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Third Reich under Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.


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Reich is the German word for "rich". Like its Latin counterpart, imperium, Reich does not necessarily connote a monarchy; the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany continued to use the name Deutsches Reich.

Reich, German.

Nazi propaganda poster.
Nazi propaganda poster.

The term Reich was part of the German names for Germany for much of its history. Reich was used by itself in the common German variant of the Holy Roman Empire, the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" (Heiliges rmisches Reich deutscher Nation). Der rche was a title for the Emperor. However, it should be noted that Latin, not German, was the formal legal language of the medieval Empire, so English-speaking historians are more likely to use Latin imperium than German Reich as a term for this period of German history.

The unified Germany which arose under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in 1871 was called in German Deutsches Reich. This remained the official name of Germany until 1945, although these years saw three very different political systems more commonly referred to in English as: "the German Empire" (18711918), the Weimar Republic (19191933; the term is a postwar coinage not used at the time), and Nazi Germany (the Third Reich) (19331945). After 1918 "Reich" was usually not translated as "Empire" in English-speaking countries, and the title was instead simply used in its original German. During the Weimar Republic the term "Reich" and the prefix "Reichs-" referred not to the idea of empire but rather to the institutions, officials, affairs etc. of the whole country as opposed to those of one of its constituent federal states. Das Reich meant the legal persona of the (federal) State, similar to The Crown designating the State (and its treasury) in Commonwealth countries.

The Nazis sought to legitimize their power historiographically by portraying their rule as a continuation of a Germanic past. They coined the term Das Dritte Reich (The Third Empire" usually rendered in English in the half-translation" The Third Reich), counting the Holy Roman Empire as the first and the 1871-1918 monarchy as the second. They also used the political slogan Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fhrer ("One people, one Reich, one leader"). Although the term "Third Reich" is in common use, the terms "First Reich" and "Second Reich" for the earlier periods are seldom found outside Nazi propaganda. To use the terms "First Reich" and "Second Reich", as some commentators did in the post-war years, is generally frowned upon as accepting Nazi historiography. The term Altes Reich (old Reich) is sometimes used to refer to the Holy Roman Empire.

A number of previously neutral words used by the Nazis have later taken on negative connotations in German (e.g. Fhrer or Heil); while in many contexts Reich is not one of them (reich, rich; Frankreich, France), it can imply German imperialism or strong nationalism if it is used to describe a political or governmental entity. Reich has thus not been used in official terminology since 1945, though it is still found in the name of the Reichstag building, which since 1999 has housed the German federal parliament, the Bundestag. The decision not to rename the Reichstag building was taken only after long debate in the Bundestag; even then, it is described officially as Reichstag - Sitz des Bundestages (Reichstag, seat of the Bundestag).

The exception is that during the Cold War, the East German railway incongruously continued to use the name Deutsche Reichsbahn (German National Railways), which had been the name of the national railway during the era of the Weimar Republic and Third Reich. This is because the Reichsbahn was specifically mentioned in several postwar treaties and directives regarding the right to operate the railroad in West Berlin; had the East German government changed the name of the railways to, for example, Staatsbahn der DDR (State Railways of the GDR), it would likely have lost this right. Even after German reunification in October 1990, the Reichsbahn continued to exist for over three years as the operator of the railroad in eastern Germany, ending finally on 1 January 1994 when the Reichsbahn and the western Deutsche Bundesbahn were merged to form the privatized Deutsche Bahn AG.

Rike, rige.

Rike is the Swedish and Norwegian word for "realm", in Danish spelled rige, of similar meaning as German Reich. The word is traditionally used for sovereign entities; a country with a King or Queen as head of state, such as the United Kingdom or Sweden itself, is a (kunga)rike, literally a "royal realm".

The word is used in "Svea rike", with the current spelling Sverige, the name of Sweden in Swedish. It is also present in the names of institutions such as the Riksdag, Sveriges Riksbank, Riksgldskontoret, Riksklagaren, Rikspolisstyrelsen, Riksteatern, riksdaler, etc. The word is often used synonymously to nation, as in rikstckande, nationwide.

The Lord's Prayer uses the words in the Swedish version Tillkomme ditt rike (Thy kingdom come).

Rijk.

Rijk is the Dutch equivalent of German Reich. In a political sense in the Netherlands the word rijk often connotates a connection with the Kingdom of the Netherlands; the ministerraad is the executive body of the Netherlands' government and the rijksministerraad that of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a similar distinction is found in wetten (laws) versus rijkswetten (kingdom laws). The word rijk can also be found in institutions like Rijkswaterstaat, Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu, and Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

Like in german, the adjective rijk means "rich".

Etymology and cognates

Reich has an interesting etymology: it comes from a Germanic word for "king", which was borrowed from Celtic. (See Calvert Watkins, American Heritage dictionary of Indo-European Roots, p.70.) It has cognates in many other languages, all ultimately descended from the Proto-Indo-European root *reg-, meaning "to straighten out" or "rule", also the source of English right. The Sanskrit derived cognates in Hindi are "Raja" meaning King and also the name of an ethnic group: Rajput meaning progeny of Rajas. The cognates can be grouped linguistically as follows:

Celtic group

Proto-Celtic *rig-, "king", from the lengthened e-grade (see: Indo-European ablaut). Borrowed into Germanic as *riks-. Hence:

Original Germanic group

Although the line of descent of Reich and its closest cognates came into Germanic sideways from Celtic, Germanic also inherited the same Indo-European root directly in a suffixed form of the e-grade, *reg-to-, hence:

  • Old High German: rihte; Modern German Recht, "justice"; rechts, "right"; richtig, "correct"; Richter, "judge"; Gericht, "court".
  • Old English: riht; Modern English: right; righteous.

Sanskrit

The Sanskrit word, from a lengthened-grade suffixed form *reg-en-, is raja, "king", hence the words for rulers in various Indian language. Of interest to English speakers: Raj, used of the British rule in India; and Maharaja, literally "the great king" (exactly parallel to Latin magnus rex).




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