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Focus question 4: What are the key features of a democracy and how did the Nazis take them away? How is democracy in Australia protected?

Teaching and learning activities

Assessment task ESL Assessment task
Assessment criteria  
Activity 1: Creating families  
Activity 2: Effect of policy on family members' lives  
Activity 3: Effect of policies on democracy  
Activity 4: Democratic principles in Australia ESL Activity 4
Activity 5: Protecting democracy in Australia ESL Activity 5
Unit assessment task ESL Unit assessment task
Assessment criteria  


What effect did the destruction of democracy have on the nation, and on individuals?

Assessment task

Draw up a table like the one that follows.

Principles of a democracy Events in Nazi Germany which attacked these principles Effect or impact of these attacks on democracy Situation in Australia today

In the left-hand column, write in the main principles of a democracy (go back to your list in Focus question 1, Activity 1). You should have at least six principles.

Stories Then either look at the game on the Stories of Democracy CD ROM or use the Destruction of democracy timeline to complete the second column of the table. You will complete the third and fourth columns later in this focus question.

Assessment criteria

Your work will be assessed on:

  • identifying some essential principles of democracy
  • explaining which events attacked these principles
  • explaining what this meant for people's lives
  • identifying and explaining how these principles of democracy operate in Australia.

Key events in Germany 1933-34

  1. 'Law for the Ordering of National Labour' weighted workplace relations heavily against workers and in favour of management.
  2. 'Reichstag Fire Decree' ('For the Protection of People and State') suspended civil rights. Mass arrests of Communists and other opponents of the Nazis.

    Hitler shaking hands with church leaders
    Hitler shaking hands with church leaders
    Courtesy Suddeutscher Verlag, Bilderdienst.

  3. All political parties other than the Nazi Party were banned.
  4. All soldiers had to swear an oath not to the state or the Constitution, but to Hitler personally: 'I swear by God this sacred oath, that I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich and people ... and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.'
  5. Books by Jews, pacifists or communists, or books which were critical of Nazi Germany, were banned and burnt publicly - about 20,000 of them in all. Possession of these books was a crime. A list of desirable and approved books was sent to libraries and bookshops.
  6. The Catholic Church made a treaty with Nazi Germany - it was allowed to remain as long as there was no political activity by church leaders.

    Sign on window reads 'Germans defend yourself against Jewish atrocity propaganda. Buy only at German shops'.
    Sign on window reads 'Germans defend yourself against Jewish atrocity propaganda. Buy only at German shops'.
    Reproduced with permission of Bundesarchiv, Koblenz.

  7. Hitler combined the offices of Chancellor, President and Nazi Party leader as Führer.
  8. Jews were dismissed from all jobs in the public service, including schools, universities and public hospitals.
  9. 'Law Against Overcrowding of German Schools' led to the expulsion of students defined as Jewish.
  10. Jewish businesses throughout Germany were boycotted.
  11. Laws were passed removing civil rights from Germans who were Jewish.
  12. Major rallies, parades and exhibitions were developed to promote German national pride and identity. At one exhibition, on Germany's military experience in the Great War, thousands of German boys and girls queued to see the displays of military weapons and artefacts. One explained that, up to then, Germany's recent military past had been considered shameful. 'Now at last, under Hitler, we wish to remember. We're proud to remember the courage of our fathers and all they went through during those frightful years. It's a revival of German pride in heroic achievement ...'

    Quoted in Gibbs, P 1946, The Pageant of the Years: An Autobiography, William Heinemann, London, pp 379-80.

    A Hitler youth poster, mid 1930s
    A Hitler youth poster, mid-1930s
    Reproduced with permission of The Imperial War Museum, London.

  1. Political critics of Nazism were jailed in concentration camps.
  2. State and local governments' powers were taken away - all rule was from the national government.
  3. Trade unions were banned, replaced by the government controlled German Labour Front.
  4. Young people were forced to join Nazi youth organisations, where propaganda was forced upon them. Non-sympathetic groups were banned. The oath of the Hitler Youth was:
    'In the presence of this blood banner, which represents our Führer, I swear to devote all my energies and my strength to the saviour of our country, Adolf Hitler. I am willing and ready to give up my life for him, so help me God.' By 1939 over 7 million of the 8,870,000 Germans aged between 10 and 18 were in a Nazi Youth organisation.
  5. All judges had to apply the law not according to the Constitution, but according to Nationalist Socialist ideology as expressed in the party policies of the Nazis. Judges were by then an arm of the government, and not interpreters of the German Constitution.

    A Nazi court 1944. Judge Friedler presiding over a treason case
    A Nazi court 1944. Judge Friendler presiding over a treason case
    Courtesy Suddeutscher Verlag, Bilderdienst.

Activity 1: Creating families

Here are three families, with different views of what Germany required in 1933, and different day-to-day concerns. One is a middle-class family, one is a working-class family and one is a middle-class Jewish family. How will they react to the previous announcements? Refer back to 'Who voted for the Nazis' (Focus question 2, Activity 6), to help you with this task.

1a Form into a group of three, each person choosing a different family.

1b Draw up a table like the one below, and enter the given information.

1c Complete the missing elements of the table, writing them in at the appropriate places. While you are often free to add anything you like, you must be consistent. For example, the Jewish family will not be supporters of the Nazis!

Elements Family 1 Family 2 Family 3
Name Rosenberg Schultz Müller

Occupation/job of main breadwinner

'Race' 'Aryan' 'Aryan' 'Jewish'
Family numbers, names and ages      
Attitude to the Nazis      
Political party supported   Social Democrats  
Member of a trade union?      
Have you kept any banned books in your home?     Many by Jewish writers
Do you have Communist friends?      
Do you have Jewish friends?      
Are there children in the family aged between 8 and 17 who can be members of a Youth Group?      

Activity 2: Effect of policy on family members' lives

2a Look at the 17 events listed in 'Key events in Germany 1933-34', and decide which of them might have an effect on your chosen family. For example, if you are Jewish, you will lose civil rights, be boycotted, dismissed from the public service, and so on.

2b Write a letter as a member of your chosen family to a friend in Australia, explaining your situation now and what you think your Germany will be like in the next few years.

2c Circulate your letters among your group, and compare your main findings.

2d Talk about similarities and differences in your letters and what these say about people and their powers of insight, compassion, sense of justice and self-preservation.

Activity 3: Effect of policies on democracy

Complete the third column of your table, 'Effect or impact of these attacks on democracy' for the assessment task, drawing on what you have learnt from the work on your family.

Activity 4: Democratic principles in Australia

The destruction of democracy in Germany happened a long time ago in a very different place from modern Australia. However, there may still be important lessons which we can take from history, and which can help us to be vigilant about our own democracy today.

4a Go back to the table you drew up for the assessment task. Look at the principles of a democracy in the left-hand column and decide how they are working in Australia today. Fill in the fourth column with this information. For example, for voting, you might say that Australia has a fair system of voting, with every person having an equal vote; or you may know of some argument which suggests that the system of voting is not working fairly. Fill in what you know.

4b Read the following conversation between Sophie, a German student, and an Australian student Sophia. Underline the key points that are being made about democracy in Australia, and what might be needed to protect it from attacks and abuses. Add any new information or ideas to your chart.

Sophie talks with Sophia

Sophia: Is it true that people in Germany really wanted a dictatorship?

Sophie: That's where everyone seems to make their biggest mistake. You just can't talk about 'people in Germany' or 'the Germans' as if they all wanted the same thing or behaved the same way. People had very deep political differences and that might even have been one of the problems. The democrats, especially the Social Democrats and the genuine liberals, were as passionately against Hitler and his threat to democracy as his followers were for him.

Sophia: But in Australia everyone is in favour of democracy.

Sophie: Of course. There is even compulsory voting. But how many people really expect politicians to fix their problems? I'm always hearing people say, 'You can never believe a politician'. Yet they then seem ready to believe a politician who makes quite outrageous claims. And don't all your politicians claim to be governing 'for all Australians'?

Sophia: Is that what happened in Germany?

Sophie: To an extent, yes. The country had problems that were impossible for any government to solve and people only saw a lot of politicians claiming to have answers while problems just got worse.

Sophia: Why didn't they see Hitler as just another politician?

Sophie: Because he kept saying he was different. He claimed to lead not only a party but a 'movement'. He said all the others had special interest groups to look after and he didn't belong to any section of the community. He would bring about a true 'National Community'. He made sure people knew who he was, and made the most of a reputation for violence among his followers: at least that showed they weren't afraid to fight for their beliefs. And he quite openly said he was out to change the political system to one in which the politicians would no longer have a say.

Sophia: So the people who voted for Hitler knew they were voting to end democratic government?

Sophie: Some did, but most were probably confused. One problem was that democratic government had already ended. The last Chancellors didn't have a majority in parliament - they were there because the President chose them. So that made the democratic system, which had had only a few very troubled years to prove itself, hard to defend.

Sophia: Still, why on earth vote for a dictatorship?

Sophie: Haven't you noticed how much talk there is in Australia about needing a 'strong leader'? Many people in Germany were hurting economically and they didn't listen to the Social Democrats' warnings because they associated them with the working class, not the middle class. Lots of conservative people wanted no more experiments with democracy or 'social justice'. They wanted things to be as they had been before all the economic and political upheavals.

Sophia: Surely that's the greatest irony. They voted for more radical change than anything they had ever known!

Sophie: That's something to watch out for in Australia, I'd say. Political change is always presented as unthreatening, possibly even as a return to how things used to be.

Sophia: I can't see how that would apply to a young country like ours.

Sophie: Both our countries are 'young' in a constitutional sense. My country, Germany, was unified in 1871, just 30 years before Australia. Both got federal constitutions, though in Germany only men originally had a vote. Why doesn't anyone blame men for the disasters?

Sophia: Perhaps because women had the vote in both countries by 1920, though it's true they were never elected to govern. In any case, democracy lasted better in Australia than it did in Germany. We didn't have anything like the Nazi Party, which brought war and suffering to millions and millions of people.

Sophie: Thank goodness, that's true. But there are still a couple of things to keep sight of. A threat to people's sense of security can get them to accept things they never would have dreamt of. Germans didn't normally expect to see their political opponents excluded from parliament and put into a concentration camp. And don't forget that for a long time in this country Aborigines were regarded as inferior and excluded from politics altogether. People in both countries now know that formally making people equal citizens does not guarantee everyone equal rights.

Sophia: Surely the right to change the government is the key democratic right.

Sophie: It is, and it carries a big responsibility. The majority of voters can get rid of a government they think is not in their interests and elect one which is. But majority interests are not the only ones. Voters have to make sure the government keeps listening to them, and to less powerful voices as well as powerful ones. Today, Germany and Australia are two of the most democratic countries in the world and in both people have to watch that the majority doesn't use its weight against the rights of a minority. That might be the biggest challenge for democracy in all countries. Wherever people start to say, 'Well, that's what most of us want and we can't be worried about you', that country could be in as much trouble as Germany was under Hitler.

Tony Barta, History Department, La Trobe University.

Activity 5: Protecting democracy in Australia

How might democratic principles be protected in Australia if they are under threat?

One of the key lessons of the destruction of democracy in Nazi Germany is that often people do not recognise threats to a system until it is too late for them to do anything about it.

5a Think about the ways in which opposition to a threat to democracy from bodies such as a government, a political party, a union or any other group of people might be possible. Make a list of these possible legal, non-violent protest actions. They could range from simply expressing an opinion to your neighbour, to organising a protest march. List as many as you can.

5b Discuss the main advantages and disadvantages of each of these possible actions.

Unit assessment task


Create a Defending Democracy poster.

Find an example of at least three methods being used to defend democracy in other countries, and three being used in Australia today. Look in newspapers and magazines, at TV news and current affairs shows, and listen to radio. Include newspaper cuttings or a summary in your notes beside each method. For each example consider:

  • the nature of the threat to democracy - what is the key democratic principle under threat?
  • who is threatening a democratic principle and why
  • the methods being used to oppose the threat or defend democratic principles
  • who is defending democracy.



Write a two-page essay answering this question: What went wrong in Germany that could go wrong here? Your teacher will help you with planning for this task.

Assessment criteria

Your work will be assessed on:


  • identifying and exploring key elements of democracy under threat in relation to particular situations
  • explaining how a democracy can be threatened
  • explaining how democracy can be protected
  • clear structure and presentation.


  • clear structure and argument
  • accurate and complete consideration of the events leading to the destruction of democracy in Germany in 1933
  • identifying the key elements of democracy that were lost
  • explaining the effect of the loss of democracy on individuals and the nation as a whole
  • explaining how democracy can be protected.

ESL activities

Back to 'A Democracy Destroyed - At a glance'

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