The Third Reich was the common name given to the historical nation-state of Germany as it existed under the government of Adolf Hitler between 1933 and 1945.
Following the First World War, resentment in Germany flourished due to the perceived unfairness of the Treaty of Versailles, which contained many stipulations that unfairly singled out the Germans and required exorbitant reparations. This growing unrest with the policies of the other countries as well as a struggling economy led to the election of the extremely nationalistic National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), also known as the Nazi Party. The party steadily grew in power until its leader Adolf Hitler was elected to the position of chancellor in 1933. He quickly removed the other members of the coalition government and took total control of the German political system, declaring himself führer in 1934.
Political Policies of the Original Reich
National Socialism, the ideology adhered to by Nazi Germany, had little to do with Socialism, and in fact contains fascistic elements. Like the fascism adhered to in Mussolini's Italy, National Socialism emphasized nationalistic and militaristic thought, as well as encouraging anti-capitalist and anti-communist sentiment, preferring instead to pursue a "middle ground" called corporatism. However, unlike fascism, National Socialism contains a far more prevalent racial element. This led to the institutionalized persecution of various ethnic and ideological minorities, most famously the Jews, but including groups such as the mentally and physically handicapped, Roma, communists, democrats and homosexuals. The concepts of Lebensraum ("living space") and Das Volk ("the people") were also heavily propagandized elements of National Socialism; focusing on expansionism, lebensraum was mainly concerned with settling the various new lands conquered by the Third Reich with ethnic Germans while enslaving, deporting or exterminating the native population. Das Volk was used to justify the supposed need of the Nazis to unite all of the Germanic peoples in various long-lost German territories while eliminating the non-Germanic people that had since taken control of these former territories.
National Socialism was heavily focused on creating a totalitarian state, utilizing propaganda and fear as the main tools to maintain order within the country. The propaganda of the time lionized Adolf Hitler, the supposed savior of Germany, while simultaneously demonizing his various opponents. As well, the paramilitary force of the Nazi Party, the Sturmabteilung (SA), used force against any and all opposition.
The Modern Reich
The Third Reich was ultimately destroyed with the death of Hitler and the subsequent surrender of Nazi Germany which ended the Second World War. Despite this, National Socialist ideology has survived and continues to exist, mainly perpetuated by various racist groups who seek to justify their various racial prejudices through a coherent political ideology. Due to the strong negative connotations associated with Nazism, these groups are relegated mainly to the fringe of society, and when depicted in fiction are universally morally reprehensible, and almost always the villain.