’s Rise To Power Essay, Research Paper
The infamous name of Adolf Hitler is both well known and despised throughout the world. His malevolent attitude towards most of humanity caused millions of deaths, both of enemies AND friends, the guilty AND the innocent. He rose quickly through the Nazi Party due to his excellent oratorical skills, and molded it to suit his purposes. He adapted his party to coincide with the hopes and fears of most of Germany, and once he had established power, he used weapons of terror to keep it. He knew the key to achieving power was to cater to the needs of different social and political groups; and he knew the way to retain it was ruthlessness and oppression. However, despite the fact that he was an evil and bitter little man, it is impossible to deny that he was a brilliant political strategist. In the span of just a few years, he managed to turn Germany from a dysfunctional, economically unstable republic into an efficient authoritarian regime with a booming economy.
Contrary to what many people think, Hitler wasn’t the original creator of the Nazi Party. It was in fact created by a man by the name of Anton Drexler, and originally called the German Workers’ Party (DAP). Hitler stumbled across it on September 12, 1919, when it was still in its early stages. At the time he was on a mission that his employers, the Bavarian Army, sent him on: to spy on the new party. Hitler discovered that he agreed with many of the party’s policies – they preached anti-Semitism, and their goal was to put German workers under German leadership and ensure them freedom from exploitation, without going so far as to socialize industry. During his visit, the members of the DAP were impressed with Hitler’s oratorical skills, and he was asked to join the party. He became member # 55 (though his card read # 555), and soon rose to become number seven on the executive committee, then shortly thereafter the leader of the party.
The DAP had its first large meeting in Munich after Hitler joined, on February 24, 1920. At this meeting, Hitler announced some changes in the party. He changed the name of the party from the German Workers’ Party to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP), and the 25 Points programme was passed. The 25 Points were a set of unoriginal ideas compiled in one programme, emphasizing anti-Semitism, extreme nationalism, the concept of the Aryan race, contempt for liberal democracy, and the principle of leadership. The programme was designed to appeal to everyone with a grievance of some kind, and it worked – the party was growing rapidly.
The NSDAP soon acquired a newspaper, the V?lkischer Beobachter (Racial Observer), in order to spread its party views to a broader audience. Its reputation had begun to grow after the 25 Points were passed, and the crumbling economy caused increasingly larger numbers of citizens to turn away from their political representatives and support the extremist Nazis. In the summer of 1921, Hitler, confident that the party couldn’t survive without him, demanded that he be given full dictatorial powers or he would resign. He was granted them without a fight. That same summer, he formed the Sturmabteilung (SA), a trained militia under his friend Capt. Ernst R?hm, that guarded party meetings, and the Schutzstaffel (SS), who became Hitler’s personal bodyguard. But then he became over-confident. He began to feel invincible, which led him to attempt a military coup on November 8 and 9, 1923, called the Beer Hall Putsch. The coup failed and he was arrested, yet, ironically, he proclaimed it, “the luckiest day of my life.” It made him realize that, if he wished to attain power, he could not just seize it – he must achieve power through legitimate, legal means.
The attitudes of the people of post-war Germany created an ideal atmosphere for encouraging Hitler’s views, and it did not take him long to realize this and take advantage of it. Since the fall of the German Empire in 1918 and the establishment of the Weimar Republic, the German citizens had become disoriented. All they had ever known was an authoritative government, and their habits and style of thinking revolved around this political model. They didn’t trust the democratic Weimar system, which forced them to think and act on their own behalf. Aside from the new feeling of helplessness the Weimar Republic left many people feeling, the traditional German elites (Army leadership, heavy industry, the Junker landowners of East Elbia, and the administrative civil servants), were anxious to replace the republic with a more authoritarian system, modeled on the pre-1918 one of Germany. They resented the fact that trade unions were established, giving all people equal representation; and they were still ambitious. The ideology of power politics still consumed their political views, and they weren’t willing to accept anything less than the establishment of Germany as the dominant world power she had attempted to become during World War One. And they weren’t the only ones discontented with the Weimar system. The peasants and middle class had felt the shift in the balance of power since 1918, and they felt that their political and economic representatives had betrayed them. The power balance no longer favoured them – it rather seemed to favour cities over the countryside, industry over small business, and the working class organized in trade unions over farmers and small businessmen.
After Hitler was released from prison on December 24, 1924, he immediately set to work to gain public support. However, he did not make very much progress until 1929. In 1929, the economic system of not only Germany, but those of the entire world, fell into despair when the American stock market crashed in October. On top of that, the peasantry was upset because of falling farm prices; and various countries imposed tariffs on German industrial goods, causing unemployment to rise in export industries. By December of 1929, there were two million unemployed German workers. The Weimar politicians did not know how to respond to the crisis, and as a result of its childishness and self-righteous nature, it effectively killed itself, leaving Hitler to pick up the pieces.
Hitler began his campaign to recruit followers from every sector of society with great vigour, and with the aid of a propaganda wizard, Joseph Goebbels. He began in the rural areas and small Protestant towns of Northern Germany, where he already had a strong core of support. This was the most rooted and traditional area of Germany, and its people disliked the Weimar Republic. As peasant farmers, self-employed artisans, craftsmen and small retailers, Weimar, being pro-industrial, was a threat to them. Next, Hitler went to urban areas to gain support, though it was not as strong as it was in rural areas. Ironically, (for the NSDAP was a workers party), the Nazis did better in towns and cities that were administrative or commercial centres with large civil servant and white collar populations, as opposed to areas with large industrial working class centres.
The Nazis gained an overwhelmingly large amount of support from the younger generation of Germany, exemplified in German students. For young men in the early 1930s, Nazism held a great deal of appeal for many different reasons. At a time when 40% of the German workers were unemployed, there were not many job prospects for the inexperienced new graduates. Aside from the fact that without the Nazis the graduates would be jobless, there was an appeal in the offer of action, comradeship, and a sense of being committed to a cause wider than themselves – they felt they were helping to rebuild the struggling German nation into a glorious empire. Nazism appealed to the idealism of their youth. They also found the Nazis, who took action when they wanted to do something, much more colourful than the current, conventional form of government – almost heroic. What the youth considered an additional fringe benefit in voting for the Nazis, was that they were creating a path for themselves – breaking away from the traditional parties of their parents, making the typical rebellious statement of youth. It also offered essential things that the current government did not. The NSDAP, in their opinion, seemed to understand the difficult plight they were in economically. When the young men joined the SA, they were provided with concrete material benefits that many were unable to attain outside of the party: it provided food and shelter in ad hoc barracks and soup kitchens for those who needed it. And above all, the party gave the youth something to do – a focus for their lives, and the comradeship of others in the same boat as them, working towards the same cause. Besides, many young men, through the Nazis’ skillful propaganda, were only too willing to have the authority to beat up and push around the Jews and Reds.
It was hard to gain the support of the middle class at first – many in the middle class were frightened away by the party name: National Socialist German Workers’ Party. However, the middle class soon became one of the biggest supporting groups of the Nazis. They felt that their Weimar representatives had failed in their job, and they feared the forces of the Left, Social Democrats, trade unions, and the Communists, because their attitude towards the abolishment of private property threatened everything the middle class stood for. They fully gave their support to the Nazi party when she allied herself with the conservative party.
It was on October 11, 1931, that the Harzburg Front bloc was formed – the National Socialists, led by Hitler, and the German National Party, led by Alfred Hugenberg, formed an alliance against democracy, despite the differences in their platforms. This expanded the Nazi circle of support, for with the German National Party came its supporters: white-collar workers, the landowners of the Eastern provinces, and the business people in big cities. The NSDAP had demonstrated its ability to mould its platform to suit the needs and address the grievances of almost every single social and occupational group in Germany. The Nazis, with the support of many of the peasants, young people, the middle and lower-middle class, white-collar workers, and others, had become the largest political party in Germany, with 37% of the popular vote by the summer of 1932. But as the Reichstag of the Weimar government used proportional representation, the Nazis still did not have a majority in government. The industrial working class and the Roman Catholic population resisted the Nazis, and their combined parties won over 50% of the popular vote. Yet even though he did not have a majority government, Hitler had many powerful people on his side. On November 19, 1932, industrialists and landowners invited President Hindenburg to make Hitler Chancellor. Hindenburg could not ignore their demands, and on January 30, 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany with a coalition cabinet.
Hindenburg knew how power-hungry Hitler was, so when he appointed him Chancellor, his powers were limited. Out of the eleven seats in cabinet, aside from Hitler, only two were held by Nazis: Frick (Minister of the Interior), and Goering (Minister without a portfolio and Minister of Aviation). The rest of the cabinet was made up of the German National Party with Hugenberg as the Chairman. It was therefore, to Hitler’s dismay, more of a victory for the national opposition in general than it was for the Nazi Party.
On February 1, 1933, Hitler gave a motivated speech stating that he was going to start a “national awakening” – the change in government meant a break from fourteen years of shameful past, leading to the reconstruction and rise of the German nation. He then arranged it so that a majority could not be obtained in the Reichstag, forcing Hindenburg to call for new elections. Hindenburg dissolved the Reichstag on February 1, and the date for the election was set for March 5, 1933.
Hitler’s biggest competition and problem was the Communists. They were just as violent as the SA, and they had a strong backing. However, Nazi propaganda, headed by Goebbels, was much better than Communist propaganda. It was sharply anti-Communist, trying its best to alert the public to the dangers of the Red Terror. The biggest blow to the Communist Party during the election, though, was the Reichstag fire of February 27, one week before the Reichstag elections were to be held. The fire was deliberately set – whether it was the plan of the Nazis or the Communists is not known – but the individual who set the fire, a Dutch pyromaniac named van der Lubbe, was an ex-Communist. The Nazis exploited this for all it was worth, slandering their opponents, and using the fire as an example of the chaos that came with Bolshevism. He had 4000 Communists arrested, banned the Communist press, and used the opportunity to put a temporary ban on the Social Democratic press as well. The Supreme Court, due to the lack of incriminating evidence, later acquitted the Communists but the damage was done. The Communists had lost a good deal of their reputation and they did not have the time to build it back up before the election.
Hitler used the Reichstag fire on February 27 as an excuse for passing an edict on February 28 for the “Protection of the State and People” that effectively revoked personal freedom. In just a few months, the edict gave Hitler enough power to eliminate his enemies, get rid of his coalition partners, and secure his party’s autocracy. There were no safeguards or restrictions on it – it gave the police the right to do anything without the need of legal backing. They were allowed to make arrests without warrants, on the basis of suspicion only; they were allowed to hold people for an unlimited amount of time; they were allowed to open letters and search houses; they were allowed to ban or censor newspapers; they were allowed to dissolve parties and associations and forbid meetings; and finally, they were allowed to confiscate private property.
Hitler had one goal for the March 5 elections: he wanted to obtain a Nazi majority in order to pass an Enabling Bill that would strip the Reichstag of its power. Unfortunately, the elections did not go as well as Hitler had hoped. The party only won 43.9% of the vote, not enough to obtain the 2/3 majority it needed in order to pass the bill. The consequences of having a non-majority Reichstag were serious. Hitler dealt with the problem, of course, by non-legal methods. At the first meeting of the Reichstag on March 21, the 81 Communist representatives that had been elected were turned away at the door. That took care of most of the opposition in the Reichstag – Hitler now needed only a few more representatives on his side in order to pass the bill. He got these by winning over the strongest centre party, the Zentrum. He did this by double-crossing and deceiving them. He made a deal with the Zentrum: if they helped him pass the Enabling Act, he would repeal his edict of February 28, and he promised to send them a letter confirming this. When the time came to vote on the Enabling Act, the Zentrum still had not received the letter promised by Hitler, but he assured them that it was on the way. The Zentrum, taking him at his word, voted in favour of the Enabling Act, and, as Hitler had anticipated, it was passed. The Zentrum, however, never received the letter they had been promised; therefore Hitler’s edict of February 28 was never revoked. The Enabling Bill, officially called the “National Emergency Termination Bill,” gave the Nazi government four years of power to enact laws without parliamentary sanctions, regardless of whether they disobeyed the constitution or not. On March 24, 1933, the Reichstag handed full power to Hitler, the only opposition being the Social Democratic representatives. Hitler now had unlimited power.
After Hitler had achieved his goal of attaining virtually unlimited power, he set out to finish what he had started since first coming to power: liquidating the opposition parties. The Communists were no longer really a threat. Ever since the Reichstag fire, Hitler had his police arrest any members who seemed suspicious, or capable of opposing him. The Communists who had avoided prison were now too scared and intimidated to speak out against Hitler. He destroyed the Social Democrats by intentionally confusing them with the Communists in his public speeches, using the anti-Communist aspect of the revolution to destroy their reputation. They folded on June 22, 1933. Once the workers’ parties had folded, the Bourgeois parties yielded quickly, and dissolved themselves, without force, from within. Hitler’s partner in the coalition, the German National Party, collapsed near the end of June, and was soon followed by the other bourgeois parties. On June 28, the German State Party dissolved itself; on July 4, the Bavarian People’s Party; and on July 5, the Zentrum. On July 14, 1933, the NSDAP declared itself to be the only legal party, and any attempt to form an opposition was considered to be a crime against the State.
Hitler had now eliminated outside party threats, but he began to see the threat of opposition within his own regime. Nazi party members were supposed to show nothing but obedience to the F?hrer and the decisions he made, however the SA, led by Ernst R?hm, was speaking of a second revolution. This idea of a “second revolution” was at odds with the Nazi need for order and normalization, therefore Hitler felt the need to eliminate the general staff of the SA. He did this on the Night of Long Knives, June 30, 1934, with the aid of the party, the Army leaders, and the SS, led by Heinrich Himmler. On that night, 150 top SA leaders were killed, (including Ernst R?hm), along with former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher, and Gustav von Kahr, who had crushed Hitler’s 1923 Putsch. On July 3, 1934, Hitler passed a law that legalized the murders of June 30. The violence and brutality with which the murders were carried out, and the ease with which Hitler legalized them, terrified the German people into submission. There was no one stupid enough to try to oppose Hitler now. On the eve of his death, August 1, 1934, Hindenburg unified the positions of president and Chancellor in Hitler. When all of this was over and done with, Hitler emerged as the undisputed leader of Germany.
After Hitler had eliminated the opposition, he put all of his time into continuing the effort he had begun in 1933 to turn the German people, through mandatory organizations, into his blind and loyal followers. He called the process “co-ordination.” The idea was that Nazi leadership and the principles of the party should impregnate the political life of the entire country; every aspect of living was brought under the control of huge organizations, and there was a monotony that weighed down on it. The Hitler Youth or Hitler-Jugend, became a mandatory organization, for both young men and women. After graduating from the Hitler Youth, the young men were required to join the National Labour Service to serve with the Armed Forces. These organizations taught nothing but obedience to the F?hrer and the Reich, therefore the young were often much more fanatical about the rules of Nazism than were the older generation, their parents. All trade unions were also dissolved, and replaced with the German Labour Front, and recreational organizations such as Strength through Joy. These were nothing like trade unions, though that is what the Nazis portrayed them as. There were also mandatory organizations for the women to join that spread across the whole country: the National Socialist League for Public Welfare, and the National Socialist Women’s League. The party therefore effectively controlled everything – even intellectual and cultural life.
On November 15, 1933, Goebbels had become president of the new Reich Cultural Chamber. The goal of this chamber was to censor every artistic and intellectual material, and any information that German citizens could be exposed to. The chamber was to create a “centralized system for information and the formation of public opinion, to the point of making the very concept of public opinion debatable.” The first result of this policy was to cause the emigration of thousands of intellectuals and scientists, who would otherwise be forced to either keep quiet, or become the mouthpiece of the regime.
Art and culture was not the only non-political aspect of society that Hitler attacked – he also went after the churches. He felt they were a threat to his supreme authority; he wanted to be the only one being worshipped in Germany, and in his viewpoint, this could not happen if people were still worshipping God. Hitler’s attitude towards the Church surprised many; while he was campaigning for power, he had declared that he would “firmly protect Christianity, which is our moral basis,” and at the end of an early speech, declared “May Almighty God show mercy on our work, guide our will, bless our understanding, and favour us with the confidence of our people.”
The first major task of the Nazis concerning the Church was to align the Protestant Church with Nazi ideas and policy; this might have worked, had there not been the stipulation that the Church must approve of the persecution of Jews. A large enough group of Protestant clergy staunchly opposed the Nazis, forcing the party to look elsewhere for a religious-political tool. On July 20, 1933, the Nazi party entered into a concordat with the vice-Chancellor of the Catholic Church von Papen and Cardinal Pacelli. These two members of the Church only entered into it in the hope of protecting the Catholic Church from interference by the regime. In return, the Vatican had to forbid all the Catholic political organizations. However, in reality, the Catholic Church could not maintain control over all of the Catholic associations and schools, which continued to function. In retaliation, in 1935 Hitler created a Reich Ministry for Religious Affairs, and immediately followed it with an anti-Church campaign, where members of the clergy who opposed the Nazis were arrested and imprisoned.
Hitler finally gained absolute control of Germany when he appointed himself Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces in January 1938.
So why, if this regime was so oppressive and terror-ridden, did the people still support it? For many did – there were a good many people who had silently turned against the regime, but a surprising number still had faith in it.
Despite the fact that Hitler was an oppressive and cruel dictator, the German people could not find complete fault with him. He had, after all, drastically improved their economy. A population that, before Hitler came to power, had six million unemployed, was now booming economically. His series of bloodless victories won him widespread domestic support. If the German people did have doubts about the regime, they were dispelled by the way Hitler was treated by the outside world: outside countries were obliging to Hitler, and even though he consistently made breaches of faith, they still made treaties with him. It was taken as a sign that the Nazi State and its achievements were recognized abroad, and even admired. He had prevented Communism from overrunning the country, and people appreciated this; most people felt that the sacrifice of their freedom was less dear than the sacrifice of their private property would be. Lastly, Hitler’s victories in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France convinced the German citizens that they were being ruled by a military genius, prompting them to put their utmost trust in him.
The phenomenon of Hitler’s rise to power was by no means an ordinary one. It is mind-boggling that one man could have caused such profound and disastrous effects on, not only one country, but on the entire world. He won power, though legally, through deceit; once in power, he brutally eliminated any opposition; he ran his regime on the basis of terror and mind control; and yet he managed to earn the support of almost the whole country – there were many men willing to die for him and his ideals on the battlefield. So, though we eagerly admit that Hitler was an evil and bitter man on a quest for ultimate power, it is impossible to deny that he was a brilliant political strategist. In the span of just a few years he transformed a struggling nation into one of a quality that was superior to most of the world. His oratorical skills and his exceptional propaganda were the key to his success; they were the cornerstones of his rise to power. It was the combination of all of these factors that, against all odds, managed to keep Hitler in power.
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