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History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition

History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition

Professor Thomas Childers Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Course No.  805
Course No.  805
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Course Overview

About This Course

12 lectures  |  31 minutes per lecture

Know thy enemy. That's what the wisdom of history teaches us. And Adolf Hitler was surely the greatest enemy ever faced by modern civilization. Over half a century later, the horror and fascination still linger. No one is better able to explain the unexplainable about this man and his movement than Professor Thomas Childers. In these lectures, you will see what great teaching is all about.

Two Crucial Questions

Professor Childers has designed this course to answer two burning questions that have nagged generations for decades, ever since Hitler and Nazism were destroyed.

1) How could a man like Adolf Hitler and a movement like Nazism come to power in 20th-century Germany? An industrially developed country with a highly educated population, it lies within the very heart of Western Europe.

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Know thy enemy. That's what the wisdom of history teaches us. And Adolf Hitler was surely the greatest enemy ever faced by modern civilization. Over half a century later, the horror and fascination still linger. No one is better able to explain the unexplainable about this man and his movement than Professor Thomas Childers. In these lectures, you will see what great teaching is all about.

Two Crucial Questions

Professor Childers has designed this course to answer two burning questions that have nagged generations for decades, ever since Hitler and Nazism were destroyed.

1) How could a man like Adolf Hitler and a movement like Nazism come to power in 20th-century Germany? An industrially developed country with a highly educated population, it lies within the very heart of Western Europe.

2) How were the Nazis able to establish the foundations of a totalitarian regime in such a short time and hurl all of Europe—and the world—into a devastating war that would consume so many millions of lives?

And the answers lead us to other questions:

  • Who voted for the Nazis and why?
  • How did the Nazis campaign?
  • What did they seem to stand for?
  • Why was there apparently so little resistance to them?
  • What made the regime popular at home?
  • How were Nazis able to seize control of the press, radio, courts, and police with so little trouble?
  • Can it happen again?
  • How can we make sure that it doesn't?
  • How did it all begin?

You start by exploring the catastrophic impact of World War I on Germany and how the war and the humiliating Treaty of Versailles crippled the Weimar Republic.

The Repercussions of the Versailles Treaty in Germany

Until the very end of World War I, despite enormous casualties in trench warfare and great sacrifices on the home front, Germany had appeared to be winning.

Then in November 1918, the roof suddenly caved in. To the shock of many Germans, Germany lost the war.

The new democratic government, the Weimar Republic, was forced by the victorious Allies to sign a humiliating treaty and begin its political life carrying a staggering burden. That treaty resulted in widened political divisions in German society, and created a setting for extreme nationalist movements to thrive.

There were short-term factors that contributed in Hitler's rise to power:

  • Grave economic problems confronted the Weimar government on which Hitler and his minions fed: chaotic hyperinflation of 1923, harsh stabilization of 1924, and the Great Depression
  • Deep cleavages—religious divisions, lingering regional loyalties, and growing social or class tensions—made nation-building in the new Germany difficult
  • The innovative modern campaign techniques Nazis used to exploit the economic hardships of the day: the first use in politics of exit polls, radio appeal, and use of aircraft by a candidate
  • The German voters who found the Nazis appealing.

Hitler in Power: The Third Reich

The second half of the course deals with the Third Reich—Nazism in power. These lectures answer the question of how President Hindenburg came to name Hitler as chancellor in January 1933, at a time when Nazi appeal was waning.

And they show how Hitler and his henchmen began systematically and ruthlessly breaking resistance, taking over the major institutions of state power and creating a totalitarian system of terror, propaganda, and pervasive regimentation.

Hitler's Wars: Why and How?

By 1935, with power now firmly in Nazi hands, the ideological core of the National Socialist movement began to reveal itself.

Professor Childers anatomizes Hitler's horrifying racial ideas and the policies adopted to transform those ideas into reality. He describes the Nazis' mounting repression of the Jewish population and the role of the SS in shaping and enforcing those amoral policies.

Hitler as Global Chess Player

Professor Childers next discusses Hitler's conduct of foreign policy between 1933 and 1939.

You will learn how Hitler outmaneuvered the apprehensive Western European powers and how and why he puzzled the world by entering into an accommodation with his deadly enemy, Stalin, on the eve of World War II.

You see why the Munich agreement was such an important turning point—the seeming triumph of National Socialism on the world stage.

The "Final Solution"

In his closing lectures, Professor Childers focuses on Hitler's war against the Jews from Mein Kampf to Auschwitz.

Hitler's war was not a traditional geopolitical conflict, not a grab for land and resources; it was a racial war as well. It is revealed most obviously in the ideological war against the Soviet Union.

Part of Hitler's motivating vision was to eliminate the enemy, the "Judeo-Bolshevist conspiracy." This meant not only a war of annihilation of the Soviet Union, it also meant the destruction of the European Jewish community.

Professor Childers shows how Hitler conducted his war against the Jews to the very end and how, after so much death and destruction, his evil empire itself was destroyed by Allied might.

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12 Lectures
  • 1
    The Third Reich, Hitler, and the 20th Century
    Why is it important to study the Nazi movement? What was it about the political context of post-WWI Europe and Germany that allowed an extremist group which, at its start, had just a handful of members, to take over the country in less than 15 years' time? x
  • 2
    The First World War and Its Legacy
    After suffering terrible losses and hearing constantly from their rulers that they would win, Germans—and none more so than a wounded Austrian-born volunteer soldier named Adolf Hitler—were shocked by the Armistice of 1918 and the harsh Versailles Treaty that followed. x
  • 3
    The Weimar Republic and the Rise of the Nazi Party
    Examine the problems that beset Germany's new democratic government after WWI, and trace the origins of the tiny National Socialist party and Hitler's emergence as its leader between 1919 and the "Beer Hall Putsch" of November 1923. x
  • 4
    The Twenties and the Great Depression
    The late '20s were politically quiet but economically harsh years for Germany. The Nazi party focused on winning members and votes but remained stuck on the fringe of German politics. x
  • 5
    The Nazi Breakthrough
    The economic crisis from 1929 to 1932 enabled Nazism to thrust itself into the mainstream. Using a revolutionary strategy of perpetual campaigning and other new techniques, the Nazis became Germany's largest political party with 38 percent of the vote. x
  • 6
    Hitler's Assumption of Power
    The November 1932 elections showed signs that the Nazi voter coalition was unraveling. How, then, did Hitler get appointed chancellor in early 1933? How did he consolidate the bases of Nazi power once in office? x
  • 7
    Racial Policy and the Totalitarian State
    The events of the first two years after Hitler took power can be seen as the prelude to worse terrors to come, this time aimed not at possible political opponents, but at those considered to be racial or social "undesirables." x
  • 8
    Hitler's Foreign Policy
    Why is it not enough to think of Hitler simply as a "madman bent on world domination"? What were his aims and strategy, and how did they drive the world rapidly toward global war? x
  • 9
    Munich and the Triumph of National Socialism
    This lecture covers the stunning advance of the Nazi regime beginning with the Munich Agreement of 1938. Hitler swallowed Czechoslovakia, signed a cynical pact with Stalin, invaded Poland, and stood on the verge of becoming master of the European continent. x
  • 10
    War in the West, War in the East
    To Hitler, the brutal war against the "Judeo-Bolshevik" Soviet Union, unleashed on June 22, 1941, was always the main event. On his western flank, however, Churchill's Britain remained unbroken and defiant, and America was slowly coming to her aid. x
  • 11
    Holocaust—Hitler's War Against the Jews
    Between 1939 and 1942, the Nazis pursued several options regarding what they called "the Jewish question." In late 1941, they finally opted for what they called "the final solution." It called for mass murder hidden behind a program of fictive "resettlement in the east." x
  • 12
    The Final Solution
    Here you examine the later stages of the Nazi murder campaign, asking also what the Allies knew and what they did. The lecture and the course close with the final destruction of the Third Reich, and a reflection on the lessons to be drawn from this chapter in what Churchill called "the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime." x

Lecture Titles

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Thomas Childers
Ph.D. Thomas Childers
University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Thomas Childers is Sheldon and Lucy Hackney Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been teaching for over 25 years. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee and his Ph.D. in History from Harvard University.

Professor Childers has held visiting professorships at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge, Smith College, and Swarthmore College. He is a popular lecturer abroad as well, in London, Oxford, Berlin, and Munich.

Professor Childers has won several teaching awards, including the Ira T. Abrahms Award for Distinguished Teaching and Challenging Teaching in the Arts and Sciences, the Richard S. Dunn Award for Distinguished Teaching in History, and the Senior Class Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Professor Childers is the author and editor of several books on modern German history and the Second World War. He is currently completing a trilogy on the Second World War. The first volume, Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II, was praised by Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post as “a powerful and unselfconsciously beautiful book.”

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Reviews

Rated 4.3 out of 5 by 177 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Help with the mystery This review is from the perspective of someone who has not read deeply about the Nazi takeover of Germany, but who has always wondered what possessed the German people to let it happen, and how other countries can prevent something similar. Prof. Childress is clear, organized, and dispassionate even when he's describing the unspeakable. He examines exactly the point that I wanted most to hear about: how perfectly ordinary people in a civilized society could have let this monster take control, and how it was that they couldn't stop him before he'd delivered their country and half the world into ruin. Without ever excusing Hitler or his enablers, he makes clear what choices the Germans thought they were facing, how the Nazis could at least briefly win their support, and how they leveraged that temporary and partial support into sudden, total power. I was riveted to all twelve lectures and wanted more. October 7, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by Very thorough overview This course gives a thorough overview, with very clear story lines, good analysis, and good "lessons learned". Having listened to this course, you are now well-equipped to take off on your own into more specialised areas of study of the Third Reich. September 27, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Fascinating subject with relevance currently Excellent content and worth purchasing. Particularly interesting in light of some of the extreme right wing tactics going on in US currently. Professor Childers' excellent content is undermined by his poor speech patterns (excessive and annoying "uhms", "ahs", and pauses. In addition the sound quality is poor and impossible to set volume at a comfortable and consistent level to hear his "highs" and "lows". His content is so good, but delivery is so, so bad. September 1, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Excellent course Why didn't I have professors like this in college?...A great course. Professor Childers gives reasons the Holocaust happened in the "advanced" modern age. He's a great lecturer. August 17, 2014
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