2. Hitler appealed to the masses by presenting scapegoats for their problems
In his speeches, which were often delivered in beer halls, Hitler developed the style of speaking which hypnotized audiences, belittling perceived enemies and condemning the scapegoats which he said were the source of all the ills besetting Germany, including its defeat during the First World War. Former German fighter ace Hermann Goering joined the party, as did Rudolph Hess, who became Hitler’s deputy, and Ernst Rohm, who led the Party’s stormtroopers, known as the SA. During this time, as a reaction to White Russian exiles who conspired with the Nazis, Hitler began to link international Jewish capitalists to the Bolsheviks in Russia. The Nazis rejected capitalism as a tool of international finance in the hands of the Jews, and blamed the Versailles Treaty, which had treated Germany harshly, on the same anti-German international conspiracy. Hitler stressed “Germany First” in all things.
Hitler based much of his theories and actions on the Fascism of Italy’s Benito Mussolini, whom he greatly admired, and in 1923 he decided to emulate the Fascist March on Rome with an attempted coup of his own. With the help and added prestige of General Erich Ludendorff, who gained the support of Bavarian authorities, Hitler wanted to establish himself as the head of the important German state before challenging the national government in Berlin. Unknown to Hitler was that the powers in Bavaria wanted to establish a new national government, but without Hitler. Gustav Ritter von Kahr, with the support of the Bavarian police, envisioned himself in charge of the national government. When Hitler and his stormtroopers (the SA under Rohm) attempted their coup it failed.
3. The attempted coup at the Burgerbraukeller of November, 1923
Hitler and the SA stormed a meeting of about 3,000 Bavarians in Munich on November 8, 1923, gained the support of Kahr, who was addressing the meeting, at gunpoint and attempted to create a new Bavarian government with the support of Ludendorff. Once no longer under the SA’s guns, Kahr’s supporters refused to endorse Hitler and the Nazis, and Hitler was forced to flee to the home of a friend and supporter after failing to occupy the Bavarian War Ministry. On November 11 he was arrested and charged with high treason. The following spring he was sentenced to serve five years in Landsberg Prison, and Alfred Rosenberg replaced him as the chairman of the party. The Bavarian guards treated him well, and he was able to obtain some luxuries.
Ultimately, Hitler spent less than one year at Landsberg Prison, and during the time there he received visitors, including party officials. While imprisoned Hitler dictated most of what became the first volume of his work Mein Kampf (My Struggle) to Rudolph Hess. The book described much of what evolved in the Third Reich, including the struggle for lebensraum (living room) for the German people, the creation of a society based on race, and the threat of the international Jewish conspiracy. The book was incomplete when Hitler was released over the objections of Bavarian prosecutors in December 1924. The first volume was published in 1925, the lesser known second volume in 1926, and sold briskly in Germany, enriching the formerly insolvent Hitler through the substantial royalties it earned. The book also found an international audience among antisemitic supporters of its views.
4. The Nazis were crippled by the actions of the Bavarian government
When the Beer Hall Putsch failed, the Bavarian government banned the Nazi Party and any activities undertaken by them or their affiliate groups as a threat to the legitimate government. When Hitler was released from Landsberg Prison he met with the Bavarian Prime Minister on January 4, extending his personal promise that Nazi party members would seek office only through the elective process. In February the ban on Nazi activities was lifted in Bavaria, but after Hitler delivered a speech later that month the Bavarian authorities banned him from speaking in public. Hitler assigned deputies, one of whom was Joseph Goebbels, to rebuild the Nazi party in Bavaria. Their activities were hampered by Germany’s improving economy until the Great Depression struck worldwide following the collapse of the US stock market in 1929.
Through the 1920s increasingly violent confrontations occurred between the Nazi SA and supporters of other parties, including frequently Communist groups. The violence and the improving economy under the Weimar Republic kept Nazi party membership down and the party held few seats in the Reichstag. Following the election of May 1928 the Nazi party held but 12 seats, and membership was down to about 130,000 nationally be the end of the year. Confrontations with the armed wing of the Communists, the Red Front, and the SA continued. Hitler used his deputy Joseph Goebbels to present him to the public as a common man, despite his rapidly growing wealth, and as the German economy veered towards collapse as the Great Depression took hold, his popularity among workers grew steadily. In 1930 the Nazis won 107 seats in the Reichstag, making them the second largest, in terms of representation, in Germany.
In January 1930, two gunmen from the German Communist Party (KPD) shot Horst Wessel in the face at point blank range, severely and painfully wounding him. Wessel was an officer of the Nazi SA and a veteran of several street battles with the communists and other anti-Nazi groups. He was also the writer of a song sung by Nazis as they demonstrated in the streets, which he called “Raise the Flag’. Wessel was essentially a street thug who worked for Goebbels, inciting violence during demonstrations, which Goebbels then blamed on the communists and others in his propaganda newspapers and pamphlets. Shot in his apartment, which he shared with a prostitute, Wessel lingered for more than a month before succumbing to blood poisoning.
As Wessel lay in the hospital, Goebbels wrote articles and speeches delivered by other Nazi leaders which sanctified him, referring to his killers as “degenerate communist subhumans”. The murderer was discovered to have been an acquaintance of the prostitute with whom Wessel shared living spaces, but the Nazis denied any further link between the two. Eventually, more than eleven people were charged with being complicit in Wessel’s murder, which the Nazi propaganda machine quickly turned into martyrdom. Goebbels eulogized him as a “Christian socialist” thereby distancing him and the Nazis further from the godless communists. Three years after the murder Hitler delivered a speech at Wessel’s grave, accompanied by the singing of the song Wessel had written, then known as the Horst Wessel Lied, an anthem which signified Nazi courage and sacrifice for greater Germany.
6. Anti-Jewish actions gained momentum during the depression
With the world’s economy led into a global depression following the collapse of the stock market in the United States, followed by international bank failures, the accusations of an international financial conspiracy led by Jews gained a wider audience. In the fall of 1930 the SA began overt actions against Jewish financial and mercantile interests, smashing shop windows and storefronts. Other, less reactionary German political parties lost strength to the Nazis and the Communists, and Hitler’s influence as the leader of the Nazi party grew with its increasing strength in the Reichstag. The conservative German government appeared helpless against the ravages of the depression, which Hitler blamed on a coalition of Jewish financial interests, western capitalists, and communists. SA and Nazi supporters continued to engage in violent confrontations on Germany’s streets.
The communist party in Germany was nearly equal in strength to the Nazis in the early 1930s, and responded to direction from Moscow, which saw the Nazis as the main threat to their influence in Berlin. From 1930-1932 the Center Party, a group of moderate conservatives, operated the coalition government of Germany with Heinrich Bruning as Chancellor, and Paul von Hindenburg as President. Hindenburg enjoyed the support of the Army, and Bruning used that alliance to govern without the support of the Reichstag, often in opposition to the elected representatives. Senior military officials actively lobbied for the support of the Nazi party, and in 1932, under pressure from his military advisers, Hindenburg removed Bruning from power and appointed Nazi sympathizer Franz von Papen Chancellor, a move Hitler was vocal in approving.
In the 1932 elections, the Nazi party achieved the largest body of membership representing the German people in the Reichstag, though a clear majority eluded them. Hitler, formerly a supporter of von Papen as Chancellor, demanded that he be appointed in his stead. Hindenburg responded by dissolving the Reichstag and another election was held in November. Following a summer of heavy street violence, much of it attributed to the Nazi SA, the party lost seats. Major General Kurt von Schleicher maneuvered himself into appointment as Chancellor, which led Hitler and von Papen to reach an accommodation. During the maneuvering between parties, the military, and the politicians Hitler was faced with another problem, which though he resolved it legally it continued to haunt him during attacks from his political rivals.
Hitler had been born in Austria, and was thus not a German citizen from birth, and not legally able to hold elected political office in Germany. He renounced his Austrian citizenship in 1925, but was not able to acquire German citizenship until 1931, when he was appointed to a minor post in the Free State of Brunswick. Still, the fact of his non-native status was political fodder for his opponents, who frequently referred to him as an Austrian in response to his claiming to be one with the German people. While Hitler dealt with the arguments over his citizenship, the SA continued its war in the streets with the communists, and German newspapers and radio constantly reported on the violence in the streets, competing with the propaganda machinery of the contending parties. In the spring of 1932 the violence increased as Adolf Hitler ran against Hindenburg in the presidential election.
8. The SA and SS were banned following the presidential elections
The election of Germany’s president took place in two cycles during February and April 1932, and Adolf Hitler lost readily to the popular war hero Hindenburg. Nonetheless Hitler received more the 13 million votes, though official Nazi Party membership was counted at less than one million. Three days after the election results were announced, the Nazi paramilitary groups were banned from the streets in response to actions they had taken against Jewish businesses. The emergency decree was repealed less than two months later, and the SA and SS returned to their demonstrations and conflicts with the dwindling communist groups. When the Nazis gained the upper hand in the Reichstag in July, the increasingly desperate KPD increased its attacks, and the Nazis responded with attacks on Jewish activities, blaming the violence on a Jewish-Communist international conspiracy.
In August the Nazis elected Hermann Goering as President of the Reichstag, and although Hitler was offered the position of Vice Chancellor of Germany by von Papen he declined. Instead he focused on pushing the Reichstag, through Goering, to enact laws levying severe penalties for acts of political violence, directed against the increasingly violent communist KPD. In the fall of 1932 Hindenburg was persuaded to appoint Hitler as Chancellor, and the new government was created in January, 1933, with von Papen as Vice Chancellor, a position he was offered in return for his persuasion of Hindenburg to appoint Hitler. The SA and SS conducted demonstrations in the streets of German cities, carrying the symbols of the Nazi Party in torch lit parades. A conservative cabinet prepared to work with the coalition government established by Hitler.
In February 1933, the British ambassador in Berlin wrote to the Foreign Office that in his opinion, the Nazis had “come to stay”. Hitler himself reinforced this opinion, telling a British writer, “I tell you that the National Socialist movement will go on for 1,000 years,” giving birth to the myth of the thousand year Reich. On February 27, 1933, a fire damaged much of the Reichstag, destroying much of its main chamber, where the members met, and gutting the offices and other rooms of the building. Hitler and Goebbels arrived at the scene while the fire was still burning, with both immediately declaring that the fire was arson, attributed to the communists. Whether the Nazis had set the fire themselves, as has been proposed by some historians, remains unknown, but Hitler immediately turned the fire to his political advantage.
Under German law, the Reichstag was allowed to pass a measure known as an Enabling Act, granting temporary authority to the Chancellor and the President to enact laws exclusive of the democratic process, as a form of martial law during a national emergency. Hitler and the Nazis argued that Germany was on the verge of civil war with the communists, and Hitler used the fire and the propaganda value accusing the communists of setting it to persuade Hindenburg to enact such a law suspending civil liberties. Following Hindenburg’s acquiescence, communists were banned from the Reichstag and mass arrests of those suspected of being communists began throughout Germany. With the communists deposed from the Reichstag the Nazis went from being a plurality to a majority, and as head of the Nazi party Hitler became the de facto dictator of Germany.
10. Hitler rules by decree for the next four years
Following the passage of the enabling act and the suppression of the communists, evicting them from the government to which they had been elected, Hitler was able to rule Germany by decree, issuing laws and suppressing civil liberties as he chose. Hindenburg remained in place as President, but he was little more than a figurehead to which Hitler deferred publicly, but ignored privately. On July 14, 1933, all political parties in Germany other than the Nazis were outlawed, and political activity which did not support National Socialism became a crime against the state. The governments of the German states were replaced with the machinery of the Nazi party, their authority coming from the central government in Berlin. Party membership became a prerequisite of government office. Hindenburg died in 1934, and rather than appoint himself to the presidency Hitler combined the offices into one, which he held as the Fuhrer, or leader, of the German people.
On the day of Hindenburg’s death Hitler took steps to ensure that the German military, who had to that time been loyal to the president, would from thence maintain unquestioning loyalty to him. It was not his idea. The oath originated with the military command in the hope that it would strengthen ties between the head of state and the army, to the detriment of Hitler’s links with the Nazi party. The oath required every soldier to swear loyalty to Hitler and the nation’s legal institutions, but in none of the forms of the oath (there were slightly different versions administered to civil servants and other positions) was the Nazi Party mentioned.
11. Nazification of the civil service was critical to Hitler’s power
In 1930s Germany the civil service included not only government workers, but also teachers and professors, officers of the courts including judges and prosecutors, and many other professionals. In April 1933 the Law for the Restoration of a Professional Civil Service was decreed, though with some objections from Hindenburg, which effectively banned Jews from the German civil service, and forced the removal of thousands of former civil servants from their positions. Many, in order to retain their posts, joined the Nazi Party. Others were forced into retirement or simply dismissed. The decree was later supplemented with a series of related ordinances which forced Jews and others known to have opposed National Socialism out of schools, under the guise of relieving overcrowding.
In January 1934, the separate German states were effectively abolished as political entities, reduced to provinces under a centralized government, and Germany for all practical purposes ceased to be a federal republic. The powers of the former states were formally transferred to the Chancellor and President, which Hitler then had combined into the same office through the Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich in August 1934 following the death of Hindenburg. The political moves were possible since the Nazis had banned all opposition in the Reichstag, but the support of the German people was still necessary. Hitler’s moves to control public opinion and gain public support were part of an all-encompassing propaganda campaign which emphasized the superiority of the Aryan race and the international conspiracies against it, led by Jewish control of the world’s economic system.
12. The Nazi “co-ordination” effort to control the minds of Germans
In the spring of 1933, Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels delivered a speech in which he stated that the purpose of propaganda was to “permeate the person it intends to grasp”. To Goebbels, successful propaganda seized control and shaped a person’s beliefs and attitudes without the person being aware that they were being, as it were, sculpted by another. Beginning in the spring of 1933, all persons in any position who did not fully support the Nazi philosophy and goals were purged, an important part of the civil service “reforms” installed by the Nazis. Another was the mandatory membership in youth organizations, beginning at the age of six for boys, and ten for girls. Following completion of the youth services boys were directed into the armed forces or the labor services. By 1936 over six million Germans were in the Hitler Youth.
In May, 1933, all labor unions in Germany were dissolved by decree and replaced with the Nazi run German Labor Front. Under its wing the party established an organization which it called Strength through Joy (Kraft durch Freude) which mandated all recreational organizations throughout Germany, whether they be football leagues or bridge clubs, be members, and thus under the control of the party and subject to its propaganda. The KDF operated recreation centers, organized day trips and vacation excursions, and held mandatory recreational events for workers across Germany, reaching a membership of more than 25 million before World War II. Other organizations were developed to structure worker activities within industry and in government positions, creating in Germany a situation in which the people were isolated from those the Nazis considered unworthy and suspect.
13. Hitler and Goebbels create the myth of the Nazi rise to power
As Hitler consolidated his political power and Goebbels continued to shape the minds of the German people, the party created the myth of the Nazi’s rise to power, in which they were forced to wrest control of Germany’s destiny from the treacherous hands of the Jews and communists. Anti-Jewish propaganda was relentless, presented continuously to the German people in schools and universities, from church pulpits, in radio broadcasts, films, posters, newspapers, magazines, and literature. During Hitler’s rise to power several newspapers and magazines warned against the excesses of the Nazi Party and its aims, and when Hitler achieved control of the government he moved quickly and ruthlessly to eliminate their voices, which he referred to collectively as the “poison kitchen”.
Chief among these political enemies was the Munich newspaper Munchener Post, which had been the subject of numerous legal actions by the Nazis for libel in the 1920s, and less than legal actions by the SA against their delivery vehicles, reporters, and editorial staff. In 1933, immediately after becoming Chancellor, Hitler had the SA seize the paper’s offices and destroy its files and records. Its staff was arrested and sent to concentration camps, a new entity created by the Nazis for the suppression of opposition. The street address of the Post was eliminated from Munich directories and never restored. The Post was just one of the many news outlets destroyed by the Nazis, replaced with the myth creating propagandists which were soon the only voice heard within Germany, other than those who met in secret, for the time being unable to stem the Nazi tide.
14. German rearmament preceded Hitler’s accession to power
Between 1918 and 1933, under the government of the Weimar Republic, the German military, supported by the federal government, began rearming in violation of the Versailles Treaty. The goal of the federal government was the creation of paramilitary organizations which could be rapidly absorbed into the army in case of national emergency. One of the reasons the government did not suppress the development of paramilitary organizations such as the SA, the SS, and the KPD, was the recognition that such forces could become part of a national army in the event of another war. After Hitler came to power in 1933 he made the rearming of Germany, already well underway, an open secret. Rearming became the government’s highest priority, both to enhance German prestige and to combat the Great Depression, then taking jobs from the German economy.
During the 1930s the rearmament of Germany led the German economy into near full employment. Jobs which were plentiful and which paid well enhanced the position of the Nazis in power, as well as helped create a revitalized Germany. By 1935, when the expanding German military strength was well known, Hitler revived conscription in Germany. That same year the British and Germans agreed to a new naval treaty which allowed the German fleet to expand to 35% of the tonnage of the British fleet, which exceeded the limitations imposed by the Versailles Treaty, and which was reached without the approval of England’s French ally. Germany had already begun construction of a new U-Boat fleet, which began to deploy in 1935, another violation of the Versailles Treaty. Britain chose to follow the path of accepting German rearmament under agreed limitations, rather than oppose it vigorously.
15. The creation of the Gestapo and the crushing of the SA leadership
When Hitler became Chancellor Hermann Goering was named as the Interior Minister of Prussia, the largest German state and the one possessing the largest police force. Goering detached the intelligence and political sections of the Prussian police, purged them of non-Nazis, and replaced them with fervent Nazi loyalists, creating the Geheime Staatspolizei, which became known as the Gestapo. In April 1934, under the direction of Hitler, Goering transferred control of the Gestapo to Heinrich Himmler, who was named head of all German police outside of Prussia on April 20, 1934. By the spring of 1934 the power of the SA and its leadership was viewed as a potential threat by Himmler, Goering, and Hitler, and curbing its influence though infiltration became a Nazi priority. Their view was supported by senior German military leaders.
At the end of June 1934, Himmler’s SS and the Gestapo carried out a series of assassinations of senior SA officers who had been instrumental in the Nazi rise to power but were by then viewed as a threat by the Nazi leadership. The murders were sometimes simply acts of revenge for past slights, to settle old scores, or to remove rivals. At least 85 murders were carried out, mostly by the SS, and there are estimates that the killings may have numbered in the hundreds. Another thousand or more Germans who had once been opposed to the Nazis disappeared into concentration camps and prisons. The Night of the Long Knives, as it became known, was so named from a long-standing German phrase for vengeful retribution. Upon its completion Hitler addressed the Reichstag during which he established himself as the final arbiter of justice in Germany. The Gestapo became one of the most feared of the Nazi organizations.
16. Hitler controls nearly all aspects of German society
By 1935, the Nazi Party – and by extension its head, Adolf Hitler – controlled nearly all of Nazi society with the notable exception of the churches. Many of these also fell into compliance with Nazi philosophy, particularly in regards to policies concerning Germany’s Jews. Others continued to resist, though often covertly, concerned with the prevalence of the Gestapo and its many spies throughout German society. Throughout the remainder of the 1930s and in fact throughout the ensuing war in Europe, the Nazi regime sought to suppress dissent from the churches and religious schools through the issuance of decrees which eliminated Christian symbols and ceremonies, and which attempted to create a national religion by combining the Christian protestant churches under state control.
A special barracks was erected at the Dachau concentration camp for the imprisonment of clergy, eventually more than 2,700 members of the clergy were imprisoned there, more than 2,500 of them Catholics. Other clergymen of all faiths vanished into Gestapo cells and were never seen again. Hitler promised not to interfere with the practice of religion when he assumed power, a promise he immediately broke, and suppression continued throughout his regime. It was one area of German life which he could not completely bring under his control, though efforts to do so continued until the collapse of the Reich in 1945. Hitler decided not to implement plans for the complete destruction of Christianity in Germany until after the war, when he intended to restore the pagan rituals of Germanic history under a thirty point plan which included replacing the Christian cross with the swastika and the bible with Mein Kampf.
17. Hitler’s territorial ambitions begin in the Rhineland
The Versailles Treaty had established that German military forces and fortifications would not be allowed in the area known as the Rhineland, and that Allied forces would not withdraw from the region until 1935. In fact the Allies withdrew their occupation troops in 1929 (British) and 1930 (French) as part of the negotiations over the German payment of war reparations. The year before the French withdrew they began construction of the series of forts along the French frontier which became known as the Maginot Line. For the first half of the 1930s French, Italian, British, and Soviet diplomats maneuvered over various means of containing Germany within its borders, and in 1935 France and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of alliance, which the Germans declared was a violation of the Versailles Treaty.
By 1935 the German economy was again faltering, with inflation and food shortages driving up prices and German support of the Nazi regime falling, especially in the larger cities. Hitler, desirous of a prestige building foreign policy victory, decided to remilitarize the Rhineland in January 1936. Although Goering counseled against the decision and even attempted to persuade Mussolini to dissuade the Fuhrer, the German army marched into the Rhineland beginning in March, 1936, supported by Luftwaffe aircraft. Hitler followed his coup by offering to return Germany to the League of Nations and offered a treaty of non-aggression to the French. France, which was most threatened by the German move, did nothing to oppose it militarily, and Hitler knew from that point that his other territorial desires in Europe were feasible.
When Hitler wrote Mein Kampf he stated within it his intention to unite Germany and Austria, despite several formerly Austrian territories being occupied by the Italians. As he moved towards annexing Austria Mussolini at first opposed him, until he was personally reassured by the German Chancellor that there would be no demands for the cession of territory by Italy. Hitler’s desire to annex Austria into the Reich has long been explained as being motivated by the desire to unite all of the Germanic people but in fact he had more mercenary reasons for absorbing the Austrian state. Austria was wealthy in many of the materials needed by the ever-increasing German military buildup, including iron and textiles, magnesium, and other products required of the German economy and growing war machine. The primary means by which Hitler convinced the Austrians to support him was through propaganda.
The slogan, Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer was displayed prominently in Germany and Austria, and the Austrian Nazi Party used tactics similar to those it had used successfully in Germany to terrorize opponents and shape public opinion. The Austrian government responded by rounding up Nazis and imprisoning them, leading to a German boycott of Austria. In the mid-1930s Hermann Goering was the loudest voice in Germany calling for Austrian annexation. By 1937 both Austria and Czechoslovakia were targets for German military takeover, to be plundered for their raw materials and industrial bases. Hitler eventually seized Austria though the threat of military invasion and conquest, which was covered by a referendum which established the desire of the Austrian people to join the Reich. Opposition was rapidly suppressed by the SS. The plebiscite vote to ratify annexation was held throughout Germany and Austria and was claimed by the Nazis to represent over 99% approval.
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