This explanation is by no means meant to be totally inclusive of everything that defines Nazi Germany, but just to give an overview of what it is and the reasons it's important here on TV Tropes (mainly because of Godwin's Law).
Nazi Germany is the name commonly used to refer to the German nation when it was ruled by Adolf Hitler in the years 1933-1945, also known as the Third Reich.note Hitler styled "his" new Germany as the "1000-year Reich," for which he got a lot of mockery after the war when it turned out to last only twelve years but its crimes will be remembered for at least 1000 years. (The First being the Holy Roman Empire,note Which actually kinda-sorta did make it to 1,000 years, although you have to twist the definition of the HRE to include Charlemagne (who was crowned "Emperor of the Romans" in 800) even though the first "Holy Roman Emperor" was Otto I, crowned in 962, and forget that for its last 300 years or so of existence it exerted no control over lands outside of those ruled by Austria. and the Second being Imperial Germany under the Hohenzollern dynasty).
During this time, Germany's policies were dominated by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party (National Socialist German Workers' Party, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei in German). The party's racist ideology was directed particularly (but not exclusively) toward those of Jewish descent. Though this is by no means the only policy adopted by the Nazi Party, it was so prominent that it has become one of their defining characteristics. The belief in the superiority of what Hitler called the Aryan race would ultimately culminate in The Holocaust — the deliberate, industrialized mass murder of millions of ethnic minorities, dissenters, political malcontents, social "undesirables" and "inferior races" as defined by the Nazi Party; a period of horror and monstrosity that would claim the lives of at least eleven million people, six million of which were Jews, and would give rise to the word "genocide."
Nazi Germany also pursued aggressive territorial expansion. Hitler believed that Nazi Germany and the Aryan race should be the rightful rulers over not just all the German-speaking peoples, or even the Germanic states, but all of Europe. This pursuit of territory led to the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland, the invasion of Poland, and ultimately the start of World War II — the single most destructive war in human history.
However, this is subject to Alternative Character Interpretation, as some historians - most infamously A.J.P. Taylor - dispute this and assert that Hitler's foreign policy was opportunistic and the incompetence of his enemies was as responsible for German gains and the war as himself, while others even believe that Hitler had a Stufenplan (step-by-step plan) for total world domination that would have ended in a global showdown, with the United States on one side and the British Empire, Italy, Japan and Greater Germany on the other. This latter view was most avidly proposed by the now heavily discredited historian Andreas Hilgruber. Since Hilgruber first proposed it in the 1960s, the Stufenplan belief has largely died down, although Taylor's assertions that the annexations of Austria and Czechoslovakia were as much to do with diplomatic blunders as Nazi foreign policy has yet to catch on.
Because of Nazi Germany's involvement in World War II and the unambiguous "evil-ness" of their racial policies, they make convenient enemies in fiction and Video Games. Unfortunately, this has also resulted in people (at both ends of the political spectrum) using the term "Nazi" as an insult towards anyone with whom they may disagree. This practice is strongly discouraged in intelligent debate and is now considered a sign that the name-caller has no actual argument for their case. It's also important to note that just because the Nazis did something doesn't mean that thing is inherently evil purely on account of that association. For example, the Nazis built the first modern highway network (the Autobahn), and it's safe to say that highways are not evil.
While there are literally thousands of books and other sources of information on Nazi Germany and the historical consequences, here are some brief points of interest:
Nazi Germany was heavily into "racial purity", believing in the superiority of the Aryan race, despite that:
"Aryan" was a synonym for Indo-Europeans, who originated from just over the Caspian Sea, though today the term is usually used in reference to the specific group (Indo-Aryans or Indo-Iranians) who inhabit parts of India and most of Iran (which means "home of the Aryans"). The Nazis believed that the Aryans (Indo-Europeans) were Nordics whose homeland was Iceland or somewhere else in Northern Europe, although some Nazi Occultists like Himmler proposed more zany origin stories, like that the Aryans had been created by the Norse Gods and preserved in ice.
Hitler, despite having blue eyes, wasn't "Aryan" in the slightest. The ideal body image for Germans was supposed to be tall and athletic with blue eyes and blond hair. Ironically, perhaps the three most enthusiastic proponents of "Aryan" racial superiority were Adolf Hitler (of medium height and with dark brown, almost black hair), Heinrich Himmler (tall and stick-like thin, thinning black hair, hazel eyes, glasses) and Joseph Goebbels (very short, black-haired, brown eyes and had a limp). (There was a joke about the Aryan being blonde like Hitler, slim like Goering, and tall like Goebbels.) The only well-known Nazi who actually lived up to the ideal was Reinhard Heydrich, who was super tall, had platinum blond hair, blue eyes, was a champion athlete and a renowned violinist. However, according to Himmler's doctor, Felix Kersten, Heydrich was half Jewish. Goering, in his younger years, could have fit as well, but years of hedonism and morphine addiction took a heavy toll on both his body and mind.
Some of the lesser-known facts on the place:
It was the world's first country to run regular TV services.
It was the first country to engage in a major anti-smoking campaign.
It was the first country to develop turbojet aircrafts.
It was the first country to develop ballistic missiles and use them on enemy cities.
As mentioned before, it was the first country to develop an interstate highway system.
Himmler even pointed out, in his 1943 Poznan speech, that "we Germans, who are the only people in the world to have a decent attitude to animals, will also adopt a decent attitude to these human animals". (That last part referred to the Poles and Russians).
The Nazis also enacted conservation laws to preserve German forests.
While homosexuality and interracial relationships were strictly outlawed, the attitude towards straight sex between "Aryans" was quite liberal in the Third Reich, and Aryans were encouraged to have lots of sex and have many children, within marriages or not. Women received welfare from the state to support them if needed, or in rare cases, the children were seized by the SS and raised by them if proven to be genetically Aryan (The "Lebensborn" project). Nude bathing was legalized in 1942. This may have been less about liberated morals (they did ban contraception and abortion for Aryans, except in cases of euthanasia) and more about filling the vast swaths of eastern Europe the Nazis intended to capture and depopulate. The Nazis preached "Aryan" fertility and their idea of the woman's place leaned heavily towards "barefoot and pregnant."
Its trains ran on time, although history tends to overstate this. Hitler liked fostering competition among his underlings — even at the expense of efficiency. Towards the end, the only trains running on time were those heading to Auschwitz...
It actually banned Gothic (Blackletter) writing in 1941 when they were declared to be "Jewish letters," in spite of its pop-cultural association with Nazi Propaganda and the image of Nazi Germany as dark, edgy and Gothic (which was arguably true until that point in time).
It is a common misconception that the Nazis enacted draconian gun control laws, and as such, the Holocaust was able to happen. In actuality, this is not true:
The Weimar Republic (the democratic government after World War I) was forced to enact very strict gun control laws, as part of the disarmament agreement required by the Versailles Treaty.
By 1928, gun ownership was allowed again, but in very strict conditions, as the Social-Democratic government was fully interested to get rid of armed militias, which included the Nazi SA.
In 1938, the Nazis softened these laws, increasing the length of a permit from one year to three years, lowering the age requirement for said permit from 20 to 18 and eliminating long-gun restrictions altogether. The same law forbad Jews from manufacturing or selling firearms, but they did not lose their right to own guns until two days after Kristallnacht. By that point, they were no longer able to hold government office, marry Germans, go to school with Germans, and the Wehrmacht and SS had all but fully mobilized. It was essentially too late.
The Nazis did strip occupied countries of firearms, though this is understandable, as the last thing you want an occupied nation to have is easy access to weapons for La Résistance.
The 1936 Olympics were the first to feature the Olympic torch relay carrying the Olympic flame from Olympia, Greece to the host city (in this case Berlin).
Everyone knows Jesse Owens won the 1936 Olympic gold medals for the 100m sprint, the long jump, the 200m sprint, and the 4x100m relay, but the first blow to the idea of European eugenically-bred super-athletes was the 1912 Olympics. Oddly, Owens himself is quoted as saying "Hitler didn't snub me; it was FDR that snubbed me." Although when you factor in the fact that, at the time, America's racial policies and attitudes weren't a million miles off from those of Nazi Germany, and that Owens never received any kind of official acknowledgement of his achievements until Eisenhower's administration in the 1950s, this ire becomes a bit more understandable.
There was very little to any rationing in the first half of the war. You know how Americans had victory gardens, were encouraged to recycle everything (scrap metal, kitchen grease, etc)? Brits rationed everything, from gasoline to food? Yeah, Germany had none of that up until Stalingrad. To the average German, it wasn't obvious there was even a war on. They lived in Bread and Circuses. The carpet-bombing campaigns over German cities (which were a British initiative to which Americans rallied themselves) were part of a grand strategic plan based exactly on this: bringing the misery of war to a population that had not yet felt it.
It is often brought up that "socialist" was in the Nazi Party's full name. In truth, this gets complicated. The party did have a hard socialist faction that wanted to nationalize industry, but it was strongest in the SA under Ernst Rohm, who was purged in the Night of Long Knives, with most of the rest of the Left Wing of the party fleeing (sometimes to form groups like Otto Strasser's Black Front) or reconciling themselves to the pragmatic line. When the Nazi Party was founded, their program included some some policies that matched its name. However, the program was designed by committee, and like most things designed by committee it was never implemented; Hitler disparaged it and many parts of it were dumbed down or even dropped in order to make things palatable to the pragmatic Enemy Mine partners the NSDAP required to take power. Hitler himself believed that the 'Socialist' aspect in the National Socialist named did not mean redistribution of wealth but for every citizen to work towards the national and racial'community'. He fervently believed that Socialism was a word hijacked by the hated Marxists. Partly this is because "socialism" at the time (and now) has had many meanings, with the Marxist sense being only one among them. One of these is a social welfare state, which the Nazis did support (predating them by almost 60 years-Bismarck started it) which fit more with their ideas.
That said, they did always oppose laissez-faire capitalism, along with the Italian Fascists. Like Italian Fascism they advocated a so-called "third way" or "fusionist" economic system, in between state socialism and laissez-faire capitalism, so it's economy, though not directly owned by the state, was heavily planned and tightly regulated. (While Nazis were fascist, they didn't want to use the term "fascist" because they felt it sounded too Italian. Essentially, Hitler wanted to establish his own German blend of fascism). Price and wage controls were placed on the economy, industries cartelized, the work force strictly controlled in the government Labor Front when unions were banned, with Four-Year Plans to rival the Five-Year Plans of the Soviet Union. So many regulatory hoops had to be gone through that it severely hampered production. Also, the Nazis in fact never ended unemployment-even with military service and people working in munitions factories, they still had it, but changed the way unemployment statistics were calculated to make it appear better. They also desired to establish autarky (economic self-reliance that did not require foreign trade) but this was impossible since Germany lacked certain essential resources for an industrial economy. This gave them a practical reason, along with gaining living space to contain an expanding German population, for invading and looting other countries of their resources. Author Guenter Reiman named it "the vampire economy" because of this in his book of the same name. So in short: not exactly Socialist and Left Wing, not exactly Capitalist and Right Wing.
The historian Joachim Fest basically says that the Nazis consisted of these outcasts of German society, the massive demographic of angry lower-class men who had no direction in life after WW 1 and the Depression.
There were at least two distinctive periods in the 12 years of the Nazizeit ("Nazi Times", as modern Germans call them), so different that it can be inferred there were two different Reichs:
The first period, roughly from 1932, before Hitler assumed Chancellorship, to late 1941, had leaned less on the "Nazi" side and more on the "very conservative and militaristic-bureaucratic empire" side. The military had been dominated by the conservative Prussian senior military class, the Weimar Republic civilian bureaucracy held sway over most day to day running of the administration, the cultural system grunted and groaned under the Nazi purges, yet the way of thinking and ordinary life of most people had not changed enough to be directly felt. There were massive NSDAP rallies, public construction projects, industrial development and some things which were aimed to gain popular support like film, public television, paid vacations for the working class and so on. The early campaigns of the war were more or less classic military conquests. All things which were unpleasant enough and soiled with blood, like euthanasia of the mentally ill, sterilization, mass murder by the Einsatzgruppen, happened somewhere far away from the eyes of the general population. Death camps were not built yet. Battlefield troops were the old drilled regiments raised under the eye of Prussian generals. Waffen-SS existed just under the guise of a few units armed with leftovers from the arsenals. Official ideology was Germanic, racist, anti-Semitic and nationalist.
The second period, from 1941 to the end, was quite different. It all started when a few things piled together to warrant a reaction from the Führer: the Norwegian Campaign ended with a Pyrrhic naval victory, the Battle of Britain flopped, the Battle of Moscow ended in a bloody draw, America stirred itself itching to do something, 3.5 million Soviet prisoners burdened the Wehrmacht, and Einsatzgruppen were not up to their task. At this point in the war, the Führer changed his tune: there was no longer Germany against everyone, no easy conquest in sight, no quick victory, and no expenses were to be spared. Suddenly he turned into a "pan-European fighting against the deadly threat of Bolshevism" and the previously despised non-Germans were to be drawn to his cause. Waffen SS opened itself to recruitment from all available populations (literally all, down to the "non-Aryan" Turkics and Tatars from Central Asia), the political power of the military class was stymied and the top figures of the NSDAP and SS came out under the limelight, armed forces inflated themselves overnight, the research projects which had been shelved "if no usable result is expected earlier than 1 year" in expectancy of a short war were reactivated, and no pity was to be given to the hated Jews, Communists, Slavs (and the list of Hitler's enemies lengthened itself day by day), new mass-murdering solutionswere found and applied for them. This was the time of the Cool Tanks, Cool Planes, cool weapons, secret weapons, berserker tactics, mass murder, violence in the extreme to nearly-cartoonish levels, the time of Sven Hassel books.
For some complex reasons, the post-1945 media has a tendency to prominently display the second period.
It all ended very, very badly. Way, way, way too big to be an Elephant in the Living Room. For a trope-centric discussion, see Those Wacky Nazis, Godwin's Law, Godwin's Law of Time Travel (two different tropes), Ghostapo and Stupid Jetpack Hitler. For a full index of tropes associated with Nazi Germany, see Reichstropen.
If you want to read more about the regime, the most acclaimed modern comprehensive survey of its era is The Third Reich Trilogy by Richard J. Evans which includes the books, The Coming of the Third Reich, The Third Reich in Power and The Third Reich at War, which are also available in audiobook at Audible.com. Other recommended books are the Hitler duology by Ian Kershaw, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny and Hitler & Stalin: Parallel Lives by Alan Bullock, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer (who was Creator/CBS's radio correspondent until 1941)note Though slightly dated now, was at the time so successful that it actually got him off Joe McCarthy's blacklist through sheer force of sales., The Third Reich: A New History by Michael Burleigh, and The Hitler State by Martin Broszat.
Göring claimed just before the war that the Ruhr Metropolitan Area (Germany's industrial center) would not be hit by a single bomb; if it did, he would change his name to Meier (saying you want "to be called Meier" is a German idiom to express that something is impossible) and also that he would eat his hat. After the United States entered the war, however, the Allies started attacking German cities with thousands of bombers that the Luftwaffe became increasingly unable to counter-attack. Göring made frequent tours of the devastated cities, where cynical civilians would call out "Hello, Mr. Meier! How's your hat?"
Göring, being the head of the Luftwaffe that was the most visible manifestation of the Nazis to the British population due to the Blitz, was the major target of British propaganda and satire during the war. This concentrated mockery was so effective that Göring often remains thought of as a stupid, slapdash, incompetent Fat Bastard who couldn't tie his own shoelaces even today—it's often forgotten that prior to this propaganda offensive, he was widely feared as a dashing war hero and thought of as a strategic genius. He displayed an IQ of 138 during the psychological examinations prior to the Nuremberg Trial.
The propaganda raised around him both by Anglophones and civilian Germans themselves (this was one of the few things over which the two peoples at war fully agreed) ran mostly around his "unmanly" or "diva-like" attitude (the decorations and titles of a Miles Gloriosus, his obsession for theatrical appearance, from his luxury cars to his tailored uniforms), but in practice he held tremendous power in the State structure. Beside his unique position as Deputy Führer, he also held absolute power over the greatest conglomerate of iron and steel industry in the Reich and possibly the largest company under a single leader in the entire world by 1941, the Hermann-Görings-Werke, and by absorption of the captured Czech and Soviet factories he became the greatest steel baron in history. Above the likes of Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Carnegie, Charles M. Schwab or any other business magnate in popular culture. He was not quite the man to be trifled with.
JosephGoebbels: Minister of Media and Public Enlightenment, he basically invented modern propaganda. The original spin-doctor, Goebbels was fanatically devoted to Hitler and was ultimately appointed his successor as head of government. He was obsessed with the "Aryan race" and envied them, since he was a short black-haired man who was unable to fight on the front lines as a youth because of his limp. He compensated for this with his charisma, and after the Nazis lost in the Soviet Union, he whipped up their supporters at home into a frenzy, ensuring that they continued fighting against overwhelming odds. Goebbels was known for his slick and charming personality (he dated several film stars), and for being among the few intellectuals in the Nazi Party (Alfred Rosenberg (see below) was another). He was also a devoted family man and model father. Mostly.
He did cheat on his wife with an actress and used his happy healthy kids as evidence that disabled children should be euthanized.
After Hitler committed suicide in 1945, Goebbels succeeded him as Chancellor of Germany and reigned for thirty hours before he shot his wife and then himself. His wife had previously killed their six children, as they had agreed, despite several offers (including from Albert Speer) to take them to safety in the west beforehand.
Of all the speeches he gave during his career, Goebbels' most famous one was the Sportpalast Speech. It was given on February 18, 1943, three weeks after the defeat in Stalingrad. This speech was the first acknowledgement by the Nazi leadership that Germany was facing serious problems on all fronts. Perhaps the most infamous bit about his speech was that the audience was carefully selected according to loyalty to Nazi ideology, giving it even greater impact.
During the late 1920s, he was to run against Hitler in the election for the presidency of the NSDAP and therefore might have become the Führer, but his wife, a fanatic admirer of Hitler, convinced him to retreat and leave Hitler to win.
HeinrichHimmler: Reichsführer of the SS and second-in-command to Hitler, he controlled the concentration camps, Gestapo, and the SS (Schutzstaffel). Hitler considered him his most loyal and competent henchman, and Himmler's decision to negotiate (unsuccessfully) with the Allies was one of the things that drove Hitler to consider suicide. One of the younger Nazis, he started out as a nerdy chicken breeder who carried the swastika flag during rallies. He has always been somewhat of a paradox for both historians and psychologists; despite damning millions to the gas chambers, and planning the further butchery and enslavement of tens if not hundreds of millions, Himmler hated the sight of blood - he repeatedly forced himself to watch recordings of the massacres he had ordered, and fainted in horror. However, despite this personal disgust for the realities of what he was ordering, he remained the key player of many of Nazi Germany's most evil crimes, in particular the Holocaust, painting the mass murders as "heroic" and "necessary" actions that would prove the heroism of the SS; he was also a highly intelligent bureaucrat and organizer, one of the reasons the SS was able to elevate itself into an elaborate and sophisticated State-Within-A-State, and helped to organize Nazi Party machinery in the twenties and thirties. Creepily enough, Himmler looked more like an amiable nerd than the head of the most terrifying armed forces in history. Captured in 1945, he killed himself before he could be questioned (an event witnessed firsthand by famed British cartoonist Carl Giles and Dutch comedian Rijk de Gooijer).
Also despite being one of the primary ideological driving forces of the Third Reich's crimes, whose belief in the paramount divinity of "Germanic" blood led him to justify the genocide and enslavement of tens of millions of innocents (as well as the planned total enslavement and eventual genocide of the entire population of Poland, Russia and pretty much all of Eastern Europe) in an effort to "protect" this blood, he was one of the first individuals to throw these ideals out the window the moment it suited him. For example, when the war started to go downhill for Germany, he justified and even applauded the enlistment of Slavs, Asians, Muslims and even Indians in the SS, despite all four being very much part of the "untermensch" to the Nazis, his view of loyalty to the Fuhrer being an ultimate virtue was abandoned when it became clear Hitler would not give in, thus Himmler abandoned ship and tried to negotiate for peace and his own protection with the British, and finally in what must be the most sickening display of cowardice he tried to better his position during these "negotiations" by cheerfully telling a representative of the World Jewish Congress that after everything he had done, he wanted to "bury the hatchet" with the Jews by trading the lives of thousands of concentration camp inmates for guarantees he would be spared. In short, the death, misery, and suffering he had knowingly inflicted had all been for a delusional ideology which he never really cared about anyway.
Its less likely that he didn't care about it, and more that he cared about saving his own neck more. There is some evidence that even he thought the Holocaust was taking things too far (though he favoured deporting the Jews to Madagascar, which if it were even possible would probably have resulted in a famine that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, would have died in) and compared the early instances of mass murder by SS death squads to the excesses of Bolshevik Russia (ie. "barbaric" and "uncivilised"). Of course, Himmler dealt with Hitler pushing it forward by throwing himself into planning the Final Solution and engaging in Double Speak with his underlings and himself, and basically trying to justify his actions with Insane Troll Logic and extreme Necessarily Evil arguments. By the end of the war, this self-inflicted madness along with every country on Earth wanting him, personally, to hang (since, as the architect of the Holocaust, he was arguably the most hated Nazi of all, even more than Hitler), his crazy behaviour towards the end (apart from the above crazy deals, there are- admitedly unproven- testaments that he kept furniture made from human flesh- maybe or not from Jewish Holocaust victims- in his attic) might be best understood as a lengthy Villainous BSOD.
Despite his nerdy appearance and manners throughout his adult life, he was an amateur boxer during his late teenage years. For a man rejected from World War One combat service for being too frail and non-athletic, it was a rather weird choice...
ErnstRöhm: Leader of the SA (Sturmabteilung), known as the Brownshirts and a key assistant in Hitler's takeover. He was big and fat, a tough ex-military man who liked young boys. To remove a potential rival (or because he was plotting against him, as has been claimed), Hitler personally arrested him and had him executed in the Night of the Long Knives, along with much of the SA leadership. Probably another addition to the Nazi hatred of homosexuals.
AlbertSpeer: Hitler's only real friend, at least according to Speer himself, and the Anti-Villain of Nazi Germany. Supposedly, he was drawn to the Nazi regime because of his friendship with Hitler, and not because he was a fanatical racist like the others. He was also known as "the Nazi who apologized", and many saw him as the only sane man in the Nazi inner circle - In fact, according to some surviving documents, he was the only member of Hitler's government that was going to keep his Minister position had Operation Valkyrie succeeded in overthrowing Hitler. The fact that his name was followed by a question mark and a note saying that he would only be approached after Hitler's death was what saved his life. Incrediblyefficient at what he did (and some, including Speer's own sons, say there was Ho Yay between him and Hitler), Speer rose in power during World War II and became first the chief architect - his grand plans for the future monuments for a remade Berlin ("Welthauptstadt Germania") appealed greatly to Hitler - and later Minister of Armaments, where he used his managing skills to increase production (he tripled ammunition production without building any new factories, while dealing with almost daily Allied bombings) and prolong the war. In the end, he refused to carry out Hitler's order to burn the German countryside so nothing would be left for the Allies — or, for that matter, the Germans — so he abandoned him. Hitler let him live. Speer regretted what he did (denying knowledge of the Holocaust - although modern historians tend to agree that he at the very least knew just enough to know where not to look and what not to ask). Following Nuremburg, he served a twenty year long prison sentence in Spandau, then was released. He died of old age in 1981.
All that's left of Speer's work today are some lampposts, a few concrete cylinders (built to test if the marshy terrain of Berlin can support the weight of Hitler's proposed Volkshalle—it can't), and the plans for the reconstruction of bombed German cities in case of defeat.
Speer was a bit more liberal than the rest of the Nazi leadership. In 1943, after taking over as Armaments Minister, he proposed that Germany could ease its home manpower shortages by employing women in factories, something the Allies (especially the Americans) had already done. The Nazis refused, believing the role of "Kinder, Küche, Kirche" (children, kitchen, church)note By late 1941, the majority (51%) of German workforce were females, for practical reasons: millions of men lost in World War One, hundreds of thousands of men already on the battlefield. Even if they agreed with Speer, more female workers were hard to come by..
Rudolf Hess: The first Deputy Führer and one of the original Nazis. Even though he was originally meant to be Hitler's successor, he gradually faded away as more ambitious men like Goering and Himmler took his place. Hess was an oddball of a Nazi who was obsessed with astronomy, astrology, organic gardening and animal welfare. He had the strange idea of flying a fighter plane on his own to the UK to try and negotiate peace with the British in 1941. The British weren't interested in this at all and kept him in solitary confinement for the rest of the war. The other Nazis claimed he had gone completely off his rocker (which was true)*
There is now some evidence that he was lured there by a British lady acquaintance under the pretext of preparing a peace deal. Said acquaintance was working with MI6, so the whole affair might have actually been an elaborate trap
After the war, he spent the rest of his life at Spandau Prison, where he remained alone for last 21 years of his life after the release or death of everyone else (at that point, most of the guards took pity on "the Loneliest Man on Earth" and let him have free access to the entire prison and even took him outside to dinner). Committed suicide in 1987 at the ripe old age of 93.
MartinBormann: Private secretary of Hitler and unofficially one of the most powerful men in the Third Reich. He controlled all access to Hitler and oversaw all information that came to and from the Führerbunker, giving him enormous power. He was widely feared and hated amongst other leading Nazis, since Hitler had generally given him the role of keeping their ambitions and power-grabbing in check. Strangely, even the SS leaders were scared of the bullying Bormann; he once had a good rant at Himmler down the phone for accidentally hinting that the Jews were not merely being "transported" (Himmler phoned Bormann to report that 40,000 Jews had been exterminated; Bormann proceeded to rebuke (shout and scream publicly over the phone at) Himmler for using that word "exterminated" and, after forcing an apology out of the guy, told Himmler to never phone him on the matter again and to use couriers to report on the Final Solution in future). As the war reached its end, Bormann had near-total control over Hitler, but fled after his boss's suicide and disappeared. He was sentenced to death in absentia at the Nuremberg Trials. It was rumored for many years that he had successfully escaped to South America, but in 1998 a skull found in Berlin was confirmed as his.
Reputedly, Bormann was an awful and boorish character (very much unlike stiff and proud Prussian officers or arrogant Nazi politicians) the kind who whistled like one does after a dog to summon his wife (who had borne him 10 children).
Joachim von Ribbentrop: The Foreign Minister. He acted as an ambassador to London before the war, intending to steer them towards opposing the Soviet Union rather than scrutinizing German territorial disputes. Lots of Brits were outraged when he gave the Nazi salute to George VI. Because Ribbentrop was ambassador to Britain, the news media of the time tended to portray him as one of the major faces of Nazi Germany (as opposed to one of the generals in Germany no one had ever heard of, who were actively building up the Nazi state). In reality, Ribbentrop was little more than a mouthpiece for Hitler, and incredibly unskilled as a diplomat. Every notable person who ever worked with Ribbentrop - from the Allies, the Nazi command staff, even his own subordinates - each gave the same description of Ribbentrop with alarming consistency: pompous, conceited*
the "von" in Ribbentrop's name is a "noble particle", supposedly indicating membership of an aristocratic family. In fact, Ribbentrop had added the "von" by himself; he had no "noble" relatives whatsoever. It's just possible he did this because in Europe of that time, diplomats were usually expected to be aristocrats, but the more obvious explanation was that the man was a galloping snob
, erratic, and surprisingly dumb.
The Nuremberg trials were also when whatever previous assumptions the Allies had about Ribbentrop's intelligence wore off. One oft-quoted exchange was when the prosecution accused Ribbentrop that he had aggressively threatened Czechoslovakia during the Munich Agreement, which he flatly denied. The prosecutor asked what further pressure he could possibly have put on the head of a country beyond threatening to march in the German army in overwhelming strength, and bomb their capital with the Luftwaffe. Ribbentrop's actual reply was "war, for instance". The prosecution was so baffled by Ribbentrop's overall stupidity that they openly questioned his subordinates how such an obviously unqualified man was made a high official, to which they explained that he was little more than a rubber stamp for foreign policy Hitler himself actually drafted.
Ironically, according to an army psychologist present at Nuremberg, his IQ was 129 - one point higher than Speer's.
Justice Robert H. Jackson, the American Chief Prosecutor, asked Mr. Ribbentrop if he would take responsibility for the foreign policy of the Third Reich during his tenure. Mr. Ribbentrop responded by saying that he didn't know what the foreign policy was.
To be fair to Ribbentrop, the reason for this is that the Third Reich didn't really have a foreign policy- or rather, the foreign policy was basically whatever Hitler wanted it to be. Hitler was a lazy dictator in most respects, but he took personal command of this particular area and didn't always let others know what he was planning, to the extent that he was planning anything, and at least liked to appear moderate when it suited him at times- he didn't exactly want to advertise to his military advisors (not to the sane ones, anyway) that he was hoping to set off a major European war- at least when Germany was strong enough to win one- because he thought War Is Glorious, plus he knew that a level of secrecy give him the aura of a genius thinking on a different level than everybody else, and that was something he tried to cultivate.
One of his biggest blunders was when he nearly hit King George V: he made the "Heil, Hitler!" salute as the king walked forward to shake his hand. He compounded the damage by insisting that, henceforward, all German diplomats were to greet foreign heads of state with the fascist salute, and the latter would have to return it. It wasn't until Hitler was pointed out that, according to those rules, he would have to return the Communist clenched fist salute if the Soviet Ambassador gave it, that the crisis was solved.
AlfredRosenberg: One of the few intellectual Nazis, and the author of many of Hitler's infamous creeds. Notably, he rejected Christianity and conspired to replace it with "Positive Christianity", which was intended to be transitional to a Nazi-Pagan-ish faith. Rosenberg became Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories following the invasion of Russia, directing the creation of Nazi slave colonies on Soviet soil. Not only violently anti-communist, he was responsible for the racial categorization in the Reich. Nowadays, his mostly rational approach to the Reich's ideology made him something of a Forgotten Trope, when it comes to Nazi racial philosophy modern popular culture is far more interested in the ramblings of Julius Streicher and when it comes to actual running of things in, like, his own province, occupation of the Russian lands, far more interested in the terror over civilians and partisans performed by the SS and Wehrmacht. The more politically-minded and opportunistic Hitler dismissed Rosenberg's works as "nonsense" and they probably weren't widely read (widely sold, but not widely read), but Rosenberg's philosophy definitely had a much bigger impact on Nazi ideology (and, early on, Hitler himself- when he first started oratoring, Hitler was regarded by some as basically a mouthpiece for Rosenberg's views, and there is evidence that this was true) than Hitler either admitted or, perhaps, realized. Captured by the Allies as the war ended, he was found guilty of crimes against peace and initiating wars of aggression, and hanged. He and Hermann Göring were born on the same day (12 January 1893), and if Göring hadn't committed suicide before his execution, they would have died the same day too. Despite his Jewish-sounding name, his family were Baltic-Germans of Estonian and Latvian stock.
Hermann Rauschning: Conservative politician and World War One veteran, he denounced the newly-formed Republic of Poland and it's persecution of Ethnic Germans and later joined the NSDAP and raised to power in 1933 as President of the Danzig Senate (as Danzig was not 100% part of either Germany of Poland, this made him the de facto head of state). Later took part in political in-fighting among the furiously anti-Polish Nazis and "constitutionalist" Philo-Polish people and was forced to emigrate by 1936 to save himself from Nazi revenge. Although his political power was minor and provincial, he gained worldwide notoriety as an anti-Hitler mouthpiece by his writings (most renowned being Conversations With Hitler) in which he claimed to have heard from Hitler himself the plans for European conquest and domination, not very credible for someone who was not part of the inner circle of power. Gained US citizenship in 1941 and become a farmer for the next 40 years. Oft-quoted by pre-1990 historians and even more by former Communist state historians as a key witness to Nazi policies, despite his dubious credibility.
Wilhelm Keitel: Field Marshal and head of the German High Command, and essentially a walking, talking rubber stamp for Hitler. He was called "the Chuckler" by other Nazis since his main task was to chuckle at Hitler's witty comments. He had the nickname of "Lakeitel", a play on the German word for "lackey" and also a reference to a children's toy: a donkey whose head, when it's string was pulled, would bob up and down. He almost never attempted to stand up to the Führer, with catastrophic consequences for the men under his command. He didn't even have the dignity to try and stand up for himself after the war; Albert Speer recorded in his memoirs that he overheard Keitel groveling before Grand Admiral Dönitz the exact same way he had before Hitler. He was sentenced to death by hanging at the Nuremberg trials, after being denied a request to be shot by firing squad (like a soldier).
AlfredJodl: General and Chief of Operations for the Wehrmacht. Poor Jodl had the nasty experience of having his job usurped by Hitler, a politician who insisted upon micro-managing military operations, leaving him essentially without a job. The few times Jodl attempted to go over Hitler's head, it didn't end well for him. During the Battle of Britain, he eagerly anticipated "the final German victory over England"... and was of course sorely disappointed. Among those injured in the July 20 bomb plot, he complained that no one had been more badly hurt than himself, yet Hitler still received more sympathy from party loyalists. He was executed at Nuremberg, then posthumously acquitted, then re-found guilty.
ErwinRommel: The originalMagnificent Bastard and the Worthy Opponent of the British in World War II. He was one of the less enthusiastic supporters of the Nazis regime and was not of Blue Blood, two reasons for which the Generals in the Nazi High Command hated him. Later on he became very critical of the Nazi regime and disillusioned with Hitler. Although he was incredibly loyal to Germany he refused all orders to kill prisoners of war and treated them fairly. Nobody from his Afrika Korps was ever accused of war crimes, probably because of his influence. Orders to kill any Jews on sight in all theaters of his command were defiantly ignored. He did, however, even after becoming disillusioned, work very hard to make the coast of France deadly to the invading Allies. He was forced to commit suicide in 1944 after being implicated in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The general consensus among many historians is that he at least knew of it, even if he had no direct involvement. His reputation as a general was probably inflated as a consequence of the trope America Wins the War, however, as he was the most famous German general to consistently fight the non-Soviet Allied troops. He was never actually a member of the Nazi party and is remembered positively in Germany and the rest of the world, and there was a German destroyer named after him (which was decommissioned after 30 years of service). In addition, Rommel is the only German field marshal of the war to have a museum dedicated to him.
Note that members of the Wehrmacht weren’t allowed to affiliate with a political party, so it's not at all unusual he wasn't a member of the Nazi party. Of course, that did not stop soldiers who did believe in Nazi ideology from joining. Rommel, however, was critical of Hitler's policies.
Heinz Guderian: Colonel-General and the go-to guy for Panzer operations. Pioneered many of the techniques used in the Blitzkrieg, and spearheaded the effort as well. He had joined the German Army back when it meant working for the Kaiser, but remained loyal to Germany even when it meant loyalty to Hitler. Many traditional Prussian generals disobeyed orders on a regular basis; Guderian disobeyed them snidely. (When ordered to halt halfway to Calais during the invasion of France, but permitted to conduct a reconnaissance in force, he left about a tenth of his force as a garrison and "reconnaissanced in force" all the way to the sea.) He was eventually sacked for violating Hitler's ridiculous "no retreat" order on the Eastern Front, then recalled a little while later to take an important position on the General Staff. He opposed assassination attempts against Hitler (or at least, to ones that wouldn't go all the way and root out the rest of the Nazi leadership), but he argued with Hitler so passionately that on more than one occasion the Führer nearly had a stroke. At Nuremberg, the Poles and Russians wanted him hanged, but the US determined that he had behaved consistent with his role as a professional soldier, and released him with no charges; the Americans also consulted with him in the '50s when it came time to rearm West Germany against the Soviets.
Guderian's son, Heinz-Günther, was a junior officer in the Wehrmacht and went on to a long and distinguished service in the Bundeswehr (retiring with the rank of major-general).
Erich von Manstein: If Guderian was the tank ace and Rommel the tactical genius, then Manstein was Master of Strategy. He planned the Ardennes offensive which knocked France out of the war in 6 weeks and was largely responsible for the initial huge success of the Russian invasion. He was put into command of the 11th army and soon, the the newly created Army Group Don. After the encirclement of Paulus' 6th Army at Stalingrad, Manstein was responsible for the planned rescue of said army (which Hitler shot down) and for saving the entire southern wing of the German front from collapsing after the 6th Army's destruction. He lead the southern pincer in the "battle of Kursk", although he wanted to have the german forces attack in the center (where the soviets didn't expect the germans to go). Eventually, he was fired by Hitler because Hitler felt threatened by Manstein's strong personally and tendancy to disagree with him (The fact that Hitler made him a field marshall and gave him an army group to command despite their mutual dislike for each other is a testament to just how effective Manstein was at his job). In 1944, both Field marshals Gunther von Kluge and Erwin Rommel said to Manstein "I am (also) Prepared to serve under your orders" and Field marshal Fedor von Bock said that Manstein was Germany's last hope (seven days before germany surrendered). In fact, high officers, such as Colonel General (later Field Marshal) Wolfram von Richtofen wanted him to be in charge of the entire eastern front. The fact that the legendary desert fox (and many other distiguished generals) would be happy to serve under him should serve as a testament to his skill as a General and strategist.
Regarding his politics, Manstein was very similar to his fellow generals. He was not particularly anti-Semitic (although he did associate Jews with Communists), but was anti-communist, autocratic, militaristic, and apolitical (General Reichenau was disliked by many for joining the Nazi party). He, like many eastern front generals, were complacent in letting the SS murder civilians behind the front as they swept through Russia. He claimed ignorance of the concentration camps, but was aware of the actions of the Einsatzgruppen in killing partisans, including Communists and Jews. He thought of Hitler as a good politician, but an idiot in military matters and disliked Hitler's interference with Army affairs. He was against assassionation of Hitler, but received many visitors who suggested Manstein help with the coup and was generally polite towards them. After the war, he was only called as a witness for the defense at Nuremburg, but after the Soviets demanded that the British hand him over so they could try him, the British decided to try him themselves. Because he was very popular amongst the British and the Americans, several of whom contributed to his defense fund, he only ended up getting found guilty on two and accountable for seven of 17 charges, sentenced to 12 years in jail (and he ended up getting out in four). Manstein is utterly controversial to this day in Germany; at the same time condemned for being complacent in allowing SS atrocities to happen whilst at the same time revered for his ability and his later service for the government of West Germany, in particular he is seen as the 'Grandfather' of the modern German Bundeswehr.
GerdvonRundstedt: Born into a Prussian family, this guy was in the German Army since 1892 (or more precisely, before Hitler was even in preschool). In his youth, Rundstedt was accepted to Germany's elite military academy, an institution where only 160 new students were accepted annually and became part of the one of four students who would graduate in his class. He led the army into Southern Poland and half-a-year later had his Crowning Moment of Awesome: leading the largest amount of German armour through the Ardennes forest to knock out France. After Operation Sea Lion was called off (where he would have had command of the lead forces), Rundstedt was put in charge of the occupation forces in France before commanding during Operation Barbarossa and kept his forces going even when he was suffering a heart attack (though this was beaten back few days later by a Russian counterattack). Angry, Hitler brought him back and brought him back to the relatively cushy job of building fortifications along the French coastline. He was also highly critical of Hitler and the Nazis throughout his entire career. During the Battle of Normandy, where he served as Commander-in-Chief West with Rommel as his subordinate, Keitel asked Rundsedt what he could do to stop the invasion, as Hitler believe the real invasion would come at Calais and thus forbade the redeployment of German forces. Rundstedt's response to his superiors in Berlin was "Make peace, you idiots!" After being forcibly retired, but brought back after the liberation of Paris, Rundstedt managed to pull off one last victory by repelling Operation Market Garden before he was relieved of command in March 1945. Still, he managed a last snark when he was asked by his Russian interrogators what was the most decisive battle of the war; they expected him to say "Stalingrad", but he replied "the Battle of Britain", causing the Russians to walk out.
Albert Kesselring: Field Marshal of the Luftwaffe. Known as "Smiling Albert", he had his start in the air force as a balloon observer in the First World War. A somewhat overlooked general, he commanded Luftwaffe forces in the invasions of Poland, France, and was second to Goering in the Battle of Britain. One of the inventors of the Blitzkrieg, he said before the campaigns of 1939-1940 that speed is the key to victory, inasmuch as even the battle damaged tanks or aircraft can be abandoned in the field if repairing them would delay the assault. He was later appointed Commander-in-Chief South, putting him in charge of the entire Mediterranean Theater (making him Rommel's boss). After the fall of North Africa, Kesselring was still put in charge of the Italian defenses, creating a stubborn defense that left Northern Italy in Axis hands until the end of the war. After his surrender*
having initially been allowed to keep his uniform, insignia of rank, field marshal’s baton and dress weapons, and also allowed to travel unescorted,
he was tried by the British authorities in Italy for war crimes against Italian civilians. Refusing the Nuremberg defence, stating that his actions had been legal and necessary, he was convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad. *
In your face, Keitel!
Whereupon, senior allies from all nations (including Winston Churchill) lined up to praise his combat record and denounce his sentence, and the Italians, who had just abolished their death penalty*
regarding it as part of Mussolini’s legacy
, refused to execute him. Eventually, his sentence was commuted to life, and in 1952, while he was being treated (successfully) for throat cancer, another campaign saw it further commuted to time served.
Erich Raeder: Grand Admiral, the first head of the Kriegsmarine. He served in combat posts during the First World War, taking part in the Battles of Doggy Bank and Jutland. In the meantime, dismissed Reinhard Heydrich from the Navy in 1931. When a second war was approaching, Hitler made him the first Grand Admiral since Alfred von Tirpitz. However, by midway through the war, his career had fallen apart. Hitler failed to comprehend how vital a large well-equipped fleet was in order to compete with the Royal Navy, and Raeder had only a fraction of the ships he needed when the war started (Hitler assured him there would not be a major war until 1945). The Kriegsmarine lost half the ships it committed to the invasion of Denmark and Norway and the following year, the Germans lost their prized flagship Bismarck on its maiden voyage. The surface fleet slowly withered away before being restricted to their homeports and moreover, was overshadowed by the success of the U-boat Force. In 1943, soon after the catastrophic defeat at Stalingrad, Raeder resigned from the Kriegsmarine.
Karl Dönitz: Grand Admiral, master of the Kriegsmarine (his micro-management of the submarine campaign led to its failure because of the amount of traffic that the ULTRA people could decrypt) and eventually the last Nazi leader at the end of the war - Hitler passed on the office of President to Dönitz, while Josef Goebbels became Chancellor and Martin Bormann became Party Minister. This was not due to any great political success on Dönitz's part, but because Hitler believed that the Army, Air Force, and the SS had all betrayed him; the Navy held much less political power and consequently Dönitz received the position by default. After both Hitler and Goebbels had killed themselves and Bormann had fled (actually he died trying to flee Berlin, but this wasn't discovered for years), Dönitz signed the unconditional surrender. Received the mild sentence of 10 years in prison when Admiral Nimitz pointed out the Americans had also practiced unrestricted submarine warfare (against Japan), and even then quite a few Allied officers protested it. He remained a staunch racist until he died.
AdmiralWilhelmCanaris: Head of the Abwehr, or German military intelligence, until 1944 when he was arrested, and shortly thereafter executed for his suspected involvement in the July Plot - he was, but he was already under house arrest when it was carried out. The Gestapo then unconvered details of numerous other plots he had masterminded but had failed, or were only on paper. Canaris was perhaps the most underrated hero figure in the history of Nazi Germany, one most people have likely not heard of. Nicknamed "the Little Greek" due to his very short 5ft 3in stature and his (wrong) claim he descended from Greek hero and Prime Minister Admiral Constantine Canaris. Of aristocratic and Catholic stock, he turned increasingly to his faith after the rise of Nazism, and had several contacts in the Vatican. Canaris held most of the typical Conservative prejudices to be expected of a man of his background (such as hardline anti-Marxism), but in the main held Hitler and his cronies in utter contempt. He found himself in a unique position when he was placed in charge of German intelligence, and he was quick to fill its upper ranks with anti-Nazi sympathisers and members of the Resistance. Agents in the know were instructed to sabotage their own operations and made contacts with British intelligence and other Western agencies, with whom he sharted vital information. Canaris was also responsible for encouraging Franco to act like a dick to Hitler, helping to keep Spain out of the war. Canaris even helped foil a plot by Hitler to kidnap The Pope, in retaliation for the arrest of Mussolini. His activities brought him into rivalrly and conflict with Heydrich, who ran his own intelligence network....and who was a close personal friend of Canaris, whom he regarded both as a mentor and as the only Navy officer he did not dislike. The hypercompetent Heydrich was aware of what Canaris was up to but bided his time, while Canaris was increasingly horrified by Heydrichs' callous, calculated brutality. Heydrich's assassination was done in part to preserve Canaris' position.
Walter Model: A hard-driving panzer commander in the early days of the Eastern Front, Model was promoted to general and later field marshal for his skill in stopping Soviet (and to a lesser extent, Western Allied) attacks. He became known as the Wehrmacht's best defensive tactician, earning the nickname "Hitler's Fireman" for being the Fuhrer's go-to general for dealing with desperate situations. He was also known for being crude, blunt, and to the point, bypassing the military's bureaucracy constantly and publicly insulting officers who didn't meet his standards. This behavior made him well-liked by his troops and despised by his staff, earning him his other nickname "Frontline Pig." Unlike many other Wehrmacht generals, he became known for having ties with Nazism and Hitler. Many who knew him insisted he was a zealous Nazi. Historians still aren't sure whether or not this was the case. What is known is that he had a close personal relationship with Hitler, though this relationship became strained at times (he once asked him "Mein Führer, who commands Ninth Army, you or I?"). He was considered by Hitler to be his best field marshal, and the only one he ever fully trusted. As such, Hitler didn't countermand his tactical decisions as he did with other generals. Model, in turn, never objected to or interfered with massacres, deportations, and other atrocities committed by the SS in areas under his command. Faced with total defeat, and indicted by the Soviets for war crimes, he committed suicide on April 21, 1945.
Colonel-CountClausvon Stauffenberg: Leader of the July 20 Plot. A member of the aristocracy and a devout Catholic, he was initially enthusiastic about the Nazi regime, especially when Germany defeated France in under six weeks. However, his love for Germany started to override his support of Hitler once he started to become aware of the atrocities being committed on the Eastern Front. For speaking against Hitler, he was transferred to Tunisia (just a few months before the North Africa campaign ended) and was wounded in an air strike, after which he was brought back to Germany. In the following year, he made connections with Colonel Henning von Treschow and other officers who sought to remove Hitler from power. Unlike the others, Stauffenberg knew it wasn't so much as removing Hitler from power that was the problem, but removing the entirety of the Nazi regime. He proposed using Operation Valkyrie, which was intended to maintain order in the event of a decapitation of government or a slave uprising (they carefully reworded it so that they could allow for the arrest of Nazi officials when implemented, a change which Hitler did not read). On July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg arrived in Hitler's Wolfschanze headquarters with a bomb in his briefcase. However, bad luck and bad timing doomed the operation and at the end of the day, Stauffenberg and many of the plotters were summarily executed. Today, they are proudly remembered as heroes in Germany for their brave effort to save Germany from total destruction.
Friedrich Paulus: Commander of the Sixth Army during the Battle of Stalingrad. A veteran of World War I (and served in the same infantry regiment as Erwin Rommel), he was particularly hampered during Case Blue by Hitler's orders which changed the targets and direction of attack, severely costing him momentum. After the Soviets launched a counterattack and cut off the Sixth Army, he requested permission to break out, which would save the men under his command. However, Hitler refused and opted for a plan proposed by Göring to supply the Sixth Army by air while Field Marshal Manstein prepared a relief force. While Manstein was competent and could have potentially relieved the Sixth Army, the Luftwaffe was completely unable to supply them from the air, providing only a fraction of the materials needed (and even then, they were mostly useless supplies like vodka and summer uniforms). In January, the Soviets approached him twice with relatively good terms of surrender: medical care for the men, allowing them to keep their personal affects, and normal food rations. Paulus found himself severely handicapped by Hitler's order to hold to the last man. This was cemented on January 30th, 1943, when Hitler promoted Paulus to Field Marshal. As no German field marshal had ever surrendered or been captured, he was expected to kill himself or continue holding. Saying he would never kill himself for "that Bohemian corporal", Paulus promptly surrendered. He later became a member of the communist committee for a Free Germany.
ReinhardHeydrich: Obergruppenführer and second-in-command in the SS and Deputy Governor ("Reich-Protector") of Bohemia and Moravia, he gave the order for the Final Solution and masterminded the Holocaust. He was also known as "The Hangman of Europe". Since his childhood, he was said to excel at anything he put his mind to—fencing, boxing, skiing, charming women, playing the violin, piloting airplanes, and organizing genocide. Completely insane by all accounts, he was supposedly part-Jewish despite being a blue-eyed and blond man (pretty much the only one in the Nazi leadership who looked anything like the "Aryan ideal"). He also had an unpleasant high-pitched voice, for which he was frequently bullied in his early years. He headed the Wannsee Conference, where he decided that all Jews in Europe were to be killed. When he was appointed Governor of Bohemia, he made plans for "Germanizing" parts of the Czech population and the ethnic cleansing of the remainder (medical teams were sent to all Czech schools, disguising the race tests as medical check-ups). In the war effort, Heydrich's sheer intelligence was so dangerous that the Allies made a huge effort to assassinate him. Heydrich never lived to see the full extent of his Holocaust—his car was bombed by two Czech assassins in 1942, and he died of blood poisoning in the hospital afterwards. Even on his deathbed, he was incapable of feeling empathy.
Hitler openly called the dying Heydrich a moron for driving around without any protection whatsoever. The assassination of Heydrich took place in Prague, whose civilian population was punished. A letter, supposedly from one of the assassins was found in Lidice, which was later proven to be sent by a mere factory worker. But Karl Hermann Frank, Heydrich's successor, wanted brutal revenge on the Czech people and ordered the destruction of Lidice, and the village was burned down. The men were shot immediately; the women were shipped off to a concentration camp to slave in the brothels; the children were sent to the gas ovens of Chelmno.
Heydrich despised everything amounting to ideology in the Reich and in 1942 he said towards Walther Schellenberg: This Jew extermination is pure stupidity, useless, and with more bad consequences for us than benefits, specially in times of war. Everybody keeps saying i am an evil monster, but this Jewish Final Solution was never my idea after all! And I personnaly never had any hatred for the Jews. He truly did not give a damn on anything, as long as he saw his power quest fulfilled.
Heydrich gained the Ace Pilot title (which meant nothing in the perspective of a country where the top-scoring ace, Erich Hartmann, held 352 air kills) in an obsolete Bf 110 as a Major der Reserve of the Luftwaffe, strictly for fun. None of his military duties requied him to fly combat missions. Only the direct written order of the Führer himself managed to retire him from frontline flying.
A lesser known fact, from William Stevenson's A Man Called Intrepid: Heydrich had been trained since the mid-1920s as a signals (and cipher) officer in the Navy, knew a lot about cryptography and one of his assignments in the 1930s after being drawn in the SS was to improve the technology of the Enigma cipher machines. He and a team of military cryptographers did it by 1938.
He never respected any man who did not live up to his very high standards, but held a particular respect for Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (who hated and undermined him all the time) and SS-Brigadier-General Walter Schellenberg, a very intelligent man whom he thought to be his equal.
Canaris liked Heydrich well enough himself; he only came to fear and loath him after he came to realize what a monster he was dealing with (eg. in one case, finding out that Heydrich was dropping names to Josef Stalin round about the time of The Purge- names the Nazi's didn't like; Heydrich was trying to get Stalin to kill people for them). For his part, Heydrich knew fine and well that Canaris was secretly a leader of La Résistance and was quietly building a case against him at the time of his death (said case was one other reason Heydrich was assassinated), and didn't let the fact that he liked the man get in the way of plotting his death.
Dr. Josef Mengele: "The Angel of Death". Dr. Mengele was infamous for the human medical experimentation he carried out in Auschwitz. He was a handsome and polite young man who always smiled and dressed nicely, and performed unspeakably horrifying medical experiments on the prisoners whom he didn't send to the gas chambers. He preferred to use children under five, and his specialties were injecting blue dyes into their eyes, dissecting their organs, sewing their limbs together, and making sex change operations. With no anesthesia or painkillers. There are two common misconceptions about Mengele: the first is that he was chief medical officer at Auschwitz and the mastermind of the Nazi medical experiments, and the second is that he was an actual "scientist" in any sense of the word. The grim irony is that despite all of the suffering Mengele caused (he personally killed at least 1,500 people...not through bombing or gas chambers but individually vivisecting most of them with his own hands), and despite how infamous his experiments would become in the world at large after the war...even other Nazi scientists later stated that Mengele's "experiments" had no scientific value of any kind whatsoever. There was no rational methodology being used on any level; he didn't even have control groups (junior high science classes were better organized). Escaped to Buenos Aires at the end of the war, where he lived a relatively affluent life performing back-street abortions. He managed to give Mossad the slip and died in Brazil in 1979, after having a stroke while swimming.
Mengele was the living embodiment of the trope "Artistic License - Biology". One of his own colleagues went so far as to burn all the notes Mengele sent him, to emphatically make the point that they weren't scientifically conducted and absolutely pointless. Mengele only received his PhD in 1935 because he wrote a thesis on racial superiority...which was academically worthless, but the in-power Nazi party was impressed with. This leads back to the first misconception: other Nazi scientists were the ones actually "running" the research program, on things like "how to revive someone with hypothermia"...despicable experiments which involved freezing many prisoners to death, but which A - were conducted scientifically (albeit using human beings like lab rats) B - had some sort of rational objective. The reality is that Mengele...was basically a crazed grad student who only got promoted to "doctor" status for touting the party-line about racial superiority, that vivisected people on a daily basis simply to satisfy his own morbid curiosity...while off in another part of the camp the real head scientists were doing the actual research.
While a lot of the "Nazi scientist" trope is supposed to be based on Mengele, i.e. that he mastered human cloning and would try to clone Hitler in Brazil...the reality is that even the other Nazi scientists thought he was utterly unqualified and simply The Butcher. He escaped to Buenos Aires and lived peacefully (although in fear of being captured by the Mossad) to old age until he died of a stroke while swimming. Apparently, he earned a living in Buenos Aires as "José", a shady doctor who performed illegal abortions.
The image of Mengele as the prototypical Nazi scientist came from one basic source: his celebrity among Auschwitz prisoners. Holocaust survivor Oliver Lustig told it in detail: the millions of people sent to death usually did not meet face to face the executioners, those held for forced labor met the brutal SS guardsmen or their officers, if someone was subject to experiments he or she did not survive them. But there was one man who everyone knew, whom they had seen walking the camp, selecting those who would die, or those who would be taken to be dissected. Unlike his peers he did not shun celebrity and neither did celebrity shun him.
AdolfEichmann: "The Architect of the Holocaust". A strikingly normal guy but without doubt one of the scariest Nazis, he was completely obsessed with Jews from a young age and learned everything about them (including the Hebrew language). Head of the SS office dealing with the Jews, he was the one who organized and carried out the Final Solution. Eichmann was terrifyingly efficient at his work, sending trainloads upon trainloads to die in the gas chambers. As Germany was losing the war, Himmler gave a "no more gassing" order, which Eichmann promptlyignored and continued slaughtering Hungary's Jews until the Allies invaded. He escaped to Argentina after the war, where he was finally captured by Israeli Mossad agents (Eichmann was of such high priority that Mossad agents did not want to capture Mengele when they had the chance, for fear of Eichmann escaping). He was smuggled to Israel, where he was tried for crimes against humanity, convicted, and executed (the only person ever executed by Israel's civil authorities) in 1962.
Eichmann is the subject of Hannah Arendt's famous quote about "the banality of evil", meaning that evil people often look and act completely normal in everyday life (and not, as is frequently misinterpreted to her annoyance, that evil is not abnormal, or that any normal person can easily become evil). Arendt, a Jew and former student of Nazi sympathiser and philosopher Martin Heidegger, was critical of the trial (seeing it as Israel simply seeking murderous revenge rather than justice), but did get certain details of it wrong despite being in attendance (partly because she missed certain key moments of the trial, such as Eichmann's own testimonies), such as her claim that Eichmann didn't care about the Jews and saw himself as only doing his job (hence "banality of evil", though there were plenty of other Nazi's who fit her image of Eichmann well enough regardless). In reality, as stated, Eichmann was obsessed with the Jews all his life and Nazism was his ticket to put his obsessions to use.
ErnstKaltenbrunner: A lifelong fanatical Nazi, Kaltenbrunner trained as a lawyer before joining the Austrian Nazi Party and becoming one of its key players, becoming head of the Austrian SS in 1935. After Heydrich’s assassination in 1942, Kaltenbrunner was selected as his replacement as head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) and the Gestapo. Huge, scarred, hot-tempered, a heavy drinker and an all-round scary guy who provoked fear in even other leading Nazis, the Austrian took command of the concentration camp system and executed the Final Solution with what was described as the brutal efficiency of a lawyer. As chief of the Gestapo, he directed the investigation into the failed July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler and soon became one of the Führer’s most trusted and powerful henchmen, even gaining direct access to the Nazi leader himself. After the war, he was put on trial for crimes against humanity by the Allies at Nuremberg – the highest-ranking SS official to be tried - but completely failed to accept any responsibility for his crimes, denying knowledge of any orders he had given and even flat out stating at one point that he had “never killed anyone”. Nobody believed him. Kaltenbrunner was charged and sentenced to death by hanging in October 1946.
Rudolf Höss (not to be confused with Rudolf Hess above): SS-Obersturmbannführer, and the first commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He perfected the methods of genocide, introducing Zyklon B and crematoria. At the Nuremberg trials, Höss claimed to neither take pleasure in nor regret what he did. An American psychologist who examined him reported that Höss seemed utterly apathetic and openly admitted that 3 million people were murdered under his command at Auschwitz. Höss was so utterly matter-of-fact about it, reacting with detached and belated confusion at the shocked responses of the court, that he gave the psychologist the impression that it honestly would never have occurred to him that his actions were unusual if someone else hadn't pointed it out. The psychologist concluded that while Höss seemed intellectually normal, his almost robotic detachment from anything approaching a human emotional response was consistent with the profile of a certified Psychopath (in the strict medical sense of the term). He was sentenced to death by Polish authorities, and hanged at the place of the Auschwitz camp.
During his trial, Höss admitted the conditions of a death camp (gassings, shootings, teeth removal, burnings) were hellish even for the executioners.
Konrad Morgen: Former civilian judge pressed into SS service upon the outbreak of war and Eastern Front veteran, he provided an uncanny example of devotion to law after the retirement from combat in 1943, patrolling as a Judge-Advocate officer the concentration camps and death camps and investigating corruption, plunder, robbery and other crimes which abounded there. His nosy investigations infuriated Heinrich Himmler himself by early 1944, but Morgen clung to his duty and managed to get the court martial and death sentenceat the hands of the SS of such figures as Karl Otto Koch (commandant of Buchenwald) and his right hand Dr. Waldemar Hoven, of Hermann Florstedt, commandant of Majdanek, and other SS officers, and removal from command of the above-quoted Rudolf Höss (who organized the disappearance and assassination of Morgen's assistant Gerhard Putsch to save himself). He testified at Nuremberg Trials and 1965 Auschwitz Trial in Frankfurt after the war and clung to his eyewitness version of the events even as he was beaten by Allied investigators. His nickname in the SS was "The Bloodhound Judge".
Otto Skorzeny: Waffen SS Special Operations chief and ass-kicker extraordinaire, he masterminded numerous missions throughout the war, including the paratrooper rescue of Mussolini from his prison, which prompted Allied Supreme Commander Eisenhower himself to openly describe Skorzeny as "the most dangerous man in Europe". He was famous for his tough look, with sword scars on his face from his fencing career as a student. Towards the end of the war, he commanded the Werewolves (guerilla groups who fought against the Soviet Army). After the war ended, he was famous for boasting he could liberate all the Nazis held within Spandau Prison given only twenty soldiers. He escaped from prison in 1948 (disguised as a GI) and went on to become a trainer of various armed militias abroad, including Palestinian rebels in the Gaza Strip. In 1970, he had a tumor removed from his spine and was paralyzed from the waist down, but due to his levels of badassery, he was back on his feet within six months. He died five years later in Franco's Spain at the age of 67. Many modern people in the West are more sympathetic towards him for having limited himself to the battlefield and not having sought a more comfortable way to boost his career by taking part in war crimes.
Wernher von Braun: A German-born rocket scientist, aerospace engineer, space architect, and one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology in Nazi Germany during World War II and later the United States. In his 20s and early 30s, von Braun was the central figure in Germany's rocket development program, which was responsible for the design and realization of the V-2 combat rocket during World War II. He joined the Allgemeine SS, which was not an armed unit. After the war, he and some of his rocket team were taken to the United States as part of the then-secret Operation Paperclip. Von Braun worked on the United States Army intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) program before his group was assimilated by NASA, under which he served as director of the newly formed Marshall Space Flight Center and as the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the superbooster that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon. His crowning achievement was to lead the development of the Saturn V booster rocket that helped land the first men on the Moon in July 1969. In 1975, he received the National Medal of Science.
Julius Streicher: Former schoolteacher, political agitator, virulent anti-Semite and journalist, he got such pleasant nicknames as "Jew Baiter No. 1". Ran a furious anti-Semitic campaign from 1923 to 1945 as owner and chief editor of the newspaper Der Stürmer and authored anti-Semitic pamphlets. Claimed the Jews were guilty of sacrificing Christians and putting their blood in bread, initiating the Great Depression and pimping the vast majority of prostitutes in Germany and abroad. Became Gauleiter (regional governor) of Franconia, gaining another appropriate nickname, "The Beast (or The Bull) of Franconia". Supposedly half-insane (during the Nuremberg Trials his behavior had been erratic and hysterical), insulted his fellow Nazis wherever possible and was widely hated by them. Stripped of public office in 1940 and retired, but continued to publish Der Stürmer. Lacked further political power to speak of and therefore had no word to say in the running of the war or the Holocaust, but still got beaten and tortured after his capture (the only Nuremberg Trial defendant to be treated so) and sentenced to death for inciting to mass murder.
Streicher exploited fully the fact that porn was not legal at the time and therefore scarce and expensive as any smuggled commodity. The vast majority of lower class males who made up most of his readers could not afford true porn, and his exaggerated and exploitative sleazy stories of Jews defiling Christian and Aryan girls were titillating enough to be attractive.
Roland Freisler: President of the People's Court, and an attendant of the Wannsee Conference. Freisler oversaw the trials of the teenage leaders of the peaceful White Rose movement, and of those suspected in the July 20 plot. Heartless, corrupt and an all-around bully, he would manipulate transcripts to ensure a verdict of "guilty" and scream explosively at defendants when delivering a sentence, or when they tried to defend themselves. In just three years on the bench, Freisler delivered the vast majority of death sentences the People's Court ever issued. He received a deliciously Karmic Death in 1945, when American bombers attacked Berlin and interrupted a Saturday session of the Court. A beam was dislodged by an almost-direct hit to the building and crushed Freisler, who would have survived had he not stayed behind to save the court documents (including those of Fabian von Schlabrendorff, who was facing execution for his role in the July 20 Plot that day note Schlabrendorff would survive the war and become a prominent member of the West German courts.). The death was certified by Dr. Rolf Schleicher, whose brother had been condemned to death by Freisler on the previous day.
Arthur Seyss-Inquart: Austrian Nazi politician and architect of the Anschluss with Germany. He qualified as a lawyer before entering politics and became the frontman for Nazism within Austria in the 1930s, without becoming an actual member of the NSDAP – which worked enormously in his favour as this allowed him to maintain a respectable front to the Viennese political establishment. After Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg was effectively bullied out of power by Hitler, Seyss-Inquart was appointed in his place and promptly delivered Austria into the hands of the Nazis. He was later appointed Reichskommissar of the occupied Netherlands, where he was responsible for rounding up and shipping Dutch Jews to the camps and maintaining “economic cooperation” between Germany and the Netherlands; which included enslaving some 500,000 Dutch workers and sending half of them to the Reich. For his efforts, he was tried for crimes against humanity after the war at Nuremberg and executed in October 1946.
John H. D. Rabe: A German businessman and Nazi Party member who worked for Siemens AG. He helped set up a protected area called the Nanking Safety Zone for Chinese refugees from the Japanese terror during the Nanjing Massacre (a.k.a. the Rape of Nanjing). This helped to save over 200.000 Chinese civilians and cost Rabe his life savings and reputation in Germany. When he wrote to Hitler about the state in Nanjing with a plea to stop the Japanese invasion, he was detained by the Gestapo and only released after Siemens used their weight to set him free. After the war, he was arrested by the Soviet NKVD and then by the British Army, both of which let him go after intense interrogation. He lived in poverty for the rest of his life, with his family and him only having a small one-room appartment and not enough money for food. When the citizens of Nanjing learned of the situation in 1948, they quickly raised the sum of now 19.000 USD for Rabe. They also sent a food package each month until the communist takeover. On January 5, 1950, he died of stroke. In 1997, his tombstone was moved from Berlin, Germany to Nanjing, China.
Oskar Schindler: Of Schindler's List fame. He was a businessman from the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia who joined the Nazi party for the economical and political advantages, and got the chance to start running a factory to build ammunitions. At first, he bribed officials to make sure he had the required workers, but as the war continued, he increasingly spent more money to save as many people as possible, saying that everyone was a skilled worker to make sure that they were not sent to Auschwitz, while not producing anything at all in his factory (he even bribed other companies to get the necessary munitions to fulfill his quotas). He ended up bankrupt because of what he did and poor for the rest of his life, but he would also be one of only two Nazi Party members awarded the honorific Righteous Among The Nations, and he was buried in Jerusalem, where the descendants of those he saved come to pay him annual homage.
KarlPlagge: the other Nazi Party member to be honored as Righteous Among The Nations, although he was kicked out because he refused to espouse racist teachings. He joined the Wehrmacht, and was assigned to a unit to repair military vehicles in Vilnius, Lithuania. It was here he saw atrocities committed against Jews, and swore to do his best to fight the Nazis, feeling it was his responsibility as a German to prevent such things from happening. He used similar tactics to Schindler, recruiting Jews from the Vilnius Ghetto as "essential workers" in order to prevent them from being killed. He also provided the Jews with extra food rations, warm clothes, firewood, and the ability to barter with both his men and local gentiles—which was strictly illegal. Upon hearing that the SS wanted to liquidate the Vilnius ghetto, he went to extraordinary lengths to protect the Jews under him, moving over 1,000 of his workers and their families from the ghetto to his slave labor camp, saving them from liquidation (however, the SS did ultimately control his camp, and on one occasion while he was away they managed to round up most of the camp's children and kill them). In 1944, as the Soviet Red Army was about to invade and the SS began to plan to liquidate his camp, he delivered a speech to his workers about how he and his men would be transferred elsewhere, but that the SS, ''an organization devoted to the protection of refugees'', would take care of them. Over half of the camp's population took the hint and went into hiding before the death squads got there. In the end, he only managed to save between 250-300 of the 1250 Jews he had at the camp, but that was still the largest population of Vilnius Jews to survive the Holocaust. In 1947, he was tried as part of the post-war de-Nazification process, where thanks to the testimony of several of the Jews he saved he was exonerated. However, Plagge refused to accept exoneration, feeling he hadn't done enough to deserve it, and was reclassified as a "follower" of Nazism. He was awarded the posthumous honor of "Righteous Among the Nations" in 2009.
Martin Niemöller: A war hero who served aboard the U-boats in World War I, Niemöller was a Christian pastor and an initial supporter of the Nazi regime. However, for "insufficiently supporting the regime," he was arrested and held at three concentration camps, including Dachau, until he was liberated by American troops. After the war, he became famous for his poem regarding the rise of the Nazi regime:
First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.