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During World War 2, what government branches, if any, existed in Germany? I've always heard about the Third Reich and Hitler, but I never heard about the rest of the government.

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The government of the Third Reich evolved and subverted the institutions of the parliamentary Weimar Republic established in 1919.

Before the ascension of the Nazi party in January 1933 the legislative branch of the government was comprised of the Reichsrat, representing the various Länder (German states) and the Reichstag, a parliament elected according to a system of proportional representation.

As soon as Hitler gained power he began undermining the power of these branches of government and working towards a centralist, totalitarian dictatorship. These changes occurred incrementally:

  • On the 23rd of March 1933, following the Reichstag fire, President Paul von Hindenburg passed the Enabling act. This effectively gave the cabinet (controlled by Hitler) the authority to enact laws without the participation of the Reichstag. From this point onwards the Reichstag only functioned as a body of ratification by acclamation, for the actions of the dictatorship.
  • On January 30, 1934 the Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reiches ("Law concerning the reconstruction of the Reich") abandoned the concept of a federal republic. The political institutions of the Länder were effectively abolished and all power was passed to the central government.
  • On February 14, 1934 the Reichsrat, the representation of the Länder at the federal level, was dissolved.
  • When Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg died on August 2nd, 1934, the government issued a law that prescribed that the office of Reichspräsident should be merged with that of the Reichskanzler. This effectively created a new office, Führer und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler.
  • After the 1938 purge of the military, Hitler was effectively the absolute dictator of Germany until his death in 1945.

So by 1938 local and state governments were controlled by Nazi Party leaders, known as Gauleiters. The central government itself was made up of competing, overlapping power structures all vying for personal power. The result was a convoluted and often divided administration with a tendency to implement the more radical and extreme elements of Hitler's ideology in order to gain favour with Hitler. They called it "working toward the Fuehrer." Because there was such competition to win favor (and power) by anticipating and implementing the Fuehrer's will, a process of "progressive radicalization" ensued.

To say that something like the Final Solution unfolded because the system was geared for progressively radical solutions to be dreamed up and trie dout is called "functionalism" or "structuralism". When looking from a systems perspective, it is easy to overlook the fact that Hitler did stand at the top and that the Nazis had an ideology or "worldview". When you look at Mein Kampf and the Secret Book and look at how events unfolded, you can see enough correlation to think that Hitler was indeed masterminding the whole thing, and that all unfolded through Hitler pulling the puppet strings. Quite a fair amount of that happened. There was no progressive radicalization without the Fuehrer's approval. If you put Hitler's will and ideology at the top of the causal chain, that is "intentionalism".

There are two opposing opinions on the efficacy of this system (from Hitler's perspective). 'Intentionalists' believe Hitler created that system to ensure the total loyalty and deduction of his supporters and prevent conspiracy and betrayal. 'Structuralists' believe that the system evolved by itself and limited Hitler's totalitarian power. Now we know that the Nazi regime was a bit of both.

Source: Nazi Germany: Administration on Wikipedia

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