The Rise of National Socialism
On 5 January 1919, not 2 months after the conclusioin of the Armistice which ended the First World War, and 6 months before the signing of the peace treaties at Versailles, there came into being in Germany a small political party called the German Labor Party. The Party initially drew support from the lower middle classes in Munich, who had suffered an erosion of their social status. The following year, the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (National-Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei -- NSDAP); the members were known as Nazis, a term derived from the German pronunciation of "National".
On 12 September 1919, Adolf Hitler became a member of this party, and at the first public meeting held in Munich, on 24 February 1920, he announced the party's program. That program, which remained un-altered until the party was dissolved in 1945, consisted of 25 points, of which the following 5 are of particular interest:
"Point 1. We demand the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany, on the basis of the right of self-determination of peoples.
"Point 2. We demand equality of rights for the German people in respect to the other nations; abrogation of the peace treaties of Versailles and St. Germain.
"Point 3. We demand land and territory for the sustenance of our people, and the colonization of our surplus population.
"Point 4. Only a member of the race can be a citizen. A member of the race can only be one who is of German blood, without consideration of creed. Consequently no Jew can be a member of the race . . .
"Point 22. We demand abolition of the mercenary troops and formation of a national army."
Of these aims, the one which seeins to have been regarded as the most important, and which figured in almost every public speech, was the removal of the "disgrace" of the Armistice, and the restrictions of the peace treaties of Versailles and St. Germain.
On the 29th July 1921, the party was reorganized, Hitler becoming the first "Chairinan." As führer (leader) of the NSDAP, Hitler reorganized the party on a monolithic basis and encouraged the assimilation of other radical right-wing groups. He was assisted by Ernst Röhm, Dietrich Eckart, and Alfred Rosenberg. The Sturmabteilung or SA was founded that year, with Hitler at its head, as a private paramilitary force. Allegedly to be used for the purpose of protecting NSDAP leaders from attack by rival political parties, and preserving order at NSDAP meetings, but in reality was used for fighting political opponents on the streets. Röhm's Stormtroopers (Sturmabteilung--SA) constituted Hitler's private army. Eckart published the Völkischer Beobachter, the official party newspaper. Rosenberg, the party ideologist, developed slogans and symbols and conceived the use of the swastika, the future emblem of the Third Reich. Under Hitler's leadership, the NSDAP denounced the republic and the "November criminals" who had signed the Treaty of Versailles. In March 1923, Goering was appointed head of the SA. The postwar economic slump won the party a following among unemployed ex-soldiers, the lower middle class, and small farmers; by 1923 membership totaled 55,000.
On the night of 08 November 1923, an abortive putsch took place in Munich. Hitler and some of his followers burst into a meeting in the Buergerbraeu Cellar, which was being addressed by the Bavarian Prime Minister Icahr, with the intention of obtaining from him a decision to march forthwith on Berlin. On the morning of the 9th November, however, no Bavarian support was forthcoming, and Hitler's demonstration was met by the armed forces of the Reichswehr and the police. Only a few volleys were fired; and after a dozen of his followers had been killed, Hitler fled for his life, aizd the demonstration was over. General Ludendorff supported the former corporal in his beer hall putsch of November 1923. The putsch failed, and Hitler was imprisoned until December 1924. In prison he wrote Mein Kampf, the Nazi ideological tract. Containing the political views and aiins of Hitler, "Mein Kainpf" caine to be regarded as the authentic source of Nazi doctrine.
After the failure of the putsch, Hitler chose "legal revolution" as the road to power and then pursued a double goal. First, the NSDAP employed propaganda to create a national mass party capable of seizing power through electoral successes. Second, the party developed a bureaucratic structure and prepared to assume the functions of the state. Beginning in 1924, numerous Nazi cells sprang up in parts of northern Germany; the northern groups were consolidated with the Munich-Bavarian party core. The NSDAP bureaucracy was established in 1926. The SA, which was subordinated to centralized political control, functioned primarily to train party members and to supervise the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend-- HJ).
In the 8 years that followed'the publication of "Mein Kampf" the NSDAP greatly extended its activjties throughout Germany, paying particular attention to the training of youth in the ideas of National Socialism. The first Nazi youth organization had come into existence in 1922, but it was in 1925 that the Hitler Jugend was ofIicially recognized by the NSDAP. Baldur von Schirach, who had joined the NSDAP in 1925, became Reich youth leader of the NSDAP. Postwar youth and university students increasingly formed the core of the NSDAP membership. In 1927 the NSDAP organized the first Nuremberg party congress, a mass political rally. By 1928 party membership exceeded 100,000; the Nazis, however, polled only 2.6 percent of the vote in the May Reichstag elections.
The party exerted every effort to win political support from the German people. Electioiis were coiltested both for the Reichstag ancl the Eandtage. The NSDAP leaders did not make any serious attempt to hide the fact that their only purpose in entering German political life was in order to destroy the deinocratic structure of the Weimar Republic, and to substitute for it a National Socialist totalitarian regime which would enable them to carry out their avowed policies without opposition.
The NSDAP, a mere splinter party in 1928, began its rise to power the following year. The original breakthrough was the July 1929 alliance with the DNVP. Alfred Hugenberg, a DNVP leader, arranged the alliance for the purpose of launching a plebiscite against the Young Plan on the issue of reparations. Hugenberg, owner of a large chain of news media enterprises, considered the spellbinding Hitler to be a useful drummer who would attract the masses. The DNVP-NSDAP union brought the NSDAP within the framework of a socially influential coalition of the antirepublican right. As a result, Hitler's party acquired respectability and access to financial resources from a number of industrialists.
Had it not been for the economic depression of 1929, however, Hitler might have faded out of Germany's history. The depression greatly augmented political and social instability. After 1929 national socialism offered a different social and political solution. The Nazi party took full advantage of political instability and economic depression, launched a large-scale propaganda campaign, and won a mass following. Nazi ideology, authoritarian but promising social revolution, appealed particularly to German youth, who longed for the restoration of order.
With the coming of the great world depression of 1929 that brought an end to Germany's prosperity just as it did to that of the rest of the world, the Nazis made big gains, and within less than four years surged forward to victory. In the election of 1930 the Nazis increased their membership in the Reichstag from 12 to 107. They were strong enough now to seriously obstruct the government, and Hindenburg began ruling dictatorially by emergency decrees. Democratic government in Germany really came to an end at that date. Frequent elections had to be held because no workable majority was possible in the Reichstag; the economic depression was causing an increase in votes only for the extremist parties. The cabinet crises of the depression years led to increased experimentation with authoritarian methods of rule. The most important consequence of this experimentation was President Hindenburg's appointment of chancellors whose politics favored the right.
In the spring of 1930, Hindenburg appointed Heinrich Brüning as chancellor. The NSDAP won 18.3 percent of the vote that year and emerged as the second strongest Reichstag party (following the SPD, which had 38.2 percent). The KPD polled 13.1 percent of the vote. In 1931 the DNVP, which was devastatingly defeated in the elections, joined with the NSDAP to form the Harzburg Front coalition against Brüning's government. Under orders from Moscow, the KPD cooperated with the NSDAP in an attempt to destroy the Weimar Republic.
In the presidential election of 1932, Hitler, running against the popular Hindenburg, got enough votes to force a run-off. In the run-off, though defeated, Hitler received 13,400,000 votes, in spite of the fact that Hindenburg was supported by the large Social Democratic and Centrist (Roman Catholic) parties that formerly had opposed him. In the Parliamentary election of July, 1932, the Nazis won 230 seats out of 648, the largest number any party had held in the history of the Weimar Republic.
By 1932 German unemployment figures had reached more than 6 million out of a population of 65 million. The situation caused the middle class, which had not fully recovered from the inflation of 1923, to lose faith in the economic system and in its future. The NSDAP exploited the situation, making an intensified appeal to the unemployed middle-class urban and rural masses and blaming the Treaty of Versailles and reparations for the developing crisis. Nazi propaganda attacked the Weimar political "system," the "November criminals," Marxists, internationalists, and Jews. In addition to promising a solution to the economic crisis, the NSDAP offered the German people a sense of national pride, the acquisition of lebensraum (living space), and the restoration of order. The racist concept of the "superior" Aryan requiring defense against foreign intrusion, i.e., Jews, was also proclaimed.
Under attack from both sides, the Brüning government survived only until June 1932. In July 1932, the NSDAP more than doubled its 1930 Reichstag representation and became the strongest German party. In the November 1932 election, however, NSDAP popularity declined as the economic depression began to abate. The KPD increased its representation in this election. In the same year, a group of conservative and antirepublican aristocrats and industrialists, thinking they could use to their advantage the wave of discontent that had contributed to Hitler's rise in popularity, supported the NSDAP with funds. In November 1932 a petition signed by leading industrialists and financiers was presented to President Hindenburg, calling upon him to entrust the Chancellorship to Hitler; and in the collection of signatures to the petition Schacht took a prominent part. The Meanwhile, Brüning's successor, Franz von Papen, a strong authoritarian who wished to establish a corporate state under aristocratic leadership and thus circumvent the problems of parliamentary politics, sought NSDAP-DNVP support in May 1932. He, however, met with Hitler's refusal. After the electoral success of the NSDAP in the July 1932 elections, Hitler also refused Papen's offer to join the cabinet as vice chancellor.
General Kurt von Schleicher, having forced Papen's resignation, was appointed chancellor in December 1932. Unable to form a coalition in the Reichstag, Schleicher also offered Hitler the vice chancellorship, but the führer was determined to hold out for the highest government post. When Schleicher was dismissed, he and Papen, intriguing separately, prevailed upon President Hindenburg to appoint Hitler chancellor of a coalition government.
On 04 January 1933, at a meeting between German entrepreneurs and Hitler, the entrepreneurs promise to pay off the Nazi party election debt as long as Hitler promises to keep out of the way of the German industry. On January 30, 1933, by entirely legal means, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of the republic.
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