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The question as to whether the Nazi regime was popular with the German people is a contentious one. Michael Burleigh takes the view that on the whole the regime was not popular, placing particular emphasis on the state’s need to uphold an instrument of terror and uses this as a main premise to create the argument that the apparent ‘popularity’ of the regime resided on a veneer that they themselves cultivated. Burleigh is at times sceptical of evidence used in other arguments, especially that of plebiscites and elections, which he seeks to illustrate as farcical and not conducive to a clear conclusion as to whether the regime was popular or not. Laurence Rees’ argument appears primarily as a projection of his perceptions after interviewing those who lived during the regime for a BBC documentary. He takes an adversarial view to Burleigh in that he believes there was a popular positive attitude towards the Nazi regime, and that any resistance that existed was in the minority of the population. In particular, Rees stresses the role of public complicity through denunciations and how these aided the Gestapo in carrying out a role of attacking the regime’s enemies. He also highlights the economic and social crisis that preceded the Nazi ascension to power, and the subsequent effect popular policy would have had in creating a public that was at least content to overlook certain aspects of the Nazi’s rule in order to have stability. Rees uses this as the main reason for Nazi popularity and disregards other arguments, especially that of the cult of Hitler. Robert Gellately, like Rees, believes that there was genuine widespread popularity of the Nazi regime. However, Gellately relies more heavily on statistical evidence, such as plebiscites and unemployment rates, to suggest that there existed a genuinely positive popular opinion of the Nazi regime. He also believes that the role of Hitler and his supposed mystical magnetism, in conjunction with popular policy created this Nazi allure. However, he is keen to take a nuanced opinion on the evidence provided in regards to denunciations to depict the populace as a wholly complicit society.
Whether the Nazi regime was popular or not will be judged throughout this essay by several means. Primarily, the arguments provided must display an argument that is coherent throughout 1933 to 1939. This means that heavy reliance on time-specific evidence, such as elections results for one year, will be deemed insufficient in coming to a conclusion. Secondly, it will seek to investigate whether the public showed a genuine desire to comply with the regime notwithstanding the terror enforced, and whether they did this for any other gain but that of the regime’s. It will also look at whether the appeal of popular policy was widespread, and, in particular, whether the German people were content to indulge in such policy and overlook other aspects of the regime. Lastly, it will investigate the effect Hitler’s own personal role, and, to a larger extent, the propagandised image of Hitler’s role, and whether this had a fantastical allure or not.
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