Why did Hitler like the NSDAP

National Socialism: Rise and Rule

Michael Wildt

Michael Wildt is a trained bookseller and worked for Rowohlt Verlag from 1976 to 1979. He then studied history, sociology, cultural studies and theology at the University of Hamburg from 1979 to 1985. In 1991 he completed his doctorate on the subject of "On the way to the 'consumer society". Studies on Consumption and Eating in West Germany 1949-1963 ”and then worked as a research assistant at the Research Center for the History of National Socialism in Hamburg. From 1997 to 2009 he worked as a research assistant at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research and completed his habilitation in 2001 with a study on the leadership corps of the Reich Security Main Office. Since 2009 he has been Professor of German History in the 20th Century with a focus on the Nazi era at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

His main research interests are National Socialism, the Holocaust, the history of violence in the 20th century and notions of social and political order in modern times.

Contact: mailto: [email protected] «

Peter Krumeich, Member of the professorial chair of Professor Wildt, contributed to the development of the content of the issue and, in particular, in coordination with the editorial team, took over the image research for this issue.

The consequences of the lost war, economic problems and the lack of support from the population weaken the Weimar Republic. The NSDAP uses this circumstance with clever propaganda and can thus considerably increase its share of the vote in elections. Soon more and more people turned to the National Socialists.

During a major event of the German nationalists in Coburg in 1922, the "German Day", the delegation of the NSDAP posed in front of a house entrance. (& copy Federal Archives, picture 119-5519 / photographer: o.A.)

Beginnings of the NSDAP in Munich

National Socialism developed out of the spirit and violence of the First World War. In many European countries, fascist movements emerged after the war, which were quite similar in their anti-communist thrust, in their “leadership belief”, their violent politics and their radical nationalism as well as in their rejection of a bourgeois-liberal society. Their common role model was the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini, who, as a former socialist, had founded the “Fasci di combattimento” (combat leagues) in 1919 and came to power in 1922.

Adolf Hitler, who had previously led an insignificant bohemian life, felt as if he had been resurrected by the mobilization for the 1914 war that he experienced in Munich. "The hours at that time seemed to me like a release from the angry feelings of youth," he said ten years later in "Mein Kampf". Like tens of thousands of other young men, he volunteered for military service and immersed himself in that deceptively grandiose experience of the "Volksgemeinschaft" in 1914, in the feeling of unity and certainty of victory, which made realistic expectations about the character and duration of the war disappear.

When Hitler was first wounded in an attack on the Western Front in autumn 1916, his illusions about a quick victory had vanished, but his belief in the invincibility of Germany was by no means. Returning to the front from the hospital, he was the victim of a poison gas attack in October 1918, went blind for a short time and experienced the end of the war in his sick bed. Only a few weeks before the end, at the beginning of October 1918, the leading generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff had admitted that the war was lost. But they evaded their responsibility and left it to the civilian government to ask the victorious powers for an armistice on October 3, 1918.

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Adolf Hitler's early years

Adolf Hitler, born on April 20, 1889 in the Austrian town of Braunau, came from a small family. His father was a customs officer, but when he died in 1903 he left so much money that his widow and son could earn a living from it. Hitler dropped out of school after the 9th grade and initially stayed with his mother, to whom he was very attached, in Linz. Her death in December 1907 undoubtedly marked the most decisive turning point in his youth. He then moved to Vienna, but failed with his attempts to be accepted as a student at the Vienna Art Academy. As an “artist” and “writer” he led a disoriented, idle, scanty life, earned money with casual work and the sale of self-painted postcards, lived in men's dormitories, read folk and anti-Semitic brochures, attended political events and passionately listened to Wagner operas in the Vienna State Opera. Whether Richard Wagner's anti-Semitism influenced Hitler is debatable in historiography. Again and again, however, attention is drawn to the fact that the public theatrical staging of politics, as it was later practiced at the Nazi party rallies, for example, was definitely connected with Hitler's early theatrical passion. The gigantic building plans for the Reich capital Berlin that followed can also be traced back to the Viennese years, when Hitler believed himself to be a talented artist and architect.

When in 1913 the draft order into the Austrian army threatened, Hitler fled to Munich because, as a nationalist who felt that he belonged to Germany, he did not want to fight for the multi-ethnic Austrian empire under any circumstances. Instead, he volunteered in Munich in early August 1914. The war gave him the order that his life lacked. Hitler did not make a career in the military, but remained a private, a lower rank. Obviously he was a reliable, inconspicuous soldier. Contrary to his own self-styling in the programmatic text “Mein Kampf”, published in 1925/27, he was hardly used at the front, and he owed the award of the Iron Cross First Class to the intercession of Hugo Gutmann, a Jewish officer.

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"Stab-in-the-Back Myth"

For Hitler, as for millions of other Germans, the army remained undefeated and was allegedly betrayed by devious criminals on the “home front”. “During those nights, my hatred, the hatred of the perpetrators of this act grew,” wrote Hitler in “Mein Kampf” and clearly stated who the “perpetrators” were for him: “There is no pact with the Jew, there is only one the hard either - or. But I decided to become a politician. "

Of course, Hitler created his own legend here. His actual decision to go into politics was not made until two years later. And of course Jews weren't responsible for Germany's defeat. But it is characteristic that he started this turning point in his life at the very historical point when the German Reich experienced its deepest defeat to date. From the moment of absolute powerlessness, the feeling of being a victim and having to retaliate, his decision grew. The emotion with which Hitler justified his entry into politics was not a constructive will to shape politics, but hatred.

Even during the war, anti-Semitism, especially the accusation that “Jewish smugglers” and “war profiteers” earned millions while the population was starving, quickly gained public resonance. In fact, however, imperialist arrogance had driven the German Reich into the war, and the certainty of victory was quickly destroyed in the terrible battles of the world war. Since the empire was not prepared for a longer war, there was soon a shortage of food and other supplies. And since 1915 the workers have been protesting against the poor living and working conditions with strikes. Anti-Semites scapegoated “the Jews” and even suspected them of shirking military service. Therefore, in October 1916, an official “Jewish census” was carried out in the German army. Since this measure was taken arbitrarily and without concept, and the numbers presumably exposed this anti-Semitic prejudice, the results were not made public, which fueled the anti-Semitic campaign. When, after the unexpected admission of the Supreme Army Command at the end of September 1918, that the war could no longer be won, sudden disillusionment set in, in many cases “the Jews” as well as the political left, which had incited the workers to strike, were responsible for the defeat made. Revolutionaries of Jewish origin such as Rosa Luxemburg, Hugo Haase or Eugen Leviné seemed to confirm the anti-Semitic and anti-communist worldview that it was “Jewish Bolsheviks” who stuck a “dagger in the back” of the German army and now wanted to overthrow. This view and his chance to shirk his responsibility was supported by the now retired ex-Field Marshal von Hindenburg with a corresponding declaration before the National Assembly's Committee of Inquiry into the War Guilt Question on November 18, 1918.

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Unresolved war trauma

[...] The First World War destroyed the old manorial and social structures of Central and Eastern Europe. In the end there was hunger, decline, chaos and hardship, dullness and hatred. On the German side, two million mostly young men had died, a quarter of them during the last months of the war. Millions of people eke out their lives as war cripples, widows and half-orphans. As a result of the British naval blockade, 500,000 Germans had starved to death. In 1917 there were
residents in cities have an average of 1,400 calories a day. "The queuing in front of the grocery stores in the cities made the worn-out wild and defiant and, above all, grim against the rich who ate better 'around the back'."
Hundreds of thousands died of tuberculosis, influenza epidemics and general exhaustion before their time. Children suffered from malnutrition and rickets. Demobilized soldiers, desperate, emaciated women wandered through their difficult lives.
The German men had suffered in vain. “How can one go on living,” they asked themselves, “if everything was in vain.” Their wives had starved in vain. With the war bonds, which the bourgeoisie had subscribed to in a patriotic sense of duty, the upper middle and upper classes lost considerable parts of their wealth. The imperial field army was defeated. As a result, the horrors of the front and the severe psychological injuries of the eleven million returning soldiers could not be honored, dismantled and processed in victory celebrations. Barrel fire, poison gas alarms, shrapnel and death, in short: the war trauma ate them up. [...]
Full of anger and grief, most of the beaten soldiers refused to see the futility of their fight. Instead, they buried themselves in the feeling that their fatherland, which had been democratically ruled since November 9, 1918, was treating them with “immoderate ingratitude”. [...]
The defeated people felt that the peace treaty of Versailles, which the German envoys had to sign in the summer of 1919 without any discussion and under threat of military force, was an outrageous injustice. In doing so, of course, they forgot what - after a comparatively small war of 1870/1871 with 120,000 German and French soldiers killed - they expected France to lose territory and make contributions, and that in January 1918 they had dictated a peace to the young Soviet Union that would undermine the hardships of Versailles Contract significantly exceeded. [...]
The core idea of ​​a “peace without a winner”, which was proclaimed by Wilson and accepted by Germany in October 1918, violated Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles in particular. He blamed the Germans solely for the war and formed the basis for the reparations claims. These should not be paid as a natural consequence of the defeat, as was customary with peace treaties until then, but rather on the basis of a previously recognized serious debt. [...]
The war guilt paragraph meant that the majority of Germans soon agreed to deny any complicity in the war. The NSDAP was later able to successfully spread the fairy tale: "Germany's innocence in the world war is documented today in every direction." The extremely high reparation claims also had an unpleasant psychological effect. They allowed the Germans to reject any responsibility for the consequences of the war, inflation, unemployment and the economic crisis and to blame the misery of foreign, not least supposedly globally networked Jewish forces. [...]

Götz Aly, Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Equality, envy and racial hatred 1800-1933, S. Fischer Verlag Frankfurt / M. 2011, p. 152 ff.

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Burdens of the Republic

The revolution of 1918/19 had raised hopes for a democratic and social republic. As clearly as the councils quickly formed throughout the Reich in November and December 1918 voted for a parliamentary government, they also made audible demands for a reform of the military structures and for the socialization of heavy industry, for the democratization of factories and an eight-hour period -Working day charged. Even in the midst of the revolutionary turmoil, the employers made socio-political concessions by guaranteeing the returning soldiers their old jobs, accepting the free trade unions as the only negotiating partner in collective bargaining and promising the introduction of the eight-hour day with full wages.

However, there were no further reforms in economic life. The Council of People's Representatives from Majority Social Democrats (MSPD) and Independent Social Democrats (USPD), who split off in 1917 because of the support of the war by the Social Democratic majority, fought off calls for the socialization of heavy industry. Likewise, the social democratic leadership in Berlin trusted the old military elite to guarantee the security of the republic. They therefore failed to build their own republic-loyal military units. Instead, groups of demobilized soldiers who did not want to return to civilian life formed so-called Freikorps, who continued to fight in the Baltic States or in the disputed eastern areas claimed by both Poles and Germans.

These attempts by the MSPD to slow down the revolutionary dynamic encountered resistance from the left, which - especially after the founding of the Communist Party on January 1, 1919 - repeatedly tried to take power in Russia along the lines of the Bolshevik October Revolution. But many workers were also disappointed by the policies of the MSPD, especially since the Berlin government had the left uprisings suppressed with brutal violence by those Freikorps organizations that made no secret of their anti-republican, counter-revolutionary sentiments.

The brief unanimity that was expressed in the elections to the National Assembly on January 19, 1919, in which the MSPD became the strongest party and, together with the Catholic Center and the liberal German Democratic Party, was able to form a constitutional government, was quickly over. The right, encouraged by the military successes against left-wing insurgents, believed the time was ripe for the coup. In March 1920, the Ehrhardt Freikorps marched into the capital with the support of the Reichswehr chief in Berlin, General Walther Freiherr von Lüttwitz. But the attempted coup collapsed due to civil resistance from officials who did not follow the instructions of the self-appointed government. A general strike throughout the empire finally brought down the putschists; the coup from the right had been prevented by a republican loyalty “from below”.

The trade unions and striking workers saw the opportunity to implement fundamental reforms and went on strike. In the Ruhr area, armed workers' militias even took power locally. Again the government ordered the Freikorps, including those units that had just pushed against the republic, to march against the strikers and, especially in the Ruhr area, to bloodily suppress the uprising. Over a thousand deaths were to be lamented on the part of the insurgents. When the first Reichstag was elected on June 6, 1920, the MSPD suffered a heavy defeat, while the left-wing USPD more than doubled its votes. Right-wing parties also gained significantly in approval. The Republican consensus was broken.

And yet, in the period that followed, there were repeated impressive manifestations in favor of the Weimar Republic. After the assassination attempt on Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau by right-wing terrorists on June 24, 1922, the unions called a one-day general strike; Everywhere in the Reich people demonstrated against the terrorist policy from the right and for the republic.

But the young republic was also burdened with heavy burdens, above all the Treaty of Versailles. Without a German delegation being able to negotiate, the result was presented to it in May 1919, which provided for massive territorial cessions, which was accompanied by a significant loss of coal, ore deposits and industrial resources. West Prussia became part of Poland, France received Alsace-Lorraine back. The former colonies were placed under the mandate of the League of Nations, as was the Saarland, whose population would decide fifteen years later whether they wanted to belong to France or Germany. A referendum was passed for Upper Silesia in 1921, in which a majority voted in favor of belonging to Germany. Nevertheless, the Allies divided the region and struck the industrial parts of Upper Silesia in Poland. The future German army should not exceed 100,000 men. Large reparations payments were imposed on the empire and it had to accept that it was solely to blame for the war. The Social Democratic Prime Minister Philipp Scheidemann said that a German politician's hand would have to wither if he signed this contract, and he resigned.

But the threat of the Allies to invade Germany if the treaty was not signed left the Reich government no choice. After the majority of the Reichstag voted in favor of acceptance, the treaty was signed on June 28, 1919 by the Social Democratic Foreign Minister Hermann Müller and the center politician Johannes Bell on behalf of the Reich government.

Although the British and US governments recognized the necessity of renegotiating the mode of payment of the reparations claims and wanted to prevent the German Reich from falling into economic crisis through high debt, the Versailles Treaty was a heavy burden for the republic. Because the right mobilized with all its might against the "disgraceful dictate of Versailles" and used every opportunity to defame politicians loyal to the Republic as "fulfillment politicians", "November criminals" and "henchmen of the Allies". The assassinations of the former Reich Finance Minister and signatory of the armistice Matthias Erzberger (center), the industrialist and Reich Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau (DDP) and others were also aimed at provoking the civil war in the angry political climate.

Foundation of the NSDAP

In this political environment, the railway fitter Anton Drexler and the journalist Karl Harrer founded the German Workers' Party (DAP) on January 5, 1919, one of many right-wing extremist, völkisch groups that campaigned against the “November criminals”, against “Jewish Bolshevism “And had Marxism on their flags. In their radical rejection of the Versailles Peace Treaty in 1919 as “dictation” and “shame”, the Volkish were not marginalized, because the harsh terms of the treaty were also rejected by large sections of the bourgeoisie, including the Social Democrats.In its malicious criticism of the liberal constitutional state of the Weimar Republic and of the parliamentary system, the DAP differed little from other right-wing groups. Like many other right-wing extremist organizations, it was also driven by radical anti-Semitism. What differentiated the National Socialists from other anti-Semites, however, was their willingness to use violence. For Hitler only anti-Semitism was true.

Hitler, who was still working for the Reichswehr in 1919 to spy on the right-wing extremist scene in Munich, was commissioned to attend a DAP meeting in September. Drexler quickly discovered Hitler's talent for speaking and recruited him, just as he saw the group as a field of activity for his political ambitions. Hitler, who left the Reichswehr shortly afterwards in order to concentrate entirely on party work, became the party's main speaker; Through his public agitation - he held several meetings every week - the National Socialist Workers' Party of Germany, as it was called since February 1920, gained more and more members.

In the winter of 1919/1920 Drexler and Hitler worked out the party program, which was declared immutable over the next few years. Many of the 25 points did not differ in their objectives from other völkisch programs of the time. The repeal of the Versailles Treaty, the annexation of Austria, the return of the colonies and the nationalization of large companies were called for. For the middle class the dissolution of the department stores in favor of the small traders was demanded, for the peasants in a vague formulation a "land reform adapted to national needs". From the then well-known völkisch economic theorist Gottfried Feder came the demand for "breaking of interest bondage", which should mean the abolition of income from interest income. “Work”, especially manual work, was the focus and the slogan: “Common good comes before self-interest”. In particular, the program aimed to create a “national community” without Jews. Under point 4 it was said in a nutshell: “You can only be a citizen if you are a member of the people. Only those who are of German blood can be a national, regardless of their denomination. No Jew can therefore be a national comrade. "

At a major event at the end of February 1920 with around 2000 people in the ballroom of the Hofbräuhaus, Hitler presented the program, read out the individual demands and, according to the police report, received strong applause. Hitler personally designed the party flag with the swastika in a white circle on a red background, deliberately combining a well-known national symbol with the color of the labor movement. Soon Hitler was the most frequent speaker of the NSDAP with several public appearances during the week, the one with his attacks against the republic, especially against the Social Democrat-led Reich government in Berlin, against the Versailles Treaty and against the Jews in general, and quickly known by influential right-wing circles was sponsored.

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anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism shaped the ideology of National Socialism, but hostility towards Jews already existed in Europe in the Christian Middle Ages. Jews were forced to live in their own city districts, had to wear certain clothing and were subject to special Jewish law. At that time it was religious prejudices such as the accusation that Jews killed Jesus that determined hatred of the Jews, but with the modern, scientific worldview, a new dimension of hostility towards Jews has arisen since the 18th century.

The triumphant advance that biology, in particular Charles Darwin's book on the origin of species, took in European thought led to the division of people into supposedly superior and inferior races according to biological criteria. Darwin's phrases such as “natural selection” or “survival of the fittest” were politically abused to allegedly define “life unworthy of living”. Racism was widespread right into science; the demand for “racial unity” and for hereditary biological measures, so that only the “best” reproduced and the “inferior” did not reproduce, found a hearing even in social democracy.
The traditional religious hostility towards Jews, which in the 19th century expanded to include envy of their economic development due to the emancipation of Jews in civil society, was now also determined racially. Modern anti-Semitism arose, which believes that it recognizes a decomposing, destructive race in the Jews who wanted to destroy the "Aryan race" in particular. The Englishman Houston Stewart Chamberlain in particular spread this ideology with his well-read book "The Foundations of the 19th Century". Chamberlain, who was closely associated with Richard Wagner's family, met Hitler in Bayreuth in the early 1920s and saw in him the coming savior of the German people.
The economic turbulence, the social upheaval caused by industrialization and urbanization made anti-Semitism an ideology to be found in all social classes, even if the social democracy officially always distanced itself from hostility towards Jews. The well-known Prussian historian Heinrich von Treitschke publicly stated in 1879: “The Jews are our misfortune.” The popular family magazine “Die Gartenlaube” published anti-Semitic articles. Over 250,000 citizens supported a petition by the “Anti-Semite League” in 1881, which demanded the exclusion of Jews from the public service and a ban on immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe. Between 1893 and 1898 there were 16 members of parliament from anti-Semitic parties.
Although anti-Semitic parties lost influence in the following years, anti-Semitism in society was by no means gone. In the völkisch, nationalist associations in which hundreds of thousands of Germans organized, anti-Semitism was part of the political repertoire. And last but not least, the public advertisements from numerous German seaside resorts on the Baltic and North Sea showed that they would exclude Jews from spa operations, just as the everyday hostility towards Jews had penetrated German society.

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Support for the NSDAP

At that time the NSDAP was only one of a number of ethnic groups in Munich. But there were honorable and above all wealthy patrons of the young party, such as the publisher Julius F. Lehmann, who earned a lot of money with medical books that he gave to right-wing extremist organizations or Rudolf Freiherr von Sebottendorf, the chairman of the so-called Thule Society. This was an exclusive folk club to which Julius F. Lehmann, Gottfried Feder, Rudolf Heß and Hans Frank belonged, and to which others, such as the influential journalist Dietrich Eckart and the later NSDAP leader Alfred Rosenberg, kept in contact. In order to force the völkisch agitation, Sebottendorf bought the newspaper “Münchner Beobachter”, which in August 1919 changed its name to “Völkischer Beobachter”. In these early years wealthy sympathizers, such as the young businessman Kurt Lüdecke, the piano manufacturer Edwin Bechstein or the publisher Hugo Bruckmann and their wives, repeatedly supported the financially weak party with, in some cases, considerable donations.

But the party also benefited from Hitler's connection to the Reichswehr. Through his former military superior Karl Mayr, Hitler got to know Captain Ernst Röhm in the spring of 1920, who had great influence on the so-called resident police in Bavaria, which arose as armed units to combat revolutionary activities after the war and which more than a quarter of a million at the beginning of 1920 Members belonged to. The military also financially supported the young party. Captain Mayr's department paid for 3000 NSDAP brochures on the Versailles Treaty, which Lehmann-Verlag delivered in June 1920. When the NSDAP took over the “Völkischer Beobachter” at the end of 1920, 60,000 Reichsmarks, half of the purchase price, came from a Reichswehr fund.

Hitler, who successfully prevailed against Drexler in the struggle for power in the party and was elected party chairman in July 1921, relied entirely on propaganda - that always meant calling for action and demonstrating strength through violence. As early as 1920, the NSDAP began to set up hall protection in order to be armed in brawls with political opponents. From this troop, the Sturmabteilung (SA) was formed, as it was called from October 1921 and was headed by Röhm. Röhm took care of converting the thugs into a paramilitary organization, whereby the SA benefited from the fact that it was welcomed by experienced and trained fighters from the voluntary corps.

For the "German Day" in Coburg in northern Bavaria on 14./15. October 1922, a march of right-wing radicals from all parts of Germany, Hitler and the rest of the party leadership appeared in a specially hired special train with around 800 SA men who marched in closed formation despite a police ban, unfurled swastika flags and a mass brawl with socialist workers on the roadside provoked. Although the NSDAP delegation was one of the smallest, it had successfully made a name for itself in northern Bavaria by force. When the influential völkisch politician Julius Streicher also joined the Nazi party under Hitler in Nuremberg in October, the party had got beyond Munich for the first time and had doubled its membership to around 20,000.

Another event in October 1922 was to shape the young NSDAP: Mussolini's “March on Rome”. Although the handover of power to Mussolini had already been a fixed affair behind the scenes in consultation with the Italian king, when about 20,000 fascist “black shirts” marched on Rome from different directions on October 28, the myth of the “march on Rome “was born as a heroic fascist seizure of power and immediately affected the right-wing, coup-ready groups in Germany.At the beginning of November 1922, the “Völkischer Beobachter” announced that Germany now also had a Mussolini: “His name is Adolf Hitler”.