In March 1932, the German National Socialist or Nazi Party expected elections to catapult them into power. Instead, they suffered a massive slap in the face when the German people once again plumped for safe, conservative politics in the form of Heinrich Bruning’s Catholic Centre party and the German president Paul Von Hindenburg. The Nazis had to settle for a frustrating second. However, with Germany economically and politically unstable, more elections were sure to follow. The problem for the Nazis was, how could they court the electorate’s favor and win next time around?
Party officials decided the National Socialist’s radical image needed softening. The party’s leader, Adolf Hitler, in particular, came across as a firebrand revolutionary. This fact, plus his blatant anti-Semitism was off-putting to an electorate drawn to the comfortable, conservative pre-war image of Hindenburg et al. which recalled better days. So, Hitler, the revolutionary became Hitler, the Bavarian country gentleman in a media campaign orchestrated by Heinrich Hoffman. In January 1933, the Nazi’s finally achieved their goal when the newly marketed Hitler finally became Chancellor. But how much of this success was due to his image change?
Hitler, The National Socialist Revolutionary
The National Socialist Workers Party or Nazi party grew up in a disaffected Germany broken by the First World War. Initially, they were just one of many small, marginal movements- until an ex-army corporal called Adolf Hitler joined them. Hitler believed that Germany had lost the war because of the enemies within rather than on the battlefield. He believed that Jews and communists had somehow made the German people believe they had lost and ultimately led to Germany’s surrender. Armed with this warped view and belief in the power of propaganda and rhetoric, Hitler planned to use it for himself. So he brought organization to the party- and also put his dynamic style of oratory to good use at rallies.
The Great Depression of 1929-30 exacerbated Germany’s troubles. Chronic economic hardship and the inability of the Weimar government to deal with this made more ordinary people receptive to the Nazi message. Hitler was careful to tailor this message to appeal to particular audiences. When addressing the working classes and ex-soldiers, he promised to pull Germany out of the depression. He also exonerated ordinary German’s from blame for Germany’s defeat by presenting the Jews to them as a scapegoat. However, this anti-Semitic message was played down for businessmen. Instead, Hitler promised them that he would overthrow the Treaty of Versailles which had robbed Germany of her lucrative colonies.
Circumstances and the messages seemed to work in the Nazi’s favor. In the 1928 elections, the party only managed to secure 2.6% of the vote. By the elections of 1930, that percentage had rocketed up to 18.3%, making the Nazis the second largest party in the country. However, more was needed to secure power legitimately, something Hitler fervently believed in after the failed revolution of the violent Munich Putsch in 1923, which led to his imprisonment.
The problem was, not everyone was convinced. Nazi rallies, especially those with an anti-Semitic or anti-communist message tended to erupt into violence due to the impassioned speeches of the future Fuhrer. This violent prejudice did little to endear Hitler and the party to the bourgeoisie middle classes and women. To them, Hitler was not a war hero and recipient of both the Iron cross First and Second class but a convicted revolutionary and traitor and an anti-Semite who fermented violence. Instead, these groups preferred to stick with the ineffectual but safe conservative regime of the president Paul Von Hindenburg and his chancellors.
For the very same reason, those same conservative factions in government balked at doing political deals with the Nazis, preferring instead to deal with less hard-line parties. So in March 1932, the Hitler’s party found itself in a frustrating position. The Nazis may have remained the remained the second largest party with Hitler increasing their share of the vote to 36.8%. Hindenburg, however, refused to do a deal with them. So to take power, they needed to win outright. And that meant winning over the conservative voters. Hitler’s image needed a makeover.