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Friday, 20 January 2017

How did Hitler comer to power?

Hitler and Himmler
The Nazis was one of the most evil and destructive forces in history. Adolf Hitler ran a regime based on far-right authoritarianism, social Darwinism, and racism which culminated in one of the worst genocides in human history in the form of the Holocaust. Many people who did not live at the time of the Nazis wondered how did such an group manage to get to power. Today we shall look at how Hitler came to power.

Up to the Beer Hall Putsch
The origin of Hitler's rise to power lies in the ruins of Europe at the end of World War One. Wartime food shortages, business closures, and military setbacks had caused political unrest across Germany, and the Bolshevik revolution in neighboring Russia had shown a way how to eliminate these issues. on November 8 1918 Independent Social Democratic Party member Kurt Eisner led a bloodless revolt leading to the establishment of an independent soviet Bavaria. A day later the German kaiser, Wilhelm II, abdicated, the chancellor resigned leading German Social Democrat Party (SPD) member Friedrich Ebert to become chancellor (he said 'It is a difficult office, but I will assume it'). A few days after an armistice was signed ending the war in Europe. In January communists Rose Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht led an uprising, with their group the Spartacists, in Berlin only to be brutally crushed when Ebert aligned himself the far-right Freikorps, (an armed far-right militia). Across Germany the communist and socialist uprisings were one by one defeated. However, in June 1919 the new German republic (called the Weimar Republic as it had been formed in Weimar as Berlin was under Spartacist control) earned the condemnation of the political right. The Treaty of Versailles which ended World War One, (for Germany), was hated.
The Treaty of Versailles
In the Treaty Germany: lost land to Belgium, France, Denmark, and Poland; lost all of its overseas territories; had to say that it caused the outbreak of the war; demilitarized the Rhineland; restricted the size of Germany's army and navy; and Germany had to pay 20 billion (US $5 billion) in money or other goods. This caused outrage across Germany. Wartime censorship had hidden most of Germany's military defeats from the public eye, and foreign troops were not on German land so many people assumed that they had been winning the war. Thus the 'stab in the back legend' was born. Figures including Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg claimed that Germany could have won the war if communists, socialists, the Weimar republic, and Jews of betraying the German military. The Weimar politicians earned the nickname 'the November criminals'. Over the next few years the fledgling democratic republic would come into crisis. Failure to repay reparations led to massive inflation, called 'hyperinflation', where the German currency became so worthless that one US dollar would be equivalent of 4.2 billion marks. France and Belgium had occupied the Ruhr region until they got paid, a far-right attempted putsch under Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 failed, a left-wing workers' uprising broke out in the Ruhr region, and Ebert (now president) had to declare a state of emergency 134 in 1924 alone. It was during this time that Hitler came onto the scene.

Although born in Austria Hitler wanted to live in Germany and after serving in the army during the war he ended up in Munich. Shortly after the war ended a party called the German Workers' Party (DAP), based off of the principals of anti-semitism, far-right nationalism, and anti-communism. In September 1919 Hitler joined and quickly rose through the ranks thanks to his skills at debating and giving speeches. In February 1920 Drexler and Hitler reorganized the DAP to become the Nationalist Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), or the Nazi party. This new party had a 25 point program whose aims included from reclaiming lost German land, bringing in pensions for the elderly, and excluding Jews from many lines of work. The Nazis formed a paramilitary group called the SA, led by Ernst Rohm, whose job was to intimidate Jews, liberals, socialists and communists. Hitler also adopted the swastika as the symbol of the party. Soon Hitler had replaced Drexler and started a personality cult with people referring to him as f├╝hrer (leader). Membership of the Nazi party grew exponentially as people became attracted by Hitler's emotional speeches, and young unemployed men were eager to join the SA. In 1922 Benito Mussolini managed to lead a march on Rome with his fascist blackshirts and establish a fascist regime in Italy. This inspired Hitler to do the same. As France and Belgium occupied the Ruhr, hyperinflation had decimated the savings of the population, and general crisis Hitler managed to enlist the support of influential general Erich Ludendorff. When the leaders of the Bavarian government were waiting to do a speech in a beer hall on November 8 1923 Hitler, Ludendorff, their associates, and 603 SA members burst into the hall with Hitler saying 'The national revolution has broken out! The hall is filled with six hundred men. Nobody is allowed to leave.' He declared that a new Bavarian government under Ludendorff had been formed. When Hitler left the Bavarian politicians said that they would support the putsch and Ludendorff allowed them to leave. Instead they informed the authorities who ended the putsch the next day leading to sixteen putschers dead and many arrested (Hitler himself almost was killed. The person standing right next to him was shot by the police and killed). Hitler was arrested but he had a sympathetic judge who gave him a light sentence in Landsberg Prison.
The Putsch
Prison to the Great Depression
Hitler's time in prison was surprisingly pleasant for someone who had tried to overthrow the government. He had a very large cell to himself, received letters and gifts from supporters, and had plenty of time to write his memoir called Mein Kampf (My Struggle). Half of his memoir is devoted to telling an embellished story of his life while the other half is devoted to his views of race and politics. Hitler was released from prison on December 20 1924. Although Mein Kampf never became widely read until Hitler came to power did give him a popularity boost, and the putsch had made him a quasi-celebrity. It did not help matters much with the 1924 December elections though as the Nazis and their proxy parties barely received 3% of the national vote. However, Hitler had a propaganda campaign where he intended to channel anger over the Treaty of Versailles, economic turmoil, and the rise of new media (such as 'decadent' art and movies) into anger at Jews, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and the left. In 1924/5 the Barmat Scandal helped when the Jewish Barmat brothers were first accused of war profiteering by buying food in the Netherlands and then selling it in Germany, and for having preferable agreements with the SPD. Hitler, and other right-wing figures, used this as a way of painting an image of Jews and left-wingers of betraying Germany. However, the Nazis were soon declining. Thanks to Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann he managed to get an easing of reparations, a loan from the United States, and for French and Belgian troops to leave the Ruhr which eased a lot of Germany's economic issues. As a result Hitler started to lose the thing which he had been using to attack ethnic minorities and the left with. In the 1928 election the Nazis got less than 3% of the vote and when Ebert died Hitler put forward Ludendorff to run as president. He barely got 1% of the votes and von Hindenburg became president. Party membership was only at 130,000. It looked like the Nazis would be a temporary threat to the security of the Weimar Republic; the Great Depression changed that.

After the Depression
In 1929 the Wall Street Crash led to the worst economic crisis in years and issued in the Great Depression. German unemployment rose from 1.5 million in 1929 (the German economy still was not sound), to 6 million. Production dropped by 58%. Both the Nazis and the German Communist Party (KPD) gained mass support. Clashes between the SA and the  KPD militia Rotfront led to the banning of the two militias which inadvertently boosted their popularity and the ban had to be lifted. Hitler's vitriol grew as he started targeting Jews and other 'undesirables' in his speeches. In January 1930 a young SA member Horst Wessel was killed by communists which was used by Hitler's propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, to make a martyr for the Nazis. The song Horst Wessel Lied became the anthem for the party and was used to attack communists. In October 1930 the Nazis launched their first campaign of violence against Jews by having the SA smash the windows of Jewish-owned stores in the Potsdamer Platz. Meanwhile, the coalition government collapsed. Under Hermann Muller there had been a 'Grand Coalition' of the SDP, the Centre Party, the liberal DDP, and center right DVP. This coalition collapsed thanks to the Depression which Hitler used to show the weaknesses of democracy. Through a use of propaganda the Nazis in 1930 went from having 12 seats in the Reichstag (the German parliament) to 107 earning over six million votes and becoming the second largest party.
An example of Hitler's antisemitism
In 1932 President Hindenburg wanting a more right wing government appointed Heinrich Bruning of the Catholic Centre Party as chancellor. Bruning was deeply unpopular. He tried to ban both the SA and Rotfront which failed and earned him condemnation from both the Nazis and KPD. His austerity measures drove the poorer peoples into the arms of either the KPD or Nazis and people started calling for him to be hung. His train carriage was often pelted with stones and eggs. His excessive use of Article 48 (which let the president do whatever he wished without consulting the Reichstag, although chancellors could also use it) and him banning over 100 publications which criticized him further entrenched his unpopularity. Hindeburg replaced him in the June of 1932 with General Staff officer and nobleman Franz von Papen. Von Papen was not popular and he could not stem the rising popularity of Hitler. Thousands were donating money to the Nazi party and the Nazi propaganda network was drawing support to the party as Hitler began to be seen as the 'savior' of Germany from communist domination. Ideas of Germany being a great nation destined to conquer the East, and anger channeled at Jews, minorities, and homosexuals won the Nazis lots of support. However, the Nazis were slowly going bankrupt thanks to this propaganda campaign. In the 1932 elections Hitler flew to five different cities a day to generate support. It made him more popular but had started to deplete the funds of the Nazis. However, von Papen had a coup orchestrated in Prussia which ousted the center-left coalition and broke the SDP's power base which the Nazis soon occupied. In December 1932 Hindenburg replaced von Papen with General Kurt von Schleicher who was unable to successfully do anything thanks to weak rule and Nazi intransigence. In what historian Alan Bullock called 'the back stairs intrigue' Hindeburg and von Papen thought of a plan to halt the rise of the Nazis, halt the rise of the communists, and to control Hitler. In the November election of 1932 Hitler lost 34 seats allowing the KPD to become the third largest party. Hindeburg made Hitler a deal: Hitler would become chancellor if von Papen became his vice-chancellor. January 30 1933 Hitler was made German chancellor.

Forming the Dictatorship
The Reichstag Fire
Hitler did not automatically become dictator on January 30 1933. On February 27 1933 a Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe set fire to the Reichstag building. There has been much debate as to whether van der Lubbe did start the fire although noted historian Ian Kershaw has stated that he did start the fire. The debate today largely centers on whether he was alone or if he had an accomplice. The Nazis blamed a communist conspiracy and Hitler said 'These sub-humans do not understand how the people stand at our side. In their mouse-holes, out of which they now want to come, of course they hear nothing of the cheering of the masses.' Following the fire the Reichstag Fire Decree was signed by Hindenburg passing Article 48 suspending habaeus corpus, freedom of speech and the press, and the right to free assembly. Hitler also had many communists arrested including KPD leader Ernst Thalmann. Before Hitler could solidify his power he had another election to try and get between 50 and 55% of the vote. However, with the KPD and SPD being either arrested or harassed by the SA this prompted Hitler to have the Enabling Act put forward which would give him dictatorial powers. In the Koll Opera House the act was passed. Just over a year later Hitler had managed to have the SA and political opponents purged in the Night of the Long Knives and had become dictator when Hindeburg died of old age allowing Hitler to become president as well as chancellor. Thus a murderous far-right regime had come to power that would rule with an iron fist, and would proceed to commit one of the largest genocides in history.

The rise of Hitler is something that we must know. By knowing how Hitler came to power we can try and prevent it from happening again. The West German, and later German, constitution was set up to avoid such a regime from rising again. It could happen anywhere else. The memories of the Nazi regime is a stark reminder to humanity that this must never happen again.

The sources I have used are as follows:
-The Third Reich: A New History by Michael Burleigh
-Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris by Ian Kershaw

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! I wondered if you've heard of GHDI. It's a brilliant resource with some amazing photographs. They've also got a transcript of SDP Chairman Otto Wels's final defiant speech in the Reichstag.