMARK", again in a very nice font approaching a script. The bottom portion of the coin contains the circumferential legend "DEUTCHES REICH 1937".
The legend is very crisp, protected by a very pronounced rim of high relief and nicely detailed. Any signs of circulatory wear in the reverse are difficult to ascertain, other than the typical minute scratches visible under a 5x glass. Overall, the reverse theme and legends are both preserved in nice relief, very sharp and certainly well-defined, with little wear evident.
We don't know much about modern coins here, but this seems to be an attractive silver coin of substantial historical significance. This series comprising both two and five mark denominations is widely sought after by collectors. Commemorating the Presidency of the deceased von Hindenburg and tying it together with the Nazi party was a tremendous stroke of propagandist genius. Von Hindenburg was neither an advocate or admirer of Adolf Hitler, but he did represent legitimacy, and Hitler appropriated that legitimacy through many different means, certainly this series of coinage is an example.
There is a great account of the history of Germany below, if you would care to read on, which highlights the significance of this coinage. There is also a short and fascinating narrative regarding von Hindenburg. In addition to the fact that the coin was minted at a very historic moment, it is also in an outstanding state of preservation! If you are the lucky winner, and find the coin not as described, or should it disappoint you in any respect whatever, you may return it for a full refund, including postage. If you would like and upon request, this specimen can be protectively mounted in a clear acrylic air-tight presentation/display capsule, with either black or white background, as pictured below, for no additional charge. Please note you must specify mounting, as we do not automatically mount the coin as many customers prefer an unmounted specimen.
SHIPPING: These antiquities come from a number of collections which by and large originated here in Eastern Europe. As well, additional specimens are occasionally acquired from other institutions and dealers, principally in Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. All of these artifacts are now in the United States and are available for immediate delivery via U.S. Mail. All purchases are backed by an unlimited guarantee of satisfaction and authenticity. If for any reason you are not entirely satisfied with your purchase, you may return it for a complete and immediate refund of your entire purchase price. A certificate of authenticity (COA) is available upon request.
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Our order fulfillment center near Seattle, Washington will ship your purchase within one business day of receipt of your personal check or money order. If you wish to pay electronically, we accept both PayPal and BidPay. However we ask that you PLEASE WAIT before remitting until we have mutually agreed upon method of shipment and shipping charges and you understand our PayPal limitations and policies (stated here). We will ship within one business day of our receipt of your electronic remittance. Please see our "ADDITIONAL TERMS OF SALE."
The obverse of this specimen depicts the bust of Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), German general and second president of the Weimar Republic. As commander of the German Eighth Army on the Russian border during World War I Hindenburg led the Germans to an overwhelming victory at Tannenberg. In 1916 he became chief of the German general staff, responsible for the direction of all German forces. In March 1917 Hindenburg established a system of trenches across northern France known as the Hindenburg Line. In 1925 Hindenburg was elected the second president of the Weimar Republic, Germany's first democratic government.
Hindenburg ran for the presidency again in 1932, defeating National Socialist (Nazi) Party candidate Adolf Hitler. However in a move to make peace with the Nazi Party, the following year Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor. Hitler soon gained complete control of the Reichstag, the lower legislative chamber, which voted him dictatorial powers. Thereafter, Hindenburg was only a figurehead in the German government, and upon his death in the following year, Adolf Hitler was undisputed master of Germany.
Germany is bounded by the North Sea, the Baltic Sea; Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. It is important to understand that "Germany" was not a unified country until the 19th century. When reference is made to "German History", reference is generally being made to a collection of various "Germanic States", sometimes loosely affiliated, sometimes fiercely independent and antagonistic.
About 400,000 years ago, during the Old Stone Age, the German forests were thinly populated by wandering bands of hunters and gatherers. During the New Stone Age, the indigenous hunters settled in villages to raise crops and breed livestock. Villagers lived with their animals in large, gabled wooden houses, made pottery, and traded with Mediterranean peoples for fine stone and flint axes and shells. At the beginning of the Bronze Age (2,500 B.C.) new waves of migrating peoples arrived, probably from southern Russia. These battle-ax-wielding Indo-Europeans were the ancestors of the Germanic peoples that settled in northern and central Germany, the Baltic and Slavic peoples in the east, and the Celts in the south and west. From 1,800 to 400 B.C., Celtic peoples in southern Germany and Austria introduced the use of iron for tools and weapons, and used ox-drawn plows and wheeled vehicles.
From the 2nd century B.C. to the 5th century A.D. the Germanic and Celtic tribes were in constant conflict with the Roman Empire. The Teutons were defeated by the Roman general Gaius Marius in 101 B.C. The tribes in Gaul (modern-day France), west of the Rhine, were subdued by Julius Caesar around 50 B.C. The Romans tried unsuccessfully to extend their rule to the Elbe. However the best the Roman Empire was able to accomplish was to hold back the Germans with a line of fortifications at the Rhine and the Danube. Throughout the 2nd and 3rd centuries the Romans prevented confederations of Franks and Burgundians from crossing the Rhine. But by the 4th and 5th centuries, the constant pressure proved too much for the weakened Roman Empire. The Huns, sweeping in from Asia, set off waves of migration, during which the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, Franks, Lombards, and other Germanic tribes overran the empire. In the late 5th century the Franks conclusively defeated the Romans, and established a kingdom that included most of Gaul and southwestern Germany.
In the 8th century, Charlemagne the Great fought the Slavs south of the Danube, annexed southern Germany, and conquered the Saxons in the northwest. As champion of Christianity and supporter of the papacy (the "Holy Roman Empire"), Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III in Rome in 800. Charlemagne's Empire did not long survive his death in 814, and ultimately the empire was divided among his three grandsons in 843. One received West Francia (modern-day France), another East Francia (modern-day Germany), and the third the "Middle Kingdom" running from the North Sea through modern-day Lorraine and Burgundy to Italy. The "middle kingdom" almost immediately disintegrated, and France and Germany were destined to wrestle over the territory within for the next thousand years.
By ancient German tradition, the kings were elected. Because no noble family wanted to be subject to a strong king, weak kings were often chosen, and none could safely assume the loyalty of his nobles. German kings traveled unceasingly about their realm, had no income beyond that from their family lands and gifts, and the feudal lords, theoretically vassals of the king, often usurped royal rights to build castles and administer justice. These conditions delayed for centuries the consolidation of a strong German state. The vast majority of common people lived on country manors belonging to nobles or churchmen. The few cities, such as Trier and Cologne, were chiefly Roman foundations or imperial fortifications. Monasteries such as Reichenau, Regensburg, Fulda, Echternach, and Saint Gall became centers of scholarship.
By the early 10th century East Francia (Germany) was being buffeted by new waves of invading Danes, Hungarians, and Moravians, and internally was virtually torn apart by rival tribes. Completely fragmented, the largest remnants of Charlemagne's once great empire were the tribal duchies; Franconia, Swabia, Bavaria, Saxony, and Lorraine. By the close of the 10th century, Germany had expanded to their influence to Lorraine and Burgundy (Arles), defeated the Danes to the North, and the Slavs to the East, and permanently broke the power of the Magyars at the Battle of the Lechfeld in 955.
Germany tried to continue supporting the papacy in the 11th century, but were defeated by the Saracens in their efforts to secure southern Italy. Closer to home, Germany seized Burgundy, strengthened their hold on northern Italy, and added Poland to the Empire; and then in a series of defeats under Henry V, lost control of Poland, Hungary, and Bohemia. In the 12th and 13th centuries Germany and Italy were torn apart by rivalry between two princely families. As a result, even as Germany armies were participating in the Christian Crusades, back home civil wars erupted twice in the 12th century. In 1197 Northern Italy reasserted its independence, and for a third time in the century civil war raged. When King Frederick II died in 1237, Italy and Germany were never united again, and the papacy, allied with the French, ousted the Germans from Sicily. By the late 13th century the empire had lost Poland and Hungary and effective control of Burgundy and Italy.
Germany was fragmented and weakened, both politically and militarily. However economically, Germany was flourishing. Trade increased, Cologne and Frankfurt gave access to the fairs of Champagne, Mainz lay on the route across the Alps to Italy, Lýbeck and Hamburg dominated North Sea and Baltic trade, and Leipzig was in contact with Russia. Trade associations formed between the cities contributed to the development of agriculture and industrial arts, constructed canals and highways, and even declared war. At their height, rich merchants built city walls, cathedrals, and elaborate town halls and guildhalls as expressions of civic pride. However the Black Death, or Bubonic Plague swept through Europe in the mid 14th century, decimating perhaps as much as one-third of Europe's population. Civil war raged again in the early 14th century, as yet again, different princely monarchs supported different candidates as successors to the crown.
Finally in 1338 the Princes made the momentous declaration that henceforth the king of the Germans would be the majority electoral choice, thus avoiding civil wars. Further they decided that their election would automatically be emperor without the necessity of being crowned by the pope. Thus the possibility of papal veto was eliminated, which in past had been another leading cause of civil wars. This was reflected in the title, official in the 15th century, Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation. When the great King Sigismund died without an heir, the princes unanimously chose his Habsburg son-in-law Albert of Austria, who became emperor as Albert II. From that time on, the imperial crown became in practice, although not in theory, hereditary in the Habsburg line.
In the 15th century, a civil war raged in Bohemia, the Ottomans invaded Hungary, which was lost along with Bohemia, and Luxembourg was sold to France. Economically the 15th century was a time of transition from the land economy of the Middle Ages to the money economy of modern times. As centers of commerce, the cities became increasingly important in a money economy. In the south, Nuremberg and Augsburg, home of the Fugger bank, thrived on mines and trade with Italy. In the north, Lýbeck and Hamburg carried on brisk trade with Britain and Scandinavia. The increasingly widespread need for cash led to criticism of the church's wealth. People objected that the church owned much land and demanded much output from their agricultural tenants, but paid no taxes. Economic and political concerns came together in the form of growing resentment at the necessity of having to support the pope in Rome.
At this early stage, a break with Rome did not seem inevitable. If nonbiblical practices such as selling "indulgences", pardons for sins, had been eliminated, it is possible that the populace would have been appeased. The invention of printing from movable type by Johann Gutenberg made it possible to produce Bibles, other books, and pamphlets in great quantity at low cost. As a result, the new learning could circulate widely, preparing the intellectual ground for the Protestant Reformation. The spiritual concerns of Martin Luther combined with secular ambitions of the German princes produced the movement for church reform, which created religious liberty, but at the cost of Western Christian unity. Religious strife, Holy Roman Catholic versus Protestant Reformer, intensified European political wars for 100 years.
While the emperors Ferdinand I and his son Maximilian II were occupied with the threat of Turkish invasion, Protestantism in Germany grew. Tension mounted between Protestants and Catholics. Taking advantage of the quarreling German states, France, England, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands all intervened and made Germany the scene of a devastating European War. In 1618 Protestant Bohemia refused to accept the Catholic Ferdinand as King, and the Czechs set up their own Protestant government. Ferdinand crushed the Bohemian forces at the Battle of Weisserberg (1620); the new Czech King was exiled, and Catholicism was restored by force. Bohemian nobles were killed or stripped of their lands. As a result of the war the population declined by more than one-half.
Emboldened by Germany's internal dissension, Denmark, financed by the Dutch and English, invaded Germany in 1625. In 1629 Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution, which ordered the return of all Catholic church property seized by Protestants since 1552. Sweden, anxious to extend Swedish control of the Baltic, invaded Pomerania under the pretense of being the champion of the Protestant princes. The French paid subsidies to the Swedish army to keep it fighting, and French troops crossed the Rhine. After another 13 years, the long war ended in a draw, finalized by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. By the terms of the treaty, the sovereignty and independence of each state of the Holy Roman Empire was fully recognized, making the Holy Roman Emperor virtually powerless. In addition, the religion of each German state was to be determined by its prince. Politically the Holy Roman Empire continued in name, but it had lost all claim to universality or effective centralized government. Economically and socially, Germany had lost about one-third of its people to war, famine, and plague and much of its livestock, capital, and trade. Bands of refugees and mercenaries roamed the countryside, seizing what they could. It was indeed a dark time for the princely German States.
Badly weakened, Germany was overshadowed by France and England in the 17th and 18th centuries. The western German States were involved in four wars by which Louis XIV strove to extend French territory to the Rhine. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) was fought over the right of Louis XIV's grandson, Philip V, to inherit the Spanish throne. Prussia and most other European states wanted to block unification of France and Spain. Large, well-trained, well-equipped armies fought in Bavaria and western Germany, wreaking havoc and ruin. The Germans also had to reckon with the Ottoman Turks who were vigorously expanding in southeastern Europe and invaded Hungary in 1663, and besieged Vienna in 1683. However in the Great Northern War of 1700-1721, Saxony, Poland, Prussia, Denmark, and Russia joined forces against Sweden. Sweden eventually lost Poland, Stettin, West Pomerania, and their eastern Baltic lands to Prussia and Russia. Benefiting by this, by 1740 Austria and Prussia were leaving the other German states behind, leaving Austria and Prussia as the principal rivals for dominance in central Europe.
The emergence of Prussia as a major power led to a radical shift of alliances and to new hostilities. Prussia invaded Saxony and Bohemia in 1756, Austria invaded Silesia, the Russians marched into Prussia, the French attacked Hannover, and chaos prevailed for the better part of a decade until the rivals had exhausted themselves. Though most hostilities had ended by about 1764, Prussia and Austria both coveted Polish territories, and both feared the growing strength of Russia. In 1772 Austria, Prussia, and Russia agreed to a partition of militarily weak Poland, and by 1795 Poland entirely disappeared.
Despite constant military conflict, the 18th century, as it drew to a close, had witnessed a flowering of German culture, and the awakening of a German cultural identity. The princes of the various Germanic states had made themselves absolute monarchs, centralized their governments and established mercantile economies. Engaging artisans and artists alike, the princes had made their capital cities artistic and intellectual centers, resplendent with palaces, churches, museums, theaters, gardens, and universities. In a cultural explosion, the princely states vied with one another to sponsor artists such as Heinrich Schýtz and Johann Sebastian Bach; Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven; J. S. Bach and George Frideric Handel. This cultural awakening, together with the conquests of Napoleon, aroused a sense of national identity within the Germanic States, and an awakening of a desire for national unification.
For 18 years the German states had endured five defensive wars against the well-trained, unified armies of revolutionary and Napoleonic France. In the first two wars the French took the left bank of the Rhine. In the third, Napoleon conquered Vienna and Berlin. In 1806 he reorganized the western German states, to compensate for their left-bank losses, into the Confederation of the Rhine. Austria and Prussia were excluded and lost much territory. In 1809 Austria led a fourth war against France, while Napoleon was occupied in Spain, but in the process it lost more land. In 1812, Napoleon's disastrous retreat from Moscow, encouraged Russia, Prussia and Austria to wage a War of Liberation. Napoleon was defeated at Leipzig in 1813, and Paris itself fell in 1814.
In 1815, at the Congress of Vienna, the map of Europe was redrawn by the victorious allies, and the contemporary states of Austria and Prussia were redefined and delineated. Austria gained part of Italy, Salzburg, Lombardy, and Illyria and Dalmatia on the Adriatic Sea. Prussia gained much of Saxony and Swedish Pomerania, and land in the Rhineland and Westphalia, including the undeveloped iron and coal resources of the Ruhr and Saar. The move toward a unified Germany, popular with all but the princely monarchs, gained momentum thereafter. Prussia instituted a customs union of most German states except Austria. Liberal Revolutions in Paris in 1830 and 1848 created waves of sympathetic uprisings washing through Germany and Europe. Nationalist groups revolted in Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, Galicia, and Lombardy, Bavaria, Prussia, and southwestern Germany. The frightened princely rulers agreed to send delegates to an assembly in Frankfurt.
However the rebellions were instead crushed by the various princely states, and a liberal constitution for a unified Germany never survived outside the walls of the Frankfurt Assembly. After the failure of the liberal Frankfurt Assembly, both Prussia and Austria put forth more conservative, though conflicting plans for union. Otto von Bismark, Chief Minister of Prussia, masterminded an effort which combined diplomacy and "blood-and-iron" militarism in order to eliminate Austrian influence and bring about unification on Prussian terms. Austria and Prussia jointly attacked and defeated the Danish controlled states of Schleswig and Holstein in 1864. In 1866 after a contrived disagreement over their control, Prussia attacked and defeated Austria in a battle at KŠniggrĄtz. In 1870 wily Bismark contrived to have France declare war on Prussia. Stirred by national loyalty, the southern German states joined forces behind Prussia who conquered the French at Sedan and took Paris in 1871. Bismarck was then able to convince the southern German states, satiated by victory, that Prussian control was inevitable, and persuaded to the southern states to unify within the Prussian Empire. Bismarck motivated various Slavic groups to keep rising against the decaying Ottoman Empire, and founded colonies in Africa and the Pacific.
Bismarck encouraged the Industrial Revolution, which developed rapidly after 1850 as Germans applied advanced industrial technology to the iron and coal resources of the Ruhr and Saar. Population grew, factories boomed, and rural farmers were transformed into urban producers of steel for machinery, railways, and ships. An era of relative peace and prosperity followed reaching well into the 20th century. The empire did not function democratically however, and any thought of parliamentary government was actively discouraged by Bismarck, and ultimately the nationalism that created Germany in the 19th century led it into two disastrous wars. None of the European powers wanted World War I, but they all, France, Great Britain, Austria, and Russia, feared the newly unified Germany, which was outstripping them in population and industry, and was aggressively self-assertive. From the German perspective, surrounded by antagonists, there was the recurring nightmare of the possibility of a war on two fronts. All these powers sought protection in huge, peacetime, standing armies and in an intricate system of international alliances. Europe was divided into two armed camps, and antagonisms intensified.
In 1914 a Serbian conspiracy arranged the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand. Germany rashly assured Austria of full support, resulting in an Austrian ultimatum that Serbia could not accept and Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia, to defend Serbia, mobilized against Austria and Germany. Germany gave Russia 12 hours to demobilize, called up its own troops, and, receiving no answer, declared war on Russia. Assuming that France would aid Russia, Germany also declared war on France, and World War I was on. German armies moved through neutral Belgium, hoping to take Paris by surprise, and their violation of international law brought Britain into the war on the side of France.
German forces nearly reached Paris, however the British and French miraculously turned back the overstretched German lines at the Battle of the Marne. The two sides then dug trenches for a ferocious war of attrition that would last for four years. Meanwhile, the Russians attacked on the east, plunging Germany into exactly the two-front war they feared. The Germans soundly defeated the ill-equipped Russians, but they could make no headway in the west. The Allies blockaded Germany to cut off food and raw materials. Desperate to break the blockade, the Germans declared unrestricted submarine warfare. After several U.S. ships were sunk, the United States entered the war in 1917. The next year Russia, badly mauled and in the throes of two revolutions that brought Communists to power, sued for peace. Thus freed in the east, in 1918 the Germans launched a final, all-out offensive in the west, but the entry of America into the war slowly turned the tide against them. Recognizing the situation as hopeless, the German high command created a new civil government and sued for peace. While negotiating with Woodrow Wilson, U.S. President from 1913 to 1921, fighting continued, sailors mutinied, socialists staged strikes, workers and the military formed Communist councils, revolution broke out in Bavaria, and Social Democrats proclaimed Germany a republic.
Having surrendered and changed its government, not defeated on the battlefield, Germany expected a negotiated peace rather than the harsh terms imposed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. But the Allies were determined to receive reparation for their losses and to see that their enemy was never again in a position to endanger them. Germany consequentially lost territory to France and Poland, lost its colonies, and had to give up most of its coal, trains, and merchant ships, as well as its navy. Germany was required to limit its army and submit to Allied occupation of the Rhineland for 15 years. Worst of all, the Germans had to accept full responsibility for causing the war and, consequently, pay its total cost. This was particularly insulting, as Germans did not consider themselves any more guilty than anyone else, and it simply could not possibly pay all that was demanded. Forced to accept the treaty, the new German government, democratic in nature, the Weimar Republic, gained a bad name among its citizens, crippling its chances of success. Despite its democratic constitution, for most Germans the government only bore the stigma of military defeat and the Versailles treaty.
The financial restitution imposed by The Treaty of Versailles created a catastrophic economic burden. Because Germany could not meet reparations requirements, France invaded the Ruhr in 1923 to take over the coal mines. The worldwide depression of 1929 plunged the country into deepening economic despair. Millions of unemployed, disillusioned by capitalist democracy, turned to communism or to the party of National Socialism (Nazism) led by Adolf Hitler. In the depths of the depression of 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag. Hitler set out to make the Third Reich, as he called the new totalitarian Germany, and proceeded with frightening efficiency. As Chancellor he consolidated legislative, executive, judicial, and military authority in himself, and became head of state after the death of Paul von Hindenburg. All political parties except the Nazis were banned. Strikes were forbidden, and the unemployed were enrolled in labor camps or the army as Germany strove to be economically self-sufficient.
Some Germans did not take Hitler seriously, but outspoken dissenters left the country or disappeared. Jews were targeted for discriminatory laws and directives, deprived of citizenship, and barred from civil service and professions. Jewish firms were liquidated or purchased for less than full value by companies owned by non-Jews. Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled the country. Many of Europe's problems were left unresolved by World War I. Germany's willingness to seek a solution by force, while other countries wanted to avoid violence at all costs, led to World War II. Hitler had initially only planned to threaten and bluff the European powers into allowing him gradually to revise Germany's boundaries. His goal, to unite all Germans and give them living space did not seem unreasonable to some statesmen, who realized that the Versailles treaty had been unjust. At the time, no single demand of Hitler's seemed worth risking war to resist. Germany left the League of Nations in 1933, began to rearm in 1935, reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936, signed an anti-Communist pact with Japan, made an alliance with Fascist Italy, and in 1938 another with Austria. Britain, France, and Italy, terrified, timidly accepted Hitler's demand for the German-populated Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, after he assured them that he had no further territorial ambitions.
Made bold by the evident unwillingness to confront him, less than a year later, Hitler broke is promise and occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia. Hitler made a nonaggression pact with the USSR in 1939, and then promptly invaded Poland. Britain and France immediately declared war on Germany, and World War II had begun. In a few weeks of blitzkrieg, mechanized German divisions overwhelmed the ill-equipped Poles, taking western Poland, and the Soviets seized the eastern remainder. In 1940 Germany swallowed Denmark, Norway, and the Low Countries and invaded France, which rapidly collapsed. British and French forces were hastily evacuated from Dunkirk to England. Hitler then blockaded Britain with submarines and bombed the country with his new air force. In 1941, to aid faltering Italian forces, he sent troops to North Africa, Greece, and Yugoslavia. To block Soviet ambitions in agricultural eastern Europe, which industrial Germany needed, he suddenly invaded the USSR. As the Soviets retreated eastward, German armies engulfed the rich Ukraine. At this point, Hitler was master of continental Europe.
In 1942, however, Britain was still resisting, and the United States, which had entered the war after an attack by Japan, was sending supplies to Britain and the USSR. In 1943 the tide began to turn. German forces in the USSR were gradually driven west, Axis forces were defeated in North Africa, and Italy was invaded by Allied forces. Although defeat was inevitable, a deranged Hitler refused to surrender. Allied forces invaded Normandy in 1944 and swept inexorably east while the Soviets marched west. Hitler committed suicide just before Soviet tanks rolled into Berlin in April 1945, and Germany's unconditional surrender ended the Third Reich.
The Allies reduced Germany to its prewar western boundaries and assigned a large portion on the east to Poland. Initially four occupation zones were established, but policies diverged, Germany was split into two parts. Britain, the United States, and, eventually, France wanted to rebuild Germany into a major Western European power capable of countering the expansionist tendencies of the USSR. In 1948 they merged their zones into one region, supplied U.S. aid, and encouraged the Germans to form a democratic government. The USSR, on the other hand, imposed a Communist German government, under Soviet domination, on East Germany. In 1949 this practical polarization of Germany was legalized by the creation of two German states; the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany, and the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. And it was not until 1989, when East Germany's Communist government fell, that Germany was once again a unified country. In August of 1994, as the last Russian troops left Berlin, the final 200 allied troops also left Berlin, marking the first time since World War II that the city had not been host to foreign troops.