Generally when I think about the Nazis, I tend to think of them as thugs; and hence, uneducated thugs; but of course, this must be quite wrong. The Nazis were an unpopular movement but membership skyrocketed because of the humiliations suffered by Germany after the end of the First World War, and then the deliberate smashing of their economy by the victors in that particular war.

Thus, one ought to think of the Nazis, as being highly educated (and of course this raises a question about the links between ethics and education, which I don’t want to touch upon here). However, I’ve never seen figures on this.

What percentage of the Nazi membership held high school or college diplomas and university degrees and doctorates? And how does this compare with the general population?

  • 6
    Link: 32% [of some group of philosophy professors] joined the Nazi Party, the SA, or the SS. Jarausch and Arminger (1989) estimate that the percentage of university faculty in the Nazi party was between 21% and 25%.
    – Tomas By
    Jul 9, 2019 at 21:56
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    Lacks research.
    – MCW
    Jul 9, 2019 at 22:18
  • @MarkC.Wallace: If I had done the research to answer this question, I wouldn't be asking it would I? Jul 10, 2019 at 20:28
  • 5
    Good questions include preliminary research. Separate question - is gender relevant? Is the question "What % of Nazi's were highly educated men?" different from "what % of Nazi's were highly educated?"?
    – MCW
    Jul 11, 2019 at 10:44
  • @Mark C. Wallace: The top leadership was all men - try doing some ‘preliminary research’ yourself! In that case your question is irrelevant. Looking at the history through modern ideas of gender here isn’t particularly productive. Jul 17, 2019 at 3:07

4 Answers 4


Physicians were one of the strongest demographics behind the Nazi vote. Lawyers were generally favorable to Nazi policies as well. Intellectuals are not a single group, but the ones with an economic interest in politics often favored National Socialism.

Doctors were interested in eugenics ideology, at the time a key Progressive platform. Lawyers saw growth in various racial law areas and expanding scope of criminal activity as new areas for work. Their economic interests were more or less aligned with Fascism.

Other intellectuals, such as Marxists were opressed, but it was very common for KPD members to join the Nazis and there was no particular problem with them doing so. Only active Communists were prosecuted.

In conclusion it depends on the type of intellectuals, but the white collar professions were generally Fascist. If you were to express it as a percentage it would be high among professional degrees. Finding unveristy data would be harder because there was no centralized state University system at the time.

Also, if it helps, Technical University Munchen was a major Fascist organizing ground.

Abortion and Eugenics in Nazi Germany Henry P. David, Jochen Fleischhacker and Charlotte Hohn Population and Development Review Vol. 14, No. 1 (Mar., 1988), pp. 81-112

German Lawyers and the State in the Weimar Republic Kenneth F. Ledford Law and History Review Vol. 13, No. 2 (Autumn, 1995), pp. 317-349

  • I think Eugenics was opposed by Progressives of 1920-30, e.g., William Jennings Bryan being the prosecutor at the Scopes Trial because Darwinism implied Social Darwinism/Eugenics and that was anathema to Progressives.
    – sds
    Jul 9, 2019 at 22:56
  • 1
    That's becuase he was a religious progressive
    – user38495
    Jul 10, 2019 at 0:59
  • 7
    @sds Eugenics programs in the US were introduced during the Progessive Era. Indiana enacted the first compulsory sterilization law in 1907. California, a very active sterilizer, passed its in 1909. The Rockefeller Foundation not only supported eugenics but was instrumental in exporting this Anglo-American idea to Germany, even funding some of Mengele's research in the 1930s. There a reason the list of charges in the Doctors' Trial at Nuremberg makes no explicit mention of forced sterilization--the Allies would have had to start trying their own doctors if they considered that a crime.
    – C Monsour
    Jul 10, 2019 at 3:09

The precise numbers are a bit hard to get as one of the primary sources used for such an undertaking was traditionally the official Parteistatistik. As the NSDAP is not known for absolute honesty this a highly problematic to use uncritically. Secondary sources for numbers are much less precise and indirect. That is: even numbers for mere membership in the early years were inflated by the party and the sociographic breakdown of these members manipulated to communicate mass-appeal, worker-appeal, capitalist-appeal, and whatever crossed the minds of the strategists.

For the purpose of this question further it has to be acknowledged that pre-33 is a bit different from post-33. After Hitler was ordered to take power and prohibited other parties the membership in a Nazi-organisation (not just the party itself) became ever more attractive, not only because more and more people became convinced and glowing nazis, but also because for a few jobs it would become a prerequisite and for many it just furthered careers.

The membership numbers:

1919           64
1920        3.000
1921        6.000
1923       55.787
1925       27.117
1926       49.523
1927       72.590
1928      108.717
1929      176.426
1930      389.000
1931      806.294
1932    1.000.000
1932    1.200.000
1933    3.900.000

These numbers are those published by the NSDAP in 1938. (Compare English Wikipedia, using the inflated numbers!) The internal statistics registered merely 849.009 for 30 Jan 1933! From the internal archives it becomes clear that in 1943 7.7 million members represented 11% of the population registered on 50t of cards of which a few got lost during the war, making only the roughly 90% of remaining cards identifiable and traceable. Counting another way: of 20 million total files 12 million remain for retrospective studies.

Contrary to common belief the NSDAP did not aim to be a mass movement as a party. They wanted to capture an elite that was 100% convinced and 150% loyal to Hitler. Of course, that goal did not play out in the end. Another thing to consider is that membership fluctuated. Anynone dissastisfied at any point could leave the party.

After illustrating some the inherent difficulties with the purportedly pure numbers on this macro level we can now see why the early attempts of analysing the social structure of the membership were quite imprecise. In short, if you come across any such analysis before 1970 or after that date and the research does not mention Mühlberger, Kater or Falter in its references you can be assured to read suboptimal material on the matter.

Sociographic studies to consult

What is 'highly educated'?

If we take university enrollment as yardstick for the population:

enter image description here
Enrollmentrates 1870-1988:Germany- USA.
–– Paul Windolf: "Cycles of expansion in higher education 1870 - 1985: an international comparison", Higher Education 23: 3-19, 1992. (PDF)

The following table is quoted from Mühlenberger 1980 and

based on data provided by Kater, ‘Sozialer Wandel’, Kater is careful in the claims he makes for the data. He points out that it is not an exact in­dication of the changing social structure of the party (the sample is too limited) and that it can only be used to measure the general tendencies in the development of the membership

                     25–29    30    31    32    33    37
Unskilled workers     16.9  18.5  19.0  17.5  15.7  14.5
Skilled workers        9.2   8.5   7.0   8.5   9.2  14.7
Artisans               6.7  22.0  25.6  24.5  25.7  22.2
Lower and middle-
 grade employees      13.6  12.5   7.3   9.2  10.5  16.5
Lower and middle-
grade civil servants   3.8   3.5   3.3   6.7   8.5  12.0
Farmers                8.1  12.5  17.6  12.5   8.2   4.2
Merchants, businessmen13.6  14.5  11.6  13.0  11.5   8.0
factory owners         1.6   2.5   3.3   0.7   1.0   1.0
Leading employees      1.0   1.5   0.6   2.0   2.0   1.7
Higher civil servants   –    0.5    —    1.5   2.2   2.4
Academics              0.5   1.5   1.6   2.2   4.7   2.5
Students (including
 university students)  4.3   2.0   2.6   1.5   0.5    –

NSDAP membership according to occupational groups 1925-1937 in percent (Kater, retrospective sampling)

However limited they are, all the numbers that create an illusion of precision for quantitative conclusions cannot overpaint the longstanding qualitative deduction that the NSDAP was something of a representative sample of the German population:

The NSDAP was thus, from a social point of view, a popular-party collection movement that was the only one of the Weimar parties able to integrate socially heterogeneous masses. Not precisely defined in ideological terms and not giving the new members any political say in organizational terms, the Führer party unconditionally subjected its new supporters to its political will.
–– Wolfgang Schieder: "Die NSDAP vor 1933. Profil einer faschistischen Partei", Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 19. Jahrg., H. 2, Die NSDAP als faschistische "Volkspartei" (1993), pp. 141-154.

It might be more interesting or insughtful to ask how many of highly educated people were party members?

In that case you can look at Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Dozentenbund or the Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund. The lecturers league for example was comprising 25% party members of all lecturers by 1938. That also meant that after the war, despite intentions to not re-use nazi-personnel, there were so few non-nazis available for lecture duty that many were re-used and continued their academic career.

Another angle to look at would be to just look at the top-brass and record their educational background. Not only prominent jurists like Freisler obviously studied law, or doctors like Mengele studied medicine. Go down the list of defendants at the trials, look at their background and see that apart from military officers they almost all went to university and quite a lot earned a doctorate.

What we conceptualise as 'smart' is usually academic intelligence. A suspected correlation between "smart cannot be nazi" might be measurable, but it certainly wasn't and cannot be a predictor for actual individual behaviour.


Question: What percentage of the Nazis were highly educated men?

Short Answer

The Nazi's did not come to power based upon their vision or intelligence. They came to power based upon intimidation, brutality and ruthlessness. Not proclivities one generally associates with "highly educated". Still some Nazi's did have educational backgrounds. Which only demonstrates bureaucracy education isn't always an indicator of intelligence. Hard to put a number on it but if pressed I'd go with .0002%.

Detailed Answer

As previously stated to answer this question it must be broken down into parts. Prior to seizing power how educated were the Nazi's? For that part the answer is the Nazi's were not smart people. They were more ruthless than they were intellectual. They did learn to use smart people either through intimidation or by appealing to their ambition or greed. In general their message did not appeal to intellectuals but to the mob. Working people who had lost much in the Great Depression and were looking to place blame. These were the people who made up the bulk of the Nazi's early followers. The Nazi's betrayed these followers in order to receive favors from the government and military. A classic trading up move (see Sturmabteilung and night of the long knives ). Once inside the government through appointment, the Nazi's seized power, they never won a national election. They were never a majority political party. They were not voted into national office. They were always a minority party, who used their minority political support along with their propensity for violence to seize power.

Once in power they were able to use the power of the government along with the finances to coerce, bribe, entice and seduce more sophisticated Germans to support them.


Germany's National Socialists were branded with the term Nazi. They did not choose the word for themselves nor did they typically use the term to describe themselves. Evidently they were bright enough to know an insult when they heard it. The term Nazi was a derogative which meant bumpkin, or backwards peasant prior to it being used by rival political parties label Hitler's national socialists. Hitler's national socialists did not use the term Nazi's to describe themselves. or did so only rarely.

From Comments

From LangLangC:
I say "they came to power because people liked the offering

The numbers just don't demonstrate that. Their best electoral showing was in the july 1932 election where they won 230 seats in the Reichstag; bringing their total percentage up to 37%. That was their peak. They were not invited to form a government, they were not invited into the government. The next election Nov 1932 they lost 32 seats. End of Jan 1932, the 86 year old Hindinburg, orchestrated by Franz von Papen; makes a deal with Hitler giving the Nazi's (NSDAP) 3 out of 20 cabinet posts. Hitler was named chancellor, Wilhelm Frick Minister of the Interior, and Hermann Göring, Minister Without Portfolio (and Minister of the Interior for Prussia). Franz von Papen became vice chancellor controlling the majority of the 20 cabinet posts; mistakenly believed he could control and tame Hitler. Hitler used those 3 cabinet seats coupled with intense street violence, and intimidation campaign to seize absolute power. The culmination of which was the "enabling act" March 23, 1933; which gave Hitler power to pass laws without the involvement of the Reichstag; Never having obtained a ruling majority or coalition in the German government through democratic means.

Under US electoral college conditions, that's quite a clear democratic vote result… under German conditions then and now it would be called "Voter mandate to form the government". Otherwise very few German governments would have ever been legitimate?

I agree that 37% of the Reichstag was significant. I agree it was even enough support to have been invited to form a government. Only the facts remain. even with 37% the Nazis(NSDAP) were not invited to form a government. No other party would work with them. Nor were they invited into government. They were the largest party in the Reichstag and were still locked out of leadership. The only way any of their political opposition would agree to include them in leadership was as a sever minority role. Which is what Von Papen negotiated in Jan 1933. The Nazi's were the largest part of the government which brought Hitler in as chancellor, yet they were forced to accept only two other seats in the cabinet.. 3 seats for the Nazi's and 17 seats for the other minority government coalition.

The Nazi's never came to power through democratic means. They leveraged about a third of the seats in the Reichstag to get their foot in the door of leadership and then used terror, intimidation and ruthlessness to seize power.

Otherwise very few German governments would have ever been legitimate?

Every German Government which came to power "legitimately" was invited to do so by the President of the Reichstag after having demonstrated the ability to form a majority. The Nazi's never demonstrated that ability. Thus they never were invited to form a government. Thus they never democratically came to power. They ultimately entered into a compromise coalition with other minority parties lead by Conservative Party member Franz Von Papen.

@LangLangC in '32 NS had a majority, a clear majority, a relative majority with a vast advantage over the next best. No other party ever in the preceding years had such a large majority or was ever required to have so many votes, or an absolute majority.

By definition a majority is a number or percentage equaling more than half of a total. The Nazi's never had a majority, nor were they ever able to form a political alliance in which they controlled a majority. If they had they would have been able to form a government. Yes they were the largest party, but still only 37% of the total at their peak in 1932.

@LangLangC What you emphasize with "Pres invites" was one of the other undemocratic design flaws of the system. As von Papen already abused the system and completely ignored democracy or parliament, one would have to say that NS gov was more democratically legitimated than the preceding ones…

I always enjoy your comments. They are always well thought out and interesting.

I would say Republics are not the same as Democracies. One of the stated benefits of a Republic is it's more difficult for a charlatan to gain power in a republic. Given in a Republic representatives for the people make decisions on behalf of the people. I would argue one check on a populist charlatan from gaining office is that he has to control an absolute majority of the seats in the Reichstag. To control the government a majority of the peoples decision makers must concur. That the Nazi's were not able to accomplish either is not an abuse of democratic principals so much as it's a demonstration of republic advantages over a democracy. After all it was a Democracy which killed Socrates motivating Plato to invent the republic to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority.

Now I think you are right that Von Hindenburg believed being the majority party the Nazi's should be represented in leadership. What they decided on was Hitler could be chancellor but not to permit him real power. The Nazi's would only control two additional cabinet spots. while Franz von Papen and the rest of the coalition assembled by Papen would control the other 17 cabinet spots.

  • 1
    That number "if pressed" itches me the wrong way. It's neither clear what's meant by that nor do you explain how the readily apparent contradiction with numbers I gave matches your number. "Brutal and ruthless" was the ideology of the day (Look how high cynical medical doctors were and how many party members they gave), and psychologically the correlation isn't .99 anyway (concepts IQ & EQ, clashing with morality). Look for Nuremberg defendants and match their credentials, then compare to Arendt's Banality of Evil. I say "they came to power because people liked the offering" Jul 11, 2019 at 11:50
  • And a thought experiment to balance the 'never won an election' (they won, just not with absolute majority; but which Weimar party ever did?): a week after Paris fell an election would have been held. How high would the party win if the ballot asked "Do you agree that AH is the second coming of Christ and should rule over you for all eternity?" (Despite the provocational first bit, I conclude from approval ratings that the outcome would have been positive…) Jul 11, 2019 at 11:59
  • It's not really going to be relevant for the Q, but: Total exclusion of DNVP isn't right for the situation, Hindenburg did exactly invite NS, and your numbers for the last two Reichstag-elections 1932, look at the pictures: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstagswahl_Juli_1932 de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstagswahl_November_1932 Under US electoral college conditions, that's quite a clear democratic vote result… under German conditions then and now it would be called "Voter mandate to form the government". Otherwise very few German governments would have ever been legitimate? Jul 11, 2019 at 17:01
  • I guess the whole part is better cut from the A as irrelevant, but in '32 NS had a majority, a clear majority, a relative majority with a vast advantage over the next best. No other party ever in the preceding years had such a large majority or was ever required to have so many votes, or an absolute majority. What you emphasize with "Pres invites" was one of the other undemocratic design flaws of the system. As von Papen already abused the system and completely ignored democracy or parliament, one would have to say that NS gov was more democratically legitimated than the preceding ones… Jul 12, 2019 at 5:05
  • For a closer look into this, one might also compare 1929 welt.de/geschichte/article193263635/… and 2019 spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/… The developments are quite eery. Some districts voting 48% for the new nazis… Sep 2, 2019 at 12:46

The writers above make valid points about pre-33 vs post 33 EXCEPT for the SS. The SS was the elite amongst the nazis so it would be difficult to argue that they didn't want to be there. I cannot find the article but I once read a scholarly article that specified that more than half of the SS had advanced degrees and half of those were lawyers. There were many with doctorates, many doctors and even (at least one) that had a double doctorate. One would like to think that education would broaden the mind but in fact it sharpens it to the point of a pencil and fills the ego with the belief that one knows something.

  • 1
    Perhaps you can find another source in support of some of this? Apr 4, 2021 at 23:11
  • 2
    This would definitely benefit from some supporting evidence (such as the article you mention).
    – Steve Bird
    Apr 4, 2021 at 23:11

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