History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition

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

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
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 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

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Your professor

Thomas Childers

About Your Professor

Thomas Childers, Ph.D.
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...
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History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 239.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! I really enjoyed it There was a lot of information here about the structure of Germany after the first world war, and the conditions that led to the rise of Hitler, which was fascinating. The course held my interest throughout. The maps and pictures in the video series helped a little, but aren't essential, and the audio version of this product would be fine.
Date published: 2018-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful content My husband and I are avid readers and now find ourselves captivated by Professor Thomas Childers’s dynamic presentation and in depth substantial content in his lectures. The course was a gift from our daughter, a Penn graduate, who raves about the reputation and popularity of the course at Penn- what a treat!
Date published: 2018-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title was the hook! I really like how Dr. Childers brings more of this pivotal time of history to the surface. The way he introduces the material, to how he uses German ideas, names, and terms to bring the importance of this time frame to life. His style of lecture is one I really appreciate. I also like how he introduces the this subject by asking the question(s) for us as the student to ponder, and wonder what if only Hitler had succeeded.
Date published: 2017-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course - much nuanced detail and insight Professor Childers has put together both a broad and nuanced perspectives - political philosophy, foreign policy, policy against the Jews and War Policy. I have studied this period - and found his perspectives interesting and worthwhile. This is a separate course from WW2 in general which he also gives.
Date published: 2017-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful series! I am half way through this course and the instructor is excellent, the material accessible but not overly simplified. I have been wanting to learn more about how Hitler came to power and the aftermath, and this course is well planned with interesting lectures.
Date published: 2017-04-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I enjoyed the course very much. There is a lot of information concerning Hitler, but the information concerning the build up of the Nazi Party was something that I had not been aware of until this course.
Date published: 2017-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great content, but many distractions The content is superb. However, I found myself constantly turning the volume up and down because the audio mixing was poorly done to account for the lecturer's voice in which he drops down nearly to a whisper at times. Also, the lecturer's "uhm's" and "ah's" are so frequent, they start to be a distraction. If the lecturer had read a script, it would be easier to listen to.
Date published: 2017-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hitler's Empire I'm only four lectures into it so far, and though I purchased it solely for the history, I am stunned so far at the similarities with the tactics used by President Trump to establish and build his own legitimacy. I would like to write again at the conclusion of the lectures, but do be thinking about how to use this professor for a more current comparison!
Date published: 2017-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a great informative video to be watching at this time in our country. I see the growth of Hitlers control somewhat parallel to what is going on in our country right now. Danger Danger.
Date published: 2017-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course! I really enjoyed this course. Dr. Childers clearly knows his stuff and presents it well. He covered a lot of information about the rise of the Nazi party which was fascinating. I did think the course could have gone for at least one more class to cover the end of the Reich in a bit more detail. I guess I'll have to get his WWII class for that detail. The graphics included pictures and maps, but they were not essential for the course. One could easily enjoy the course with just the audio.
Date published: 2017-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My favorite course Up to now I have purchased and listened to over 25 courses. By far, this is the best one. I've always had a fascination with the Third Reich and Hitler and Professor Childers knowledge and presentation reinforced my fascination.
Date published: 2016-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Warning shot of ultra nationalist demogoegery A sobering look at how things can go very bad when economic and political forces allow the extremes of fear and hate to take hold. Very well presented, thorough, and insightful.
Date published: 2016-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of My Favorite Courses This is one of the best courses I have listened to from the Great Courses. The focused subject matter allowed for an in-depth analysis of the issues surrounding the Third Reich.
Date published: 2016-11-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Emphasis on Jews, ignores Soviet deaths The professor spends two whole lectures on the deaths of 6 million Jews, and two sentences on the deaths of 27 million citizens of the Soviet Union. This is typical of how the history of WWII is presented in the United States. Everybody knows all about the the Holocaust, and no one knows about the people in Leningrad and other cities who were starved to death by the Nazis, or the Soviet prisoners of war who were worked and starved to death in Norway and other places. The killing of Soviet civilians and prisoners was as much Nazi policy as was their treatment of the Jews. But in the US, we only learn about the Jews.
Date published: 2016-09-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good content but poor presentation The contents and the course guidebook are well written but the lecture presentation leaves something to be desired. The professor spoke in a monotonous tone and I dozed off on a few occasions. He was not well prepared for the lectures. There were a lot of long pauses in between sentences. On some occasions he had to fumble through his lecture notes before continuing. I bought this DVD course at a discount with free shipping and the course value is OK. Otherwise it would not be worthwhile.
Date published: 2016-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from new information They did not tell us about Hitler in school. I was ready to learn more
Date published: 2016-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This Made Me Love History I have never taken much interest in history but I bought this CD 3 years ago in order to know more about the Third Reich and Hitler's rise to power. It utterly changed my understanding of Nazi Germany and how the unimaginable can happen. Prof. Childers style is both professorial and conversational--a great mix. He draws some parallels between the past and present but the facts speak for themselves. It details Hitler's rise to power, step by step, with all of the people, prevailing attitudes, and political trends that helped bring about his position as Fuehrer. I went back and listened to the series again recently, noting how people and politics, sadly, don't much change. A cautionary course of study for all times.
Date published: 2016-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prequel to World War II This is one of the most well-done and informative Great Courses I have taken so far. This is the type of course that has turned me into a huge Great Courses fan. The professor is incredible in both his knowledge and presentation. He is the type of professor that you can spend hours listening to without ever feeling bored. The professor does a great job handling this very sensitive topic. He presents the history of Hitler's rise to power without ignoring the great evil that Hitler represented, and the professor explains how Hitler was able to amass such a large following and delude people into believing his vision. The professor explains Hitler's mindset in many different circumstances, and explains his various strategic mistakes. I listened to this course after taking the professor's outstanding course on World War II. Now that I have listened to this course, though, I wish I had taken them in reverse order starting with this course. This course is essentially a prequel to his World War II course. In this course, the professor explains how World War I set the stage for Hitler's rise to power. He discusses Hitler's early life and provides great detail into Hitler's ascension, focusing particularly on the economic and social conditions in Germany that made it possible for people of the time to embrace Hitler and his evil. The professor then discusses the lead up to the outbreak of World War II. He briefly discusses the war but refers listeners to his larger course on World War II. He dedicates most of the last two lectures to the Holocaust and gives significantly more background than he provided in the larger World War II course. This course is incredibly informative, and gives valuable insight into one of the darkest eras of human history. Everyone should listen to this course to gain a better understanding of this terrible, but incredibly important, time.
Date published: 2016-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent overview of The Third Reich Professor Childers is an engaging speaker. He is completely comfortable with his subject and his lectures are organised and clearly presented. . He keeps the attention of the listener with his quiet assured manner. I would certainly like to study other courses presented by him.
Date published: 2016-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Forewarned is Forearmed “Forewarned is Forearmed” is the main theme of the conclusion of this course by Professor Childers and I fully agree with this being the primary purpose of this course. What has happened before can happen again if people are not aware of the past and remain vigilant. In this course, Professor Childers does an excellent job of explaining why and especially how Hitler’s Empire came into existence. A progression of small steps and small changes caused a snowball effect. When people finally started to take notice, there was nothing can they could do because of the policy changes and the terror tactics used on any potential opposition. This course is an absolute must. It is a real life case study of what can happen with unchecked and unbalanced power.
Date published: 2016-06-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hitler's Empire, Historically Rich Context Enjoyed the lecture series. Excellent background on early 20th century Germany and the devastating impact of the WWI reparations and economic conditions which influenced much of the rise of the Nazi party. Would like to have experienced more graphics/pics to break up the long periods of straight lecture. Reminded me of my college days many decades ago. Also would have preferred more lectures on the period between 1942 and 1945 as well as post war conditions. This period appeared to be rushed, with the only the last two lectures devoted to it. Would definitely be interested in more lecture series from this scholar.
Date published: 2016-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Getting the Facts About Hitler During Rush Hour My drive requires me to be entombed in my car for 90 minutes each work day. After finding The Great Courses the commute has changed from a burden to a listening pleasure. Professor Childers laid out the Hitler regime in a very understandable manner. I enjoyed every minute of the lecture.
Date published: 2016-06-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Comprehensive study of Hitler's rise to power Very comprehensive. Informative. Prof. Childers brings you from the early years of Germany's politics and history in the 20th century and helps you to understand how Hitler managed to elevate himself to the rank that he ultimately achieved.
Date published: 2016-06-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Informative Godwin's law states that the longer an online argument or debate over politics goes on, the greater the likelihood that one side will resort to making a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis. I've enountered this in practice enough times to finally decide that I needed to truly learn the details of what went on in Nazi Germany. This course was well done, though it could have been 24 lectures easily. The professor's presentation skills were a tad lacking as he read a lot of the course material off papers on his lectern. That was distracting, but the content was well organized & not hard to follow. Overall, I definitely recommend this to anyone looking to get a better understanding of how Hitler and people of his mindset could have come to power.
Date published: 2016-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better than Expected I must say that I was a bit skeptical when I "took a chance" and ordered this course during a product sale. But, much to my surprise, I have been more than pleased and have learned several things about Hitler and the rise of the Nazis that I did not previously know even after my extensive readings on this subject. The delivery by Professor Childers is very good and easy to follow. I am more than pleased with this course. So much so that I may try another one of the Great Courses offerings. Thank you.
Date published: 2016-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Keep your attention A horrible time in history that is well documented and "taught" in this presentation. The saying is "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it". Let's hope we are all learning enough to never repeat a period like the one with Hitler. This course is a good step in that direction as it teaches in an interesting and attention keeping manner without being overly preachy about things,
Date published: 2016-02-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from History of Hitler's Empire Was more than a little disappointed with this course. I expected to be "blown away" with interesting information and images of this time in our world history. I did not expect to watch a person read and talk without many visual aids. Not that there is a need to be "entertained" per se, but there should be a more interesting way to present this information. More short video clips and pictures of the time period would definitely make the course more palatable, instead of a series of thirty minute 'dry' facts. I expected more for the price of the course.
Date published: 2016-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am gathering a greater understanding of how Hitler came to power. I am taking the class slowly - one lecture at a time.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from How Could This Happen? Answered video download reviewed These 12 lectures gave me a great deal of insight into something that I had never understood before. That is, as often been asked, how could the culture of Schiller, Goethe, Bach and Beethoven have allowed the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler to come to power? I have read over the years many histories of WWII and the Germany of the 30s and 40s, but I've never been able to understand so clearly how these events came to pass. As an aside, it leaves me more than a little disturbed, as I can see how easily the same kind of thing could happen elsewhere. Others have commented on Professor Childers presentation, something that did not bother me, even though his delivery was not perfect. Far from it, as he often paused and looked down at his notes for a time before continuing. But I came to realize that often the content of what he was presenting was so horrifying, that it was as though he needed to pause and prepare to say dispassionately that about which we must be most passionate. Not quite full marks for presentation, but close. Dr. Childers takes us back to WWI and the Treaty of Versailles, setting the stage for the Weimar Republic and its surprising liberality and its demise. He examines how these things plus the depression set the stage for the Nazis. And how they managed to gain control of Germany. He shows how Hitler's domestic policies and his international coups (such as occupying the Sudetenland, annexing Austria and Munich helped to make him ever more popular with the German public. And how his remilitarization made him popular with the Generals. And of course we are taken through the war and the 'final solution'. Something I found particularly interesting was the year round campaigning by the Nazi party that helped them gain election success. There was no mention of Leni Reifenstahl's film of 1934, "Triumph of Will", but for those interested in just how good the propaganda of the Nazi political machine was, I highly recommend that movie. And I highly recommend this course, especially for those interested in Nazi Germany.
Date published: 2015-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Let us never forget I just finished the Great Courses series about Hitler and the Third Reich. While the entire series was fascinating and enlightening, the last lecture was particularly chilling as Prof. Childers reminds us that any time we allow one group of people to lose their rights, any time we look down at someone who might be "different," we put all of us at risk. A democracy does not prevent such atrocities as the Holocaust from happening. Indeed, a democracy makes it even easier for such terrible events to occur again unless we remain vigilant and committed to the full rights of all people.
Date published: 2015-08-03
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