Everyone is familiar with Hitler and the Third Reich, but why was it called the Third Reich? What were the First and Second Reichs?
We have to travel all the way back to the Middle Ages and the time of Charlemagne to find the seeds of what would eventually become the Third Reich under Hitler’s Germany.
The year 800 Christmas Day is the general date believed that ushered in the foundation of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation. On this day, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne king of the empire. The territory covered much of western and central Europe and would last for over a thousand years. Charlemagne’s empire was vast and prominent during his lifetime, fell off somewhat after his death, but then was reinvigorated by Otto I around 962. This date of 962 is used by other historians to mark the date of the founding of the Holy Roman Empire. Whatever the actual date may be, it certainly had its roots in the crowning of Charlemagne, and in effect would last — at least in memory — up until the time of Adolf Hitler.
Part of Hitler wanted to resurrect the prominence of the Holy Roman Empire, to create an empire that would perpetuate the German master race throughout the entire world. He took a much closer example of this power and unification seen in the Prussian Empire in the 19th century during the Hohenzollern dynasty period. Prominent figures leading the rise to power of imperial Germany during the late 19th and early 20th centuries were Wilhelm I, Wilhelm II, and Otto Von Bismark. This was the Second Reich.
And out of the turmoil and chaos of World War I, the seeds that had been planted long ago, the idea of a powerful German state, of imperial dominance of Europe and the world, founded in the reign of Charlemagne, the state of the Third Reich and Nazi Germany came to fruition and burst forth from the smoldering ashes of a collapsed but proud nation.
And the world would never be the same.