Nazi Germany and the Third Reich are common names for Germany during the period from 1933 to 1945, when its government was controlled by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers' Party, commonly known as the Nazi Party. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the state. Nazi Germany ceased to exist after the Allied Forces defeated the Wehrmacht in May 1945, thus ending World War II in Europe.
After Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by the President of the Weimar Republic Paul von Hindenburg on 30 January 1933, the Nazi Party began to eliminate all political opposition and consolidate their power. Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934, and Hitler became dictator of Germany when the powers and offices of the Chancellery and Presidency were merged. A national referendum held 19 August 1934 confirmed Hitler as sole Führer (leader) of Germany. All power was centralised in Hitler's hands, and his word was above all laws. The government was not a coordinated, cooperating body, but rather a collection of factions struggling to amass power and gain Hitler's favour. In the midst of the Great Depression, the Nazis restored economic stability and ended mass unemployment using heavy military spending and a mixed economy. Extensive public works were undertaken, including the construction of Autobahns (high speed highways). The return to economic stability boosted the regime's popularity.
Racism, especially antisemitism, was a central feature of the regime. The Germanic peoples—also referred to as the Nordic race—were considered to be the purest representation of Aryanism, and therefore the master race. Jews and others deemed undesirable were persecuted or murdered, and opposition to Hitler's rule was ruthlessly suppressed. Members of the liberal, socialist, and communist opposition were killed, imprisoned, or forced into exile. The Christian churches were also oppressed, with many leaders imprisoned. Education focused on racial biology, population policy, and fitness for military service. Career and educational opportunities for women were curtailed. Recreation and tourism were organised via the Strength Through Joy program, and the 1936 Summer Olympics showcased the Third Reich on the international stage. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels made effective use of film, mass rallies, and Hitler's hypnotising oratory to control public opinion. The government controlled artistic expression, promoting specific art forms and discouraging or banning others.
Germany made increasingly aggressive territorial demands, threatening war if they were not met. Austria and Czechoslovakia were seized in 1938 and 1939. Hitler made a pact with Joseph Stalin and invaded Poland in September 1939, launching World War II in Europe. In alliance with Italy and other Axis powers, Germany conquered most of Europe by 1940 and threatened Great Britain. Reichskommissariats took brutal control of conquered areas, and a German administration was established in Poland. Jews and others deemed undesirable were imprisoned in concentration camps. The implementation of the regime's racial policies culminated in the mass murder of Jews and other minorities in the Holocaust. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the tide turned against the Third Reich, and major military defeats were suffered in 1943. Large-scale bombing of German cities, rail lines, and oil plants escalated in 1944. Germany was overrun in 1945 by the Soviets from the east and the other Allies from the west. Hitler's refusal to admit defeat led to massive destruction of German infrastructure and unnecessary loss of life in the closing months of the war. The victorious Allies initiated a policy of denazification and put the surviving Nazi leadership on trial for war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials.