Nazism: How Was It Possible? Essay, Research Paper
Reasons for the increasing support given to NSDAP by the German people in the period 1923 – 1936.The NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), who were in the early 1920s, ?a small and not particularly distinctive element in the multifarious and fragmented German volkisch movement? had become by 1936 the ruling organisation of German society. There were many factors influencing the German mass support to swing towards the party during 1923-36. In the face of economic turmoil, the overbearing influence of foreign countries on their Fatherland and the inability of presiding governments in dealing with crisis, the German people lived in national outrage and desperation. These feelings were further heightened by events such as the French invasion of the Ruhr, hyperinflation, and the depression. The period?s lack of continuity and lack of progressive change under the Weimar Republic had caused Germany?s people to lose confidence in their country?s future and they began to believe that under the Republic, Germany will never be able emerge from the chaos to it?s rightful position in the world stage. In the background of such social turmoil, the ruthlessly opportunistic Nazi leadership began accumulating support as a result of desperate people searching for desperate solutions. Willing to use any situation to their own advantage they portrayed themselves as the only solution to Germany?s problems. No where else to turn, the people began giving their support to the NSDAP. In addition to the social conditions of post-war Germany, the party?s well-organised and closely controlled nature, enabling strong and enthusiastic following behind the leadership was also an important factor in drawing public support, and so was Hitler?s extraordinary gift for speech making, which the Nazis used to the highest possible advantage. Later after 1933 with the Nazis in power, support was maintained through aggressive propaganda, which made much of Hitler?s domestic, and foreign policy successes. Although the achievements of the Nazi administration were quite extraordinary it was this constant propaganda that persuaded the people that all was well in the Third Reich.
There are three key events that broke the continuity of post-war Germany and led to great social unrest. This loss of continuity corresponds to changes in the relationship between NSDAP and the German people. The period progressed through three different phases as a consequence of these events. Firstly there was the French takeover of the Ruhr in 1923, sparking off an era of hyperinflation, renewed nationalist outrage, and social turmoil. Then in 1929, just as the economy was stabilising the Great Depression hit Germany and ?stopped it dead in it?s tracks?. This triggered a mass social turn towards extremism as the people started searching for radical solutions. And finally the appointment of Hitler as chancellor sealed the fate of democratic Germany and the Weimar Republic and began the Nazi rule in Germany. The overall changes in the Nazi party?s progress and success in electoral terms correspond to ?the events of discontinuity? quite clearly as outlined by Sebastian Haffner in The Meaning of Hitler; ??In the 1920s through his oratory and demagogy Hitler hardly ever gained more than 5% of all Germans as his followers; in the Reichstag elections of 1928 it was 2.5%. The next 40% were driven into his arms by the economic plight of 1930-33 and by the total helpless failure of all other governments and parties in the face of that plight. The remaining decisive, 50% he gained after 1933 mainly through his achievements.?
The renewed sense of national outrage and desperation caused by the French takeover of the Ruhr and hyperinflation in 1923 provided Hitler with an opportunity to lift the NSDAP?s public profile. Although the attempted putsch in Munich failed (after which he realised that power must be taken by ?legal? means) he used the trial to his great advantage. Using the bitter anti-French and anti-anything-foreign sentiment that prevailed, he reminded the public of the Treaty of Versailles, the ?November Criminals?, the ?stab in the back? legend and the pathetically weak and divided governments from the past and present that were unable to look after the peoples interests as they were spending their time quarrelling amongst themselves. Then he called for unity under a strong leader, defiance of the Treaty of Versailles and the foreign powers, the remilitarisation of Germany and everything else the public wished for. The trial lasted 24 days and reached the front pages on a daily basis. With the eyes of Germany on him ?he pleaded guilty. Not for treason ? but for patriotism.? Most Germans living in the economic chaos of hyperinflation sympathised to a great extent with his voiced opinions and this layed down the beginnings of the Nazi party?s support.
However the NSDAP failed to extend on this good fortune as the leadership had become fragmented during Hitler?s term in jail. Therefore Hitler spent the next five years reorganising, restructuring and reunifying the party under his control. Although they did not make much of an impact on the electorate, the party had now become a highly efficient, enthusiastic and tightly knit political force, much unlike the government coalitions. This attracted many patriots, militarists and anyone else who felt the need for a strong government under a decisive leader. This was specially evident during the depression era.
Hitler?s own oratory skills and personality was an effective and vital instrument in the hands of the Nazis. Preferring to draw on the audience?s emotions he would keep the content pitched at the lowest level. Making them listen to what they wanted to hear would give the responders a sense of security which they would compare with the instability of the country. As Gregor Strasser observed, Hitler had an ability to read the collective mind of the congregation; ?Hitler responds to the vibration of the human heart with the delicacy of a seismograph… enabling him, with a certainty with which no conscious gift could endow him, to act as a loudspeaker proclaiming the most secret desires, the least permissible instincts, the sufferings and personal revolts of a whole nation.” Frequently arriving late to create a tense atmosphere he would begin almost all his speeches in a hesitant manner as if waiting to receive some sort of response from his audience. He would then build up tempo and manage to take everyone else with him to the climax. The reactions of the audience was reported by an American journalist Stanley High; ?When, at the climax, he sways from one side to the other, his listeners sway with him; when he leans forward they also lean forward and when he concludes they either are awed and silent or on their feet in a frenzy.”
Hitler?s personality was also used by Nazi propaganda experts to attract and gain the support of many Germans who had no one else to place their patriotic pride in. Later when in power the ?Fuhrer myth? was to play an important part in maintaining the enthusiastic support of the public.
The NSDAP was able to target a broad range of social groups with their energetic and tireless campaigning. The strategy used was to adjust the content of their propaganda to suit the audience. Hitler himself used this method quite masterfully in his speeches. When he spoke to the workers he would complain about foreign exploiters, Jewish capitalists and promise the end of unemployment. If the audience were members of an exclusive industrial club, he would rage against communism and promise to keep the unions under control. If he was campaigning in rural Germany his speeches would idolise farmers and passionately endorse the superiority of pure rural Germany over the cosmopolitan urban Germany. The theme of ?stab in the back?, and the ?November criminals? was repeatedly used to rekindle the anger and bitterness. The propaganda experts of the NSDAP used the prevailing weather of political turmoil and economic crisis to draw support.
Support although stretched across a large social base, was not randomly distributed across all German society. The urban lower-middle class and rural landlords made up the majority of supporters. Then came the rural peasantry, the militarists, the monarchists and the Junkers. The party however could not gain the support of the majority of urban workers, the unemployed and the industrialists until much later.
From 1926-1932 and especially after 1929 the NSDAP began gaining a large part of its support from rural Germany. The agricultural sector felt the effects of the depression earlier than rest of Germany and the NSDAP had by 1926 shifted their campaign focus from the unresponsive urban to rural Germany. Part of the NSDAP ?Blut und Boden? (Blood and Soil) ideal included the preservation of the sanctity of German soil and protection of the farmer who was to be the backbone of the German people. Reminding them of their economic predicament the NSDAP promised agrarian reform (ie redistribution of land), end of reparations, end of depression and protection against foreign competition. Through such promises, the Nazi achieved their first electoral breakthroughs in rural Germany.
Much of the rural working-class also gave their support to the National Socialists. Majority of the rural landlords who provided the hardcore support for the NSDAP managed to influence the land-less pheasants to give their support to the party. Their urban counterparts on the other hand preferred to vote for the KPD. However during the depression many from the working-class became dissatisfied with SPD (with whom they had previously held their allegiance) and a large minority preferred national socialism to communism.
The social and cultural innovation during the Stresemann era had seen a rise in nudity and open homosexuality in the club scenes. This along with a renaissance of experimentalist and avant-garde art and architecture alienated many conservatives who linked modernisation with decadence. Many of them also felt that the DNVP were not protecting their interests in parliament and therefore gave their support to the NSDAP instead. Conservatives believed the traditional values they desperately wanted to maintain would be strongly embraced by the Nazis.
The real hardcore members of the Nazi supporters came from the patriotic (and influential) Junkers and landed gentry with militarist sympathies and traditions. They felt that their positions would be secure from communism under a Nazi government. In addition to the nationalistic ideals on which the party was based on, these people were attracted to the strong unity and discipline showed by the members of the paramilitary. The SA and SS parades attracted many patriots who admired the courage shown by the young men in times of desperation. As Albert Speer recalled; “my mother saw a Storm Trooper parade … the sight of discipline in a time of chaos, the impression of energy in an atmosphere of universal hopelessness, seems to have won her over also.”
However the majority of Nazi supporters were from the Mittelstand (lower middle class). The German Mittelstand was comprised of small businessmen, independent artisans, small shopkeepers and the self-employed. During the depression support from the Mittelstand dramatically increased. The constant fear of sinking down to working class and unemployment as well as the hatred towards the communists, the big businesses and the trade unions was manipulated by the Nazis into more votes. The NSDAP propaganda excited their fears by predicting communist revolutions and reminding them of the helplessness of the government to counter the depression which threatened to drag them down into unemployment or even worse – the working class. As Dick Geary suggests, the NSDAP ?in it?s combination of anti-socialist and anti-big business rhetoric? was the ideal party for the lower middle class to give their support to when there was no one else around.
NSDAP attracted the youth by portraying the movement as ?a dynamic inspirer of youth? and when contrasted with the ?sclerosis of the traditional right? it proved to be an appealing option. The propaganda messages pitched at the lowest level was designed to provide an easy alternative for any patriotic and insecure youth living during a time of national disgrace and economic turmoil. The Hitler Youth set up in 1926 provided means of attracting the younger non-voting Germany and indoctrinate them with Nazi ideology.
The industrialists who were sceptical of the NSDAP?s pro-socialist wing became somewhat convinced of the party?s anti-communists stand after 1929 when NSDAP joined the anti-young coalition. However support from industrialists was rare as with the unemployed who tended to vote for the KPD.
The widely unpopular Young Plan of 1928 gave Hitler another opportunity to increase the NSDAP public profile. An anti-Young coalition formed by the right wing parties brought the rich press baron and respectable National Party leader, Alfred von Hugenburg into contact with Hitler. Hitler soon had Hugenburg?s resources at his disposal. Using his expertise in propaganda techniques he was able to put forward an image as the front man and leading force of the anti-Young coalition. No German could now ignore the NSDAP?s presence. The alliance with Hugenburg also brought to the Nazis a respectability that was desperately needed. The violence of the SA although useful when dealing with politicians, tended to scare off many middle-of-the-road voters. With this raise in social status they were regarded much more seriously by the wealthy conservatives and monarchists etc. This is another one of many instances where Hitler was able to use circumstances to his own advantage.
The republic looked incredibly weak in the face of depression. As Geoff Spencely observed: ?As world markets and investments collapsed, economic activity declined everywhere while unemployment increased dramatically. Few countries were affected as badly as Germany, however, and the Weimar Republic visibly wilted under the strain.? The German people were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the divided and squabbling politicians who governed them. In all it?s history there was never a single-party government and the coalition governments were ineffective in passing decisive legislation that was needed in such circumstances. Many, who looked at the NSDAP?s internal strength and unity and Hitler?s wonderful promises of a strong and powerful Germany, saw the Nazis as a solution to Germany?s problems.
The September 1930 elections saw the NSDAP achieve tremendous support. This resulted primarily from the circumstances in which the elections were held. The Great Depression brought Germany and the Republic down on its knees. A combined opposition defeated Br?ning?s policy of deflation and every other program suggested by the government. The frustrated chancellor attempted to implement his programs as presidential emergency decrees. The Reichstag voted for its withdrawal, forcing Hindenburg to call for elections. The NSDAP rose to prominence as the second largest party after the SPD. They had attained 107 seats (18.3%) compared to 12 seats (2.6%) of the 1928 elections.
The deflationist policies employed by the Br?ning government during 1930-32 to battle depression, although courageous (because it was political suicide), were widely unpopular with the public as they asked for considerable sacrifices to be made. Hitler, the ruthless opportunist, decided to use this public discontentment to attack and enkindle contempt and anger towards the republic. Again this meant more support for the Nazis as the public felt they had no one else to turn to.
The continuation of depression led the desperate German people to look for more extremist options. Parties like the KPD and the NSDAP began accumulating mass support. The importance of the Great Depression as a reason for the dramatic increase in support for the NSDAP is highlighted by Victor Schliff; ?If there is indeed a point on which there is? no deference of opinion among us, it must surely be that Hitler owes his rise and his ultimate victory essentially to the World Economic Crisis; to the despair of the unemployed proletariat; to the academically trained youth for whom there is no future; to the middle class businessman and craftsman heading for bankruptcy and the farmers threatened with a fall in agricultural pricing.? Chancellor Br?ning and the right wing had grown radically anti-republican and they drove Germany into even greater depression, causing the German masses to loose confidence in the republic. The influential right wing?s efforts to keep the republican governments weak had sealed the fate of Weimar. With Br?ning as chancellor and Hindenburg (another ardent monarchist) as president, the republic was in the hands of a leadership that didn?t want it to exist. The anti-republican sentiment drove many more voters into the hands of the Nazis. This was first seen in the presidential elections of March 1932 where Hitler received 36.8% of votes (Hindenburg was re-elected with 53%) and then in the local elections and finally in the Reichstag elections in July where the NSDAP won 37.4% of the Reichstag with 230 of it?s members in parliament.
Once Hitler became chancellor in 1933 he sought to cut away the chains that bound him to the ?captive chancellery?. This had to be done by achieving the first single-party government in the history of the Reichstag. To gain an absolute majority Hitler began a vigorous campaign. His ?Appeal to the German People? on the 31 January of 1933 set the tone as the NSDAP propaganda machine began to sing to the well-worn tune of ?stab in the back?. Blaming the ?November parties? (social democrats), Jews and the communists for all of Germany?s problems he called for national ?unity of mind and will?. In effect he was asking the people to give up any allegiance to the weak, divisive parties and to join together under the NSDAP. By this stage the German public knowing, and being further impounded by the continuous propaganda, of the ineffectiveness of the Weimar Republic and the notion of democracy during crisis, looked favourably at Hitler?s offers of unity, strong leadership and decisive government. With the newly found resources of the state, brought to the hand of the NSDAP through Hitler?s chancellorship they was able to present their message to an unprecedented audience.
The Nazis suffered a setback at the elections of March 1933, achieving only 43.9% of votes, which although was an improvement from the previous election, it was still a long way off from a definitive majority. This can be attributed to the street violence of the SA, which had turned off many voters. However by the end of 1933 (after the Enabling Act was passed and all other political parties banned) the plebiscite on Nazi administration and foreign policy received a 90% vote of approval. In the elections that were held simultaneously the NSDAP finally achieved a majority. 87.8% of the people who turned out to the ballot boxes voted for the only party on the ballot paper. This indicated that the propaganda had been effective and consequently support for the Nazi party had increased.
If the Nazis were to have any hope of continuing their regime they needed to make sure that they had the support of the Reichswehr. The army warned Hitler that this would not happen until the SA and its leader Rohm were stripped of their power. The SA was now two million strong and Rohm had intentions of taking over the army. Hitler himself knew that the unorganised and untrained SA were only effective for parading and bashing up politicians and could not be used against a well trained foreign army. On 30 June 1934 Hitler began a purge that saw the end of Rohm, von Schleicher, Kurt von Bredow and the leadership of the SA. This act was applauded by the army and also by Hindenburg who sent telegrams congratulating Hitler. The industrialists were also happy with this development, as they had been fearful of Rohm who wanted nationalisation of industries. Now at last with the support of the most influential groups in Germany, Hitler was practically free to do anything he wished.
During the period of 1933-36, Hitler?s domestic and foreign policy successes contributed greatly to increasing support for the Nazi regime. In the eyes of almost all Germans, Hitler?s complete disregard for the hated Treaty of Versailles was a greatly estimable virtue. After withdrawing from the League of Nations (which was regarded as the victor?s league), he introduced general conscription and German troops were sent to remilitarise the Rhineland. Both were clear breaches of the Peace Treaty and the Locarno Pact and both were extraordinarily successful. The German people were delighted at the reaction, or more accurately, the lack of any reaction from the British and French. Although they were afraid of another war, by now the public had placed its pride, trust and support in their F?hrer.
The NSDAP?s administration of domestic affairs was also a great source of pride for the German people. Inheriting the burden of six million unemployed Germans he had reduced the number to less than two million by the end of 1936. The regime had also managed to end depression without progressing into inflation. Hitler?s expansionary policies of put getting people back to work as a priority rather than balancing the budget was a politically safe option, which brought confidence to a people who had been overcome by helplessness.
The media spewed forth a continuous stream of propaganda celebrating the genius of Hitler who liberated the German people from the depression, the French, the Versailles peace treaty, the Bolsheviks and the Jews. The vast majority of Germans did not have access to any other news source and were completely under the influence of this propaganda. Numerous spectacular rallies and pageants were held to show to the citizens the power and influence of Germany and to provide a sense of security in the belief that Germany was doing well at last under the Nazis. The Reich propaganda leader for the NSDAP, Joseph Goebbels, began constructing the ?F?hrer myth?, an image of Hitler to which the German people would give their allegiance to even if they were dissatisfied with aspects of the regime itself. In the beginning Hitler was portrayed as the modest tireless worker who sacrificed himself for the German people; as the friend, the caring older brother, a man with simple tastes who shared the prejudices of the common German. Later he became the miracle worker, the saviour who saved Germany from destruction, the political genius who stood up against the rest of the world for the sake of Germany, a man with extraordinary gifts. The foreign policy successes and domestic successes of the regime were exaggerated and made out to be the product of Hitler?s single-handed efforts. Appointed Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda and given far reaching powers after 13 March 1933, Goebbels used the press, the radio, the cinema and all other media to skilfully present the ?F?hrer myth? to the public. The effect that this propaganda had on some people was extraordinary. As Dorothy Thompson recounts; ?At Garmisch I met an American from Chicago. He had been at Oberammergau, at the Passion Play. ‘These people are all crazy,’ he said. ‘This is not a revolution, it’s a revival. They think Hitler is God. Believe it or not, a German woman sat next to me at the Passion Play and when Jesus was hoisted on the Cross, she said, ‘There he is. That is our Fuehrer, our Hitler.’ And when they paid out the thirty pieces of silver to Judas, she said ‘That is R?hm, who betrayed the Leader.? Although cases such as this were extreme and rare it shows that the ?F?hrer Myth? did serve to increase and sustain the support of the German people during the Nazi regime. A more common sentiment towards the f?hrer can be gauged from this extract of a typical letter sent to Hitler; ?My F?hrer! ? I feel compelled by unceasing love to thank our creator daily for ? giving us ? such a wonderful F?hrer??
The Nazis had to implement social projects to satisfy members of the public who would be most disadvantaged by the regime. The most important of these programs included the extensive development of Hitler Youth, the ?Kraft durch Freude? program for industrial workers, and programs to encourage women to abide by the Nazi slogan which defined the females of the Third Reich; ?Kinder, Kuche und Kirche? (children, kitchen and church). All these programs were conducted to make these people feel part of the ?new German community? or volksgemeinschaft.
Under the leadership of Baldur von Schirach the Hitler J?gend rapidly developed after 1933. Most of the German youth found HJ and the HJ activities quite attractive because of the excitement and camaraderie to be found there. The purpose of developing HJ was to achieve a lasting transformation of society according to Nazi values by winning over the ears of the youth and indoctrinating them with Nazi ideals making them firm supporters of the Nazi regime.
The Nazis needed to gain the support of industrial workers, as they were a vital element in the rearmament plans. They were however, not part of central Nazi ideology. To do this Hitler introduced the ?Strength through Joy? movement which provided holidays, concerts and sporting events for workers who never enjoyed such privileges before. There was also a ?beauty of work? campaign which was aimed at improving working conditions to compensate for the lack of pay rises and unions. The workers believing Hitler?s claims that he had done away with social prejudices, and becoming deceived by the party?s ?bread and circuses? policy, began giving the Nazi party their support.
According to Nazi ideology women were seen as biologically destined to give birth to healthy Aryan children and to stay at home and look after them. As a result women were discouraged and sometimes forced to quit jobs and employers were encouraged to discriminate according to gender. As a way of maintaining the support from women the Nazis idolised motherhood and provided compensations for women who chose to raise a family. For example interest free loans were given to families with children. Also medals were given to women who raised large families.
By 1936 Hitler and the Nazi party had the active support of the German people behind them. But even then there were small opposition groups indicating that a large minority were dissatisfied with the regime. The party was not hesitant in using terror as a way of stopping these people from spreading adverse propaganda. Support is always easier to maintain when the people who don?t like the regime don?t talk about the regime. The SS and the notorious Gestapo were ever present at the back of opposition minds. People who put out publications or other material containing information that was not approved could easily get shot or hanged. Even before the Nazis came to power terror was employed through the SA whose function, other than to parade, was to threaten and attack oppositions, and to disturb meetings of other opposition groups. During the passing of the Enabling Act the SA were actually patrolling the Reichstag, helping politicians to vote the right way. If not a way of increasing support, terror was certainly the Nazi way of ensuring the support that they already had was maintained.
The Nazis were basically products of the Treaty of Versailles and the depression and a Mittelstand response to unemployment, the growing working class, bolshevism and economic strife. They were able to capitalise on the economic turmoil and national outrage to gain support before and during their accession to power. Once in control of Germany the most vital factor, which contributed to the continuation of support was propaganda; the ability to deceive the public that all was well in the Third Reich. Comparatively Hitler?s foreign and domestic policy successes were of minor importance. As a final evaluation it can be said that when normal people are subjected to extreme conditions they usually start searching for extreme solutions and the increasing support experienced by the Nazi party was a consequence of desperation.
Bibliography Dick Geary, ?Who voted for the Nazis? (Electoral history of the NSDAP)?, History Today, Issue: Oct, 1998
JM, “The Rise of the Nazi Party”. Planet Papers. Mar. 2001. B Dennet & S Dixon, ?Key Features of Modern History?, Oxford University Press, 2000
DJ Martin, ?Rise of Nazism as a popular force?, Teaching History 29(3), 1995
L Degrelle, ?How Hitler Consolidated Power in Germany and Launched A Social Revolution?, The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 299-370, IHR
NB:This essay was written for an Year 12 HSC assesment task.