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Resistance Within The Nazi Regime History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The aim of this investigation is to draw attention towards the resistance within the Nazi regime and evaluate the extent to which it hindered Hitler’s power. The investigation will only evaluate a few of the instances where there was resistance, not all of them. This research will look specifically at resistance within Hitler’s cabinet, examples of dissent, coups, and Kreisau Circle and each are evaluate each example to the extent it hindered Hitler’s power. However, the aim is not to evaluate how much power Hitler had over the German army or his cabinet. Not all examples of dissent or resistance are covered within this investigation, but focused on a selected few and assessed for their effectiveness on the hindering of Hitler’s power in the conclusion. A select few of the historians will be evaluated for their credibility and reliability on the topic. In the process of the investigation, it has been concluded that there was resistance out and within the Nazi regime, but could only oppose Hitler to an extent that he could still maintain power. Often, his power was misinterpreted as having full control, but seen throughout this investigation it is evident that his cabinet influenced him greatly through their own resistance.

Word Count: 203

Table of Contents



Resistance within Hitler’s Cabinet……………………………………………………………………………………..5-8

Examples of Dissent………………………………………………………………………………………………………….8-9


Kreisau Circle………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….12-15




The growing popularity of the NSDAP was due to the Beer Hall Putsch Hitler planned with Rohm, the founder of the Brown Shirts. The Brown Shirts were former soldiers who intimidated and suppressed opposition parties. The Beer Hall Putsch resulted in Hitler being sent to prison for 9 months, where he wrote his book, Mein Kumph. The Great Depression caused unemployment to rise to 40% and the German economy to go into free fall. Therefore, people turned to extreme political views. Hitler now began to rise to dictatorship.

However, Hitler was not the only one making decisions throughout his dictatorship for Nazi Germany. There was great resistance within his own cabinet, which puts a great setback to his own power since their connection to Hitler and foreign powers was solid. This gives his cabinet a major advantage to resist Hitler, because they shared most of the powers they were given and could easily lie or have secret meetings behind his back.

Professor F. L Carsten says that “several Historians have considered the whole German opposition to Hitler highly overrated and its motives dubious and suspect partly because its members and sympathizers were so few in number, partly because all its attempts met with so little success, partly because the efforts of West German historians to stress the importance of the July plot and the idealism and nobility of purpose of the participants have caused a natural reaction” [1] . A limitation to Carsten’s argument is that he only focuses on a few aspects of the opposition and therefore does not have a holistic view of resistance. Therefore, this puts a limit to what Carsten argues, but also makes him a reliable source since he is an expert in a few of the aspects. Also, one must also consider the fact that the large majority of Germans, until the bitter end, remained loyal to Hitler and willing to cooperate with the state [2] . The examples given in this investigation will look at Resistance within Hitler’s cabinet, examples of dissent, coups, and the Kreisau Circle. The resistances within the Nazi regime hindered Hitler’s power, but never to the extent in which he was overthrown, but to a significant extent.

Resistance within Hitler’s cabinet

Hitler was rarely seen in public and seldom visited other countries outside of Germany [3] . To Hitler’s subordinates he was known “to make a decision no matter how small” [4] . Hitler’s hesitance towards making a decision frustrated his cabinet, therefore motivating them to take their own actions without Hitler’s consent. This allowed for more power within Hitler’s cabinet to make their decisions and resist his authority.

At the end of World War 1, Ernst Rohm was the one who had the connection to Hitler and co-founded the Nazi Party [5] . He then introduced Hitler to powerful people and showed how to behave around them [6] . Hitler and Rohm had recruited the storm troopers to protect Nazi meetings as well as get rid of opposing parties [7] . However, as the storm troopers grew in members, they became “disillusioned with the promises Hitler made to become Chancellor” [8] . Many of them came from the lower and working class, and were looking forward to finding a job according to Hitler’s words. Therefore, a government job seemed appealing to them, but there were few to go around and dissatisfaction grew among them. A second revolution amongst the S.A was imminent. To compromise with Rohm and the S.A, Hitler offered to remove Hugenberg, the conservative minister of economics and agriculture with Walther Darre and Dr. Kurt Schmitt, whom were more supported by the S. A [9] . The second revolution was encouraged by Rohm, the socialist aspect of the Nazi regime became more aggressive. Radical members belonging to the Nazi Labor Front passed out pamphlets calling for a second revolution [10] . On the other hand, Hitler was also receiving complaints from right-wing business men about the troublesome ways of the left-wing Nazis [11] . Hitler was put in an awkward situation and didn’t know who to side with. He felt little love for the upper class business owners, but he also understood that if he did not satisfy the S.A their revolution could threaten his power [12] . Hitler made it very clear that he did not support a second revolution. In response to the second revolution, Hiter said “History will not judge us according to whether we have removed and imprisoned the largest number of economics, but according to whether we have succeeded in providing work” [13] . The speech appealed to both sides, respecting the agreement he had made with the conservatives and keeping his word on creating jobs. The leftists retreated from the idea of a second revolution and would wait until the situation “was more open” [14] .

There were a number of politicians, senior army officers in various ministries and in numerous other positions, senior army officials in various ministries and in numerous positions, senior army officers and captains of industry who used their influence to curb and restrain Hitler’s foreign policy, working both from within and indirectly from outside; resistance to Hitler’s internal policy continued. Dr. Carl Goerdeler, who was largely recognized as the leader of the resistance movement, conducted the most intensive and extensive activity. Goerdeler was one of the people who possessed not only inexhaustible energy but an almost ineradicable optimism, bordering on inability to grasp the evil and depravity of Nazism [15] . Although Goerdeler was a major leader in the opposition of the Nazis, Hoffmann may be giving too much credit on his part. Although he wasn’t as close to Hitler in his main cabinet, his deals worked through other people. In his later years, he would try and persuade Hitler not to continue with the war. After being re-elected for another twelve years and having the support of the Nazi Party he thought his plan would work if he devoted all of his efforts to the prevention of war [16] . In his plan, he traveled to many different countries and explained to the “ruling statesmen of the West the dangers which threatened and his ideas for averting them”. In other words, he influenced the views of the citizens in these various countries on Hitler and his plan, therefore creating resistance. In a dinner with Bertaux, Goerdeler demanded the cession of the Sudetenland to Germany, which “underlined another weakness in the position of the German opposition” [17] . Eventually, this led to a bigger conflict where Goerdeler asked Britain and France for help to convince German cession of the Sudetenland. However, the British and French failed to appreciate the position in which German opposition politicians were placed if they were to avoid being “accused of pursuing a Versailles Peace Treaty policy and betraying their national interests” [18] . In response to the British and French stance, Goerdeler wrote “For myself I could say now: the power and Lebensraum of my country constantly increases. As a German I ought to rejoice at this. But I know that these dictators are criminals and that their economic policy leads to bolshevism; Hitlerism is poison for the German soul” [19] .

In the end, the British government remained “conciliatory and continuously made concessions” [20] . On 15 September Chamberlain flew to Berchtesgaden; Britain and France volunteered to force Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudetenland, whereupon Hitler “raised his demands and insisted on agreement to an immediate move of the Wehrmacht into the disputed area” [21] . Chamberlain then went to Germany once more-to the Godesberg conference of 22 to 24 of September, which ended without result. The Western Powers would now be “satisfied if Hitler marched into the Sudetenland, not against their will but with their agreement, and if the Czechs gave up the idea of resistance-so that there should be no war” [22] .

Examples of Dissent

By 1944, Hitler’s former partners in the army and industry were fed up with him and wanted to find a way out of the war. In the last year of the war there were three revolts against Hitler’s regime, however only the Generals’ Plot of July 20, 1944 is widely known when the other two were as equally as successful [23] . The success of these revolts saved hundreds of thousands of lives and preserved a significant portion of Germany’s assets for the postwar reconstruction [24] . The second conspiracy against Hitler began soon after the Allies broke out from their Normandy beachheads. Albert Speer, became the leader of a small but influential group of conspirators who sought to frustrate Hitler’s orders [25] . Speer contacted the commander in chief of the German armies in the west and told him the destruction “had no sense and purpose” and “that I in my capacity as minister of armaments did not consider [it] essential” [26] . During the confusion caused by the rapid collapse of the German forces in France, Hitler never realized his orders for were being sabotaged. Hitler began to wonder why France’s industry was approaching “prewar production” when he ordered everything in France to be destroyed. Speer replied calmly: “probably it’s a propaganda report” [27] . Speer continuously held many meetings with industrialists throughout Germany, and decided that Hitler’s plan to destroy all of France’s factories meant that they would end up destroying their own [28] . They concluded that their objective would be to turn German industry over to the Allies in working order, which would hopefully preserve their property after the war [29] . This held out for a while, and people were eagerly anticipating the end of the war. Hitler’s evacuation orders were being completely ignored. Nearly all generals were ignoring his orders. Hitler’s power seemed to be breaking down completely. He would issue orders, but no one would obey them. Speer and his fellow conspirators were able to encourage disobedience from Berlin. Some of the industrialists, who belonged to Himmler’s circle of friends, a group of wealthy contributors to the S.S, had been secretly discussing plans for a postwar Germany without Hitler for over a year [30] . Furthermore, Himmler was already plotting his own to get rid of the Feuhrer [31] . Hitler gave orders to destroy all industrial, supply, transportation, and communication installations including gasworks, water-pumping stations, and electrical power plants. If this order was put in place it would have brought Germany to the “middle ages”.


At the end of 1943 the Schutz Staffeinel (SS) the Gestapo managed to arrest several Germans involved in plotting to overthrow Adolf Hitler [32] . This included Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Klaus Bonhoeffer, Josef Mueller and Hans Dohnanyi [33] .

Major Claus von Stauffenburg emerged as the major leader opposed to Nazi rule and decided to kill Hitler [34] . He was joined by Wilhelm Canaris, Carl Goerdeler, Julius Leber, Ulrich Hassell, Hans Oster, Peter von Wartenburg, Henning von Tresckow, Friedrich Olbricht, Werner von Haeften, Fabian Schlabrendorft, Ludwig Beck and Erwin von Witzleben [35] .

The plot was developed as a modification of Operation Valkyrie (Unternehmen Walküre), which was approved by Hitler for use if Allied bombing of German cities or an uprising of forced laborers from occupied countries working in German factories resulted in a breakdown in law and order [36] . Members of the Reserve Army, including members of the Kreisau Circle, modified the plan and decided to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler [37] . Afterward, they planned to seize key government buildings, telephone and signal centers and radio stations [38] . From the article on Operation Valkyrie the author said “Operation Valkyrie was meant to give the plotters control over the government so they could make peace with the Allies and end the war” [39] .

At least six attempts were aborted before Claus von Stauffenberg decided on trying again during a conference attended by Hitler on July 20, 1944 [40] . It was decided to drop plans to kill Goering and Himmler at the same time. Stauffenberg carried the bomb in a briefcase and placed it on the floor while he left to make a phone-call [41] . The bomb exploded killing four men in the hut. Hitler’s right arm was badly injured but he survived the bomb blast [42] .

The plan was for Ludwig Beck, Erwin von Witzleben and Friedrich Fromm to take control of the German Army [43] . The coup failed in part because they delayed implementing the plan until official confirmation of Hitler’s death could be received [44] . When they learned that Hitler had survived, Valkyrie was not put in effect.

It is estimated that 4,980 Germans were executed after the July Plot. Hitler thought their death should be slow and painful so they were hung with piano wire from meat-hooks [45] . Their executions were filmed and later shown to senior members of both the NSDAP and the armed forces [46] .

The uprising had failed, but it had not yet been fully crushed by seven o’clock that evening when Goebbels had it announced on the radio that an assassination of Hitler had been attempted but that the Fuehrer was alive and had already returned to his work [47] . Thus, Goebbels took instant advantage of one of the technical aids which the rebels had neglected during the hours just past with such dire consequences [48] .

Albert Speer seemed to be in the background of all this madness and said that Hitler “was more friendly to me again, and his entourage followed his example […] His escape from death had made him more resolute; he was ready to implement measures which Goebbels and I had been calling for, for more than a year. Hitler then turned to the events of the past several days. He was triumphant; now at last the great positive turning point in the war had come” [49] .

The Kreisau Circle

The Kreisau Circle was the main resistance group in Germany during World War II [50] . Historian van Roon says that the “the aim of the Circle was not so much to bring about the end of Hitler-this task was laid on others-as to ensure that when the Nazi tyranny was overthrown a body of men was ready to take over the government of the country and lead it back into the European community of nations” [51] . Van Roon’s statement may seem contradictory, because the Kreisau Circle was motivated by forces outside of wanting to secure a backup Germany. Shown later in the essay, they seem to have focused on the present than on the future. The center of this Circle was Count Helmuth von Moltke. He oversaw many of the actions the Circle was involved with and administered policies. He also served as the Circle’s representatives in national and foreign affairs.

The formation of the Kreisau Circle was influenced by the German youth movement as a whole, by the Silesian work camps for students, peasants, and workers, by the young socialist movement and religious socialism, and by the renewal movements in German Catholicism [52] . As capitalism considerably strengthened after World War I and pressure on the lower classes greatly increased, the Catholic view on capitalism became more critical and at the same time a new attitude towards Socialism emerged [53] . The idea of transforming social structures was constantly reiterated. Thus, the Circle was centralized on the idea of Socialism, opposite of the current Nazi societal structure. Members of the Circle each had their own personal backgrounds; however their shared effort to overthrow the Nazis brought them closer together. The number of members and associates of the group, therefore, increased as a result of discussion and common action [54] .

In 1938, a coup was planned to overtake Hitler. The situation was extremely critical. The armed forces had received orders from Hitler to march against Czechoslovakia and war with the Allies seemed inevitable [55] . On this note, the Circle’s resistance could start a widespread dislike of the war, which was already seen amongst the German army, as a weapon against the regime. [56] . For Moltke, the launching of the coup seemed like a great relief. Although, Moltke was very passionate on the execution of this plan, the coup was delayed due to the external developments. Discussions were continued and when war broke out, Moltke considered this as the beginning of the end of the Third Reich, but it took much longer than expected. Moltke soon became the spiritual center of the group as he was the one to give orders and bring passion within the Circle. However, there were limits to Moltke’s power, and despite them he was able to influence the policies of high authorities, but only some things could be achieved and some averted [57] .

The Kreisau Circle also had links with other resistance groups such as the Sperr Circle, Cologne Cathlic Labour Leaders, Goerdeler group, Freiburg group, the White Roses, the Communists [58] . In addition, the Circle had links to the Armed Forces, Allies, and occupied territories. The extent of their relations outside of their circle goes to show the limits to Hitler’s power amongst the Nazi regime. The significance of the Kreisau Circle’s relationship with the Armed forces proves that Hitler did not have total control over seems to be the most important part of his rule. The resistance within the regime hindered Hitler’s power, but only to an extent. He still authorized policies and did what he could, but what was behind what he saw could ultimately threaten his power.

They Kreisau Circle hoped for a European co-operation to eliminate excessive nationalism, achieve a settlement of the minority problem, and intertwine separate national economies so that it would accelerate the post-war work of reconstruction and remove the threat of a new war. The Kreisau Circle was completely persuaded of the need for an international organization after the war. They followed the discussion in the Allied countries on this matter closely and tried to make their own contributions to it [59] . At the time of the Third Kreisau conference in April 1943, the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America published ‘Political Propositions for Peace’ [60] . This was a reply to the American proposals that was deposited at Geneva in November 1943, which gives an emphatic warning against a repetition of the mistakes made at the end of World War 1. A true collaboration of nations and federations in this organization was considered to be essential [61] .

The Kreisau Circle is known for the 20th of July Attempt to assassinate Hitler, which was spoken about earlier in the essay. Before the coup, Moltke was arrested in the middle of January of 1944 [62] . The arrest nevertheless put an end to Moltke’s many-sided activities. This event had a decisive influence upon the development of the Kreisau Circle. It was Moltke who, together with Yorck, had held everything together, had provided the stimulus and taken the initiative [63] . However, after Moltke’s arrest, Yorck tried to continue the plot. In the days continuing, the situation started to become worse and the idea of a plot became less likely. The plot failed and nearly all members of the Kreisau Circle were hanged because of it.

The resistance of the Kreisau Circle represented the response of a minority, who, in their rejection of National Socialism, were one. After the war, however, things turned out differently. A restoration of the past did in many respects take place, in spite of all good intentions [64] .


Speer’s conspiracy towards Hitler’s orders/policies shows the extent to which Hitler had power over the nazi regime. Speer could have easily fooled Hitler by continuing his trickery. His conspiracy was not for the worse, but for the better. By Speer commanding his own policies and avoiding Hitler’s it may have saved Germany, because through Hitler’s policies they would be destroying their own factories. Hitler may have caused even more damage if it had been followed through. In turn, Speer may have saved thousands of lives by avoiding Hitler’s policies. If this order from Hitler was carried out, the results would have been devastating. Without electricity, water, and transportation there would be no industrial production, employment, nor means of feeding the population; as Speer later said it would have thrown Germany back into the Middle Ages [65] . Rohm’s little resistance to Hitler’s authority shows that there is a potential to overthrow and persuade Hitler into implementing certain policies. Even though the change was not drastic, the S.A resistance was symbolic in that they had the power to influence Hitler’s power in the near future. In addition, as portrays Rohm’s power within the Nazi regime by having a close relationship with Hitler and overseeing the S.A. Even though Goerdeler’s plan did not turn out how it had been intended the extent to which it hindered Hitler’s power was significant, because he was making deals with Britain and France Hitler was not aware of.

Speer points out that the conspiracy towards Hitler had a positive turnout in his way of doing things. There was a dramatic change right after there was an assassination attempt to take Hitler off of his high status. As soon as he felt the threat of being taken over, he felt the need to stand up and become more aggressive with his actions as well as implementing government policies. The cabinet’s attempt for a coup failed, but it lead to a change within Hitler that ultimately that led Germany to a “great positive turning point in the war”. This coup did not hinder Hitler’s power, but ultimately motivated him to become a direct and forceful leader.

The Kreisau Circle was also a major resistance leader in the opposition to Hitler, because they were able to use their power to make deals and associations that were able to hinder Hitler’s power, but because of their assassination attempt they could not precede. Also, their impact was significant because it was the force of the minority and somehow implicitly hindered the extent of his power. However, their assassination attempt threatened Hitler, but also made him cognizant of potential opposition and motivated him to become a stronger dictator.

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