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Showcasing the Third Reich: The Nuremberg Rallies
By Andrew Rawson
The History PressCopyright © 2012 Andrew Rawson
All rights reserved.
The Rise of the Nazis and their Rallies
What follows is a brief description of the rise of the Nazis between the first rally in 1923 and the final, cancelled rally in 1939. It outlines each rally, illustrating how it developed from a simple day-long fund raising event into a week-long programme of activities.
THE FIRST PARTY CONGRESS (MUNICH, 27 JANUARY 1923)
20,000 supporters attended the first Party Rally in Munich on 27 January 1923. The SA's first four standards were consecrated during an ad-hoc ceremony; such ceremonies became an important part of future rallies. The Rally was a financial success and the NSDAP leaders decided to hold a second convention in the autumn.
THE GERMAN DAY RALLY (NUREMBERG, 1–2 SEPTEMBER 1923)
A two-day event was held in Nuremberg to make it easier for northern members to attend and it was called German Day to increase the appeal to the public. The rally focused on remembering two German military triumphs; the Battle of Sedan in 1870 against the French during the Franco-Prussian War and the Battle of Tannenberg against the Russians in 1914 during the First World War.
The SA demonstrated their discipline and comradeship, aiming to attract new members from other right-wing groups, and the highlight was a parade past Hitler, Erich Ludendorff and Julius Streicher in the Hauptmarkt. Eight weeks later, the three tried to seize power in Munich but the uprising failed and Hitler was jailed for five years in April 1924.
Alfred Rosenberg stood in as leader of the NSDAP but he was neither a leader nor an administrator and the Party soon broke up. The National Socialist Freedom Party was formed in April 1924 and a month later nearly two million people voted for it, putting 32 delegates in the Reichstag. Members of the SA also continued to meet under the guise of sports clubs, singing clubs and rifle clubs.
THE SECOND PARTY CONGRESS, THE REFOUNDING CONGRESS (WEIMAR, 3–4 JULY 1926)
Hitler was released from prison on 24 December 1924 after serving only eight months. The ban on the NSDAP was lifted on 16 February 1925 and Hitler began work on uniting the Party across Germany. He faced opposition from Gregor and Otto Strasser in Berlin but they were brought into line at the Bamberg Conference on 14 February 1926.
Although the Party did not have enough funds to hold a Party Rally in 1925, members worked hard to raise money for one the following summer. Hitler was banned from speaking in Bavaria so it was moved to Weimar, Thuringia. The choice was a pragmatic one. Bavaria was out of bounds and the Bavarians in the Party did not want to hold the rally in Berlin. Weimar was the city where the National Congress had met in 1919 to establish a new post-war republic; the German Reich is often referred to as the Weimar Republic.
A new ceremony became a centrepiece of the rally when the battle -scarred flag carried during the 1923 Munich Putsch was paraded as a sacred relic. As the faithful looked on, Hitler held the Blood Flag, as it was called, and seized each new unit flag in turn, in a pseudo-religious consecration ceremony.
THE THIRD PARTY CONGRESS, THE DAY OF AWAKENING (NUREMBERG, 19–21 AUGUST 1927)
When Bavaria lifted its ban on Hitler speaking, the NSDAP returned to Nuremberg for their next annual congress. The city's favourable geographic situation and good rail links made it easier for supporters to get to the rally. It was a neutral city, which neither alienated the Bavarians nor the Prussians. Luitpold Grove (Luitpoidhain) was a practical meeting place and while Franconia had a well organised NSDAP under Julius Streicher, the Nuremberg police chief, Benno Martin, was sympathetic to the Nazi cause.
While the 1927 rally was a success, the NSDAP was spending all its money on campaigning. There was no rally in 1928 and the party instead focused on its leader conference in Munich.
THE FOURTH PARTY CONGRESS, THE DAY OF COMPOSURE (NUREMBERG, 2 AUGUST 1929)
By September 1929 the Party had increased its membership and subscriptions sufficiently to stage another rally. The NSDAP had recently allied itself with the German National People's Party (DNVP) to campaign against the Young Plan, a new financial plan designed to restructure Germany's war reparations. While the alliance did not last for long, the campaign increased the NSDAP's exposure due to favourable coverage in Alfred Hugenberg's newspapers.
Thousands of NSDAP members gathered in Nuremberg but the parades and marches drew the attention of the local Communist and Social Democrat supporters. There were clashes across the city, leaving the police struggling to keep control and street battles left two dead and many injured, including five policemen. The riots were covered extensively in newspapers, giving the Rally free publicity.
The Rally caused so much trouble that the city council banned future political conventions. They need not have bothered; the NSDAP was again out of money because campaigning had reached fever pitch. It had to be satisfied with holding leader conferences.
THE FIFTH PARTY CONGRESS, THE RALLY OF VICTORY (31 AUGUST–3 SEPTEMBER 1933, NUREMBERG)
Between August 1929 and August 1933 the NSDAP rose from strength to strength on the back of political unrest in Germany. It started with the Wall Street Crash in October 1929, when the value of the United States stock market fell rapidly, seriously undermining Germany's weak economy. As unemployment rose and businesses closed, support for Germany's democratic parties declined as voters looked to radical political parties for answers.
While support for the NSDAP rose during the Reichstag elections, Hitler's exposure increased because he stood in the Presidential elections. As Hitler flew around the country to meet the people, Party members campaigned hard and the SA's brown shirts fought opponents on the streets. By the end of 1932, the NSDAP was in a strong position while the leaders of the democratic parties were finding it impossible to solve the country's problems.
Hitler was appointed Chancellor at the head of a new cabinet on 30 January 1933. Four weeks later the Reichstag was burned down, civil rights were suspended and draconian measures were implemented. In March the Enabling Act was voted in, allowing the Cabinet to deviate from the Constitution's system of government and pass new laws. It also allowed the Nazis to amend Reich, State and local government to their own advantage.
In Nuremberg, Mayor Hermann Luppe was forced to resign on 16 March and was then arrested. The takeover of the city council by the NSDAP followed, opening the way for the organisation of a Party Rally. After years of resistance from the city council concerning the disruption caused by the rally, the new Nazi council gave it their full backing and work on the rally grounds began in earnest.
The 1933 rally was the first to have an official title, the 'Rally of Victory', in honour of the victory of National Socialism over the Weimar Republic; effectively the victory of a dictatorship over democracy. The organisers erected temporary wooden platforms on Luitpold Arena and Zeppelin Field while Luitpold Hall was given a theatrical makeover. Hitler wanted a permanent record of the rally and he invited the film director Leni Riefenstahl to film a documentary called the 'Victory of Faith' or Sieg des Glaubens.
THE SIXTH PARTY CONGRESS, THE RALLY OF THE WILL (5–10 SEPTEMBER 1934)
As soon as the 1933 rally ended, work started on turning Dutzendteich Parks into a dedicated area for Party rallies. Work started on permanent grandstands for the Luitpold Arena and the Zeppelin Arena while the facilities in Luitpold Hall were improved.
However, these improvements were only temporary because Albert Speer became responsible for the Rally Grounds on 25 April 1934 and he had grand designs. While local architect Ludwig Ruff was commissioned to build a new Congress Hall in June, Speer was looking at the bigger picture. With the number of visitors expected to increase rapidly, new accommodation and infrastructure had to be considered.
Meanwhile, problems with the leadership of the SA had been simmering for a time and on 30 June 1934 Ernst Röhm and many other SA leaders were arrested and executed by its rival organisation, the SS. Other opponents and rivals to Hitler were also eliminated during the Night of the Long Knives. It meant that the SA's new leader, Viktor Lutze, would stand alongside Hitler and Reichsführer SS, Heinrich Himmler, during future rallies.
The 1934 rally had several names celebrating the Party's unity in the wake of the Night of the Long Knives; the 'Rally of Unity and Strength', the 'Rally of Power' or the 'Rally of the Will'.
With Ernst Röhm's image banned across Germany, Hitler again asked Leni Riefenstahl to make a new film, drawing on lessons learnt from the first. This time she was involved in the planning and the result was the famous, or rather infamous, 'Triumph of the Will'.
THE SEVENTH PARTY CONGRESS, RALLY OF FREEDOM (10–16 SEPTEMBERS 1935)
Construction work on the Rally Grounds continued at a furious pace following the 1934 rally. Albert Speer also produced a new plan in December outlining how the different structures, both existing and planned, would be connected by a huge road. He also planned a massive arena called the Mars Field.
The temporary grandstands on the Luitpold Arena and the Zeppelin Field had been replaced by permanent ones while similar improvements had been made to the terracing. Work had also started on the new Congress Hall, turning the area around the Dutzendteich Lake into a gigantic construction site. A new, huge open air stadium called the German Stadium was planned to be added later.
The 1935 rally was designated the Rally of Freedom and the title celebrated the reintroduction of conscription, which had been banned under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. The Luftwaffe also made an appearance for the first time, having been unveiled in March.
The 1935 rally will always be associated with the declaration of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws. These new laws divided German society into citizens of the State and subjects of the State. They also banned marriages and sexual relations between Aryans and Jews.
THE EIGHTH PARTY CONGRESS, THE RALLY OF HONOUR (NUREMBERG, 8–14 SEPTEMBER 1936)
While the finishing touches were made to to the Luitpold Arena and the Zeppelin Field, work continued at a feverish pace on the Congress Hall foundations over the winter of 1935/36. Large tracts of woodland were cut down and the marshes were drained around the Dutzendteich Lakes to make way for Speer's new structures, including the Great Road, the Mars Field and the Langwasser campsite.
The Nazis' commitment to Nuremberg was confirmed on 7 July 1936 when the city was designated the 'City of the Reich Party Conventions'. The rally was called the Rally of Honour, in recognition of the occupation of the demilitarised zone of the Rhineland the previous March. Visitors were reminded that German troops grouped under the Condor Legion had been deployed to Spain to help General Franco's Nationalist troops in their Civil War with Republicans.
The Nazis also announced their Four-Year Plan, a sweeping economic reorganisation to make Germany financially and agriculturally independent. Shortly after the rally, Hermann Göring was given control of all aspects of the German economy.
THE NINTH PARTY CONGRESS, THE RALLY OF WORK (NUREMBERG, 6–13 SEPTEMBER 1937)
The 1937 rally was dedicated to the reduction of unemployment across Germany. The Depression had doubled unemployment from 2.9 million in 1929 to 6 million in 1933; a staggering 30 per cent of the workforce. By the end of 1937 the Nazis had reduced it to one million. However, all was not what it seemed. Construction schemes accounted for 500,000 men, 200,000 had been conscripted into the Reich Labour Service and another 750,000 had been conscripted in the armed forces. 800,000 women had also been forced out of the labour market. The Nazis' promise to reduce unemployment was met through compulsory employment and conscription rather than through effective economic policies. The increase of military-related industries and the recovery of the world markets from the effects of the Wall Street Crash also worked in their favour.
Visitors would have noted that the final touches had been made to the Luitpold Arena and the Zeppelin Field, while the foundations for the Congress Hall were complete. Extensive clearance works on the Great Road were still ongoing while the excavation for the German Stadium had only just started. Excavation works on the west side of the Mars Field had also been underway for twelve months.
A new award was announced on the second day of the Congress, the German National Prize for Art and Science. The Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to anti-Nazi author Carl von Ossietsky in 1935 and the Nazis banned Germans from accepting future awards. The German National Prize replaced it; only nine were awarded between 1937 and 1939.
The 1937 rally followed the format of the previous year with one notable exception, the spectacle of Speer's Cathedral of Light over the Zeppelin Field; a night-time light show created using dozens of searchlights. Parts of the rally were filmed and they were incorporated with footage from the 1938 rally to make a short film called Festliches Nürnberg or 'Festive Nuremberg'.
THE TENTH PARTY CONGRESS, THE RALLY OF GREATER GERMANY (5–12 SEPTEMBER 1938)
The 1938 rally was named in honour of the Union, or Anschluss, with Austria, creating a Greater Germany. Hitler was Austrian and he had wanted to merge his homeland with Germany for some time. He tried to bully the Chancellor of Austria, Kurt Schuschnigg, into working with him but failed. German troops crossed the Austrian border on 12 March and crowds turned out to greet them as they drove to Vienna. 200,000 Austrians turned out to hear Hitler proclaim the Union in the city. Artur Seyss-Inquart was appointed Chancellor and Nazi-style law and order was immediately implemented across Austria. The Union was overwhelmingly ratified by Austrian voters on 10 April.
The Nazis moved the Imperial Regalia, relics which belonged to the Emperors and Kings of the Holy Roman Empire, to St Katherine's Church in the centre of Nuremberg. Most of the relics had been brought to the city in 1426 but Napoleon's troops moved them to Vienna's Hofburg Palace in 1796. The collection included the Imperial Crown, Cross, Sword and Orb; it also included the Holy Lance and relics of the True Cross. The Nazis planned to display them in the new Congress Hall but it was never finished; they were returned to Vienna after the war.
Hitler had also been planning to invade Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, since the September 1937 rally. Once Germany and Austria had been joined, he wanted to include the Sudeten Germans in the Third Reich. On 30 May 1938 Hitler secretly told his generals to prepare to cross the Czech border on 1 October and announced his intentions during the September 1938 rally.
A new day was added to the 1938 rally, the Day of Beauty. For the first time young men and women performed athletic exercises on the Zeppelin Field.
THE ELEVENTH PARTY CONGRESS, THE RALLY OF PEACE (PLANNED FOR 2–11 SEPTEMBER 1939)
All across the Rally Grounds thousands of labourers resumed work at a furious pace following the 1938 Rally, particularly on the Congress Hall and the SS Barracks at the north end of the Rally Grounds and the German Stadium and the Mars Field to the south. The city zoo was also moved to make way for buildings west of the new Congress Hall; it was moved to its present site at Schmausenbuck, east of the city centre.
The organisers planned a bigger and better rally for 1939; however, Hitler had other plans for September 1939. While Nuremberg was preparing for the Rally of Peace, Hitler was preparing for war. He had explained his plans to the heads of the armed forces on 5 November 1937 and from then on all his plans were focused on war.
Following Hitler's announcement that he intended to invade the Sudetenland, British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain and French Premier, Edouard Daladier, agreed to hand over the area to Germany to prevent a European war. Chamberlain declared 'I believe it is peace for our time.'
On 1 October German troops occupied the mountainous Sudetenland region; some of them had paraded at Nuremberg only four weeks earlier. Nazi law and order was imposed across the area and on 4 December the invasion was ratified. However, Hitler had not finished and on 15 March German troops marched into Slovakia, heading for Prague.
Excerpted from Showcasing the Third Reich: The Nuremberg Rallies by Andrew Rawson. Copyright © 2012 Andrew Rawson. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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