Opposition to Nazi rule within Germany did exist from 1933 to 1945. That opposition took place at civilian, church and military levels. None of this opposition to the Nazis was successful and it is difficult to know the true extent of it. However, the consequences for those caught opposing Hitler were dire.
The most famous example of men who were willing to take on the Nazi regime was the famous July Bomb Plot of 1944. Claus von Stauffenburg was the man who actually set off the bomb at Hitler’s East Prussian stronghold but there were many other men behind the plot. Many of these were in the military. Even Field Marshal Rommel was implicated in this plot but was allowed to commit suicide rather than face a very public and humiliating trial. Many others were not offered such a choice and faced the ‘People’s Court’ charged with treason.
According to statistics held by the Nazis, the most common form of opposition came from those ideologically opposed to the Nazis. The primary targets for the Gestapo in this case were communists and socialists. Of the 32,500 death sentences ordered for political reasons, 20,000 of the victims were communists. For December 1941, for example, statistics held by the Central Office of the SS Reich Security Service show that 405 people were arrested for being communist or Marxist. This compares with just 12 people arrested from the Protestant church who opposed the Nazi Regime. The same statistics also show that in just that one month (December) 7,408 people were arrested for refusing to work – 239 a day.
The Enabling Act of March 1933 had given Hitler enormous power over all Germans in Nazi Germany. It is no coincidence that in the same month the first concentration camp was created at Dachau. Anyone considered to be a threat to Hitler was arrested and issued with a ‘D notice’. The law was ‘adjusted’ to allow the Nazis to effectively determine who was an opponent. Once labelled as such, arrest was inevitable. The development and expansion of various police units – both in uniform and un-uniformed – gave the internal security forces a massive level of power. The SD, in particular, was effective in rounding up opponents, imaginary or not. The SD cultivated a programme of informants with rewards for the best ones. It is almost certain that any community within Nazi Germany had its informants. His or her word could end with the arrest of someone. Children indoctrinated by a Nazi education programme were also encouraged to inform their teachers if their parents made disparaging comments about Hitler.
Hitler had made it very clear as early as the Night of the Long Knives what opponents could expect. However, this did not discourage some, especially youths. Some students started protest movements against Hitler and his regime. These included the White Rose movement and the Edelweiss Pirates.
All children had grown up with the Hitler Youth movement. To many it offered opportunities that had to be taken – especially the prospect of good employment once someone had left the movement because of their age. However, not everyone shared this enthusiasm. In 1937, the Edelweiss Pirates (Edelweisspiraten) movement started in the Rhineland. At the same time the ‘Pack of Hounds’ (Meute) started in Saxony. Members of both groups were predominantly working class young male youths and they helped victims of the Nazi regime. They set up areas in towns where members of the Hitler Youth were not welcomed. Male youths from more wealthy backgrounds set up ‘swing movements’ that had the same ideas and could be found in large cities such as Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden. Certain aspects of their life set them apart from what the Nazi regime required of the youth. They wore what might be described as bohemian clothing in direct contrast to the uniform of the Hitler Youth. They sang what were deemed to be ‘un-German’ songs such as banned blues and jazz tunes. Their basic approach was to take a stand against what Nazi Germany stood for.
The most famous anti-Nazi youth movement was known as the White Rose (Weisse Rose) movement. It leaders were Sophie and Hans Scholl. However, such was the extent of control in Nazi Germany that both were caught, put on trial and executed.
Numerous Protestant church groups had existed before Nazi Germany. But these were absorbed into the Nazi Reich Church. Some individuals refused to recognise this new church and the Nazis naturally saw them as a threat. 175 Protestant pastors were arrested; probably the two most famous were Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoffer.
The Catholic Church fared no better despite the July 1933 Concordat signed between the Papacy and Nazi Germany. When it became clear that the Catholic Church was suffering just as much as Protestant churches, Pius XI issued ‘With Burning Anxiety’ (Mit brennender Sorge) and some Catholic priests took a stand. This ended with 693 being arrested for “oppositional activities”.
The Kreisau Circle was one of the most famous groups to oppose Hitler. It was made up of churchmen, scholars and politicians. Rather than plan active resistance against Hitler and his regime, the Kreisau Circle was more concerned with planning for Germany’s future. However, the Gestapo found out about the organisation and rounded up its members who were duly executed.