History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition

Course No. 805
Professor Thomas Childers, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
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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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  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 72-page printed course guidebook
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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 72-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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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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Reviews

History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 251.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An examination of the Third Reich from the inside Professor Childers is one of my favorite Great Course history professors. He presents the history of the Third Reich from the inside and explores how Germany and the German people were, bit by bit, led down a terrible path of diabolical slaughter and destruction without initially even recognizing what was happening until it was too late. I found myself riveted by his impassioned and eloquent lecturing style and was left wondering at the end: How did this happen and can we be sure that, in some form, the same thing couldn't happen again somewhere else or to us? This course serves not only as a comprehensive history course but as a cautionary historical warning.
Date published: 2020-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful professor I enjoy Great Courses always and this course is one of them.
Date published: 2020-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Intro for "How Did It Come to This?" I have spent the last 4 years intensively studying the WWI – WWII era, and the Nazis in particular, reading and re-reading many thousands of pages from the most respected authors (e.g. Kershaw, Evans, Childers, etc.), as well as watching and re-watching numerous video courses. Recently I went back to watch this course again to review it retrospectively in light of all my other study. I was very impressed by how Childers gives a cohesive narrative that hits all the most important points. He is one of the foremost experts in the world on politics and elections in Germany, so if your big question, like most people, is “how did it come to this?”, this course is a terrific choice. You can’t get very deep into this subject in 6 hours, but if you are looking for a fine introduction or a one-time shot to learn the most you can quickly, look no further. If your interest is primarily in the period of the war, one of the WWII courses would be better.
Date published: 2020-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Says all you need to know I knew a lot about WWII and Hitler prior to this course and found that this course is for the novice who needs a place to start. It’s a great basic course and should be studied by anyone who needs a start.
Date published: 2020-05-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Helps You Understand Hitler's Rise To Power I've completed about 10 of the Great Courses from beginning to end now. I wanted to learn how Hitler could rise to power in Germany and the background of the Nazi Party. I think I learned that from these lectures. Professor Childers knew a great deal about the movements that gave the Nazi Party more control in Germany and the decisions that were made that led to Hitler taking control of the apparatus of government. Yes, Professor Childers does have the annoying pauses and "umm's" that are distracting. But, for me at least, I could put that aside, because the information that he is sharing is very interesting and he presents it well. Those who say that this course could have been much longer, I would agree with. There is very little here about the fall of the Nazi Empire, and nothing about the battles of the war. Professor Childers has another course on World War II all about that though. This short course was informative and helped me understand the topic better, so it was time well spent.
Date published: 2020-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spot On - an Empire indeed!! Excellent lectures!! Dr. Childers gets better as he progresses through the material. He is truly an expert on the building of the Nazi regime.
Date published: 2020-05-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from History of Hitlers Empire I feel that Professor Childers know everything there is to know abort Hitler and the german thinking at that time in history. I have slways wondered why the germans would elect and back Hitler and Dr Childers helped me understand
Date published: 2020-05-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from How did it ever come to this? Good (average) but not great. I was a little disappointed the course is not complete. It covers well Hitler's rise to power, but almost nothing of his decline and collapse.
Date published: 2020-02-22
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