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Berlin in the National Socialist era

Book-burning (1933)


Adolf Hitler’s rise to power leads to the National Socialist takeover and the end of democracy in Germany and Berlin.

On March 14, the Prussian minister of the interior and prime minister Hermann Göring (NSDAP) designates a “state commissioner for the capital city” to assist Heinrich Sahm, the elected lord mayor; the commissioner takes over as the real authority in Berlin.

On March 20, all Communist members of parliament are removed; in July, the same thing happens to the Social Democrats.

On March 21, the first concentration camp in the Berlin area is opened just outside the city in Sachsenhausen near Oranienburg for regime opponents who have been arrested.

The first organized boycotts of Jewish businesses, doctors, and lawyers take place on April 1. On May 10 the National Socialists stage a book-burning on the square (now called Bebelplatz) outside the Alte Bibliothek, or Old Library, as part of a campaign against a so-called “un-German spirit.” A memorial at the site now recalls the events of that day.


All of the city’s elected bodies are disbanded, and the city administration is “forced into line”: around 1,300 civil servants, one out of three salaried employees, and one out of ten wage earners are fired. In December 1935, Heinrich Sahm, now lord mayor in name only, resigns.


On March 22, Berlin starts the world’s first television broadcasting service.

Summer Olympics (1936)


The XI Summer Olympics take place in Berlin from August 1 to 16. During the Games, all of the anti-Semitic placards and slogans in the city are taken down.


The 700th anniversary of the founding of the city is marked for the first time by a huge celebration.


The annexation of Austria on March 12 makes Berlin the capital of the “Greater German Reich.”

On November 9, during the pogrom known as the “Night of Broken Glass” (“Kristallnacht”), members of the SA and the SS set fire to nine of the twelve synagogues in Berlin, loot Jewish-owned shops, and terrorize Jewish citizens, arresting 1,200 of them. Most of those arrested are taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Of the 160,000 Jews living in Berlin in 1933, roughly 90,000 were able to emigrate before 1941, while more than 60,000 were killed or died in National Socialist concentration camps by the end of the war. Around 1,400 Jews survived by living in hiding with the help of Berliners, the “unsung heroes.”


The Second World War starts in Berlin when war is declared against Poland on September 1.


Enemy aircraft bomb the city for the first time in August.

House of the Wannsee Conference


On January 20 at the “Wannsee Conference,” the organizational measures intended to implement the so-called “final solution of the Jewish question,” the systematic annihilation of European Jews, are decided on in an SS villa on the Wannsee lake. Today this villa houses an internationally renowned memorial and educational center.


Following the catastrophic defeat of the German army at Stalingrad in January, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels calls for “total war” on February 18 at Berlin’s Sportpalast. This historic building was razed in 1973.

In the fall, Anglo-American forces begin large-scale bombing of the city. Around one million residents are evacuated up until the end of the war, and more than 50,000 die.


Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg’s attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler fails on July 20, and mass arrests and summary executions follow. Stauffenberg and his closest co-conspirators are shot in the building of the army high command, the Bendlerblock (today’s German Resistance Memorial Center). Another 89 executions follow at the National Socialist prison Plötzensee. Around 2,500 death sentences overall were carried out until 1945 at this execution site (now the Plötzensee Memorial Center).


The Red Army crosses the city boundaries for the first time on April 21, and the Battle for Berlin begins. It ends with Hitler’s suicide on April 30 and the surrender of the city on May 2. For Berlin, the war is over.

The capitulation treaty for all of Germany is signed in the presence of representatives of all the Allies on the night of May 8 in the officers’ dining hall of an army facility in the Berlin suburb of Karlshorst.

More information

Hitler’s rise to power (1933)

Hitler’s rise to power

On 30 January 1933, Germany’s president, Paul von Hindenburg, appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany. Hitler’s rise to power

Otto Weidt

Resistance in Berlin

German resistance against the National Socialist reign of terror is associated above all with the failed coup attempt of 20 July 1944. Resistance in Berlin