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A Fooled Nation: Hitler’s Rise to Power
With a lock of hair falling over his forehead and a square little mustache on his often, somber face, Adolf Hitler seemed a comical figure when he first entered into politics. He was a public speaker who ranted and raved until his voice was hoarse and sweat dripped from his brow. Hitler was an evil genius. With the help of fanatic disciples and gullible masses, he profoundly changed Germany and the political face of Europe; unleashing the most terrible war in history and unprecedented genocide in which more than six million Jews died.
Hitler is called mad; but were the men around him also mad? They were cultivated, educated, learned men. Germany wasn’t a backward country, preyed on by ignorance, but one of the most advanced nations in the world; renowned for great scientific and cultural achievements. His program was one for evil and destruction and yet the majority of the people in Germany accepted it. How did Hitler come to power? His ideas have lived on, unfortunately. Many around the world still find inspiration in his words. Also have lived on, the memories. Time has not dimmed the terms storm troops, gas chambers, death camps, and holocaust. A new generation asks, why?
On the morning of September 15 1930, early editions of newspapers across Germany brought the first reports that Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) had scored a stunning electoral triumph. Only two years earlier, the party had languished in obscurity. The appeal of the Nationalist Socialists was so small that most commentators, those who recognized them at all, saw them as a minor and declining party. Yet, when the polls closed on the evening of September 14, 1930 the NSDAP had become the second largest party in the Weimar Republic.
The NSDAP was founded as “DeutschearbeiPartei”, the German Workers Party (DAP) in Munich, during January 1919. It was one of a number of German political parties clustered along the outskirts of German politics in the immediate post-war period. Initially, it was hardly more than a debate society. It had less than thirty members, only three of which were active political speakers. The organization would probably have remained this way had it not been for the extraordinary leadership and propagandistic talents of Adolf Hitler who joined the party in 1919.
Adolf Hitler was born in Austria in 1889. He stood out in no way as a boy and didn’t finish High School. He moved to Vienna in 1907 and applied to the Vienna Academy of Art, twice, but was rejected. The heads of the department felt he was not talented enough. They had no idea how this decision would affect history. When World War I broke out, Hitler enthusiastically enlisted in the German army. His life was going nowhere and the war provided him with something to fill the void. He was looking for an adventure. In the war, he proved a dedicated and brave soldier. He was temporarily blinded by poisonous gas and was shot on the leg. He learned a lot about violence and its uses. But he was never promoted to a leadership position. His supervisors claimed that he had no leadership qualities. They were quite wrong.
At the end of the war, Hitler was disillusioned and angry: Germany had lost. He became very nationalistic and anti-Semitic like many other disillusioned soldiers. He was sure, suddenly, that the purpose of his life was to lead Germany. Adolf the artist was the dead and Hitler the politician was soon to emerge. It was his remarkable energy and magnetism as a public speaker that first shot the party into the local Munich limelight and later catapulted the movement into national recognition.
From it’s beginning, the DAP was distinguished from other German parties. Like the others, it was extremely nationalistic, anti-Semitic, anti-Marxist and anti-Weimar Republic. But the DAP was determined to win the support of the working class for its cause. The party emphasized its commitment to “ennobling the German worker.” They claimed the Jews were controlling Germany and taking over. In reality, there were only about six hundred thousand Jews living in Germany and they represented less than one percent of the population.
From the very moment of his early entry into the tiny DAP, Hitler was determined to transform the party into a prominent political organization. He had great plans, most of which came true. His tireless activity (he was unemployed) and his surprising success as public speaker soon made him indispensable. By the end of the year, Hitler had become both propaganda chief and a member of the executive committee. At the same time the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP); or Nazis for short.
Hitler, ordinary as he seemed, turned out to be a mesmerizing speaker. During 1920, his reputation as a fiery and effective speaker continued to attract increasingly large audiences to his carefully orchestrated and powerful public appearances. His voice, his features, his words, the passion he displayed put a spell on his audiences. He was like a magician. But it wasn’t just magic: the meetings were always held in the late afternoons after his audiences had left work. They were more susceptible to what he had to say. The mood in Germany was grim and his public was depressed. Hitler took advantage of all their weaknesses. Doctors, lawyers, teachers and other members of the upper class, as well as workers began to join the Nazi party.
Hitler dressed up his creed with symbols of power. He put his early Nazi followers into brown-shirted uniforms and called them storm troops or SA. The name inspired fear. So did the way they looked and the sound of their boots. Hitler also created a Nazi flag: a red banner with a black swastika on a white circle. He did not invent the swastika and before he adopted it, the swastika was a positive, spiritual symbol that meant life and was used by many cultures.
Hitler’s followers left the meeting halls after he spoke shouting “Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler!” Fired by his words, they went out into the streets singing angrily, “When Jewish blood flows from our knives, things will be better!” Not only did they sing, they looked for Jews to beat up. With bully bravado between 10 and 15 of them would gang up on just one person. Hitler’s followers were everywhere. Out of fear or out of sentiment, the public hesitated to interfere.
Did the German government try to stop the brutality? It did, but by the time, the police got there, the aggressors had dispersed. In addition, the Weimar Republic was not very powerful. From it’s foundation during the coalition of 1918, two days before the end of World War II, until it’s demise with Nazi assumption of power in 1933, the Weimar Republic was burdened by a series of overlapping, political, social, and economic problems. A lot of hostility towards it was due to the Versailles Treaty.
Germany had agreed with the Allies to stop the fighting, believing that President Woodrow Wilson’s idealistic “Fourteen Points” would be the basis for a negotiated peace treaty. They found that the treaty was not negotiable and the German delegation was advised to agree or be taken over. The Allies, against President Wilson’s wishes, were determined to get their revenge on Germany. Under the terms of the treaty, Germany was charged with sole responsibility for the war, stripped of it’s colonial empire and a huge chunk of its land, and forced to pay heavy reparations. The treaty seriously disrupted German political and economic life and was considered horribly unfair by Germans and non-Germans alike.
By early 1923, Hitler was in firm command of the Nazi party. As he was responsible for the growth of the group, he could and did set himself up as its leader. Hitler was ready to test the political waters. He wasn’t willing to wait any longer and ruled out participation in electoral politics as the road to power. He was convinced that the Republic could be toppled by revolution. At the time, the Republic seemed vulnerable.
The Weimar Republic was determined to avoid the postwar recession and mass unemployment among the millions of demobilized veterans. It also had to pay pensions to millions of injured veterans, widows, sons and other surviving dependents of the war dead. It also, of course had to pay billions of dollars in war reparations. The result of all these economic demands was high inflation and the result of the inflation was a dramatic deterioration of the Reichmark’s (RM) value. In January 1922, a dollar was worth 8.20 RM. By December, it was worth 7,589.27 RM. In January 1923, it was worth 17,952 RM. By August the exchange rate reached an astronomical 109,996.15 RM to the dollar.
Economic life in Germany acquired an almost surrealistic quality. Imagine that in August you buy a ticket for a streetcar in Berlin for 100,000 RM. One month later the same ticket costs 4,500,000 RM and by November, it’s 150 million RM. In January you buy a kilo of potatoes for 20 RM. In October, the same kilo costs 90 billion. Bread was more than five times that, eventually at 467 billion. The price of one kilo of beef at 4 trillion simply defies imagination. Life was madness not to mention how it affected the cost of living. As prices went up, salaries went up but not quite as quickly as prices.
Meanwhile, the Allies refused to accept payment for the war offered in devalued German currency. They sent French and Belgian troops to occupy the Rurh. A broad political and economic crisis soon developed in Germany. There was rampant inflation, high unemployment, uprisings in the Rhineland, a communist coup in Hamburg, and mobilization of rightist forces in Bavaria. The Republic had the world on its shoulders.
This atmosphere of political and economic crisis inspired Hitler to enlist the NSDAP in a conspirational alliance with a number of other German, political parties and right-wing groups. They planned to overthrow first the Bavarian government and eventually the Third Reich. When at last the accordingly named Beer Hall Putsch went into action it was a fiasco. It was not very organized nor supported by the army. The conspiracy was immediately crushed, Hitler was arrested and the NSDAP was banned throughout the Reich. The humiliation of the Beer Hall Putsch taught Hitler patience. If he wanted to gain power, he would have to do it the hard way: by getting elected.
Although he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to five years in prison, Hitler was released within a year. During his short stay, he was given private quarters and allowed to receive visits often. While in prison he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), the bible of the Nazi party. In Mein Kampf, Hitler set forth his racial views. He said that Germans were the master Aryan race and deserved to rule the world. Actually, the Aryans were one of the first settlers of India and had nothing to do with Germany. He also said that the Jews were evil. The evil was in their genes and could never be eliminated.
While Hitler was in jail, the NSDAP participated in their first Reichstag election. Although the failure of the Putsch had sent the already shaky movement into disarray, some order was restored in the first few months of the following year. Shortly after the failed rebellion, Hitler had entrusted the leadership of the group to Alfred Rosemberg, a man with little organizational experience and less personal authority over the group; qualifications which may have highly recommended him to Hitler. The future Der Fuhrer didn’t want the Nazis to be entirely without leadership but he also didn’t want to be upstaged.
With it’s leader arrested and it’s organization banned throughout Germany, the NSDAP floundered. Before the Putsch, Hitler had given very little thought to any type of plan B should the plot miscarry. As a result, the party wavered on the brink of disintegration. But the election of 1924, nicknamed the “inflation election” because it was during a time when Germany was in a chaotic state due to hyperinflation, wa.............
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