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The Munich Years and the Legacy of the War
No event is more crucial to understanding the emergence of Nazism than Germany's surrender to the Allies at 11 o'clock on 11 November 1918. Until the very end of World War I, wartime propaganda portrayed the undefeated Imperial German Army as invincible, giving no hint of the coming disaster on the Western Front. The anti-Hitler journalist Sebastian Haffner recalled that when he was eleven years old and saw the newspaper headline "Armistice Signed," his "entire inner world ... collapsed." Adolf Hitler, recuperating from partial blindness in a military hospital in Pasewalk, also recalled the trauma of defeat, later describing in Mein Kampf the moment when an elderly pastor told the stunned patients that the royal House of Hohenzollern had fallen, the Kaiser had gone into exile, and the German Empire had become a republic. For Hitler, as for many of his generation, his personal suffering vanished, as he wrote in Mein Kampf, "in comparison with the tragedy of the fatherland." During the 1930s, much of the literature produced in National Socialist Germany mythologized the experience at the front and lauded war veterans. For example, Heinrich Lersch's war poems presented a redemptive vision of death and destruction, and Otto Gmelin portrayed a simple but war-wise German in his saga Prohn Fights for His People (1938). Though the account in Mein Kampf, composed during Hitler's brief fourteen-month imprisonment in the Landsberg Fortress for an abortive coup in Munich on 9 November 1923, may be questioned, Hitler claimed that on the day of Germany's humiliation—9 November—he had vowed "to go into politics."
When Hitler joined the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (German Workers' Party, DAP) in Munich in September 1919, he was still by his own description a "nameless" political neophyte. His pan-German sympathies did not begin to emerge until the summer of 1919 after he received political training as a military informer in an anti-Bolshevik instruction course, courtesy of the Reichswehr (Armed Services). In his first written statement on the "Jewish Question," a letter dated 16 September 1919, written at the behest of Captain Karl Mayr, head of the Army Intelligence and Propaganda Unit, to a soldier, Adolf Gemlich, Hitler proposed a "rational" rather than "emotional" anti-Semitism in order to be all the more effective "in the irrevocable removal of the Jews."
Hitler was greatly influenced by the economic theorist Gottfried Feder (1883–1941), whom he had heard speak and whose Manifesto for Breaking the Bondage of Interest had just appeared. Feder was a central figure in the DAP, which had been organized in 1919 and was one of many political groups that emerged on the fringes of Munich's turbulent political scene. The DAP's founding statement, published on 5 January 1919, addressed its appeal to the working class, promoted antipathy to the "socialization" of the German economy put forward by the parties of the Left, called for wage stabilization and profit sharing, and passionately demanded government by Germans rather than by "foreigners and Jews." From its inception, the DAP embraced an ideological cluster of antiliberalism, pan-Germanic nationalism, antimodernism, racial anti-Semitism, and a mystical ideal of Germanic or Nordic spirituality derived from a variety of pre-1914 "völkisch" sources. It blamed Germany's defeat on the "November criminals"—Marxists and Jews—whom it held responsible for any and all of Germany's misfortunes. The fourth point of the party's twenty-five-point program, adopted on 24 February 1920, explicitly excluded Jews from citizenship, defining citizens as "members of the nation" who are "of German blood." Along with Feder, who focused largely on economic issues like Germany's debt and the need to nationalize the credit system, the main ideologues of the DAP were the poet Dietrich Eckart (1868–1923), who saw all life as a world-historical battle between the worldly Jew and the spiritual non-Jew, and Alfred Rosenberg (1893–1946, executed at Nuremberg), whose writings were marked by biological and racial anti-Semitism and a radical hatred of Bolshevism.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, they rewrote their early history to put Hitler at center stage from the beginning, publishing a highly fictionalized account of the founding of the DAP and of Hitler's 1924 trial in a collector's album illustrated with stick-on photographs that was offered with cigarette purchases. Though the official version of how Hitler joined the movement was fanciful, the miniscule size of the party at its inception, his discovery of his ability to mesmerize audiences, and the resulting mushrooming of membership were not exaggerated. After seizing control of the party in July 1921, Hitler revamped it, calling it the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers' Party, usually referred to in English as the Nazi Party and in German abbreviated as NSDAP); designing its red, white, and black swastika flag; creating the uniformed paramilitary Sturm Abteilung (Storm Troopers, SA); starting a daily newspaper (Völkischer Beobachter); staging countless mass meetings featuring speakers trained to create political fireworks; and adopting new propaganda techniques, some of which are described in Hans Hinkel's One of a Hundred Thousand (1933). One of the greatest successes of the Nazi Party in the 1920s was in recruiting young activists and mobilizing the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth, HJ) and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls, BDM), which by 1930 had twenty-five thousand members under eighteen. Hans Johst's (1890–1978) play Schlageter, based on the life of a young Nazi martyr executed by the French in 1923, depicts party members as dynamic and idealistic, the mirror opposite of the cynical and exhausted older generation. Also typical of propaganda in the earlier years were the books by Wilfrid Bade. Combining his writer's activity with his role as press chief (Reichsamtsleiter der Reichspressestelle) of the Nazi Party, Bade was an able popularizer of the history of the party and an advocate of its technological triumphs, especially the putative expansion of mass automobile ownership.
In the late 1920s, under the leadership of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Party focused on winning the battle for the traditionally Social Democratic stronghold of Berlin by staging barroom brawls, disrupting meetings, and provoking street battles with Socialist and Communist opponents. Midlevel party organizers such as Fritz Oertner exhorted speakers to be drilled in effective anti-Marxist rhetoric. Though the party was already a formidable presence, not until its breakthrough in the elections of 14 September 1930, described here by Herman Führbach, did it become a force in German politics and a threat to the Weimar Republic.
Guidelines of the German Workers' Party
Announced on 5 January 1919. Published in Dokumente der Zeitgeschichte, edited by Fritz Maier-Hartmann and Adolf Dresler (Munich: Verlag Franz Eher Nachfolger GmbH, 1938), 85. Translated by Barbara Miller Lane and Leila J. Rupp.
What is the German Workers' Party?
The German Workers' Party is a socialist organization, composed of all folk comrades engaged in mental and physical work. It may only be guided by German leaders who put aside all personal goals and allow national needs to be the highest concern of the party program.
What does the German Workers' Party offer the worker?
The DAP seeks the ennoblement of the German worker. Skilled resident workers have the right to be considered members of the middle class. A sharp distinction between workers and proletarians should be made. An international agreement with the trade unions of other countries must stabilize wages, making it impossible for the working class of a particular country to engage in sharp bargaining. In the future, the competitive position of an individual country shall be determined not by the lowest wages but by the diligence and efficiency of its workers.
In this way, the causes of friction among various countries will be avoided. Big business provides food and employment and is therefore to be protected, as long as it does not relentlessly exploit the worker and make it impossible for him to lead a worthwhile life. The DAP believes that the socialization of German economic life signals the collapse of the German economy. By controlling socialized businesses, our enemies would be in the best possible position to efficiently collect the war indemnities which have been imposed on us, and to do so at the expense of the German workers. Therefore, the German worker should not have socialization but profit sharing. Profit sharing can be facilitated by establishing labor cooperatives in the cities and farming cooperatives among agricultural workers in the country, to protect land and soil.
Who is the DAP fighting against?
The DAP is fighting with all its might against usury and inflation. Against all who create no values, who make high profits without any mental or physical work. We fight against the drones in the state, most of whom are Jews; they live the good life and reap what they have not sown. They control and rule us with their money. For these drones Germany and her entire Volk are but objects of speculation; their party slogans are much the same. All talk, no action. The DAP honors the principle that he who shall not work shall not eat. Our fight is for justice, true freedom, and happiness. No dictatorship of the proletariat! Equal justice for all. No rule of bayonets. Everyone shall feel himself free to be a free German. There is no happiness to be found in platitudes and hollow speeches at meetings, demonstrations, and election campaigns. Our striving is toward the free happiness of good work, the full pot, and prospering children.
To what extent is the DAP politically active?
The DAP opposes any threat to the unity of the Reich, but excludes the predominance of one single state. We want to be governed solely by Germans; foreigners and Jews govern us only in their own interest or in the interest of foreign countries. With the people and the government they make deals, not politics. The Foreign Office shall consist of German representatives from all the states participating in the federation, representatives elected by citizens of the federated states. The party advocates an international law for the press of all countries. By punishing the intentional reporting of false news, this law will prevent the kind of incitement of violence within the populace that occurred during the World War. The highest principles of justice and truth must again be made valid in today's world.
How does the DAP think the costs of the war can be paid?
Our guiding star is this: war is a disaster for a country, and disaster means suffering. For this reason, no one had any right to gather riches at home while our soldiers fought abroad. Regardless of earnings before the war, we consider 10,000 marks to be the highest permissible annual earnings during the war; the rest is to be delivered to the central government, which will use it to pay war costs. Furthermore, property owners must be called upon to help cover the war costs, and any estates which are little encumbered are to be forced to take up compulsory mortgages.
Letter to Adolf Gemlich
Written on 16 September 1919. Published in Hitler: Sämtliche Aufzeichnungen 1905–1924, edited by Eberhard Jäckel and Axel Kuhn (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1980), 88–90.
Dear Herr Gemlich,
If the danger posed by Jewry for our Volk today finds expression in the undeniable aversion among broad sectors of our population, the cause of this aversion is not to be sought, for the most part, in a clear recognition of the consciously or unconsciously systematic and pernicious effect of the Jews as a whole upon our nation. Rather, it arises largely from personal contact, from the personal impression left by the individual Jew—almost always an unfavorable one. For this reason, anti-Semitism is too easily characterized as a mere emotional phenomenon. And yet this is incorrect. Anti-Semitism as a political movement may not and cannot be defined by emotional impulses, but by recognition of the facts. These are the facts: First, Jewry is absolutely a race and not a religious association. Even a Jew never designates himself as a Jewish German, a Jewish Pole, or a Jewish American but always as a German, Polish, or American Jew. The Jew has never yet adopted much beyond the language of the foreign peoples in whose midst he lives. A German who is forced to avail himself of the French language in France, Italian in Italy, Chinese in China does not thereby become a Frenchman, Italian, or Chinaman anymore than the Jew who lives among us and is forced to avail himself of the German language becomes a German. Neither does the Mosaic faith, as essential as it is to the survival of this race, unequivocally settle the question of whether someone is a Jew or non-Jew. There is scarcely a race whose members belong exclusively to any one specific religion.
Throughout thousands of years of inbreeding, often restricted to a very limited group, the Jew has in general preserved his race and its peculiarities far more distinctly than many of the peoples amongst whom he has lived. And this is the reason that we have a non-German, alien race in our midst, which is neither willing nor able to sacrifice its racial character nor to deny its sentiments, thoughts, and aims, and yet still possesses all the political rights we do. If the Jew's sentiments are restricted to the purely material realm, his thoughts and aims all the more so. His dance around the golden calf is becoming a ruthless struggle for all those earthly possessions that, in our heart of hearts, we know should not be the most highly prized and sought after on earth.
The value of the individual is no longer determined by his character or by the significance of his achievements on behalf of the whole, but exclusively by the size of his fortune, by his money.
A nation's esteem is no longer to be measured by the sum of its moral and spiritual prowess, but rather by the wealth of its material possessions.
These sentiments are the basis for those thoughts and aims centering on money and power, both of which protect and preserve those very sentiments that render the Jew unscrupulous in his choice of methods and means and ruthless in their employment to these ends. In autocratically ruled states, he wheedles his way into the favor of "His Majesty," then abuses that power like a leech to bleed the nation's people. In democracies, he vies for the favor of the masses, bows down before the "majesty of the people," and recognizes only the majesty of money.
He destroys the character of princes with Byzantine flattery, national pride (the strength of a Volk), with ridicule and the shameless cultivation of depravity. His weapon of war is public opinion that is never expressed in the press, but which is nonetheless orchestrated and falsified by it. His power is the power of money, which multiplies in his hands effortlessly and endlessly by way of accrued interest, and which forces the Volk under the most dangerous of yokes whose ultimately tragic consequences are concealed by the initial attraction of gold and glitter. Everything men strive after as a higher goal—be it religion, socialism, or democracy—is to the Jew but a means to an end, a way for him to satisfy his lust for money and domination.
In his effects and consequences, he is like a racial tuberculosis of nations and peoples.
And this leads to the following conclusions: an anti-Semitism grounded solely on emotion will find its ultimate expression in the form of pogroms. An anti-Semitism grounded in reason, however, must lead to systematic legal eradication and elimination of those privileges that distinguish the Jew from the other aliens who live among us (through Legislation Concerning National Aliens). The ultimate objective [of such legislation] must, however, be the irrevocable removal of the Jews in general.
Only a government of national strength, never one of national impotence, is capable of achieving both these ends.
Excerpted from The Third Reich Sourcebook by Anson Rabinbach, Sander Gilman. Copyright © 2013 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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