German Reich

German Reich (German: Deutsches Reich, pronounced [ˈdɔʏtʃəs ˈʁaɪç]) was the constitutional name for the German nation state that existed from 1871 to 1945. The Reich became understood as deriving its authority and sovereignty entirely from a continuing unitary German "national people", with that authority and sovereignty being exercised at any one time over a unitary German "state territory" with variable boundaries and extent. Although commonly translated as "German Empire", the word Reich here better translates as "realm" or territorial "reach", in that the term does not in itself have monarchical connotations. The word Kaiserreich is applied to denote an empire with an emperor; hence the German Empire of 1871–1918 is termed Deutsches Kaiserreich in standard works of reference.[1] From 1943 to 1945, the official name of Germany became – but was not formally proclaimed – Großdeutsches Reich ("Greater German Reich") on account of the additional German peoples and associated territories annexed into the state's administration before and during the Second World War.

To refer to the entire period 1871–1945, the partially translated "German Reich" (/-ˈrk/) is applied by historians in formal contexts,[2] although in common English usage this state was and is known simply as Germany, the English term "German Empire" being reserved to denote the German state between 1871 and 1918.

The history of the nation-state known as the German Reich is commonly divided into three periods:

The Nazi regime has often been called the "Third Reich", counting the Holy Roman Empire as the first and the 1871 German Empire as the second, and ignoring the Weimar Republic; this usage was sometimes contemporaneous, but mostly retrospective and applied by non-Germans.

The Federal Republic of Germany asserted, following its establishment in 1949, that within its boundaries it was the sole legal continuation of the German Reich; and consequently not a successor state. Nevertheless, the Federal Republic did not maintain the specific title 'German Reich'; and so consistently replaced the prefix "Reichs" in all official titles and designations with "Bundes". Hence, the Reichskanzler became the Bundeskanzler. Following German reunification in 1990, the expanded Federal Republic describes itself as 'United Germany'; emphasising that Germany does not now recognise any territories outside its united boundaries, but ever included in the former German Reich, as having a valid claim to be a part of Germany as a whole.

By the same logic, the Federal Republic does not apply the term 'Third Reich' to Nazi Germany; as the Hitler regime is considered to have been a 'criminal state' (Verbrecherstaat), a criminal enterprise masquerading as a state, and hence never in any respect a legitimate state organisation of the German Reich.