Nazi state

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German Empire
Greater German Empire
Flag of the German Empire 1935–1945
Coat of arms of the German Empire: Imperial Eagle 1935–1945
Reich and national flags
(from 1935)
Coat of arms
(from 1935)
Flag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio) .svg
State flag of Austria (1934–1938) .svg
navigation Flag of Germany (1946-1949) .svg
Flag of Austria.svg
Constitution Through emergency legislation formally retained, gradually until 1934 de facto defunct Weimar Constitution August 11, 1919
Official language German
capital city Berlin
Form of government republic
Form of rule Dictatorship , one-party system
Head of State
until 1934
1934 to 1945
Reich President
Paul von Hindenburg
Adolf Hitler (as leader )
Karl Dönitz
Head of government from
1933 to 1945


Adolf Hitler

Joseph Goebbels
Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk (as leading Reich Minister)


633,786 km²
698,368 km²
(Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia: 48,959 km²)

Population density 135 inhabitants per km²
currency Reichsmark , Rentenmark
State doctrine National Socialism
National anthem Das Lied der Deutschen (first verse)
and Horst-Wessel-Lied (de facto)
National holiday May 1st - "National Labor Day"
Time zone CET
License Plate D.
Greater German Reich 1944

The Nazi state (short for National Socialist State ) or Nazi Germany is the German Reich or the so-called Greater German Reich for the time of National Socialism (1933-1945), in which the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler , which was led by the National Socialist German Workers' Party ( NSDAP), had taken the place of the democratically constituted Weimar Republic .

This state was characterized by an absolute claim to rule over the individual, radical anti-Semitism , an extensive leadership cult and increasing state terror . The establishment of the dictatorship began immediately after Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor on January 30, 1933 : With the presidential decree on the protection of people and state of February 28, 1933 and the Enabling Act of March 24, 1933 , essential parts of the Weimar constitution were permanently suspended , including the separation of powers , parliamentary control of the government, and basic civil rights . The state of emergency remained until the end of the Nazi state.

Within a few months, the Nazi regime created a centralized state based on the ideology of National Socialism by bringing politics and society into line . The trade unions and all political parties except the NSDAP were banned. In place of the earlier state system with its clearly defined powers, there was a rival juxtaposition of overlapping competencies of the state and the NSDAP, a polycracy in which Hitler always claimed the ultimate decision-making power. With the help of the Secret State Police (Gestapo) and party organizations such as the SA and SS , the regime transformed the rule of law into a police state with concentration and later extermination camps . Holocaust and Porajmos - the systematic genocides of Jews as well as Sinti and Roma -, the persecution and murder of opposition , dissidents , disabled and homosexuals as well as the Nazi murder of the sick claimed several million lives.

When Hitler also took over the office of Reich President in 1934, he also had the right to appoint civil servants , which he personally reserved for higher civil servants. Immediately after the so-called seizure of power, the regime had turned away from the principle of an apolitical civil servant who was only committed to the common good. In addition to professional qualifications, candidates for an office now also had to prove their political reliability in the sense of National Socialism. In fields that were particularly important to him, the dictator appointed state commissioners who were subordinate to all government and administrative bodies. By taking over command of the Wehrmacht in 1938, Hitler also secured direct command of the military.

The Nazi state went under in the Second World War that it had initiated . The anti-Hitler coalition forced the German Wehrmacht to surrender unconditionally on May 8, 1945 . On June 5, 1945, the victorious powers USA , Great Britain , Soviet Union and France also formally took over government power in Germany.

In political science and historical research, the Nazi state was and is described, among other things, as fascist , totalitarian , polycratic , absolutist , modernizing , as charismatic rule and as a dictatorship of convenience.

Guiding principles of the National Socialist state organization

Mass marches like the Nazi Party Rally in 1935 were visible expression of Nazi ideology and the idea of a brief break state.

National Socialism saw itself as a revolutionary movement that transformed all areas of the state and society. The aim was to replace democracy with the dictatorship of the NSDAP as the only party - or that of its leader - and the fundamentally open, bourgeois society with a racially defined national community .

In order to reshape the state in the sense of the Führer principle and a specific idea of ​​the national community, it was necessary to eliminate individual civil rights and the institutionalized separation of powers between Reich and state governments on the one hand and the legislature , executive and judiciary on the other. A “strong central power of the Reich” was already part of the 25-point program of the NSDAP from 1920.

Internally, the idea of ​​the national community should weld politics, morality and law together into an indissoluble whole. The “will of the leader”, which is not bound by any higher legal authority, was supposed to create a new National Socialist form of rule and government - anticipated by the party structures in their premature obedience . In place of the civil servants' obligation to adhere to general legal principles, there was a personal obligation to be reinforced by means of a “ leadership oath ”. Völkisch anti-Semitism and racism were a central component of the Nazi ideology . Jews , but also Sinti and Roma and other population groups defined as “non- Aryan ” could therefore not be part of the national community.


The establishment of the National Socialist dictatorship took place at a speed that surprised opponents and even supporters of the NSDAP. On February 1, 1933, Hitler had President Hindenburg dissolve the Reichstag and organize new elections for March 6th. For example, parliament was turned off as a center of power until the election. On February 4, the Reich President issued a decree for the protection of the German people , which restricted the freedom of the press and freedom of assembly to such an extent that Hitler's minority government was able to practically silence opposition parties during the election campaign.

Also in February, the Hitler government introduced measures to eliminate democracy and pluralism . They aimed to eliminate competing centers of power in the empire, states and municipalities and to subordinate the entire state, social and cultural life to the ideology of National Socialism. In addition to state institutions, this process of harmonization affected all major organizations, associations and political parties . These were either banned or brought ideologically and organizationally in line with the NSDAP.

The first harmonization measures were legitimized with the so-called Reichstag Fire Ordinance of February 28, 1933 and the Enabling Act of March 24, 1933 , which de facto repealed the Weimar Constitution: essential principles such as fundamental rights , the rule of law and control of the government by parliament were thereby eliminated.

First of all, the federal structures of the Weimar Republic were abolished. The two laws passed for this switched off all ministers, members of parliament and higher state officials elected up to that point in the federal states - above all in southern Germany - and the senates of the Hanseatic cities . The first conformity act of March 31, 1933 dissolved the state parliaments, citizenships, district councils and municipal councils and authorized the state governments to enact laws against the state constitutions. The self-governing corporations had to be reassembled after the voting proportions of the Reichstag election of March 5, 1933. As a result, thousands of NSDAP members took up positions that had become vacant. The second DC circuit law April 7, 1933 created in all countries except Prussia , where it already by the " Prussian coup had happened" in 1932, Reichsstatthalter with dictatorial powers, which were allowed to be appointed by the President, directly to the Chancellor assumed and the state governments were superior. They were allowed to appoint and dismiss their members, other state officials and judges. They were also given the right to legislate. The office of a state president, which was enshrined in some state constitutions, was declared terminated. In practice, Reich President Paul von Hindenburg followed Hitler's suggestions from old followers and NSDAP Gauleiters almost everywhere when filling the Reichsstatthalter.

With the persecution of the KPD from February 28 as a result of the Reichstag fire , the ban on the SPD on June 22 and the self-dissolution of the other parties up to the law against the formation of new parties of July 14, 1933, the NSDAP became the sole and sole ruling party of the Reich, which was reinforced in December 1933 with the law to secure the unity of party and state . A one-party system was thus established and parliamentarism , which was seen as a hallmark of the hated " system ", was eliminated. In order to deny any possible opposition the opportunity to organize, the Nazi regime smashed all trade unions on May 10, 1933 , confiscated their property and abolished the right to strike. All employee and employer associations were forcibly merged into the German Labor Front (DAF), which had been under the NSDAP since 1934.

The Reichstag had already given up its legislative and executive control functions with the approval of a two-thirds majority of the Enabling Act on March 23, 1933. It remained formally as an institution in order to provide accessories for Hitler's government declarations and to preserve a democratic appearance abroad. Half of it was now made up of party members and the other half of representatives from the SA, SS and associations affiliated with the party. By 1939 he had passed nine laws, while the remaining 5,000 laws and ordinances were passed directly by the heads of the Nazi regime.

With the law on the rebuilding of the Reich of January 30, 1934, the states lost their state sovereignty, so that the legal and administrative sovereignty of the states was completely undermined in the harmonization ordinances that lasted until 1935 until it was directly subordinate to the responsible Reich ministries. The Reichsrat , which as a state representative in the Weimar constitution had the right to object to all bills of the Reich government , was dissolved on February 14, 1934.

Supreme Reich authorities

The "unity of people and state" proclaimed in the Nazi ideology led to the abolition of the separation of powers ; the highest government offices were given legislative, executive and judicial powers . When the leader principle became effective in all areas of government and at all levels of government, there was, on the one hand, a centralization of the previous departments and offices, and, on the other, their often wild increase.

The overlapping of the tasks of centralized and newly created state authorities as well as the highest party offices resulted in an abundance of disputes over competence and rivalries, which then often had to be ended authoritatively by a decision by Hitler. As a rule, administrative authorities were merged with party offices as a result. This resulted in a number of new "Supreme Reich Authorities".

Reich Chancellery

Chancellor of the German Reich was Adolf Hitler, head of state was President von Hindenburg until his death on August 2, 1934 . With the law on the head of state of the German Reich of August 1, 1934, subsequently legitimized by a referendum , Hitler took over Hindenburg's offices. From then until the end of 1938 he had the title of " Leader and Chancellor of the German Reich", from January 1939 only " Leader ". By now, at the latest, the Weimar Imperial Constitution, which remained formally in force, was in fact undermined and all state power was united in the person of Hitler.

Hitler's official seat as Reich Chancellor was the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. This functioned as an authority for handling the current government business and at the same time as the party headquarters of the NSDAP. State Secretary Hans Heinrich Lammers , later Martin Bormann , was responsible for government affairs . In 1937 the Reich Chancellery Dienststelle Berchtesgaden , also known as the Small Reich Chancellery , was established.

The central management body of the NSDAP and responsible for coordinating the Reich Chancellery and ministries was the staff of the deputy leader of Rudolf Hess , who with the rank of minister belonged to the Reich Cabinet and the Council of Ministers for Reich Defense . In addition, he had a say in important ordinances of the Reich ministries and in the appointment of senior state officials. From 1941 this position was continued under the name of Bormann's Party Chancellery . The chancellery of the leader of the NSDAP , created in 1934 as the "private chancellery of Adolf Hitler" , which was headed by Philipp Bouhler and in which Martin Bormann's brother Albert Bormann was also active, limited itself to petitions for clemency and petitions in party matters, but also controlled " Aktion T4 " .

Adolf Hitler in front of the Reichstag at the end of the campaign against Poland , October 6, 1939

On January 12, 1939, Hitler moved his official residence to the New Reich Chancellery on Vossstrasse in Berlin, designed by Albert Speer .

Imperial government

The Reich government, which remained in the Hitler cabinet , consisted of 12 to 15 Reich ministers with and without divisions and other top officials of the Nazi state. Under the chairmanship of the Reich Chancellor, it was mainly occupied with deliberating on and passing bills. However, Hitler only held regular cabinet meetings until his position in power and functions were consolidated. From 1935 the Cabinet met only irregularly and less and less frequently. It then passed a series of new laws in an urgent procedure without discussing them. The last joint meeting took place on February 5, 1938.

As more and more powers were delegated to the head of government or taken by him, ministers increasingly became recipients of orders. Hitler ruled directly by ordinances. As a result, the cabinet lost its legislative role and eventually split up during the war into sub-departments that only partially coordinated with each other.

After Hitler's death, the former Reich Finance Minister Johann Ludwig Graf Schwerin von Krosigk formed a managing government on behalf of Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz , whom Hitler had appointed as his successor as Reich President . She tried to start negotiations with the Allies about an administration of Germany, but was deposed and arrested by them on May 23, 1945. Until the assumption of supreme state power in Germany by Great Britain, the USA, the Soviet Union and France, which was proclaimed on June 5, 1945 in the Berlin Declaration and in accompanying declarations, there was no longer a central government in Germany. The Allied Control Council , which was supposed to take over this function, had no executive branch of its own and was dependent on the military governments in the zones of occupation to implement its decisions .

Reich Ministries

The following authorities were designated as the Reich Ministry from 1933 onwards:

In the process, the Nazi regime changed the structure and real competencies of the individual ministries, in some cases considerably. From 1933 the following departments were newly established:

June 1940: Hitler after visiting the Eiffel Tower accompanied by Albert Speer , Martin Bormann and Wilhelm Keitel

Further Reich authorities and top offices

The highest Reich authorities and top offices that were or were not subordinate to any Reich Ministry but directly to the Reich Chancellery included:

Internal administration and justice

Civil service

A large part of the civil service at the time of the Weimar Republic came from the imperial era and remained anti-democratic. In Prussia, an above-average number of civil servants had joined the NSDAP as early as 1930, although the Civil Service Act forbade them to engage in political activity for this party - as well as for the KPD.

When Hitler came to power, most of the officials remained passive; Only after the Reichstag elections of March 1933 did a wave of applications for membership in the NSDAP emerge. The Reich Association of German Officials called on its members to join the "national revolution". Protests by the old cadre in the NSDAP, however, meant that the new applicants, ridiculed as “those who fell in March ”, were given subordinate membership status and new admissions were finally stopped altogether.

At the same time, the new Reich government dismissed as many unpopular top officials as possible who were believed to be politically unreliable. In Prussia in particular, Goering dismissed many senior and regional presidents, district administrators and police presidents. By 1941, 354 of the 365 district council positions there had been filled with NSDAP members, including 201 " old fighters ". In the municipalities, the SA often expelled civil servants from their offices without a legal basis. In addition, on April 7, 1933, there was the “ Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service ”, which was supposed to exclude members of left-wing parties and Jews , the effect of which, however, was initially limited by the “ front-line combatant privilege ” introduced by Hindenburg .

Nevertheless, the Nazi regime left the bureaucratic apparatus largely untouched. In addition, the NSDAP did not have enough qualified functionaries to move up to vacant positions. In many cases, these were still filled according to qualifications and not primarily because of political loyalty to the line. NSDAP members remained in the minority in some administrative areas and departments, for example in the Reich Labor Ministry and the Interior Ministry. So the Nazi regime was the existing bureaucracy in the process of takeover provisionally made in order to disempower only after the consolidation of power in many areas. Among other things, a large number of new imperial authorities were created in order to "vault" existing administrative institutions. As a result, contradicting and sometimes paralyzing developments in state structure and administration took place after 1933. This polycracy , that is, the competition between different institutions with partially overlapping competencies, contradicted the own ideology of a strong state because it often made its actions inefficient, but it was quite intentional, since competing levels of power always make the final decision to the dictator Had to leave the tip.

At the management level, the German Civil Service Act of January 26, 1937 was drafted, which was based on Weimar reform approaches and was repealed and replaced in 1953 by the Federal Civil Service Act. It put traditional duties, rights and formal official channels for officials determined so as political interference, arbitrariness and corruption for NSDAP members limit while still a "of Nazi ideology permeated civil service , which the leader of the German Reich and people, Adolf Hitler , is bound in loyalty ”, according to the preamble, should become the“ cornerstone of the National Socialist state ”. The law was able to come into force against opposition from the NSDAP and the reservations of Hitler, who did not want to be subordinate to constitutional principles.

In the period that followed, the Nazi regime cut the bureaucracy's own weight more and more. The NSDAP Gauleiter had the right to propose new appointments to municipal offices; This was used for the regular “political assessment” of candidates for office, which facilitated and deepened the adaptation of civil servants to the regime. With a driver's oath , inter alia. University professors forced to profess their loyalty to Hitler; those who refused to do so usually lost their office. In addition, the NSDAP set up competing administrative and executive bodies in many areas. In personnel policy, Martin Bormann replaced the rather moderate Rudolf Hess and gradually put through a new generation of top Nazi officials who were devoted to Hitler and at the same time competent.

On April 26, 1942, Hitler claimed in the Reichstag the personal right to force or dismiss any civil servant who, in his view, violated his duties (→  resolution of the Greater German Reichstag of April 26, 1942 ). He made use of this right, especially after July 20, 1944, for large-scale “cleanups” of civil servants. The German national civil servants, who had initially been an essential pillar for Hitler's consolidation of power, finally lost their creative influence during the Nazi era.

Security apparatus

Hitler had appointed Hermann Göring as Reich Commissioner for the Prussian Ministry of the Interior in January 1933 . Göring used this immediately to convert the Prussian police into a pillar of power for the Nazi regime. In February 1933 he set up a 50,000-strong auxiliary police from SA and SS troops , which was then also introduced in the federal states. At the end of April 1933, he also founded a Secret State Police Office for Prussia with the task of “researching all political endeavors that are dangerous to the state in the entire national territory”. This resulted in the Secret State Police ( Gestapo ). However, due to a relatively low staffing level, this remained dependent on the help of the population. The Nazi propaganda called on the Germans to denounce unpopular neighbors, colleagues or the like, which often fell on fertile ground. The general willingness to denounce the population was therefore the most important source of information from the Gestapo, which was then expanded through so-called “intensified interrogations”, i.e. torture of suspects. Because the majority of the population of the Nazi state shared Hitler's goals, one speaks of “self-monitoring” in research.

From 1929 Heinrich Himmler led the SS , which was subordinate to the SA until the Röhm Putsch in 1934 . He brought the Political Police and the concentration camps throughout the Reich under the control of the SS until 1934. By decree of June 17, 1936 , as Reichsführer SS, he was also appointed Chief of the German Police in the Reich Ministry of the Interior and thus headed both organizations in personal union. In 1937 this interlocking was consistently anchored institutionally by the Higher SS and Police Leaders (HSSPF) . Their function consisted of leading, on the one hand, the forces subordinate to the chief of the police and, on the other hand, the forces subordinate to the Reichsführer SS.

From then on, Himmler systematically and successfully expanded the SS into the control center and “brain” of the Nazi system. The aim of the concentration of power was to build up a parallel, surveillance-oriented power elite as a “state within a state” with strong ties to the “leader”, which would later form the ruling class of the great German empire everywhere. The Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) was founded in 1938 under Reinhard Heydrich , later under Ernst Kaltenbrunner , as the central management authority for the control of the hitherto state police and the party's own security apparatus . It emerged from the amalgamation of the Security Police (SiPo) and the Security Service (SD). The RSHA was also responsible for the Gestapo under Heinrich Müller and, from the beginning of the war, the Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and the SD . The RSHA was centrally involved in the planning and implementation of the persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust as well as in the National Socialist population and race policy.

In the occupied territories, the SS sometimes competed with the civil and military administrations.


Prussian Justice Minister Hanns Kerrl during a visit to the legal traineeship camp in Jüterbog (1934)

As for the administrative apparatus, the NSDAP did not have a clear concept for the legal system it was striving for. In point 19 of the 25-point program, an unspecified “German common law” as a “replacement for the Roman law serving the materialistic worldview” was called for. The NSDAP understood this to mean, above all, the subordination of individual civil rights to the alleged overall interest of the “national community”: law is what is useful to the people. Unclearly defined terms such as race, genetic material, honor, loyalty, defenselessness, labor, discipline and order were propagated as the highest legal interests.

Corresponding to these ideas, some of the first measures of the Nazi regime violated fundamental principles of the rule of law such as the equality of all citizens before the law, separation of powers and nulla poena sine lege : such as the “Reichstag Fire Ordinance”, the “Dirty Act” and the “Law on Imposition and execution of the death penalty ”( Lex van der Lubbe ). The law on admission to the bar of April 7, 1933 aimed at the elimination of Jewish lawyers, but due to the exemption required by Reich President Hindenburg (" front fighter privilege "), an unforeseen large number of the anti-Semites were able to continue practicing their profession until 1938. Hitler's murder orders and their execution in the alleged Röhm Putsch from June 30 to July 3, 1934 were subsequently legalized. In this way, the will and the executive power of the Führer were placed above the codified law.

The harmonization laws and measures also abolished the judicial sovereignty of the federal states by January 1935. The Reich Ministry of Justice thus became the supreme supervisory authority for all courts, penal institutions and their staff. A uniform judicial training ordinance was supposed to guarantee the loyalty of the graduates to the Führer state: it provided for trainee lawyers a two-month ideological training course in the “ Hanns Kerrl community camp ” and the oral examination of the subject “folklore and political studies in the broadest sense”.

On the other hand, most of the judicial authorities established since the 18th century were retained. Of the judges, who were rarely NSDAP members until 1933, only about 600 were dismissed. The top positions of the Reich Minister of Justice and the President of the Reich Court were left to German national representatives and not newly filled. In contrast, the law on the restoration of the civil service mainly affected “non-Aryan” and politically unpopular lawyers. All lawyers had to register with the Reich Bar Association and the Reich Chamber of Notaries , which regulated their admission and monitored political reliability. Later, all judges had to take a personal oath of allegiance to the “Führer and Reich Chancellor” Adolf Hitler, who from June 30, 1934 also claimed to be the “supreme court lord of the German people”. From 1935 onwards, women were no longer admitted as judges, state attorneys or lawyers.

Roland Freisler (center) as President of the People's Court , 1944

In addition to the traditional judicial system, special and professional jurisdiction was established for more and more areas. Almost the same law was only valid for “species of the same species”, but special rights were introduced for population groups declared to be “alien”: for example for the “ anti-social ”, Jews and “ foreigners ”, especially Poles and Russians. Jews were only allowed to appear in court as “ consultants ” for other Jews. The Polish Criminal Law Ordinance came into force in December 1941 for Poles and Jews in Poland occupied by the German Reich .

As early as July 1933, all local courts were affiliated with hereditary health courts . should implement the law for the prevention of hereditary offspring with health certificates. The final court of appeal was the Higher Hereditary Health Court to be formed in the Higher Regional Courts. In civil law , marriage bans were made possible for eugenic reasons. In the case of racial “mixed marriages”, divorce was made easier and procreation was forbidden. The Catholic Church prevented the attempt to legalize infertility as a reason for divorce. At the same time, unmarried mothers and illegitimate children were legally better off; From 1941 onwards, “Aryan” women were even allowed to marry fallen soldiers.

The special courts for political offenses and the newly created People's Court remained subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, but there were no review bodies for the proceedings carried out there . In addition to them, independent courts-martial came into being from May 1933, which from 1936 was subordinate to the newly established Reich Court Martial . They were also allowed to convict civilians under certain conditions. Since the beginning of the war, there were also no court or appeal options; the judgments were only confirmed by the respective military commanders or instructed to renegotiate - almost always with the aim of increasing the penalties.

After the Röhmputsch in 1934, Heinrich Himmler created a separate honorary court for the SS , from which, from October 1939, a special SS and police jurisdiction developed under the main office of the SS court . He was the judge himself. The newly created Reich Administrative Court was subordinate to the Reich Ministry of the Interior, but was not allowed to review any politically motivated arbitrary acts, especially by the police. All acts of violence by the SA, Gestapo and SS remained outside the prosecution of independent courts. Prisoners placed in preventive “ protective custody ” were disenfranchised.

In the criminal justice system, the criteria for criminal offenses have shifted more and more from clear characteristics to the convictions of an alleged perpetrator. The judges were given a much greater degree of discretion than before. This softening was practically aimed at increasing penalties. At the same time, many criminal offenses were directly punished with higher penalties, and some were newly created. The characteristics of murder , which were modified in 1941 and oriented towards criminal law , were nevertheless retained unchanged in the penal code after 1945 .

21 death sentences from the Brno Special Court, June 30, 1943

The principle nulla poena sine lege was completely abandoned after occasional disregard. After two individual cases, in June 1938, Hitler retroactively issued new penalties and laws for these and similar acts. B. the death penalty for an extortionate kidnapping committed in the previous year and for deliberately setting a "car trap " ( Lex Götze ), which was not defined in more detail. After the Reichsgericht acquitted the defendants in one case of "electricity theft" and one case of "telephone machine fraud", the prohibition of analogy in criminal law was lifted. Judges were now not allowed to condemn explicitly criminal acts according to what appeared to be comparable criminal offenses "in accordance with the national sense of justice".

The death penalty, which was planned for three offenses in 1933, was extended to 46 offenses and was used excessively, especially during war. The courts-martial also related facts such as “ decomposition of military strength ” to subjective attitudes; ever more minor offenses counted as war economic crimes. The 5th Ordinance on Special War Criminal Law of May 5, 1940 finally allowed the special judges to impose every punishment up to and including the death penalty for every criminal offense if the penal framework provided by the legal text was not sufficient for an atonement "according to the common sense of the people" . As a result of this arbitrariness, the civil special courts passed around 16,000 death sentences, 15,000 of them from 1941 onwards; the courts-martial passed around 30,000 death sentences, including around 23,000 for desertion .

In 1942, the Nazi regime began to direct the judiciary through regular judges' letters and analogue letters from lawyers . In addition, Hitler authorized the Reich Minister of Justice to take all measures that he deems necessary, including those that deviate from the previous law, to establish a “National Socialist administration of justice”. Ordinary regional and higher regional courts had become part of the state's persecution apparatus as early as 1933, when they condemned many cases of criticism of the regime, opposition behavior, “ broadcast crimes ” and “ racial disgrace ”.

In a speech in the Reichstag in the spring of 1942, Hitler complained about judiciary judgments that were supposedly too mild. The Gestapo then became the de facto revision body for political or ordinary but politicized offenses and was allowed to arrest those who had already served their sentences again at its own discretion, although torture resulting in death was generally not punishable under criminal law. The “foreign workers” persecuted and punished them directly without legal basis, complaint, legal process or judgment.

Other courts and tribunals:


Since coming to power, Hitler vigorously continued the armament of the Reichswehr , which he had begun under his predecessors and which was initially kept secret , and which he regarded as the second pillar of the National Socialist state alongside the party. The increasingly clear rivalry between the Reichswehr and the SA was put to an end in June 1934 by disempowering the SA leadership, disguised as the suppression of the Röhm Putsch , and the Reichswehr was declared the nation's sole bearer of arms. After he had been declared the successor of President Hindenburg, who died a day later, with the help of the "Law on the Head of State of the German Reich" passed on August 1, 1934, he took over political command of the Reichswehr by virtue of the Weimar Constitution. The Reichswehr Minister and military commander-in-chief Werner von Blomberg subsequently had the armed forces personally sworn in on Hitler. Also in 1934 the construction of the SS disposable troops began , from which the Waffen-SS would later emerge.

As early as October 1933, Hitler had announced Germany's withdrawal from the League of Nations while at the same time withdrawing from the Geneva Disarmament Conference , at which Germany had been offered armaments parity by the other European powers. On March 16, 1935, the German Reich announced with the "Law for the Development of the Wehrmacht" the regaining of military sovereignty , the reintroduction of general conscription and the goal of building an army of 550,000 men. From now on the army was only called " Wehrmacht ", the Reichsmarine was renamed " Kriegsmarine " a little later . On March 11, Reich Aviation Minister Goering announced the existence of a German air force . These blatant violations of the Versailles Treaty were largely accepted by the other powers, so Great Britain concluded the German-British naval agreement in June 1935 , which allowed Germany to arm the Navy to 35% of the Royal Navy . In March 1936, German troops carried out the reoccupation of the Rhineland in breach of the Locarno Treaties . Shortly afterwards, with the introduction of the four-year plan, it was decided to make the country and the armed forces fit for war within four years. In the same year, German troops intervened for the first time on the side of the Spanish nationalists in the Spanish Civil War .

In the course of the Blomberg-Fritsch crisis , Hitler replaced Reichswehr Minister Blomberg and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army Fritsch on February 4, 1938 , dissolved the War Ministry and also took over operational command of the newly formed High Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW), which became his personal general staff . The top structure was as follows:

Reich Party Rally 1938, "Day of the Wehrmacht": State Secretary in the Reich Aviation Ministry Erhard Milch , Keitel, Brauchitsch, Raeder and the commander in Military District XIII / Nuremberg Maximilian von Weichs (from left to right)

The previously existing high command of the armed forces were bound by instructions to the OKW, but maintained a partial independence with their affiliated staffs. The commanders in chief and their chiefs of staff were:

Army High Command Navy High Command Air Force High Command

The establishment of the OKW was followed by the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland (1938), the incorporation of the "remaining Czech Republic " (1939) and finally the unleashing of the Second World War through the attack on Poland .


Age pyramid 1939 (from the figures in the table below); Men on the left, women on the right. The strong constriction is due to the bad times around and after the First World War (see, inter alia, turnip winter , Spanish flu and German inflation 1914 to 1923 ); The men born before 1900 do not have fallen from the First World War.

According to a census , 79,375,281 people lived on German Reich territory in 1939, including employees of the Reich Labor Service (RAD) and the military. This included 38,761,645 (48.83%) men and 40,613,636 (51.17%) women. Of these, 24,187,422 (30.47%) lived in large cities, 29,875,968 (37.64%) in municipalities with 2,000 to less than 100,000 inhabitants and 25,311,877 (31.89%) in municipalities with less than 2,000 inhabitants. The former area of ​​Prussia with its numerous provinces made up by far the largest population area (40,941,155 inhabitants or 51.58%). Austria, which was already "affiliated" at this point in time, accounted for 6,881,457 people (8.67%).



Countries of the "Old Reich"

Greater German Reich (Länder and Reichsgaue), July 1944
Administrative Structure of the Greater German Reich (March 1, 1944)
Administrative map (January 1, 1944)

The empire, founded in 1871, was a federal state made up of 22 monarchical states, three republican city-states and the realm of Alsace-Lorraine . Since the time of the Weimar Republic, the German Empire consisted of 18 countries . The Nazi state retained the division into states, but reduced their tasks to the executive organs of the central Reich ministries and authorities. The minister-presidents of the federal states were subordinated to Reichsstatthalter . In addition to the federal states, the districts of the NSDAP appeared as competing units.

The Free State of Prussia remained the largest country in the empire even during the Nazi era. However, its administrative structures had already been severely weakened in 1932 by the Prussian strike by the Papen government. When Prussia was brought into line in 1933, its central institutions continued to lose importance and took a back seat to those of the imperial government and high presidents of the Prussian provinces . In some provinces the office of chief president was held by the respective NSDAP Gauleiter , such as in East Prussia by Erich Koch . The Reich Governor of Prussia was Hitler himself, but he transferred his powers in this regard to the Prussian Prime Minister Hermann Göring .

Other countries with their own Reichsstatthalter were:

Countries that were ruled with others by a common Reich Governor were:

Enlargement of the Reich area

Even before 1939, the Nazi regime gradually expanded the territory of the Reich by incorporating the Saar region , Austria and the peripheral areas of the neighboring states that were mostly populated by Germans . Reichsgaue were formed there in 1939 under one or more Reich Governors, which were later to be established in the rest of the Reich. With the exception of the annexation of the Saar area, all territorial gains were made under threat of violence.

With the defeat of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the empire expanded for the first time into territories that were mostly not populated by Germans . With that it lost its character as a nation-state . Since 1939, the territory of the Reich comprised the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia , and the conquered CdZ areas were intended as "areas of the Greater German Empire". According to information from Governor General Hans Frank , Hitler had already decided in autumn 1939 to make the Generalgouvernement , in which he saw a farm workers' reserve for the Reich, part of the Greater German Reich. However, the historian Martin Broszat suspects , Hitler wanted to leave the legal status unclear at the same time in order to leave the Generalgouvernement outside of international and imperial law obligations. In the summer of 1940, Hitler accepted Frank's theory of the “ outlying land of the Reich”. In the official designation of the General Government, the addition “for the occupied Polish territories” was omitted. But the Generalgouvernement did not receive the status of a protectorate, but became “an ad-hoc imperial-extraterritorial German 'neighboring country' without state status with stateless inhabitants of Polish ethnicity, constructed for the purpose of rule that is as legally non-binding as possible .” According to the Polish historian Tomasz Szarota , the von Frank quoted statements by Hitler as a "tendency towards annexation expressis verbis ", although under the aspect of international law affiliation by the German Reich "there are already some doubts about the existence of a real act of incorporation". As is usual in the Nazi system, the National Socialist doctrine of constitutional law and international law did not find any terms to describe the new structure of the Generalgouvernement. Thus, according to Diemut Majer , its constitutional status can "only be explained by the factual, taking into account the political objectives". This shows that the Generalgouvernement "despite the extensive administrative and legislative autonomy was basically regarded as part of the Reich, as Reich territory ". In practice, however, numerous exceptions were made if this made it easier to enforce special legal treatment of “foreigners”. At the same time, the Generalgouvernement was destined to become the “first colony of the empire”, which was reflected in a “policy of economic exploitation, the cultural suppression of the Poles and the annihilation of their intelligentsia”.

Integrated before the start of the war

  • The Saar area, which was under French administration after the First World War, was incorporated into the Reich as "Saarland" after the expiry of the period set in the Versailles Treaty and a referendum on March 1, 1935.
  • The " annexation " of the Austrian state to National Socialist Germany began under threat of violence with the invasion of the Wehrmacht on March 12, 1938.

Political blackmail or military threats were also used to force the cession of some areas:

These affiliations, which were made before the Second World War, became legally effective.

The Slovakia had from the Czecho-Slovak Republic declare its independence (14 March 1939), received a limited independence and the Satellite status of a German ally.
After the " smashing of the rest of the Czech Republic " on March 15, 1939, the
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was granted apparent autonomy under the supervision of a German Reich Protector; it was considered part of the empire, which also had the highest power of government . The formation of this protectorate broke an international treaty and, like the subsequent expansions of German territory achieved through military conquests, was therefore ineffective under international law .

Integrated in the course of the war

Expulsion of Poles from Wartheland, 1939

After the Polish campaign in autumn 1939, the territory of the German Reich was expanded beyond the reorganization of the areas ceded to Poland in the Versailles Peace Treaty :

The annexed areas of Poland were twice the size of those ceded in 1919 and moved the imperial border 150 to 200 km to the east.

Occupied territory under German civil administration

Many states occupied by German armed forces were able to keep their own governments, as provided for in the Hague Land Warfare Regulations , but not all of them. After the western campaign in 1940, civil authorities were set up in some occupied areas, which were subordinate to a " Chief of Civil Administration " (CdZ), who in turn was responsible for German Reich agencies .

  • Eupen-Malmedy , which had been ceded to Belgium in 1919, was annexed immediately, but added communities that had not belonged to the German Empire before 1920.

Other areas in the west were de facto incorporated into the German state, but never formally annexed. They were co-administered by the Gauleiters of the adjacent imperial areas:

A "Germanization policy" was pursued in them.

After the Balkan campaign in 1941, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was divided into three separate states (Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro). Two thirds of Slovenia were placed under the CdZ administration of the Carinthian Gauleiter and de facto incorporated:

After the attack on the Soviet Union (Russian campaign) in 1941, other areas were placed under German civil administration:

Occupied territory under martial law

Germany also occupied Italy in 1943 and Benito Mussolini established the Italian Social Republic (RSI) as a fascist satellite state in Northern Italy . In this dependent state and in Italian-occupied Yugoslavia, two areas were conquered in which the Wehrmacht, the police under the leadership of the SS of the Reich and a German-Italian civil administration exercised power:

These operational zones, the borders of which were not based on state borders but on military requirements, were separated by the SS rule and civil administration from the Italian-ruled territory, which remained formally under the sovereignty of the RSI. German law and the German official language were largely introduced in them. At the same time, a German-Italian civil administration was set up, which was subordinate to so-called “civil advisors” with the official designation of the Supreme Commissioner . The powers of the Supreme Commissioners were not based on the recorded Führer orders and other orders , but on Hitler's personal instructions to the heads of the neighboring Reichsgaue Tirol-Vorarlberg and Carinthia, Franz Hofer and Friedrich Rainer . Their jurisdiction also extended to the part of Slovenia occupied by Italy in 1941. These personal powers caused a fundamental legal uncertainty of the population in the areas of civil administration.

Areas without autonomy in the German domain

The Reichskommissariate Ostland (Baltic States and Belarus) and Ukraine were also affiliated but not annexed to the Reich .

Planned expansions

How far the Nazi regime put its conquering goals is disputed in research. Eberhard Jäckel argues based on Hugh Trevor-Roper that Hitler essentially wanted to conquer living space in the East , that is, in European Russia. The General Plan Ost , drawn up under the aegis of Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler until 1942, already saw a new land law and, in a 25-year plan, a settlement of the conquered area with four million " Germanic " settlers in the " Ingermanland " around Leningrad , in the " Gotengau " in the Crimea and in the Kherson region and in the catchment area of ​​the Memel and Narew rivers .

This “continentalist” interpretation of the National Socialist plans for conquest, which was followed by Hans-Adolf Jacobsen and Dietrich Aigner , among others , was contradicted by various sides. National Socialist Germany developed a wide variety of activities aimed at regaining colonies , especially in Africa . How serious these considerations were is also controversial in research. Through the alliance with Japan, the German Reich renounced the East Asian colonies of the occupied Netherlands and France. The ambition to regain a colonial empire in Africa , which had already been limited from 1941 onwards , was discontinued in early 1943. With a view to these Africa plans, too, many historians argue that Hitler ultimately sought world domination .

Geographical and political situation

At the time of its greatest expansion in 1942 (in addition to the war front with the Soviet Union ), the German Empire had ten neighboring states: In the north it bordered on Denmark (67 kilometers border line), in the south-east on the First Slovak Republic as well as Hungary and Croatia , in the south on Italy , the Principality Liechtenstein (35 kilometers) and Switzerland (550 kilometers), in the southwest on France (392 kilometers), in the west on Belgium (221 kilometers) and in the northwest on the Netherlands (567 kilometers).

All of these states except Italy, Liechtenstein and Switzerland were occupied by German troops or, like Slovakia, made a vassal state .

End of the Nazi state

Map of the allied occupation zones in Germany in 1945 (Source: US Army )

Even before their victory over Germany, the USA, Great Britain and the Soviet Union had declared all territorial expansions of the Reich since 1938 null and void. The shift to the west of Poland and the associated de facto separation of the German eastern territories had been decided in principle since the Tehran Conference in 1943. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945 , the three powers also granted France the status of victorious power and decided to divide Germany into four zones of occupation and Berlin into four sectors after the end of the war . Any further plans to permanently divide Germany into several states were dropped as early as the spring of 1945.

The military defeat and complete occupation of Germany ended the rule of the NSDAP. The state administration, which was closely intertwined with the party, also largely ceased to function. After the occupation, German officials could only work with toleration or after being appointed by the respective occupying power . The Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, appointed by Hitler in his will as Reich President, and his government still had access to the German troops, but not to civil authorities. After the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht from 7./8. May 1945, the Allies no longer allowed her to perform any sovereign tasks. Rather, the government was declared deposed and arrested on May 23, 1945. With the Berlin Declaration of June 5, 1945, the Allies proclaimed the assumption of “supreme governmental power in Germany” on the basis of Article 4 of the deed of surrender. The Allied Control Council became the highest organ of the occupation regime and the bearer of German state power .

Designations for the Nazi state

In addition to the term Nazi state , today's scholars use terms such as Nazi dictatorship , Nazi regime and also Third Reich , the latter mostly in quotation marks, to emphasize the originally propagandistic character of this term. To emphasize the political system of National Socialist Germany, it is often referred to as the “ Führer State ”. Marxist historians in the former GDR and in West Germany used terms such as “German fascism ” or “fascist dictatorship” in this case . In colloquial language, terms such as "Nazi Germany", "Hitler Germany" or similar compounds are common.

Official names

The contemporary official name of the German nation state for the period from 1871 to 1945 was German Empire . It is still used today in political science for this period .

“800 Years Lübeck ”: The first official German postage stamp with the imprint of the Greater German Reich from October 24, 1943

After the "Anschluss" of Austria in March 1938, the term Greater German Reich was officially in use for a time, including in the Reichsgesetzblatt . A decree by the Reich Minister and Head of the Reich Chancellery, Hans Heinrich Lammers, of June 26, 1943 to the highest Reich authorities and the departments directly subordinate to Hitler made the previously unofficial language regulation binding. With the term Greater Germany , which is also used colloquially , the Nazi regime claimed to have achieved the Greater German solution considered in 1848, namely the inclusion of the Germans in the Habsburg Monarchy in a unified nation-state . He also indicated expansionary intentions: the National Socialist European plans provided for the incorporation of other countries, such as Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium, into a newly created “Greater Germanic Empire”.

Also since the annexation of Austria, the German authorities have designated the original national territory, the so-called Germany within the borders of 1937, as Altreich . The distinction was necessary because laws were passed and administrative procedures were created for all newly incorporated areas or areas under German occupation administration, which differed from those of the old Reich. Besides included Austria and. A. also the Sudetenland , Memelland and the Free City of Danzig , all of which were annexed in 1938 and 1939.

Propagandist terms

Even before 1933, the term empire had become the battlefield of the right and the monarchists against the democratic republic . The Third Reich , as a book by Arthur Moeller van den Bruck published in 1923 was called, referred to the tradition of the first, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation , and the second, the Little German Empire ; he meant a Greater German Empire.

The idea of ​​a “ Third Reich ” can be traced back to the 12th century. The Italian theologian Joachim von Fiore had prophesied a third, millennial age of the Holy Spirit , which would follow the two ages of God and Jesus Christ . The National Socialists picked up the catchphrase because it seemed to bundle their efforts. Hitler often tried to use the myth of the "thousand years" for his rule. Later he had concerns about the term “Third Reich”. One could speculate about a further, a fourth empire and question the continuity of the empire of the Germans. From 1939 he no longer wanted the term “Third Reich” to be used.

Historical-political interpretation

The Nazi state was and is interpreted differently by historians and political scientists to this day, although there is consensus that it was a dictatorship of extraordinary violence. The criminal nature of the regime is beyond question. Self-interpretations of the Nazi state such as “Germanic democracy” do not play a role in contemporary scientific discourse.

By Marxists of the Nazi state was fascist and thus as class rule of the bourgeoisie interpreted. This assumption found its canonical formulation in the so-called Dimitrov thesis of 1933, according to which fascism was defined as the “ terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, chauvinist and imperialist elements of finance capital ”. It was the basis of the historical analyzes by researchers from the GDR and the other Eastern Bloc states , where they were sometimes shortened to the agent theory : According to this, Hitler and the other National Socialists would have been mere agents or puppets of the capitalist class that was actually in power.

In the West , on the other hand, the totalitarianism thesis was long advocated by leading scholars : According to this, National Socialism, like Stalinism in the Soviet Union, was a form of rule that was supported by an all-encompassing, non-contradicting ideology , a hierarchically organized mass party , a terrorist apparatus, a state monopoly of means of communication and Weapons as well as a central control of the economy is characterized. The Nazi state was described as a "monolithic leader state" in which there was consistent rule from top to bottom. This position, like the use of the concept of fascism by the Eastern Bloc, was clearly purposeful in the conflict of the Cold War . After its end, the term totalitarianism is now used in a differentiated form by researchers such as Uwe Backes and Eckhard Jesse from François Furet and Ernst Nolte or by Hans-Ulrich Wehler . The historian Wolfgang Wippermann, on the other hand, strictly rejects it, because the equation that is inherent in him with other dictatorships "questions the singularity of the Holocaust and should also question it".

As early as the early 1940s, two German exiles in the USA had described the Nazi state, each with a different focus, as being significantly more heterogeneous than the topos of the monolithic leadership state: Ernst Fraenkel published his book Der Doppelstaat in 1940/41 , in which He worked out the Janus-faced nature of the Nazi state: It consists of two areas: The normative state of the conventional, bureaucratic authorities and ministries and is characterized by the existence of legal norms that are fundamentally based on predictability and that serve to maintain the private capitalist economic order . Here, as in any ordinary state, laws, court decisions and administrative acts would also apply. In contrast to this, the state of action , which is shaped by the newly created organizations of the NSDAP, does not follow the law , but exclusively situational considerations of usefulness. Both together would form the " symbiosis between capitalism and National Socialism", but in the event of a conflict, the state of action always prevails . The persecution of the Jews is the central example of this. In 1944, in his work Behemoth , Franz Neumann described the Nazi state as an "unstate": It was basically just an alliance of mutually dependent power blocs, namely the NSDAP with its individual organizations, the large-scale economy and the Reichswehr. From 1936 the SS and the Gestapo were added. This alliance is by no means stable, rather the balance of power would shift, tending to favor the SS.

This approach proved to be fruitful in the 1960s and 1970s: Martin Broszat, Reinhard Bollmus, Peter Hüttenberger and others developed from it the interpretation of the Nazi state as a polycracy : In all political fields there were institutions with overlapping competences that deal with each other The Rosenberg Office , the NSDAP / AO , the Ribbentrop Office and the Foreign Office in foreign policy, the school authorities and the Hitler Youth in influencing the youth, the Reich Ministry of Economics , the Reichsbank under Hjalmar Schacht and the four-year plan authority in economic policy, the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS as armed forces, etc. The constant contradictions and disputes between these institutions then led to the destructive radicalization of the National Socialist policy towards war and the Holocaust, which thus emerged functionally from the dynamic of the anarchic office riva lity and without taking into account Hitler's “program”, as he had formulated it in Mein Kampf . In this approach, he is only assigned the role of a propagandist, a representative of the overall system or an arbitrator. In 1971, Hans Mommsen intensified this approach with the much-quoted bon mot that Hitler was ultimately “a weak dictator”, “unwilling to make decisions” and “often insecure”.

Since the 1960s, social scientists such as Ralf Dahrendorf , David Schoenbaum and Rainer Zitelmann have interpreted the Nazi state as modernizing, at least in its effect : like Italian fascism, it was a development dictatorship. The Nazi state eliminated long-standing traditional factors in German history such as the nobility and the church , was tech-savvy, overcame German class society and increased social mobility for all classes. In this respect, one could speak of a social revolution taking place in the Nazi state . In view of the anti-modern objectives of the Nazi state, Hans-Ulrich Thamer speaks of the "double revolution of National Socialism": a "revolution of ends" was clearly directed against the bourgeois industrial world, but should have been achieved through a "revolution of means" which "had a bourgeois and industrial character and reluctantly continued the modernization of German society that had been halted".

This interpretation met with decided contradiction. Wolfgang Wippermann and Michael Burleigh characterize the Nazi state in their joint work published in 1991 as a “racial state”: All of its measures, including the seemingly modern or revolutionary, such as improving maternity leave , only served the goal of creating a “barbaric utopia ” Realize: The extermination of the Jews and the creation of a hierarchically ordered society, at the head of which should be hereditary healthy Aryans , was the programmatic goal of the NS state , even if it was never achieved . In this respect, Hitler, as the person who formulated this goal in a binding manner, played by no means a subordinate or weak role. Because the Nazi state was striving to become a racial instead of a class society, interpretations as fascism, totalitarianism or the dictatorship of modernization were of no real significance. Also Wolfgang Benz believes that the "anti-Semitism, who took over the racial constructs of the 19th century," had for Nazism constitutive significance.

Hans-Ulrich Wehler describes the Nazi state as “Führer absolutism ”, in which the charismatic ruler Hitler had the undisputed right to final decision on all disputes. This “monocracy” in no way contradicts the polycracy of the subordinate authorities described above, but this is actually their condition for success: In the sense of his social Darwinism , Hitler allowed his satraps to argue until the strongest had prevailed. He only had to sanction this result without having to interfere in the quarrels and raise objections. As a result, he was able to keep his aura as an “extraordinary messenger”, which had secured him the approval of the vast majority of Germans .

In his work, Hitler's People's State , Götz Aly also emphasizes the great consensus among the population that supported the regime . For him, the Nazi state was a “dictatorship of convenience” that secured the goodwill of society by overcoming mass unemployment , but above all by redistributing Aryanized Jewish assets and, after 1939, by ruthlessly exploiting the territories occupied during the World War.

See also

Portal: National Socialism  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of National Socialism


  • Volume 1: “Volksgemeinschaft” and great power politics 1933–1939 , ISBN 3-423-02925-0 .
  • Volume 2: Claim to world power and national collapse 1939–1945 , ISBN 3-423-02926-9 .


  • Michael Kloft : "12 years, 3 months, 9 days" - the annual chronicle of the Third Reich , Spiegel TV , documentation / report, 210 minutes, Germany 2006.

Web links

Commons : Third Reich  album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: National Socialist Law  - Sources and full texts
Wiktionary: Greater German Reich  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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  3. Hans-Ulrich Thamer : Seduction and violence. Germany 1933–1945 (=  The Germans and their Nation , vol. 5), Siedler, Berlin 1986, pp. 232–236 and 239.
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