Reich (/ˈrk/;[1] German: [ˈʁaɪç] (listen)) is a German word whose meaning is analogous to the meaning of the English word "realm". The terms Kaiserreich (literally the "realm of an emperor") and Königreich (literally the "realm of a king") are respectively used in German in reference to empires and kingdoms. The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary indicates that in English usage, the term "the Reich" refers to "Germany during the period of Nazi control from 1933 to 1945".[2]

The term Deutsches Reich (sometimes translated to "German Empire") continued to be used even after the collapse of the German Empire and the abolition of the monarchy in 1918. There was no emperor, but many Germans had imperialistic ambitions. According to Richard J. Evans:

The continued use of the term 'German Empire', Deutsches Reich, by the Weimar Republic... conjured up an image among educated Germans that resonated far beyond the institutional structures Bismarck created: the successor to the Roman Empire; the vision of God's Empire here on earth; the universality of its claim to suzerainty; and in a more prosaic but no less powerful sense, the concept of a German state that would include all German speakers in central Europe--'one People, one Reich, one Leader', as the Nazi slogan was to put it.[3]

The term is derived from the Germanic word which generally means "realm," but in German, it is typically used to designate a kingdom or an empire, especially the Roman Empire.[4] The terms Kaisertum ("Imperium") and Kaiserreich ("Imperial realm”) are used in German to more specifically define an empire ruled by an emperor.[4]

Reich is comparable in meaning and development (as well as descending from the same Proto-Indo-European root) to the English word realm (via French reaume "kingdom" from Latin regalis "royal"). It is used for historical empires in general, such as the Roman Empire (Römisches Reich), Persian Empire (Perserreich), and both the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire (Zarenreich, literally "Tsars’ realm"). Österreich, the name used for Austria today is composed of "Öster" and "Reich" which literally translated means "Eastern Realm". The name once referred to the Eastern parts of the Holy Roman Empire.

In the history of Germany specifically, it is used to refer to:

The Nazis adopted the term "Third Reich" as a tool because they wanted to legitimize their government as a successor to the retroactively renamed "First" and "Second" Reichs. The terms "First Reich" and "Second Reich" are not used by historians, and the term "Fourth Reich" is mainly used in fiction and political humor although it is also used by those who subscribe to the belief in Neo-Nazism.

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