Historians tend to define ‘opposition’ in Nazi Germany as any acts which openly defied the regime, while resistance is taken to mean active attempts to overthrow Hitler and the Nazis. There were obviously a great deal more of the former than of the latter. However, it is also generally acknowledged that the regime was widely accepted and enjoyed much popular support.
The extent of support for the Nazi regime
It is difficult to know exactly how popular the regime was as Hitler’s police state made it very difficult to express opposition and Nazi propaganda portrayed the Führer as his people’s saviour. However, it is clear that the Nazis were the most popular party when they came to power and many Germans welcomed the stability and economic growth an authoritarian regime brought.
In general, Germans were happy to trade the freedom and democracy of Weimar for the certainty and security Hitler brought. His regime restored Germany’s international prestige through rearmament and the dismantling of the Treaty of Versailles. The sheer scale of propaganda - especially that directed towards German children - meant that many more Germans became active Nazi Party members and were convinced of Hitler’s greatness.
Opposition from the Churches
Many Protestant pastors, led by Martin Niemöller, formed the Confessional Church in opposition to Hitler's Reich Church. Niemöller was held in a concentration camp during the period 1937-1945 and a total of 800 clergy were sent to camps.
Another Protestant pastor and member of the Confessional Church, Dietrich Bonhöffer, was linked to the 1944 bomb plot and was executed.
Despite the Concordat, some Catholic priests opposed Hitler. In 1937, the Pope's message 'With Burning Concern' attacked Hitler as 'a mad prophet with repulsive arrogance' and was read in every Catholic Church.
The Catholic Archbishop of Munster, von Galen, led a successful campaign to end euthanasia of mentally-disabled people.
400 German Catholic priests were imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp by the regime.
Opposition from the young
The main youth opposition group was the Edelweiss Pirates, based in the Rhineland. They reacted to the discipline of the Hitler Youth by daubing anti-Nazi slogans and singing pre-1933 folk songs. In 1942 over 700 of them were arrested and in 1944, the Pirates in Cologne killed the Gestapo chief, so the Nazis publicly hanged 12 of them.
The White Rose group was formed by students at Munich University in 1943. They published anti-Nazi leaflets and marched through the city in protest at Nazi policies. Its leaders, brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl, were arrested to and sentenced to the guillotine.
During the war, ‘Swing Youth’ and ‘Jazz Youth’ groups were formed. These were young people who rejected Nazi values, drank alcohol and danced to jazz. The Nazis rejected jazz music as degenerate and called it Negro music, using their racial ideas against this cultural development. These youths were closely monitored by the Gestapo, who regularly raided illegal jazz clubs.
Opposition from workers
Perhaps the most widespread and persistent opposition to the Nazi regime came from ordinary German workers, often helped by communists, who posted anti-Nazi posters and graffiti, or organised strikes. In Dortmund the vast majority of men imprisoned in the city’s jail were industrial workers. Workers went on strike over high food prices in 1935 and during the Berlin Olympics in 1936.