Title: Hitler: A Study in Tyranny
Subtitle: Completely Revised Edition
Author: Alan Bullock
Date: Originally published: 1952. This revised and expanded version was published in 1962.
Notes: Quoting Ted: “From age, say, 15 — 18 I went through a certain phase.... This was what I may call a romantic phase.... During this period I was attracted to German Romanticism. I also read Alan Bullock’s biography of Hitler and became interested in Nazism. I used to fantasy myself as an agitator rousing mobs to frenzies of revolutionary violence. Thereby I would become a dictator, and I would send my Gestapo out to round up all the people I hated — and there were plenty of those ...”–Ted Kaczynski’s 1979 Autobiography

    [Front Matter]

      [Title Page]





      Maps and Charts





  BOOK I: PARTY LEADER 1889–1933


























    CHAPTER FOUR: THE MONTHS OF OPPORTUNITY; October 1931–30 January 1933










    CHAPTER FIVE: REVOLUTION AFTER POWER; 30 January 1933-August 1934






















    Image Gallery Begins

    Image Gallery Ends



























  BOOK III: WAR-LORD — 1939–45















































        5. ARTICLES


      Harper — Torchbooks

      [Back Cover]

[Front Matter]


[Title Page]



Completely Revised Edition

The Academy Library
Harper & Row, Publishers
New York, and Evanston




HITLER: A STUDY IN TYRANNY—Completely Revised Edition. Preface and newly revised material Copyright © 1962 by Alan Bullock. Printed in the United States of America.

This edition was originally published in 1964 by Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated, 49 East 38rd Street, New York 16, N.Y. First harper torchbook edition published March 1964 by Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated, New York and Evanston.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63–21045.


Preface to the Revised Edition 15.

Acknowledgements 18

Abbreviations 20


PARTY LEADER, 1889–1933

1 The Formative Years, 1889–1918 23

2 The Years of Struggle, 1919–24 57

3 The Years of Waiting, 1924–31 121

4 The Months of Opportunity, October 1931–30 January 1933 187



5 Revolution after Power, 30 January 1933-August 1934 253

6 The Counterfeit Peace, 1933–7 312

7 The Dictator 372

8 From Vienna to Prague, 1938–9 411

9 Hitler’s War, 1939 490


WAR-LORD, 1939–45

10 The Inconclusive Victory, 1939–40 563

11 ‘The World Will Hold Its Breath’, 1940–41 610

12 The Unachieved Empire, 1941–3 651

13 Two Julys, 1943–4 704

14 The Emperor Without His Clothes 753


Bibliography 809

Index 817


Adolf Hitler Frontispiece

The following will be found after page 384:

At the age of thirty-four

At Munich in the early 1920s

Leaving a Party meeting

In Weimar, 1926

With President Hindenburg

In Potsdam Garrison Church, 1933

In the Sportpalast

At the Nuremberg Parteitag, 1934

The Berghof

The Fuehrer’s study at the Berghof

Eva Braun

Hitler and Eva Braun

With Tiso, 1939

With Franco, 1940

Hitler and his Generals in 1941

After 20 July, 1944

Maps and Charts

Hitler’s Ancestry

German Annexations, 1938–1939

Expansion of Hitler’s Empire, 1938–1943


Men do not become tyrants in order to
keep out the cold.

Aristotle, Politics


I first began this study with two questions in mind. The first, suggested by much that was said at the Nuremberg Trials, was to discover how great a part Hitler played in the history of the Third Reich and whether Goring and the other defendants were exaggerating when they claimed that under the Nazi regime the will of one man, and of one man alone, was decisive. This led to the second and larger question: if the picture of Hitler given at Nuremberg was substantially accurate, what were the gifts Hitler possessed which enabled him first to secure and then to maintain such power. I determined to reconstruct, so far as I was able, the course of his life from his birth in 1889 to his death in 1945, in the hope that this would enable me to offer an account of one of the most puzzling and remarkable careers in modern history.

The book is cast, therefore, in the form of a historical narrative, interrupted only at one point by a chapter in which I have tried to present a portrait of Hitler on the eve of his greatest triumphs (Chapter 7). I have not attempted to write a history of Germany, nor a study of government and society under the Nazi regime. My theme is not dictatorship, but the dictator, the personal power of one man, although it may be added that for most of the years between 1933 and 1945 this is identical with the most important part of the history of the Third Reich. Up to 1934 the interest lies in the means by which Hitler secured power in Germany. After 1934 the emphasis shifts to foreign policy and ultimately to war, the means by which Hitler sought to extend his power outside Germany. If at times, especially between 1938 and 1945, the figure of the man is submerged beneath the complicated narrative of politics and war, this corresponds to Hitler’s own sacrifice of his private life (which was meagre and uninteresting at the best of times) to the demands of the position he had created for himself. In the last year of his life, however, as his empire begins to crumble, the true nature of the man is revealed again in all its harshness.

No man can sit down to write about the history of his own times — or perhaps of any time — without bringing to the task the preconceptions which spring out of his own character and experience. This is the inescapable condition of the historian’s work, and the present study is no more exempt from these limitations than any other account of the events of the recent past. Nevertheless, I wrote this book without any particular axe to grind or case to argue. I have no simple formula to offer in explanation of the events I have described; few major historical events appear to me to be susceptible of simple explanations. Nor has it been my purpose either to rehabilitate or to indict Adolf Hitler. If I cannot claim the impartiality of a judge, I have not cast myself for the role of prosecuting counsel, still less for that of counsel for the defence. However disputable some of my interpretations may be, there is a solid substratum of fact — and the facts are eloquent enough.

The bibliography printed at the end sets out the sources on which this study is based. In the ten years since this book was first published much new material has appeared which throws light on the history of the Nazi Party and the Third Reich. I have taken the opportunity of a new edition to make a thorough revision of the whole text, taking this material into account and, where it seemed necessary, rewriting in order to make use of it.

The passage of ten years also means a change of perspective: this is more difficult to take into account. I have found no reason to alter substantially the picture I drew of Hitler when the book was first published, although I have not hesitated to change the emphasis where it no longer seemed right. It is in the account of the events leading up to the Second World War that I have made the most complete revision, partly because of the large number of new diplomatic documents that have been published, partly because it is here that my own views have been most affected by the longer perspective in which we are now able to see these events. I am indebted to Mr A. J. P. Taylor’s Origins of the Second World War for stimulating me to re-read the whole of the documentary evidence for Hitler’s foreign policy in the years 1933–9. The fact that I disagree with Mr Taylor in his view of Hitler and his foreign policy — more than ever, now that I have re-read the documents — does not reduce my debt to him for stirring me up to take a critical look at my own account.

Amongst many other writers from whom I have learned since this book was originally published, I should like to mention two other Oxford colleagues: Professor Trevor-Roper whose essay on The Mind of Adolf Hitler convinced me that Hitler’s table talk would repay careful re-reading, and the Warden of St Antony’s (Mr F. W. Deakin), the proofs of whose study of German-Italian relations, The Brutal Friendship, he was kind enough to let me see before publication. Franz Jetzinger’s painstaking researches, recorded in his book Hitler’s Youth (to the English translation of which I contributed a foreword), have enabled me to provide a fuller and more credible account of Hitler’s early years. My other debts, too numerous to acknowledge here, I have indicated in the footnotes.

The bibliography as well as the text has been revised and brought up to date, but the number of publications on the history of these years has forced me to confine it to original sources and first-hand accounts, excluding secondary works except where these print or make use of unpublished material.

In the preface to the original edition I expressed my thanks to the friends who had helped me in a variety of ways, not least to Mr Stanley Hyland for his skill and patience in compiling the index. To these I must now add my thanks to Miss S. Buttar for the trouble she has taken in deciphering and typing the revised manuscript.

My debt to my wife remains the greatest of all, not only for the help she gave me in first undertaking this study, but for her good judgement and encouragement in facing the task of its revision.

ALAN bullock

St Catherine’s College

March 1962


I wish to acknowledge the permission of the Controller H.M. Stationery- Office to quote from publications issued by the British Government. I wish to express my gratitude to the authors, editors, publishers, and agents concerned for permission to quote from the following books: Mein Kampf (translated by James Murphy), and My Part in Germany’s Fight - Hurst & Blackett Ltd. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler (ed. Norman H. Baynes); Documents on International Affairs, 1936 and 1939–46 — Oxford University Press and Royal Institute of International Affairs. Hitler Directs His War (ed. F. Gilbert) — Oxford University Press Inc., New York. The French Yellow Book-, ThePolish White Book; The Last Attempt by B. Dahlerus, and My War Mentories by Gen. Ludendorff — Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers) Ltd. Failure of a Mission by Sir N. Henderson — Raymond Savage Ltd. I Paid Hitler by Fritz Thyssen — Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. Hitler Speaks by Herman Rauschning and The Royal Family of Bayreuth by F. Wagner — Eyre & Spottiswoode (Publishers) Ltd. Hitler as War-Lord by Franz Halder — Putnam & Co. Ltd. Ciano’s Diary, 1939–43 - Wm Heinemann Ltd. Ciano’s Diplomatic Papers - Odhams Press Ltd. Der Führer by K. Heiden — Victor Gollancz Ltd, and the Houghton Mifflin Co. A History of National Socialism by K. Heiden — Methuen & Co. Ltd. The Goebbels Diaries, and Berlin Diary by W. L. Shirer — Hamish Hamilton Ltd. The Last Days of Hitler by H. R. Trevor-Roper, and The Life of Neville Chamberlain by K. Feiling — Macmillan & Co. Ltd. Hitler and I by Otto Strasser — International Press Alliance Corporation. Hitlers Tischgespräche and Statist auf diplomatischer Bühne by Paul Schmidt — Athenäum Verlag. The Second World War, vol. i by Winston S. Churchill — Cassell & Co. Ltd, and the Houghton Mifflin Co.; Farewell Austria by K. von Schuschnigg, and The Other Side of the Hill by B. H. Liddell-Hart — Cassell & Co. Ltd. Defeat in the West by Milton Shulman, and Hitler and His Admirals by A. Martienn- sen — Seeker & Warburg Ltd. To the Bitter End by H. B. Gisevius — Jonathan Cape Ltd, and the Houghton Mifflin Co. Hitler the Pawn by R. Olden — Victor Gollancz Ltd. The Fateful Years by A. François-Poncet — Victor Gollancz Ltd, and Harcourt, Brace & Co., Inc. The Memoirs of Ernst von Weizsäcker - Victor Gollancz Ltd, and the Henry Regnery Co. Panzer Leader by Heinz Guderian — Michael Joseph Ltd. Hitler by K. Heiden — Constable & Co. Ltd. Account Settled by H. Schacht — Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd. The Errant Diplomat by O. Dutch — Arnold & Co. The Fall of the German Republic — Allen & Unwin Ltd. The Curtain Falls by Count Bernadotte — Alfred Knopf Inc. The Struggle for Europe by Chester Wilmot, and Rommel by Desmond Young — Collins, Sons and Co. Ltd. Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History - G. Bell & Sons Ltd. Die deutsche Katastrophe by Fr. Meinecke — Eberhard Brockhaus Verlag. Rätsel um Deutschland by B. Schwertreger — Carl Winter Universitätsverlag. Les Lettres secrètes échangées par Hitler et Mussolini - Éditions du Pavois. Hitler Privat by A. Zoller — Droste Verlag. Austrian Requiem by K. von Schuschnigg — Victor Gollancz Ltd, and G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Blue Print of the Nazi Underground by R. W. M. Kempner — Research Studies of the State College of Washington. ‘Von Schleicher, von Papen et l’avènement de Hitler’ by G. Castellan — Cahiers d’Histoire de la Guerre, Paris. ‘Reichswehr and National Socialism’ by Gordon A. Craig — Political Science Quarterly, N.Y. My New Order (ed. Count Roussy de Sales) — Harcourt, Brace & Co. Inc. Der letzte Monat by Karl Koller — Norbert Wohlgemuth Verlag. Die letzten 30 Tage by Joachim Schultz — Steingrüben Verlag. Rosenberg’s Memoirs - Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. I Knew Hitler by K. Ludecke — Jarrolds, Publishers (London) Ltd, and Hitler’s Words by Gordon W. Prange — Public Affairs Press, Washington. I am grateful to the following authors and publishers for permission to quote additional material in this revised edition: Hitler’s Table Talk - Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd. Hitler’s Youth by Franz Jetzinger — Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers) Ltd. Hitler, the Missing Years by Ernst Hanfstängl — Eyre & Spottiswoode (Publishers) Ltd. Hitler was my Friend by Heinrich Hoffmann — Burke Publishing Co. Ltd. The Testament of Adolf Hitler - Cassell & Co. Ltd, and Memoirs by Franz von Papen — André Deutsch Ltd.

Quotations have been made from a number of other books which lack of space prevents me from acknowledging individually. Full acknowledgement is, however, given in the bibliography at the end of the book and in the footnotes, and I am grateful to all those who have granted me permission to quote. In some cases it has proved impossible to locate sources of copyright property. If, therefore, any quotations have been incorrectly acknowledged I hope the persons concerned will accept my apologies.


The following abbreviations have been used in the footnotes:

N.D. — Nuremberg Documents presented in evidence at the trial before the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 1945–6. The reference numbers (e.g. 376-PS) are the same in all publications.

N.P. — Nuremberg Proceedings. The Trial of German Major War Criminals. Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal Sitting at Nuremberg. 22 Parts (H.M.S.O., London, 1946–50).

N.C.A. — Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression-, 8 vols. plus 2 supp. vols. (U.S. Govt Printing Office, Washington, 1946–8).

Brit. Doc. — Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919–39, edited by E. L. Woodward and Rohan Butler (H.M.S.O., London, 1946-).

G.D. — Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918–45. From the Archives of the German Foreign Ministry (H.M.S.O., London, 1948-).

Baynes — The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, edited by Norman H. Baynes, 2 vols. (Oxford U.P. for R.I.I.A., 1942).

Prange — Hitler’s Words, edited by Gordon W. Prange (American Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, 1944).




Adolf Hitler was bom at half past six on the evening of 20 April 1889, in the Gasthof zum Pommer, an inn in the small town of Brannan on the River Inn which forms the frontier between Austria and Bavaria.

The Europe into which he was bom and which he was to destroy gave an unusual impression of stability and permanence at the time of his birth. The Hapsburg Empire, of which his father was a minor official, had survived the storms of the 1860s, the loss of the Italian provinces, defeat by Prussia, even the transformation of the old Empire into the Dual Monarchy of Austria- Hungary. The Hapsburgs, the oldest of the great ruling houses, who had outlived the Turks, the French Revolution, and Napoleon, were a visible guarantee of continuity. The Emperor Franz Joseph had already celebrated the fortieth anniversary of his accession, and had still more than a quarter of a century left to reign.

The three republics Hitler was to destroy, the Austria of the Treaty of St Germain, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, were not yet in existence. Four great empires — the Hapsburg, the Hohenzol- lem, the Romanov, and the Ottoman — ruled over Central and Eastern Europe. The Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union were not yet imagined: Russia was still the Holy Russia of the Tsars. In the summer of this same year, 1889, Lenin, a student of nineteen in trouble with the authorities^ moved with his mother from Kazan to Samara. Stalin was a poor cobbler’s son in Tiflis, Mussolini the six-year-old child of a blacksmith in the bleak Romagna.

Hitler’s family, on both sides, came from the Waldviertel, a poor, remote country district, lying on the north side of the Danube, some fifty miles north-west of Vienna, between the Danube and the frontiers of Bohemia and Moravia. In this countryside of hills and woods, with few towns or railways, lived a peasant population cut off from the main arteries of Austrian life. It was from this Country stock, with its frequent intermarriages, that Hitler sprang. The family name, possibly Czech in origin and spelled in a variety of ways, first appears in the Waldviertel in the first half of the fifteenth century.

The presumed grandfather of the future chancellor, Johann Georg Hiedler, seems to have been a wanderer who never settled down, but followed the trade of a miller in several places in Lower Austria. In the course of these wanderings he picked up with a peasant girl from the village of Strones, Maria Anna Schickl- gruber, whom he married at Dollersheim in May 1842.

Five years earlier, in 1837, Maria had given birth to an illegitimate child, who was known by the name of Alois. According to the accepted tradition the father of this child was Johann Georg Hiedler. However, although Johann Georg married Maria, then forty-seven in 1842, he did not bother to legitimize the child, who continued to be known by his mother’s maiden name of Schicklgruber until he was nearly forty and who was brought up at Spital in the house of his father’s brother, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler.

In 1876 Johann Nepomuk took steps to legitimize the young man who had grown up in his house. He called on the parish priest at Dollersheim and persuaded him to cross out the word ‘illegitimate’ in the register and to append a statement signed by three witnesses that his brother Johann Georg Hiedler hAd accepted the paternity of the child Alois. This is by no means conclusive evidence, and, in all probability, we shall never know for certain who Adolf Hitler’s grandfather, the father of Alois, really was. It has been suggested that he may have been a Jew, without definite proof one way or the other. However this may be, from the beginning of 1877, twelve years before Adolf was born, his father called himself Hitler and his son was never known by any other name until his opponents dug up this long-forgotten village scandal and tried, without justification, to label him with his grandmother’s name of Schicklgruber.[1]

Alois left his uncle’s home at the age of thirteen to serve as a cobbler’s apprentice in Vienna. But he did not take to a trade and by the time he was eighteen he had joined the Imperial Customs Service. From 1855 to 1895 Alois served as a customs officer in Braunau and other towns of Upper Austria. He earned the normal promotion and as a minor state official he had certainly moved up several steps in the social scale from his peasant origins.

As an official in the resplendent imperial uniform of the Haps- burg service Alois Hitler appeared the image of respectability. But his private life belied appearances.

In 1864 he married Anna Glass, the adopted daughter of another customs collector. The marriage was not a success. There were no children and, after a separation, Alois’s wife, who was considerably older and had long been ailing, died in 1883. A month later Alois married a young hotel servant, Franziska Matzelberger, who had already borne him a son out of wedlock and who gave birth to a daughter, Angela, three months after their marriage.

Alois had no better luck with his second marriage. Within a year of her daughter’s birth, Franziska was dead of tuberculosis. This time he waited half a year before marrying again. His third wife, Klara Polzl, twenty-three years younger than himself, came from the village of Spital, where the Hitlers had originated. The two famihes were already related by marriage, and Klara herself was the granddaughter of that Johann Nepomuk Hiedler in whose house Alois had been brought up as a child. She had even lived with Alois and his first wife for a time at Braunau, but at the age of twenty had gone off to Vienna to earn her living as a domestic servant. An episcopal dispensation had to be secured for such a marriage between second cousins, but finally, on 7 January 1885, Alois Hitler married his third wife, and on 17 May of the same year their first child, Gustav, was bom at Braunau.

Adolf was the third child of Alois Hitler’s third marriage. Gustav and Ida, both born before him, died in infancy; his younger brother, Edward, died when he was six; only his younger sister, Paula, born in 1896, lived to grow up. There were also, however, the two children of the second marriage with Franziska, Adolf Hitler’s half-brother Alois, and his half-sister Angela. Angela was the only one of his relations with whom Hitler maintained any sort of friendship. She kept house for him at Berchtesgaden for a time, and it was her daughter, Geli Raubal, with whom Hitler fell in love.

When Adolf was bom his father was over fifty and his mother was under thirty. Alois Hitler was not only very much older than Klara and her children, but hard, unsympathetic, and short- tempered. His domestic life — three wives, one fourteen years older than himself, one twenty-three years younger; a separation; and seven children, including one illegitimate child and two others born shortly after the wedding — suggest a difficult and passionate temperament. Towards the end of his life Alois Hitler seems to have become bitter over some disappointment, perhaps connected with another inheritance. He did not go back to his native district when he retired in 1895 at the age of fifty-eight. Instead he stayed in Upper Austria. From Passau, the German frontier town, where Alois Hitler held his last post, the family moved briefly to Hafeld- am-Traun and Lambach before they settled at Leonding, a village just outside Linz, overlooking the confluence of the Traun and the Danube. Here the retired customs official spent his remaining years, from 1899 to 1903, in a small house with a garden.

Hitler attempted to represent himself in Mein Kampf[2] as the child of poverty and privation. In fact, his father had a perfectly adequate pension and gave the boy the chance of a good education. After five years in primary schools, the eleven-year-old Adolf entered the Linz Realschule in September 1900. This was a secondary school designed to train boys for a technical or commercial career. At the beginning of 1903 Alois Hitler died, but his widow continued to draw a pension and was not left in need. Adolf left the Linz Realschule in 1904 not because his mother was too poor to pay the fees, but because his record at school was so indifferent that he had to accept a transfer to another school at Steyr, where he boarded out and finished his education at the age of sixteen. A year before, on Whit Sunday 1904, he had been confirmed in the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Linz at his mother’s wish.

In Mein Kampf Hitler makes much of a dramatic conflict between himself and his father over his ambition to become an artist.

I did not want to become a civil servant, no, and again no. All attempt on my father’s part to inspire me with love or pleasure in this profession by stories from his own life accomplished the exact opposite.... One day it became clear to me that I would become a painter, an artist.... My father was struck speechless.... ‘Artist! No! Never as long as I live! ...’ My father would never depart from his ‘Never!’ And I intensified my ‘Nevertheless!’[3]

There is no doubt that he did not get on well with his father, but it is unlikely that his ambition to become an artist (he was not fourteen when his father died) had much to do with it. A more probable explanation is that his father was dissatisfied with his , school reports and made his dissatisfaction plain. Hitler glossed over his poor performance at school which he left without securing the customary Leaving Certificate. He found every possible excuse for himself, from illness and his father’s tyranny to artistic ambition and political prejudice. It was a failure which rankled for a long time and found frequent expression in sneers at the ‘educated gentlemen’ with their diplomas and doctorates.

Forty years later, in the sessions at his Headquarters which produced the record of his table talk, Hitler several times recalled the teachers of his schooldays with contempt.

They had no sympathy with youth; their one object was to stuff our brains and turn us into erudite apes like themselves. If any pupil showed the slightest trace of originality, they persecuted him relentlessly, and the only model pupils whom I have ever known have all been failures in later-life.[4]

For their part they seem to have had no great opinion of their most famous pupil. One of his teachers, Dr Eduard Humer, gave this description of the schoolboy Hitler at the time of his trial in 1923:

I can recall the gaunt, pale-faced youth pretty well. He had definite talent, though in a narrow field. But he lacked self-discipline, being notoriously cantankerous, wilful, arrogant, and bad-tempered. He had obvious difficulty in fitting in at school. Moreover he was lazy ... his enthusiasm for hard work evaporated all too quickly. He reacted with ill-concealed hostility to advice or reproof; at the same time, he demanded of his fellow pupils their unqualified subservience, fancying himself in the role of leader....[5]

For only one of his teachers had Hitler anything good to say. In Mein Kampf he went out of his way to praise Dr Leopold Potsch, an ardent German nationalist who, Hitler claimed, had a decisive influence upon him:

There we sat, often aflame with enthusiasm, sometimes even moved to tears.... The national fervour which we felt in our own small way was used by him as an instrument of our education.... It was because I had such a professor that history became my favourite subject.[6]


When Adolf finally left school in 1905, his widowed mother, then forty-six, sold the house at Leonding. With the proceeds of the sale and a monthly pension of 140 kronen, she was not ill provided for and she moved to a small flat, first in the Humboldt- strasse in Linz, then in 1907 to Urfahr, a suburb of Linz. There is no doubt that Hitler was fond of his mother, but she had little control over her self-willed son who refused to settle down to earn his living and spent the next two years indulging in dreams of becoming an artist or architect, living at home, filling his sketch book with entirely unoriginal drawings and elaborating grandiose plans for the rebuilding of Linz. His one friend was August Kubizek, the son of a Linz upholsterer, eight months younger than Hitler, who provided a willing and awe-struck audience for the ambitions and enthusiasms which Hitler poured out in their walks round Linz. Together they visited the theatre where Hitler acquired a life-long passion for Wagner’s opera. Wagnerian romanticism and vast dreams of his own success as an artist and Kubizek’s as a musician filled his mind. He lived in a world of his own, content to let his mother provide for his needs, scornfully refusing to concern himself with such petty mundane affairs as money or a job.

A visit to Vienna in May and June 1906 fired him with enthusiasm for the splendour of its buildings, its art galleries and Opera. On his return to Linz, he was less inclined than ever to find a job for himself. His ambition now was to go back to Vienna and enter the Academy of Fine Arts. His mother was anxious and uneasy but finally capitulated. In the autumn of 1907 he set off for Vienna a second time with high hopes for the future.

His first attempt to enter the Academy in October 1907 was unsuccessful. The Academy’s Classification List contains the entry:

The following took the test with insufficient results or were not admitted....

Adolf Hitler, Braunau a.Inn, 20 April 1889.

German. Catholic. Father, civil servant. 4 classes in Realschule. Few heads. Test drawing unsatisfactory.[7]

The result, he says in Mein Kampf, came as a bitter shock. The Director advised him to try his talents in the direction of architecture: he was not cut out to be a painter. But Hitler refused to admit defeat. Even his mother’s illness (she was dying of cancer) did not bring him back to Linz. He returned only after her death (21 December 1907) in time for the funeral, and in February 1908 went back to Vienna, to resume his life as an ‘art student’.

He was entitled to draw an orphan’s pension and had the small savings left by his mother to fall back on. He was soon joined by his friend Kubizek whom he had prevailed upon to follow his example and seek a place at the Vienna Conservatoire. The two shared a room on the second floor of a house on the Stumper- gasse, close to the West Station, in which there was hardly space for Kubizek’s piano and Hitler’s table.

Apart from Kubizek, Hitler lived a solitary life. He had no other friends. Women were attracted to him, but he showed complete indifference to them. Much of the time he spent dreaming or brooding. His moods alternated between abstracted preoccupation and outbursts of excited talk. He wandered for hours through the streets and parks, staring at buildings which he admired, or suddenly disappearing into the public library in pursuit of some new enthusiasm. Again and again, the two young men visited the Opera and the Burgtheater. But while Kubizek pursued his studies at the Conservatoire, Hitler was incapable of any disciplined or systematic work. He drew little, wrote more and even attempted to compose a music drama on the theme of Wieland the Smith. He had the artist’s temperament without either talent, training, or creative energy.

In July 1908, Kubizek went back to Linz for the summer. A month later Hitler set out to visit two of his aunts in Spltal. When they said good-bye, both young men expected to meet again in Vienna in the autumn. But when Kubizek returned to the capital, he could find no trace of his friend.

In mid-September Hitler had again applied for admission to the Academy of Art. This time, he was not even admitted to the examination. The Director advised him to apply to the School of Architecture, but there entry was barred by his lack of a school Leaving Certificate. Perhaps it was wounded pride that led him to avoid Kubizek. Whatever the reason, for the next five years he chose to bury himself in obscurity.


Vienna, at the beginning of 1909, was still an imperial city, capital of an Empire of fifty million souls stretching from the Rhine to the Dniester, from Saxony to Montenegro. The aristrocratic baroque city of Mozart’s time had become a great commercial and industrial centre with a population of two million people. Electric trams ran through its noisy and crowded streets. The massive, monumental buildings erected on the Ringstrasse in the last quarter of the nineteenth century reflected the prosperity and selfconfidence of the Viennese middle class; the factories and poorer streets of the outer districts the rise of an industrial working class. To a young man of twenty, without a home, friends, or resources, it must have appeared a callous and unfriendly city: Vienna was no place to be without money or a job. The four years that now followed, from 1909 to 1913, Hitler himself says, were the unhappiest of his life. They were also in many ways the most important, the formative years in which his character and opinions were given definite shape.

Hitler speaks of his stay in Vienna as ‘five years in which I had to earn my daily bread, first as a casual labourer then as a painter of little trifles.’[8] He writes with feeling of the poor boy from the country who discovers himself out of work. ‘ He loiters about and is hungry. Often he pawns or sells the last of his belongings. His clothes begin to get shabby — with the increasing poverty of his outward appearance he descends to a lower social level.’[9]

A little further on, Hitler gives another picture of his Vienna days. ‘In the years 1909–10 I had so far improved my position that I no longer had to earn my daily bread as a manual labourer. I was now working independently as a draughtsman and painter in water-colours.’ Hitler explains that he made very little money at this, but that he was master of his own time and felt that he was getting nearer to the profession he wanted to take up, that of an architect.

This is a very highly coloured account compared with the evidence of those who knew him then. Meagre though this is, it is enough to make nonsense of Hitler’s picture of himself as a man who had once éamed his living by his hands and then by hard work turned himself into an art student.

According to Konrad Heiden, who was the first man to piece together the scraps of independent evidence, in 1909, Hitler was obliged to give up the furnished room in which he had been living in the Simon Denk Gasse for lack of funds. In the summer he could sleep out, but with the coming of autumn he found a bed in a doss-house behind Meidling Station. At the end of the year, Hitler moved to a hostel for men started by a charitable foundation at 27 Meldemannstrasse, in the 20th district of Vienna, over on the other side of the city, close to the Danube. Here he lived, for the remaining three years of his stay in Vienna, from 1910 to 1913.

A few others who knew Hitler at this time have been traced and questioned, amongst them a certain Reinhold Hanisch, a tramp from German Bohemia, who for a time knew Hitler well. Hanisch’s testimony is partly confirmed by one of the few pieces of documentary evidence which have been discovered for the early years. For in 1910, after a quarrel, Hitler sued Hanisch for cheating him of a small sum of money, and the records of the Vienna police court have been published, including (besides Hitler’s own affidavit) the statement of Siegfried Loffner, another inmate of the hostel in Meldemannstrasse who testified that Hanisch and Hitler always sat together and were friendly.

Hanisch describes his first meeting with Hitler in the doss-house in Meidling in 1909. ‘On the very first day there sat next to the bed that had been allotted to me a man who had nothing on except an old tom pair of trousers — Hitler. His clothes were being cleaned of lice, since for days he had been wandering about without a roof and in a terribly neglected condition.’[10]

Hanisch and Hitler joined forces in looking for work; they beat carpets, carried bags outside the West Station, and did casual labouring jobs, on more than one occasion shovelling snow off the streets. As Hitler had no overcoat, he felt the cold badly. Then Hanisch had a better idea. He asked Hitler one day what trade he had learned. ‘ “I am a painter”, was the answer. Thinking that he was a house decorator, I said that it would surely be easy to make money at this trade. He was offended and answered that he was not that sort of painter, but an academician and an artist.’ When the two moved to the Meldemannstrasse, ‘we had to think out better ways of making money. Hitler proposed that we should fake pictures. He told me that already in Linz he had painted small landscapes in oil, had roasted them in an oven until they had become quite brown and had several times been successful in selling these pictures to traders as valuable old masters.’ This sounds highly improbable, but in any case Hanisch, who had registered under another name as Walter Fritz, was afraid of the police. ‘ So I suggested to Hitler that it would be better to stay in an honest trade and paint postcards. I myself was to sell the painted cards, we decided to work together and share the money we earned.’[11]

Hitler had enough money to buy a few cards, ink and paints. With these he produced little copies of views of Vienna, which Hanisch peddled in taverns and fairs, or to small traders who wanted something to fill their empty picture frames. In this way they made enough to keep them until, in the summer of 1910, Hanisch sold a copy which Hitler had made of a drawing of the Vienna Parliament for ten crowns. Hitler, who was sure it was worth far more — he valued it at fifty in his statement to the police — was convinced he had been cheated. When Hanisch failed to return to the hostel, Hitler brought a lawsuit against him which ended in Hanisch spending a week in prison and the break-up of their partnership.

This was in August 1910. For the remaining four years before the First World War, first in Vienna, later in Munich, Hitler continued to eke out a living in the same way. Some of Hitlei’s drawings, mostly stiff, lifeless copies of buildings in which his attempts to add human figures are a failure, were still to be found in Vienna in the 1930s, when they had acquired the value of collectors’ pieces. More often he drew posters and crude advertisements for small shops — Teddy Perspiration Powder, Santa Claus selling coloured candles, or St Stefan’s spire rising over a mountain of soap, with the signature ‘A. Hitler’ in the corner. Hitler himself later described these as years of great loneliness, in which his only contacts with other human beings were in the hostel where he continued to live and where, according to Hanisch, ‘only tramps, drunkards, and such spent any time’.

After their quarrel Hanisch lost sight of Hitler, but he gives a description of Hitler as he knew him in 1910 at the age of twenty- one. He wore an ancient black overcoat, which had been given him by an old-clothes dealer in the hostel, a Hungarian Jew named Neumann, and which reached down over his knees. From under a greasy, black derby hat, his hair hung long over his coat collar. His thin and hungry face was covered with a black beard above which his large staring eyes were the one prominent feature. Altogether, Hanisch adds, ‘an apparition such as rarely occurs among Christians’.[12]

From time to time Hitler had received financial help from his aunt in Linz, Johanna Pólzl and, when she died in March 1911, it seems likely that he was left some small legacy. In May of that year his orphan’s pension was stopped, but he still avoided any regular work.

Hanisch depicts him as lazy and moody, two characteristics which were often to reappear. He disliked regular work. If he earned a few crowns, he refused to draw for days and went off to a café to eat cream cakes and read newspapers. He had none of the common vices. He neither smoked nor drank and, according to Hanisch, was too shy and awkward to have any success with women. His passions were reading newspapers and talking poli tics. ‘Over and over again,’ Hanisch recalls, ‘there were days on which he simply refused to work. Then he would hang around night shelters, living on the bread and soup that he got there, and discussing politics, often getting involved in heated controversies.’[13]

When he became excited in argument he would shout and wave his arms until the others in the room cursed him for disturbing them, or the porter came in to stop the noise. Sometimes people laughed at him, at other times they were oddly impressed. ‘One evening,’ Hanish relates, ‘Hitler went to a cinema where Keller- mann’s Tunnel was being shown. In this piece an agitator appears who rouses the working masses by his speeches. Hitler almost went crazy. The impression it made on him was so strong that for days afterwards he spoke of nothing except the power of the spoken word.’[14] These outbursts of violent argument and denunciation alternated with moods of despondency.

Everyone who knew him was struck by the combination of ambition, energy, and indolence in Hitler. Hitler was not only desperately anxious to impress people but was full of clever ideas for making his fortune and fame — from water-divining to designing an aeroplane. In this mood he would talk exuberantly and begin to spend the fortune he was to make in anticipation, but he was incapable of the application and hard work needed to carry out his projects. His enthusiasm would flag, he would relapse into moodiness and disappear until he began to hare off after some new trick or short cut to success. His intellectual interests followed the same pattern. He spent much time in the public library, but his reading was indiscriminate and unsystematic. Ancient Rome, the Eastern religions, Yoga, Occultism, Hypnotism, Astrology, Protestantism, each in turn excited his interest for a moment. He started a score of jobs but failed to make anything of them and relapsed into the old hand-to-mouth existence, living by expedients and little spurts of activity, but never settling down to anything for long.

As time passed these habits became ingrained, and he became more eccentric, more turned in on himself. He struck people as ‘queer’, unbalanced. He gave rein to his hatreds — against the Jews, the priests, the Social Democrats, the Hapsburgs — without restraint. The few people with whom he had been friendly became tired of him, of his strange behaviour and wild talk. Neumann, the Jew, who had befriended him, was offended by the violence of his anti-Semitism; Kanya, who kept the hostel for men, thought him one of the oddest customers with whom he had had to deal. Yet these Vienna days stamped an indelible impression on his character and mind. ‘During these years a view of life and a definite outlook on the world took shape in my mind. These became the granite basis of my conduct at that time. Since then I have extended that foundation very little, I have changed nothing in it ... Vienna was a hard school for me, but it taught me the most profound lessons of my life.’[15] However pretentiously expressed, this is true. It is time to examine what these lessons were.


The idea of struggle is as old as life itself, for life is only preserved because other living things perish through struggle.... In this struggle, the stronger, the more able, win, while the less able, the weak, lose. Struggle is the father of all things.... It is not by the principles of humanity that man lives or is able to preserve himself above the animal world, but solely by means of the most brutal struggle.... If you do not fight for life, then life will never be won.[16]

This is the natural philosophy of the doss-house. In this struggle any trick or ruse, however unscrupulous, the use of any weapon or opportunity, however treacherous, are permissible. To quote another typical sentence from Hitler’s speeches: ‘Whatever goal man has reached is due to his originality plus his brutality.’[17] Astuteness; the ability to lie, twist, cheat and flatter; the elimination of sentimentality or loyalty in favour of ruthlessness, these were the qualities which enabled men to rise; above all, strength of will. Such were the principles which Hitler drew from his years in Vienna. Hitler never trusted anyone; he never committed himself to anyone, never admitted any loyalty. His lack of scruple later took by surprise even those who prided themselves on their unscrupulousness. He learned to lie with conviction and dissemble with candour. To the end he refused to admit defeat and still held to the belief that by the power of will alone he could transform events.

Distrust was matched by contempt. Men were moved by fear, greed, lust for power, envy, often by mean and petty motives. Politics, Hitler was later to conclude, is the art of knowing how to use these weaknesses for one’s own ends. Already in Vienna Hitler admired Karl Lueger, the famous Burgomaster of Vienna and leader of the Christian Social Party, because ‘he had a rare gift of insight into human nature and was very careful not to take men as something better than they were in reality.’[18] He felt particular contempt for the masses — ‘everybody who properly estimates the political intelligence of the masses can easily see that this is not sufficiently developed to enable them to form general political judgements on their own account.’[19] Here again was material to be manipulated by a skilful politician. As yet Hitler had no idea of making a political career, but he spent a great deal of time reading and arguing politics, and what he learned was an important part of his political apprenticeship.

In the situation in which he found himself in Vienna, Hitler clung tenaciously to the conviction that he was better than the people with whom he was now driven to associate. ‘Those among whom I passed my younger days belonged to the petit bourgeois class.... The ditch which separated that class, which is by no means well-off, from the manual labouring class is often deeper than people think. The reason for this division, which we may almost call enmity, lies in the fear that dominates a social group which has only just risen above the level of the manual labourer — a fear lest it may fall back into its old condition or at least be classed with the labourers....’[20]

Although Hitler writes in Mein Kampf of the misery in which the Vienna working class lived at this time, it is evident from every line of the account that these conditions produced no feeling of sympathy in him. ‘I do not know which appalled me most at that time: the economic misery of those who were then my companions, their crude customs and morals, or the low level of their intellectual culture.’[21] Least of all did he feel any sympathy with the attempts of the poor and the exploited to improve their position by their own efforts. Hitler’s hatred was directed not so much against the rogues, beggars, bankrupt business men, and déclassé ‘gentlemen’ who were the flotsam and jetsam drifting in and out of the hostel in the Meldemannstrasse, as against the working men who belonged to organizations like the Social Democratic Party and the trade unions and who preached equality and the solidarity of the working classes. It was these, much more than the former, who threatened his claim to superiority. Solidarity was a virtue for which Hitler had no use. He passionately refused to join a trade union, or in any way to accept the status of a working man.

The whole ideology of the working-class movement was alien and hateful to him:

All that I heard had the effect of arousing the strongest antagonism in me. Everything was disparaged — the nation because it was held to be an invention of the capitalist class (how often I had to listen to that phrase!); the Fatherland, because it was held to be an instrument in the hand of the bourgeoisie for the exploitation of the working masses; the authority of the law, because this was a means of holding down the proletariat; religion, as a means of doping the people, so as to exploit them afterwards ; morality, as a badge of stupid and sheepish docility. There was nothing that they did not drag in the mud.... Then I asked myself: are these men worthy to belong to a great people? The question was profoundly disturbing; for if the answer were‘Yes’, then the struggle to defend one’s nationality is no longer worth all the trouble and sacrifice we demand of our best elements if it be in the interest of such a rabble. On the other hand, if the answer had to be ‘ No ’, then our nation is poor indeed in men. During these days of mental anguish and deep meditation I saw before my mind the ever-increasing and menacing army of people who could no longer be reckoned as belonging to their own nation.[22]

Hitler found the solution of his dilemma in the ‘ discovery ’ that the working men were the victims of a deliberate system for corrupting and poisoning the popular mind, organized by the Social Democratic Party’s leaders, who cynically exploited the distress of the masses for their own ends. Then came the crowning revelation: ‘I discovered the relations existing between this destructive teaching and the specific character of a people, who up to that time had been almost unknown to me. Knowledge of the Jews is the only key whereby one may understand the inner nature and the real aims of Social Democracy.’[23]

There was nothing new in Hitler’s anti-Semitism; it was endemic in Vienna, and everything he ever said or wrote about the Jews is only a reflection of the anti-Semitic periodicals and pamphlets he read in Vienna before 1914. In Linz there had been very few Jews — ‘I do not remember ever having heard the word at home during my father’s lifetime.’ Even in Vienna Hitler had at first been repelled by the violence of the anti-Semitic Press. Then, ‘one day, when passing through the Inner City, I suddenly encountered a phenomenon in a long caftan and wearing black sidelocks. My first thought was: is this a Jew? They certainly did not have this appearance in Linz, I watched the man stealthily and cautiously, but the longer I gazed at this strange countenance and examined it section by section, the more the question shaped itself in my brain: is this a German? I turned to books for help in removing my doubts. For the first time in my life I bought myself some anti-Semitic pamphlets for a few pence.’[24]

The language in which Hitler describes his discovery has the obscene taint to be found in most anti-Semitic literature: ‘Was there any shady undertaking, any form of foulness, especially in cultural life, in which at least one Jew did not participate? On putting the probing knife carefully to that kind of abscess one immediately discovered, like a maggot in a putrescent body, a little Jew who was often blinded by the sudden light.’[25]

Especially characteristic of Viennese anti-Semitism was its sexuality. ‘The black-haired Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end, satanically glaring at and spying on the unsuspicious girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood and removing her from the bosom of her own people.... The Jews were responsible for bringing negroes into the Rhineland with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate.’[26] Elsewhere Hitler writes of ‘the nightmare vision of the seduction of hundreds of thousands of girls by repulsive, crooked-legged Jew bastards ’. More than one writer has suggested that some sexual experience — possibly the contraction of venereal disease — was at the back of Hitler’s anti-Semitism.

In all the pages which Hitler devotes to the Jews in Mein Kampf he does not bring forward a single fact to support his wild assertions. This was entirely right, for Hitler’s anti-Semitism bore no relation to facts, it was pure fantasy: to read these pages is to enter the world of the insane, a world peopled by hideous and distorted shadows. The Jew is no longer a human being, he has become a mythical figure, a grimacing, leering devil invested with infernal powers, the incarnation of evil, into which Hitler projects all that he hates and fears — and desires. Like all obsessions, the Jew is not a partial, but a total explanation. The Jew is everywhere, responsible for everything — the Modernism in art and music Hitler disliked; pornography and prostitution; the antinational criticism of the Press; the exploitation of the masses by Capitalism, and its reverse, the exploitation of the masses by Socialism; not least for his own failure to get on. ‘Thus I finally discovered who were the evil spirits leading our people astray.... My love for my own people increased correspondingly. Considering the satanic skill which these evil counsellors displayed, how could their unfortunate victims be blamed? ... The more I came to know the Jew, the easier it was to excuse the workers.’[27]

Behind all this, Hitler soon convinced himself, lay a Jewish world conspiracy to destroy and subdue the Aryan peoples, as an act of revenge for their own inferiority. Their purpose was to weaken the nation by fomenting social divisions and class conflict, and by attacking the values of race, heroism, struggle, and authoritarian rule in favour of the false internationalist, humanitarian, pacifist, materialist ideals of democracy. ‘The Jewish doctrine of Marxism repudiates the aristocratic principle of nature and substitutes for it and the eternal privilege of force and energy, numerical mass and its dead weight. Thus it denies the individual worth of the human personality, impugns the teaching that nationhood and race have a primary significance, and by doing this takes away the very foundations of human existence and human civilization.’[28]

In Hitler’s eyes the inequality of individuals and of races was one of the laws of Nature. This poor wretch, often half-starved, without a job, family, or home, clung obstinately to any belief that would bolster up the claim of his own superiority. He belonged by right, he felt, to the Herrenmenschen. To preach equality was to threaten the belief which kept him going, that he was different from the labourers, the tramps, the Jews, and the Slavs with whom he rubbed shoulders in the streets.

Hitler bad no use for any democratic institution: free speech, free press, or parliament. During the earlier part of his time in Vienna he had sometimes attended the sessions of the Reichsrat, the representative assembly of the Austrian half of the Empire, and he devotes fifteen pages of Mein Kampf to expressing his scorn for what he saw. Parliamentary democracy reduced government to political jobbery, it put a premium on mediocrity and was inimical to leadership, encouraged the avoidance of responsibility, and sacrificed decisions to party compromises. ‘The majority represents not only ignorance but cowardice.... The majority can never replace the man.’[29]

All his life Hitler was irritated by discussion. In the arguments into which he was drawn in the hostel for men or in cafés he showed no self-control in face of contradiction or debate. He began to shout and shower abuse on his opponents, with an hysterical note in his voice. It was precisely the same pattern of uncontrolled behaviour he displayed when he came to supreme power and found himself crossed or contradicted. This authoritarian temper developed with the exercise of power, but it was already there in his twenties, the instinct of tyranny.

Belief in equality between races was an even greater offence in Hitler’s eyes than belief in equality between individuals. He had already become a passionate German nationalist while still at school. In Austria-Hungary this meant even more than it meant in Germany itself, and the fanatical quality of Hitler’s nationalism throughout his life reflects his Austrian origin.

For several hundred years the Germans of Austria played the leading part in the politics and cultural life of Central Europe. Until 1871 there had been no single unified German state. Germans had lived under the rule of a score of different states — Bavaria, Prussia, Württemberg, Hanover, Saxony — loosely grouped together in the Holy Roman Empire, and then, after 1815, in the German Federation. Both in the Empire and in the Federation Austria had enjoyed a traditional hegemony as the leading German Power. In the middle of the nineteenth century it was still Vienna, not Berlin, which ranked as the first of German cities. Moreover, the Hapsburgs not only enjoyed a pre-eminent position among the German states, but also ruled over wide lands inhabited by many different peoples.

On both counts the Germans of Vienna and the Austrian lands, who identified themselves with the Hapsburgs, looked on themselves as an imperial race, enjoying a position of political privilege and boasting of a cultural tradition which few other peoples in Europe could equal. From the middle of the nineteenth century, however, this position was first challenged and then undermined.

In place of the German Federation a unified German state was established by Prussia, from which the Germans of Austria were excluded. Prussia defeated Austria at Sadowa in 1866, and thereafter the new German Empire with its capital at Berlin increasingly took the place hitherto occupied by Austria and Vienna as the premier German state.

At the same time the pre-eminence of the Germans within the Hapsburg Empire itself was challenged, first by the Italians, who secured their independence in the 1860s; then by the Magyars of Hungary, to whom equality had to be conceded in 1867; finally by the Slav peoples. The growth of the demand for equal rights among the Slavs and other subject peoples was slower than with the Magyars, and uneven in its development. But especially in Bohemia and Moravia, where the most advanced of the Slav peoples, the Czechs, lived, it was bitterly resented by the Germans and fiercely resisted. This conflict of the nationalities dominated Austrian politics from 1870 to the break-up of the Empire in 1918.

In this conflict Hitler had no patience with concessions. The Germans should rule the Empire, at least the Austrian half of it, with an authoritarian and centralized administration; there should be only one official language — German — and the schools and universities should be used ’to inculcate a feeling of common citizenship’, an ambiguous expression for Germanization. The representative assembly of the Reichsrat, in which the Germans (only thirty-five per cent of the population of Austria) were permanently outnumbered, should be suppressed. Here was a special reason for hatred of the Social Democratic Party, which refused to follow the nationalist lead of the Pan-Germans, and instead fostered class conflicts at the expense of national unity.

In September 1938, at the time of the Sudeten crisis, Hitler said in a newspaper interview: ‘ The Czechs have none of the characteristics of a nation, whether from the standpoint of ethnology, strategy, economics, or language. To set an intellectually inferior handful of Czechs to rule over minorities belonging to races like the Germans, Poles, Hungarians, with a thousand years of culture behind them, was a work of folly and ignorance.’[30] This was a view which Hitler first learned in Austria before 1914, and indeed the whole Czech crisis of 1938–9 was part of an old quarrel rooted deep in the history of the Hapsburg Empire from which Hitler came.

The influence of his Austrian origins is even more obvious in the case of the Anschluss, the incorporation of Austria in the German Reich, which Hitler carried out at the beginning of 1938. Long before 1914 extreme German nationalists in Austria had begun to talk openly of the break-up of the Hapsburg Empire and the reunion of the Germans of Austria with the German Empire. Habsburg policy in face of the national conflicts which divided their peoples had been uncertain and vacillating. To the PanGerman extremists this appeared as a betrayal of the German cause. In Mein KampfyAitXex asked:

How could one remain a faithful subject of the House of Hapsburg, whose past history and present conduct proved it to be ready ever and always to betray the interests of the German people? ... The German Austrian had come to feel in the very depth of his being that the historical mission of the House of Hapsburg had come to an end.... Therefore I welcomed every movement that might lead towards the final disruption of that impossible State which had decreed that it would stamp out the German character in ten millions of people, this Babylonian Empire. That would mean the liberating of my German Austrian people and only then would it become possible for them to be reunited to the Motherland,[31]

When Hitler returned to Vienna after the Anschluss had been carried out and the dream of a Greater Germany which Bismarck had rejected had at last been fulfilled, he said with a touch of genuine exultation: ‘I believe that it was God’s will to send a boy from here into the Reich, to let him grow up and to raise him to be the leader of the nation so that he could lead back his homeland into the Reich.’[32] In March 1938, the Austrian-born Chancellor of Germany reversed the decision which Bismarck, a Prussian-born Chancellor, had made in the 1860s when he excluded the German Austrians from the new German Reich. The Babylonian captivity was at an end.


The political ideas and programme which Hitler picked up in Vienna were entirely unoriginal. They were the clichés of radical and Pan-German gutter politics, the stock-in-trade of the antisemitic and nationalist Press. The originality was to appear in Hitler’s grasp of how to create a mass-movement and secure power on the basis of these ideas. Here, too, although he took no active part in politics, he owed much to observations drawn from his years in Vienna.

The three parties which interested Hitler were the Austrian Social Democrats, Georg von Schönerer’s Pan-German Nationalists, and Karl Lueger’s Christian Social Party.

From the Social Democrats Hitler derived the idea of a mass party and mass propaganda. In Mein Kampf he describes the impression made on him when ‘ I gazed on the interminable ranks, four abreast, of Viennese workmen parading at a mass demonstration. I stood dumb-founded for almost two hours, watching this enormous human dragon which slowly uncoiled itself before me.’[33]

Studying the Social Democratic Press and Party speeches, Hitler reached the conclusion that: ‘the psyche of the broad masses is accessible only to what is strong and uncompromising.... The masses of the people prefer the ruler to the suppliant and are filled with a stronger sense of mental security by a teaching that brooks no rival than by a teaching which offers them a liberal choice. They have very little idea of how to make such a choice and thus are prone to feel that they have been abandoned. Whereas they feel very little shame at being terrorized intellectually and are scarcely conscious of the fact that their freedom as human beings is impudently abused.... I also came to understand that physical intimidation has its significance for the mass as well as the individual.... For the successes which are thus obtained are taken by the adherents as a triumphant symbol of the righteousness of their own cause; while the beaten opponent very often loses faith in the effectiveness of any further resistance.’[34]

From Schönerer Hitler took his extreme German Nationalism, his anti-Socialism, his anti-Semitism, his hatred of the Hapsburgs and his programme of reunion with Germany. But he learned as much from the mistakes which Schönerer and the Nationalists committed in their political tactics. For Schönerer, Hitler believed, made three cardinal errors.

The Nationalists failed to grasp the importance of the social problem, directing their attention to the middle classes and neglecting the masses. They wasted their energy in a parliamentary struggle and failed to establish themselves as the leaders of a great movement. Finally they made the mistake of attacking the Catholic Church and split their forces instead of concentrating them. ‘The art of leadership,’ Hitler wrote, ‘consists of consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up this attention.... The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.’[35]

It was in the third party, the Christian Socialists, and their remarkable leader, Karl Lueger, that Hitler found brilliantly displayed that grasp of political tactics, the lack of which hampered the success of the Nationalists. Lueger had made himself Burgomaster of Vienna — in many ways the most important elective post in Austria — and by 1907 the Christian Socialists under his leadership had become the strongest party in the Austrian parliament. Hitler saw much to criticize in Lueger’s programme. His anti-Semitism was based on religious and economic, not on racial, grounds (T decide who is a Jew,’ Lueger once said), and he rejected the intransigent nationalism of the Pan-Germans, seeking to preserve and strengthen the Hapsburg State with its mixture of nationalities. But Hitler was prepared to overlook even this in his admiration for Lueger’s leadership.

The strength of Lueger’s following lay in the lower middle class of Vienna, the small shopkeepers, business men and artisans, the petty officials and municipal employees. ‘He devoted the greatest part of his political activity’, Hitler noted, ‘to the task of winning over those sections of the population whose existence was in danger.’[36]

Years later Hitler was to show a brilliant appreciation of the importance of these same classes in German politics. From the beginning Lueger understood the importance both of social problems and of appealing to the masses. ‘Their leaders recognized the value of propaganda on a large scale and they were veritable virtuosos in working up the spiritual instincts of the broad masses of their electorate.’[37]

Finally, instead of quarrelling with the Church, Lueger made it his ally and used to the full the traditional loyalty to crown and altar. In a sentence which again points forward to his later career, Hitler remarks: ‘He was quick to adopt all available means for winning the support of long-established institutions, so as to be able to derive the greatest possible advantage for his movement from those old sources of power.’[38]

Hitler concludes his comparison of Schbnerer’s and Lueger’s leadership with these words:

If the Christian Socialist Party, together with its shrewd judgement in regard to the worth of the popular masses, had only judged rightly also on the importance of the racial problem — which was properly grasped by the Pan-German movement — and if this party had been really nationalist; or if the Pan-German leaders, on the other hand, in addition to their correct judgement of the Jewish problem and of the national idea, had adopted the practical wisdom of the Christian-Socialist Party, and particularly their attitude towards Socialism — then a movement would have developed which might have successfully altered the course of German destiny.[39]

Here already is the idea of a party which should be both national and socialist. This was written a dozen years after he had left Vienna, and it would be an exaggeration to suppose that Hitler had already formulated clearly the ideas he set out in Mein Kampfin the middle of the 1920s. None the less the greater part of the experience on which he drew was already complete when he left Vienna, and to the end Hitler bore the stamp of his Austrian origins.


Hitler left Vienna for good in the spring of 1913. He was then twenty-four years old, awkward, moody and reserved, yet nursing a passion of hatred and fanaticism which from time to time broke out in a torrent of excited words. Years of failure had laid up a deep store of resentment in him, but had failed to weaken the conviction of his own superiority.

In Mein Kampf Hitler speaks of leaving Vienna in the spring of 1912, but the Vienna police records report him as living there until May 1913. Hitler is so careless about dates and facts in his book that the later date seems more likeiy to be correct. Hitler is equally evasive about the reasons which led him to leave. He writes in general terms of his dislike of Vienna and the state of affairs in Austria:

My inner aversion to the Hapsburg State was increasing daily.... This motley of Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Ruthenians, Serbs and Croats, and always the bacillus which is the solvent of human society, the Jew, here and there and everywhere — the whole spectacle was repugnant to me.... The longer I lived in that city the stronger became my hatred for the promiscuous swarm of foreign peoples which had begun to batten on that old nursery ground of German culture. All these considerations intensified my yearning to depart for that country for which my heart had been secretly longing since the days of my youth. I hoped that one day I might be able to make my mark as an architect and that I could devote my talents to the service of my country. A final reason was that I hoped to be among those who lived and worked in that land from which the movement should be launched, the object of which would be the fulfilment of what my heart had always longed for, the reunion of the country in which I was born with our common fatherland, the German Empire.[40]

All this, we may be sure, is true enough, but it gives no specific reason why, on one day rather than another, Hitler decided to go to the station, buy a ticket and at last leave the city he had come to detest.

The most likely explanation is that Hitler was anxious to escape military service, for which he had failed to report each year since 1910. Inquiries were being made by the police, and he may have found it necessary to slip over the frontier. Eventually he was located in Munich and ordered to present himself for examination at Linz. The correspondence between Hitler and the authorities at Linz has been published.[41] Hitler’s explanation, with its half truths, lies, evasions and its characteristic mixture of the brazen and the sly, ranks as the first of a long series of similar ‘explanations’ with which the world was to become only too familiar. Hitler denied that he had left Vienna to avoid conscription, and asked, on account of his lack of means, to be allowed to report at Salzburg, which was nearer to Munich than Linz. His request was agreed to, and he duly presented himself for examination at Salzburg on 5 February 1914. He was rejected for military or auxiliary service on the grounds of poor health, and the incident was closed. But after the Germans marched into Austria in 1938 a very thorough search was made in Linz for the records connected with Hitler’s military service and Hitler was furious when the Gestapo failed to discover them.

It was in the May of 1913 that Hitler moved to Munich, across the German frontier. He found lodgings with a tailor’s family, by the name of Popp, which lived in the Schleissheimerstrasse, a poor quarter near the barracks. In retrospect, Hitler described this as ‘by far the happiest time of my life.... I came to love that city more than any other place known to me. A German city. How different from Vienna.’[42]

It may be doubted if this represented Hitler’s feelings at the time. His life followed much the same pattern as before. His dislike of hard work and regular employment had by now hardened into a habit. He made a precarious living by drawing advertisements and posters, or peddling sketches to dealers. He was perpetually short of money. Despite his enthusiasm for the architecture and paintings of Munich, he was not a step nearer making a career than he had been on the day when he was turned down by the Vienna Academy. In his new surroundings he appears to have lost touch with his relations, and to have made few, if any, friends.

The shadowy picture that emerges from the reminiscences of the few people who knew him in Munich is once again of a man living in his own world of fantasy. He gives the same impression of eccentricity and lack of balance, brooding and muttering to himself over his extravagant theories of race, anti-Semitism, and anti-Marxism, then bursting out in wild, sarcastic diatribes. He spent much time in cafes and beer-cellars, devouring the newspapers and arguing about politics. Frau Popp, his landlady, speaks of him as a voracious reader, an impression Hitler more than once tries to create in Mein Kampf. Yet nowhere is there any indication of the works he read. Nietzsche, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Schopenhauer, Wagner, Gobineau? Perhaps. But Hitler’s own comment on reading is illuminating. ‘Reading had probably a different significance for me from that which it has for the average run of our so-called “intellectuals.” I know people who read interminably, book after book, from page to page.... Of course they “know” an immense amount, but ... they have not the faculty of distinguishing between what is useful and useless in a book; so that they may retain the former in their minds and if possible skip over the latter.... Reading is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.... One who has cultivated the art of reading will instantly discern, in a book or journal or pamphlet, what ought to be remembered because it meets one’s personal needs or is of value as general knowledge.’[43]

This is a picture of a man with a closed mind, reading only to confirm what he already believes, ignoring what does not fit in with his preconceived scheme. ‘Otherwise,’ Hitler says, ‘only a confused jumble of chaotic notions will result from all this reading.... Such a person never succeeds in turning his knowledge to practical account when the opportune moment arrives; for his mental equipment is not ordered with a view to meeting the demands of everyday life.’[44] Hitler was speaking the truth when he said: ‘Since then (i.e. since his days in Vienna) I have extended that foundation very little, and I have changed nothing in it.’[45]

Hitler retained his passionate interest in politics. He was indignant at the ignorance and indifference of people in Munich to the situation of the Germans in Austria. Since 1879 the two states, the German Empire and the Hapsburg Monarchy, had been bound together by a military alliance, which remained the foundation of German foreign policy up to the defeat of 1918. Hitler felt that this predisposed most Germans to refuse to listen to the exaggerated accounts he gave of the ‘desperate’ position of the German Austrians in the conflict of nationalities within the Monarchy.

Hitler’s objection to the alliance of Germany and Austria was twofold. It crippled the Austrians in their resistance to what he regarded as the deliberate anti-German policy of the Hapsburgs. At the same time, for Germany herself it represented a dangerous commitment to the support of a state which, he was convinced, was on the verge of disintegration. Hitler would have agreed with the view expressed by Ludendorff in his memoirs: ‘A Jew in Radom once said to one of my officers that he could not understand why so strong and vital a body as Germany should ally itself with a corpse. He was right.’[46]

When Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by Serbian students, at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, Hitler’s first reaction was confused. For, in his eyes, it was Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Hapsburg throne, who had been more responsible than anyone else for that policy of concessions to the Slav peoples of the Monarchy which roused the anger of the German nationalists in Austria. But, as events moved towards the outbreak of a general European war, Hitler brushed aside his doubts. At least Austria would be

compelled to fight, and could not, as he had always feared, betray her ally Germany. In any case, ‘I believed that it was not a case of Austria fighting to get satisfaction from Serbia, but rather a case of Germany fighting for her own existence — the German nation for its own to be or not to be, for its freedom and for its future.... For me, as for every other German, the most memorable period of my life now began. Face to face with that mighty struggle all the past fell away into oblivion.’[47]

There were other, deeper and more personal reasons for his satisfaction. War meant to Hitler something more than the chance to express his nationalist ardour, it offered the opportunity to slough off the frustration, failure, and resentment of the past six years. Here was an escape from the tension and dissatisfaction of a lonely individuality into the excitement and warmth of a close, disciplined, collective life, in which he could identify himself with the power and purpose of a great organization. ‘The war of 1914’, he wrote in Mein Kampf, ‘was certainly not forced on the masses; it was even desired by the whole people’ — a remark which illustrates at least this man’s state of mind. ‘ For me these hours came as a deliverance from the distress that had weighed upon me during the days of my youth. I am not ashamed to acknowledge today that I was carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment and that I sank down upon my knees and thanked Heaven out of the fullness of my heart for the favour of having been permitted to live in such a time.’[48]

On 1 August Hitler was in the cheering, singing crowd which gathered on the Odeons Platz to listen to the proclamation declaring war. In a chance photograph that has been preserved his face is clearly recognizable, his eyes excited and exultant; it is the face of a man who has come home at last. Two days later he addressed a formal petition to King Ludwig III of Bavaria, asking to be allowed to volunteer, although of Austrian nationality, for a Bavarian regiment. The reply granted his request. ‘I opened the document with trembling hands; no words of mine can describe the satisfaction I felt.... Within a few days I was wearing that uniform which I was not to put off again for nearly six years.’[49]

Together with a large number of other volunteers he was enrolled in the 1st Company of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, known from its original commander as the List Regiment. Another volunteer in the same regiment was Rudolf Hess; the regimental clerk was a Sergeant-major Max Amann, later to become business manager of the Nazi Party’s paper and of the Party publishing house. After a period of initial training in Munich, they spent several weeks at Lechfeld, and then, on 21 October 1914, entrained for the Front.

After two days’ journey they reached Lille and were sent up into the line as reinforcements for the 6th Bavarian Division of the Bavarian Crown Prince Rupprecht’s Vlth Army. Hitler’s first experience of fighting was in one of the fiercest and most critical engagements of the war, the First Battle of Ypres, when the British succeeded in stemming an all-out effort by the Germans to burst through to the Channel coast. For four days and nights the List Regiment was in the thick of the fighting with the British round Becelaere and Gheluvelt. In a letter to his old Munich landlord, the tailor Herr Popp, Hitler reported that when they were pulled out of the line and sent into rest billets at Werwick, the regiment had been reduced in four days from three thousand five hundred to six hundred men; only thirty officers were left and four companies had to be broken up.

Throughout the war Hitler served as a Meldegänger, a runner whose job was to carry messages between Company and Regimental H.Q. His two closest comrades were Ernst Schmidt — one of the sources for this period of his life -and another Meldegänger called Bachmann, who was later killed in Rumania. Although Hitler was not actually in the trenches, there is little doubt that his was a dangerous enough job, and for the greater part of four years he was at the Front or not far in the rear.

In 1915, after a period at Tourcoing, the List Regiment was moved up towards Neuve Chapelle, again opposite British troops. In 1916 they took part in the heavy fighting on the Somme, and in October found themselves near Bapaume. Here on 7 October Hitler was wounded in the leg, and was sent back to Germany for the first time for two years.

After a period in hospital at Beelitz, near Berlin, and at Munich with the Reserve battalion of his regiment, he returned to the Front at the beginning of March 1917, now promoted to lance- corporal. He was in time to take part in the later stages of the Battle of Arras and in the Third Battle of Ypres in the summer. After two months at Hochstadt, in Alsace, the List Regiment was back in the line on the Aisne, near Lizy, for the winter. With the rest of the regiment Hitler went forward in the last great German offensive in the spring of 1918.

In October 1918, the List Regiment found itself back near Werwick, south of Ypres. During the night of 13–14 October the British opened a gas attack. Hitler was caught on a hill south of Werwick and his eyes were affected. By the time he got back to Rear H.Q. he could no longer see. On the morning of 14 October he collapsed and, temporarily blinded, was put into a hospital train and sent back to a military hospital at Pasewalk, in Pomerania, not far from Stettin. He was still there, recovering from the injury to his eyes, when the war ended with the capitulation of 11 November.


What sort of a soldier was Hitler ? As early as December 1914, he had been awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class, and when Hitler, in March 1932, brought a lawsuit against a newspaper which had accused him of cowardice, his former commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Engelhardt, testified to his bravery in the fighting of November 1914, when the regiment had first gone into action. Much more interesting is the Iron Cross, First Class, an uncommon decoration for a corporal, which Hitler was awarded in 1918. The most varied and improbable accounts have been given of the action for which he won this. The date on which he received the award was 4 August 1918, but dates ranging over a period from the autumn of 1915 to the summer of 1918 have been suggested for the exploit for which it was given. According to one witness, single-handed he took prisoner fifteen (others say ten or twelve) Frenchmen; according to another they were Englishmen. The official history of the List Regiment says nothing at all. Whatever the occasion, it was certainly a decoration oj, which Hitler was proud and which he habitually wore after’he had become Chancellor.

In view of his long service and the shortage of officers in the German Army in the last months of the war, the fact that Hitler never rose above the rank of corporal aroused curiosity and was much discussed in the German Press before 1933. There is no evidence that Hitler ever applied or was eager for promotion to the rank of non-commissioned officer, leave alone a commission. He appears to have been content with the job he had. It is probable, also, that the impression of eccentricity which he continued to give was no recommendation. Hans Mend, another of Hitler’s fellowsoldiers in the List Regiment, wrote of him as ‘a peculiar fellow. He sat in the corner of our mess holding his head between his hands, in deep contemplation. Suddenly he would leap up, and, running about excitedly, say that in spite of our big guns victory would be denied us, for the invisible foes of the German people were a greater danger than the biggest cannon of the enemy.’ This led to violent attacks on the Marxists and Jews, in the old style of the Vienna hostel for men. On other occasions, Mend recalls, ‘he sat in a corner, with his helmet on his head, buried deep in thought, and none of us was able to rouse him from his listlessness.’[50]

While not unpopular with his comrades, they felt that he did not share their interests or attitude to the war. He received no letters, no parcels from home. He did not care about leave or women. He was silent when the others grumbled about the time they had to spend in the trenches or the hardships. ‘We all cursed him and found him intolerable. There was this white crow among us that didn’t go along with us when we damned the war.’[51]

The few photographs of this time seem to bear this out — a solemn pale face, prematurely old, with staring eyes. He took the war seriously, feeling personally responsible for what happened and identifying himself with the failure or success of German arms. These were not endearing qualities, but they do not detract from Hitler’s good record as a soldier, at least as brave as the next man and a good deal more conscientious.

Many years afterwards Hitler would still refer to ‘the stupendous impression produced upon me by the war — the greatest of all experiences. For, that individual interest — the interest of one’s own ego — could be subordinated to the common interest — that the great, heroic struggle of our people demonstrated in overwhelming fashion.’[52] Like many other Germans, Hitler regarded the comradeship, discipline and excitement of life at the Front as vastly more attractive than the obscurity, aimlessness, and dull placidity of peace. This was particularly true of Hitler, for he had neither family, wife, job, nor future to which to return: there was much greater warmth and friendliness in the orderlies’ mess than he had known since he left Linz. This was his world: here he had a secure place such as he had never found in Vienna or Munich. In the years after the war it was from ex-servicemen like this who felt more at home in a uniform, living in a mess or barracks, men who could never settle down into the monotonous routine of life in ‘Civvy Street’ that the Freikorps,[53] the Nazis, and a score of extremist parties recruited their members. The war, and the impact of war upon the individual lives of millions of Germans, were among the essential conditions for the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party.

It is surprising, in view of his later pretensions as a strategist in the Second World War, that Hitler has nothing to say in Mein Kampf about the conduct of the military operations. At the time he wrote his book he was still too anxious to secure the favour of the Army leaders to indulge in the attitude of contempt he later adopted towards the generals. In any case, Hitler followed the conventional Nationalist line of argument: the German Army had never been defeated, the war had been lost by the treachery and cowardice of the leaders at home, the capitulation of November 1918 was a failure of political not military leadership.

At the time of his stay in hospital at Beelitz and his visit to Munich (October 1916-March 1917) Hitler became indignant at the contrast between the spirit of the Army at the Front and the poor morale and lack of discipline at home. There he encountered shirkers who boasted of dodging military service, grumbling, profiteering, the black market, and other familiar accompaniments of wartime civilian life; it was with relief that he returned to the Front. Hitler had no use for a government which tolerated political discussion, covert anti-war propaganda and strikes in time of war. In Mein Kampf his contempt for parliamentary deputies and journalists is lavish: ‘All decent men who had anything to say, said it point-blank in the enemy’s face; or, failing this, kept their mouths shut and did their duty elsewhere. Uncompromising military measures should have been adopted to root out the evil. Parties should have been abolished and the Reichstag brought to its senses at the point of the bayonet, if necessary. It would have been still better if the Reichstag had been dissolved immediately.’[54]

This is no more than the common talk of any one of the exservicemen’s (Frontkämpfer) associations which sprang up after the war and comforted their wounded pride by blaming Socialist agitators, Jews, profiteers, and democratic politicians for the ‘shameful treachery’ of the ‘Stab in the Back’. But Hitler adds a characteristic twist which shows once more the originality of his ideas as soon as he was faced with a question of political leadership. It was not enough, he concluded, to use force to suppress the Socialist and anti-national agitation to which he attributed the sapping of Germany’s will to go on fighting. ‘If force be used to combat a spiritual power, that force remains a defensive measure only, so long as the wielders of it are not the standard bearers and apostles of a new spiritual doctrine ... It is only in the struggle between Weltanschauungen[55] that physical force, consistently and ruthlessly applied, will eventually turn the scale in its own favour.’[56] This was the reason for the failure of every attempt to combat Marxism hitherto, including the failure of Bismarck’s anti-socialist legislation — ‘it lacked the basis of a new Weltanschauung’.

Out of this grew the idea of creating a new movement, something more than a parliamentary party, which would fight Social Democracy with its own weapons. For power lay with the masses, and if the hold of the Jew-ridden Marxist parties on their allegiance was to be broken, a substitute had to be found. The key, Hitler became convinced, lay in propaganda, and the lesson Hitler had already drawn from the Social Democrats and Lueger’s Christian Socialists in Vienna was completed by his observation of the success of English propaganda during the war, by contrast with the failure of German attempts. The chapter on War Propaganda in Mein Kampf is a masterly exercise in that psychological insight which was to prove Hitler’s greatest gift as a politician.

There were two themes on which Hitler constantly played in the years that followed the war: Man of the People, and Unknown Soldier of the First World War. When he spoke to the first Congress of German Workers in Berlin on 10 May 1933, he assured them: ‘Fate, in a moment of caprice or perhaps fulfilling the designs of Providence, cast me into the great mass of the people, amongst common folk. I myself was a labouring man for years in the building trade and had to earn my own bread. And for a second time I took my place once again as an ordinary soldier amongst the masses.’[57] These were the twin foundations of his demagogy and, in however garbled a fashion, they correspond to the two formative experiences of his life, the years in Vienna and Munich, and the years at the Front.

Those years between the end of 1908 and the end of 1918 had hardened him, taught him to be self-reliant, confirmed his belief in himself, toughened the power of his will. From them he emerged with a stock of fixed ideas and prejudices which were to alter little in the rest of his life: hatred of the Jews; contempt for the ideals of democracy, internationalism, equality, and peace; a preference for authoritarian forms of government; an intolerant nationalism; a rooted belief in the inequality of races and individuals; and faith in the heroic virtues of war. Most important of all, in the experiences of those years he had already hit upon a conception of how political power was to be secured and exercised which, when fully developed, was to open the way to a career without parallel in history. Much of what he had learned remained to be formulated even in his own mind, and had still to be crystallized into the decision to become a politician. But the elements for such a decision were already complete; it required only a sudden shock to precipitate it. That shock was supplied by the end of the war, the capitulation of Germany, and the overthrow of the Empire.



The news that Germany had lost the war and was suing for peace came as a profound shock to the German people and the German Army. The first half of 1918 had seen some of the most spectacular German successes of the whole war. In March and May — only a few months before the capitulation — Germany had signed the Treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest, each marking massive accessions to German power in Eastern Europe. The defeat of Russia and Rumania, and the end of the ‘war on two fronts’, had been followed in the west by the opening of the greatest offensive of the war. On 21 March 1918, Ludendorff began a series of attacks in France in which he drove the British and French Armies back and advanced the German line within forty miles of Paris. In the early summer of 1918 the Germans believed themselves at last to be within sight of victory.

The swift reversal of this situation in August and September was kept from the German people, and the announcement at the beginning of October 1918, that the German Government had asked for terms of peace stunned and bewildered the nation. Not until 2 October were the leaders of the Reichstag parties informed of the seriousness of the military situation. In his Memoirs, Prince Max of Baden, the new Chancellor who was to negotiate the surrender, wrote: ‘Up to this moment the Home Front had stood unbroken.... Now the spark leaped across to the people at home. There was panic in Berlin.’[58]

The situation of the German Army by November 1918 was in fact without hope. It was only a matter of time before it was driven back into Germany and destroyed. Yet, at the moment when the German Government signed the capitulation, the German Army still stood outside Germany’s frontiers and still preserved an unbroken front in the west. Moreover, although the initiative for ending the war had come from the High Command, from General Ludendorff himself, this fact was concealed. The High Command not only left the civil government, hitherto denied any voice in the conduct of the war, to take the full responsibility for ending it, but tried to dissociate itself from the consequences of the decision into which it had rushed the Government against the cooler judgement of men like Prince Max. Here was the germ of the legend of the ‘Stab in the Back’.

The end of the war brought the collapse of the Imperial régime and the reluctant assumption of power by the democratic parties in the Reichstag. The Republican Government had to bear the odium of signing, first the surrender and then the peace terms. It was easy for the embittered and unscrupulous to twist this into the lie that the Social Democrats and the Republican Parties had deliberately engineered the capitulation, betrayed Germany, and stabbed the German Army in the back, in order to hoist themselves into power. The fact that the Provisional Government, led by the Social Democrats, sacrificed party and class interests to the patriotic duty of holding Germany together in a crisis not of their making, was brushed aside. These were the ‘November criminals’, the scapegoats who had to be found if the Army and the Nationalists were to rescue anything from the wreck of their hopes. Rarely has a more fraudulent lie been foisted on a people, yet it was persistently repeated and widely believed — because so many wanted to believe it.

Any society is bound to be shaken by the experience of violence and sufferings involved in years of war. The effect was doubly severe in Germany since war had led to defeat, sudden, unexpected defeat. Throughout Central and Eastern Europe the end of the war was marked by a series of revolutionary changes. The Hapsburg, the Hohenzollern, and the Ottoman Empires followed the Romanovs into oblivion. The political and social structure of half Europe was thrown into the melting-pot. It was a time of widespread unrest, insecurity and fear in all Europe east of the Rhine. In Germany, where people now found themselves faced with new sacrifices demanded by the Peace Treaty and Reparations, this condition lasted for five years, until the end of 1923. It was during that restless and disturbed period that Hitler first made his mark as a politician.

The threat to the stability of the new Republican régime came, not only from the extremists of the Left who sought to carry out a social revolution on a Communist pattern, but equally, perhaps even more, from an intransigent Right, in whose eyes the Republic was damned from birth. It was associated with the surrender, a shameful and deliberate act of treachery, as most of them soon came to regard it. In 1919 the Republican Government signed a Peace Treaty the terms of which were universally resented in Germany; this was looked upon as a fresh act of betrayal, and the Government was henceforward branded as the agent of the Allies in despoiling and humiliating Germany. The fact that its institutions were democratic, that the Social Democratic Party and the working-class organizations supported it, and that there was a demand for more radical action from the Left — finding expression in workers’ demonstrations, strikes, and, on occasion, street fighting — added to the hostility with which the extremists of the Right viewed the new régime. It was openly said that loyalty to the Fatherland required disloyalty to the Republic.

This mood was not only to be found among the classes which had hitherto ruled Germany, and ruled it in their own interests, the noble families, the Junkers, the industrialists, the big business men, and the German Officer Corps. It was also characteristic of many wartime officers and ex-servicemen, who resented what they regarded as the ingratitude and treachery of the Home Front and the Republic towards the Frontkämpfer. They identified their own personal grievances of unemployment, the loss of their privileged position as officers, their inability and reluctance to exchange their wartime life for a humdrum peacetime existence, with the losses and humiliations for Germany which were the inevitable consequences of defeat and which were accepted, as they had to be, by the Republican Government.

In this way the malaise which is the inevitable sequel to a long period of war found a political form. It was canalized into a campaign of agitation and conspiracy against the existing régime, a campaign in which free use was made of the habits of violence learned in the years of war. No one has described this frame of mind better than Hitler hirnself. In the speech of 13 July 1934, in which he justified his action in the Röhm Purge,[59] he spoke

of those revolutionaries whose former relation to the State was shattered by the events of 1918: they became uprooted and thereby lost altogether all sympathy with any ordered human society. They became revolutionaries who favoured revolution for its own sake and desired to see revolution established as a permanent condition....

Amongst the documents which during the last week it was my duty to read, I have discovered a diary with the notes of a man who, in 1918, was thrown into the path of resistance to the law and who now lives in a world in which law in itself seems to be a provocation to resistance. It is ... an unbroken tale of conspiracy and continual plotting: it gives one an insight into the mentality of men who, without realizing it, have found in nihilism their final confession of faith.[60]

It was this mood of discontent which Hitler was to exploit, and of which he himself at that time furnished a typical example.

When the war ended and the Republic was proclaimed, Hitler was still in hospital at Pasewalk. The acknowledgement of Germany’s defeat and the establishment of a democratic Republic, in which the Social Democrats played the leading part, were both intolerable to him. There is no reason to doubt his statement that the shock of Germany’s surrender was a decisive experience in his life.

Everything went black before my eyes as I staggered back to my ward and buried my aching head between the blankets and pillow..,. The following days were terrible to bear and the nights still worse.... During these nights my hatred increased, hatred for the originators of this dastardly crime.[61]

Everything with which he had identified himself seemed to be defeated, swept aside in a torrent of events which had been released, as he had no doubt, by the same Jews who had always desired the defeat and humiliation of Germany.

Like many others among the mob of demobilized men who now found themselves flung on to the labour market at a time of widespread unemployment, he had little prospect of finding a job. The old problem of how to make a living, conveniently shelved for four years, reappeared. Characteristically, Hitler turned his back on it. ‘I was forced now to scoff at the thought of any personal future, which hitherto had been the cause of so much worry to me. Was it not ludicrous to think of building up anything on such a foundation?’[62] He was not interested in work, in finding a steady job; he never had been. After all, what had he to lose in the break-up of a world in which he had never found a place? Nothing. What had he to gain in the general unrest, confusion, and disorder? Everything, if only he knew how to turn events to his advantage. With a sure instinct, he saw in the distress of Germany the opportunity he had been looking for but had so far failed to find.

‘At that juncture innumerable plans took shape in my mind.... Unfortunately, every project had to give way before the hard fact that I was quite unknown and therefore did not even have the first prerequisite necessary for effective action.’[63] None the less, he did not despair. With considerable naivety, he wrote in Mein Kampf-. ‘Generally speaking, a man should not take part in politics before he has reached the age of thirty.’[64] Hitler was now in his thirtieth year, the time was ripe and the decision was taken : ‘I resolved that I would take up political work.’

But how ? Uncertain as yet of the answer, Hitler, after his discharge from hospital, made his way through a disorganized country back to Munich. He was still in uniform and still drew his rations and pay from the Army. In December 1918, he volunteered for guard duty in a prisoner-of-war camp at Traunstein near the Austrian frontier. By the end of January, however, the prisoners were sent home and the camp closed; Hitler had to return to Munich. It was there in the next few months that he found the answer to his question.

Few towns in the Reich were as sensitive to the mood of unrest as Munich : its political atmosphere was unstable and exaggerated towards one extreme or the other. During the war Hitler himself had remarked that bad morale and war-weariness were more pronounced in Munich than in the north. The revolution of 1918 broke out in Munich before Berlin, and the Wittelsbach King of Bavaria was the first to abdicate. In the first six months of 1919 political violence was an everyday occurrence in Munich. Kurt Eisner, the man who had led the Bavarian revolution of November 1918, was murdered in February. A Social Democratic government under Hoffman only lasted until 6 April, when, under the influence of Bela Kun’s Communist régime in Hungary, a Soviet republic was proclaimed in Munich too. This in turn lasted less than a month, and was accompanied by quarrelling, uproar, and the utmost confusion, all of which left an indelible impression on the Bavarians. At the beginning of May, the Soviet régime was overthrown by a combined force of regular troops and Freikorps volunteers. A bloody revenge was exacted, and many people were shot in the wave of suppression which followed. Hoffman’s government was nominally restored, but the events of May 1919 marked a decisive swing to the Right in Bavarian politics.

In Bavaria, ever since the unification of Germany, there had been a traditional dislike of government from Prussian and Protestant Berlin, a sentiment which found expression after the war in demands for greater autonomy, and even in a separatist programme for a complete break with Northern Germany in favour of a Catholic, South German Union with Austria. The constitution of the Weimar Republic afforded considerable opportunity for the expression of this Bavarian particularism, for, alongside the central Reich government in Berlin, the old German states — Bavaria, Prussia, Württemberg, Saxony, etc. — each retained its own State government and representative assembly (Landtag), which exercised powers of considerable importance, notably control of the police. In the disturbed and unstable condition of Germany between 1918 and 1923, the power of the central government in Berlin was weakened, and the Bavarian State Government was able to exploit a situation in which the orders of the Reich Government were only respected if they were backed by the support of the authorities in Munich.

This anomalous position became more marked after March 1920, when an attempt to overthrow the Reich Government in Berlin by force failed (the Kapp Putsch), but a simultaneous coup d’état succeeded in Bavaria. On the night of 13–14 March 1920, the District Commander of the Reichswehr (the German Regular Army), General Arnold von Möhl, presented the Social Democratic Premier of Bavaria, Johannes Hoffman, with an ultimatum which led to the establishment of a right-wing government under Gustav von Kahr, from which the parties of the Left were excluded. Bavaria was thenceforward ruled by a State government which had strong particularist leanings and a Right-wing bias quite out of sympathy with the policies pursued by the central government in Berlin. Bavaria thus became a natural centre for all those who were eager to get rid of the republican regime in Germany, and the Bavarian Government turned a blind eye to the treason and conspiracy against the legal government of the Reich which were being planned on its doorstep in Munich. It was in Bavaria that the irreconcilable elements of the Freikorps gathered, armed bands of volunteers formed under the patronage of the Reichswehr at the end of the war to maintain order and protect the eastern frontiers of Germany against the Poles and the Bolsheviks, but now just as willing to turn their guns against the Republic. Driven from Berlin by the failure of the Kapp Putsch, the notorious Captain Ehrhardt and his Ehrhardt Brigade found shelter in Bavaria, and here were arranged the murders of Erzberger, the man who had signed the Armistice of 1918, and Walther Rathenau, Germany’s Jewish Foreign Minister, who had initiated the policy of fulfilling the provisions of the Peace Treaty. The Freikorps were the training schools for the political murder and terrorism which disfigured German life up to 1924, and again after 1929.

Among the regular officers of the V11 District Command of the Army stationed in Munich were men like Major-General Ritter von Epp and his assistant, Captain Ernst Rohm, who were prepared to give protection and support to these activities as a way of evading the Treaty of Versailles’ limitations upon Germany’s military power. In the Freikorps and in the innumerable defence leagues, patriotic unions, and ex-servicemen’s associations which sprang up in Bavaria, they saw the nucleus of that future German Army which should one day revenge the humiliations of 1918. When that day would come no one knew, but in the meantime it was essential to keep together, under one disguise or another, the men who had been the backbone of the old German Army, which was now reduced by the terms of the Treaty to a mere hundred thousand in numbers.

If necessary there were highly placed officials in most ministries who had served as reserve officers during the war, or entertained nationalist sympathies, to whom appeal could be made. It was Pohner, the Police President of Munich, who gave the famous reply, when asked if he knew there were political murder gangs in Bavaria: ‘Yes, but not enough of them.’ Wilhelm Frick, later Hitler’s Minister of the Interior, was Pbhner’s assistant; one of his colleagues in the Bavarian Ministry of Justice was Franz Giirtner, later Hitler’s Minister of Justice.

At the back of the minds of all these men was the dream which bewitched the German Right for twenty years, the dream of overthrowing the Republic, reversing the decision of 1918, restoring Germany to her rightful position as the greatest Power of continental Europe and restoring the Army to its rightful position in Germany. The obvious first step was to begin by weakening, obstructing and, if possible, getting rid of the government in power in Berlin. Such was the promising political setting in which Hitler began his career.


Hitler lived through the exciting days of April and May 1919 in Munich itself. What part he played, if any, is uncertain. According to his own account in Mein Kampf, he was to have been put under arrest at the end of April, but drove off with his rifle the three men who came to arrest him. Once the Communists had been overthrown, he gave information before the Commission of Inquiry set up by the 2nd Infantry Regiment, which tried and shot those reported to have been active on the other side. He then got a job in the Press and News Bureau of the Political Department of the Army’s VII (Munich) District Command, a centre for the activities of such men as Rohm. After attending a course of ‘political instruction’ for the troops, Hitler was himself appointed a Bildungsoffizier (Instruction Officer) with the task of inoculating the men against contagion by socialist, pacifist, or democratic ideas. This was an important step for Hitler, since it constituted the first recognition of the fact that he had any political ability at all. Then, in September, he was instructed by the head of the Political Department to investigate a small group meeting in Munich, the German Workers’ Party, which might possibly be of interest to the Army.

The German Workers’ Party had its origins in a Committee of Independent Workmen set up by a Munich locksmith, Anton Drexler, on 7 March 1918. Drexler’s idea was to create a party which would be both working class and nationalist. He saw what Hitler had also seen, that a middle-class movement like the Fatherland Front (to which Drexler belonged) was hopelessly out of touch with the mood of the masses, and that these were coming increasingly under the influence of anti-national and antimilitarist propaganda. Drexler made little headway with his committee, which recruited forty members, and in October 1918 he and Karl Harrer, a journalist, founded the Political Workers’ Circle which, in turn, was merged with the earlier organization in January 1919 to form the German Workers’ Party. Harrer became the Party’s first chairman. Its total membership was little more than Drexler’s original forty, activity was limited to discussions in Munich beer-halls, and the committee of six had no clear idea of anything more ambitious. It can scarcely have been a very impressive scene when, on the evening of 12 September 1919, Hitler attended his first meeting in a room at the Sterneckerbrau, a Munich beer-cellar in which a handful of twenty or twenty-five people had gathered. One of the speakers was Gottfried Feder, an economic crank well known in Munich, who had already impressed Hitler at one of the political courses arranged for the Army. The other was a Bavarian separatist, whose proposals for the secession of Bavaria from the German Reich and a union with Austria brought Hitler to his feet in a fury. He spoke with such vehemence that when the meeting was over Drexler went up to him and gave him a copy of his autobiographical pamphlet, Mein politisches Erwachen.[65] A few days later Hitler received a postcard inviting him to attend a committee meeting of the German Workers’ Party.

After some hesitation Hitler went. The committee met in an obscure beer-house, the Alte Rosenbad, in the Herrnstrasse. T went through the badly lighted guest-room, where not a single guest was to be seen, and searched for the door which led to the side room; and there I was face to face with the Committee. Under the dim light shed by a grimy gas-lamp I could see four people sitting round a table, one of them the author of the pamphlet.’[66]

The rest of the proceedings followed in the same key: the Party’s funds were reported to total 7.50 marks, minutes were read and confirmed, three letters were received, three replies read and approved.

Yet, as Hitler frankly acknowledges, this very obscurity was an attraction. It was only in a party which, like himself, was beginning at the bottom that he had any prospect of playing a leading part and imposing his ideas. In the established parties there was no room for him, he would be a nobody. After two days’ reflection he made up his mind and joined the Committee of the German Workers’ Party as its seventh member.

The energy and ambition which had been hitherto unharnessed now found an outlet. Slowly and painfully he pushed the Party forward, and prodded his cautious and unimaginative colleagues on the committee into bolder methods of recruitment. A few invitations were multigraphed and distributed, a small advertisement inserted in the local paper, a larger hall secured for more frequent meetings. When Hitler himself spoke for the first time in the Hofbrauhaus in October, a hundred and eleven people were present. The result was to confirm the chairman, Karl Harrer, in his belief that Hitler had no talent for public speaking. But Hitler persisted and the numbers rose. In October there were a hundred and thirty when Hitler spoke on Brest-Litovsk and Versailles, a little later there were two hundred.

At the beginning of 1920 Hitler was put in charge of the Party’s propaganda and promptly set to work to organize its first mass meeting. By the use of clever advertising he got nearly two thousand people into the Festsaal of the Hofbräuhaus on 24 February. The principal speaker was a Dr Dingfelder, but it was Hitler who captured the audience’s attention and used the occasion to announce the Party’s new name, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, and its twenty-five point programme. Angered by the way in which Hitler was now forcing the pace, Harrer resigned from the office of chairman. On 1 April 1920, Hitler at last left the Army and devoted all his time to building up the Party, control of which he now more and more arrogated to himself.

Hitler’s and Drexler’s group in Munich was not the only National Socialist party. In Bavaria itself there were rival groups, led by Streicher in Nuremberg and Dr Otto Dickel in Augsburg, both nominally branches of the German Socialist Party founded by Alfred Brunner in 1919. Across the frontier in Austria and in the Sudentenland the pre-war German Social Workers’ Party had been reorganized and got in touch with the new Party in Munich. A number of attempts had been made in Austria before 1914 to combine a working-class movement with a Pan-German nationalist programme. The most successful was this Deutsch Arbeiterpartei which, led by an Austrian lawyer, Walther Riehl, and a railway employee named Rudolf Jung, won three seats in the Reichsrat at the Austrian elections of 1911. The Party’s programme was formulated at the Moravian town of Iglau in 1913, and reflected the bitterness of the German struggle with the Czechs as well as the attraction of Pan-German and anti-Semitic ideas.[67]

In May 1918, this Austrian party took the title of D.N.S.A.P. — the German National Socialists Workers’ Party — and began to use the Hakenkreuz, the swastika, as its symbol. When the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was broken up, and a separate Czech State formed, the National Socialists set up an inter-State bureau with one branch in Vienna, of which Riehl was chairman, and another in the Sudetenland. It was this inter-State bureau which now invited the cooperation of the Bavarian National Socialists, and a Munich delegation attended the next joint meeting at Salzburg in August 1920. Shortly afterwards the Munich Party, too, adopted the name of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

Up to August 1923, when Hitler attended the last of the interstate meetings at Salzburg, there were fairly frequent contacts between these different National Socialist groups, but little came of them. Hitler was too jealous of his independence to submit to interference from outside, and the last meeting of the conference, at Salzburg in 1923, led to Riehl’s resignation.

Much more important to Hitler was the support he received from Captain Röhm, on the staff of the Army District Command in Munich. Röhm, a tough, scar-faced soldier of fortune with real organizing ability, exercised considerable influence in the shadowy world of the Freikorps, Defence Leagues, and political conspiracies. He had actually joined the German Workers’ Party before Hitler, for, like Hitler, he saw that it would be impossible to re-create a strong, nationalist Germany until the alienation of the mass of the people from their old loyalty to the Fatherland and the Army could be overcome. Any party which could recapture the working classes for a nationalist and militarist allegiance interested him. He admired the spirit and toughness of the Communists, who were prepared to fight for what they believed in: what he wanted was working-class organizations with the same qualities on his own side.

Röhm had little patience with the view that the Army should keep out of politics. The Army, he believed, had to go into politics if it wanted to create the sort of State which would restore its old privileged position, and break with the policy of fulfilling the terms of the Peace Treaty. This was a view accepted by only a part of the Officer Corps; others, especially among the senior officers, viewed Röhm’s activities with mistrust. But there was sufficient sympathy with his aims to allow a determined man to use the opportunities of his position to the full.

When Hitler began to build up the German Workers’ Party, Röhm pushed in ex-Freikorps men and ex-servicemen to swell the Party’s membership. From these elements the first ‘strong- arm’ squads were formed, the nucleus of the S.A. In December 1920, Röhm had persuaded his commanding officer, Major- General Ritter von Epp — himself a former Freikorps leader and a member of the Party — to help raise the sixty thousand marks needed to buy the Party a weekly paper, the Völkischer Beobachter.[68] Dietrich Eckart[69] provided half, but part of the rest came from Army secret funds. Above all, Röhm was the indispensable link in securing for Hitler the protection, or at least the tolerance, of the Army and of the Bavarian Government, which depended on the local Army Command as the ultimate arbiter of public order. Without the unique position of the Army in German, and especially in Bavarian, politics — its ability to extend powerful support to the political groups and activities it favoured — Hitler would never have been able to exercise with impunity his methods of incitement, violence and intimidation. At every step from 1914 to 1945 Hitler’s varying relationship to the Army was of the greatest importance to him: never more so than in these early years in Munich when, without the Army’s patronage, Hitler would have found the greatest difficulty in climbing the first steps of his political career. Before his death the Army was to learn the full measure of his ingratitude.

Yet however important this help from outside, the foundation of Hitler’s success was his own energy and ability as a political leader. Without this, the help would never have been forthcoming, or would have produced insignificant results. Hitler’s genius as a politician lay in his unequalled grasp of what could be done by propaganda, and his flair for seeing how to do it. He had to learn in a hard school, on his feet night after night, arguing his case in every kind of hall, from the smoke-filled back room of a beer cellar to the huge auditorium of the Zirkus Krone; often, in the early days, in the face of opposition, indifference or amused contempt; learning to hold his audience’s attention, to win them over; most important of all, learning to read the minds of his audiences, finding the sensitive spots on which to hammer. ‘He could play like a virtuoso on the well-tempered piano of lower-middle-class hearts,’ says Dr Schacht.[70] Behind that virtuosity lay years of experience as an agitator and mob orator. Hitler came to know Germany and the German people at first hand as few of Germany’s other leaders ever had. By the time he came to power in 1933 there were few towns of any size in the Reich where he had not spoken. Here was one great advantage Hitler had over nearly all the politicians with whom he had to deal, his immense practical experience of politics, not in the Chancellery or the Reichstag, but in the street, the level at which elections arc won, the level at which any politician must be effective if he is to carry a mass vote with him.

Hitler was the greatest demagogue in history. Those who add ‘only a demagogue’ fail to appreciate the nature of political power in an age of mass politics. As he himself said: ‘To be a leader, means to be able to move masses.’[71]

The lessons which Hitler drew from the activities of the Austrian Social Democrats and Lueger’s Christian Socialists were now tried out in Munich. Success was far from being automatic. Hitler made mistakes and had much to learn before he could persuade people to take him seriously, even on the small stage of Bavarian politics. By 1923 he was still only a provincial politician, who had not yet made any impact on national politics, and the end of 1923 saw the collapse of his movement in a fiasco. But Hitler learned from his mistakes, and by the time he came to write Mein Kampf in the middle of the 1920s he was able to set down quite clearly what he was trying to do, and what were the conditions of success. The pages in Mein Kampf in which he discusses the technique of mass propaganda and political leadership stand out in brilliant contrast with the turgid attempts to explain his entirely unoriginal political ideas.

The first and most important principle for political action laid down by Hitler is: Go to the masses. ‘The movement must avoid everything which may lessen or weaken its power of influencing the masses ... because of the simple fact that no great idea, no matter how sublime or exalted, can be realized in practice without the effective power which resides in the popular masses.’[72]

Since the masses have only a poor acquaintance with abstract ideas, their reactions lie more in the domain of the feelings, where the roots of their positive as well as their negative attitudes are implanted.... The emotional grounds of their attitude furnish the reason for their extraordinary stability. It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge. And the driving force which has brought about the most tremendous revolutions on this earth has never been a body of scientific teaching which has gained power over the masses, but always a devotion which has inspired them, and often a kind of hysteria which has urged them into action. Whoever wishes to win over the masses must know the key that will open the door to their hearts. It is not objectivity, which is a feckless attitude, but a determined will, backed up by power where necessary.[73]

Hitler is quite open in explaining how this is to be achieved. ‘The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare necessities and then must be expressed in a few stereotyped formulas.’[74] Hitler had nothing but scorn for the intellectuals who are always looking for something new. ‘ Only constant repetition will finally succeed in imprinting an idea on the memory of a crowd.’[75] For the same reason it is better to stick to a programme even when certain points in it become out of date: ‘As soon as one point is removed from the sphere of dogmatic certainty, the discussion will not simply result in a new and better formulation, but may easily lead to endless debates and general confusion.’[76]

When you lie, tell big lies. This is what the Jews do, working on the principle, ‘which is quite true in itself, that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily, and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters, but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.... The grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down.’[77]

Above all, never hesitate, never qualify what you say, never concede an inch to the other side, paint all your contrasts in black and white. This is the ‘very first condition which has to be fulfilled in every kind of propaganda: a systematically one-sided attitude towards every problem that has to be dealt with.... When they see an uncompromising onslaught against an adversary, the people have at all times taken this as proof that right is on the side of the active aggressor; but if the aggressor should go only halfway and fail to push home his success ... the people will look upon this as a sign that he is uncertain of the justice of his own cause.’[78]

Vehemence, passion, fanaticism, these arc ‘the great magnetic forces which alone attract the great masses; for these masses always respond to the compelling force which emanates from absolute faith in the ideas put forward, combined with an indomitable zest to fight for and defend them.... The doom of a nation can be averted only by a storm of glowing passion; but only those who are passionate themselves can arouse passion in others.’[79]

Hitler showed a marked preference for the spoken over the written word. ‘The force which ever set in motion the great historical avalanches of religious and political movements is the magic power of the spoken word. The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force.’[80] The employment of verbal violence, the repetition of such words as ‘smash’, ‘force’, ‘ruthless’, ‘hatred’, was deliberate. Hitler’s gestures and the emotional character of his speaking, lashing himself up to a pitch of near-hysteria in which he would scream and spit out his resentment, had the same effect on an audience. Many descriptions have been given of the way in which he succeeded in communicating passion to his listeners, so that men groaned or hissed and women sobbed involuntarily, if only to relieve the tension, caught up in the spell of powerful emotions of hatred and exaltation, from which all restraint had been removed.

It was to be years yet before Hitler was able to achieve this effect on the scale of the Berlin Sportpalast audiences of the 1930s, but he had already begun to develop extraordinary gifts as a speaker. It was in Munich that he learned to address mass audiences of several thousands. In Mein Kampf he remarks that the orator’s relationship with his audience is the secret of his art. ‘ He will always follow the lead of the great mass in such a way that from the living emotion of his hearers the apt word which he needs will be suggested to him and in its turn this will go straight to the hearts of his hearers.’[81] A little later he speaks of the difficulty of overcoming emotional resistance: this cannot be done by argument, but only by an appeal to the ‘hidden forces’ in an audience, an appeal that the orator alone can make.

Propaganda was not confined to the spoken word. There were the posters, always in red, the revolutionary colour, chosen to provoke the Left; the swastika and the flag, with its black swastika in a white circle on a red background, a design to which Hitler devoted the utmost care; the salute, the uniform, and the hierarchy of ranks. Mass meetings and demonstrations were another device which Hitler borrowed from the Austrian Social Democrats. The essential purpose of such meetings was to create a sense of power, of belonging to a movement whose success was irresistible. Hitler here hit upon a psychological fact which was to prove of great importance in the history of the Nazi movement: that violence and terror have their own propaganda value, and that the display of physical force attracts as many as it repels. ‘When our political meetings first started,’ Hitler writes, ‘I made it a special point to organize a suitable defence squad.... Some of them were comrades who had seen active service with me, others were young Party members who right from the start had been trained and brought up to realize that only terror is capable of smashing terror.’[82] Defence is an ambiguous word to describe such activities, for, as Hitler adds, ‘the best means of defence is attack, and the reputation of our hall-guard squads stamped us as a political fighting force and not as a debating society.’[83]

From the first these men were used, not to protect the Nazis’ meetings, but to provoke disturbance, if necessary by breaking up other parties’ meetings, and to beat-up political opponents as part of a deliberate campaign of intimidation. On 4 January 1921, Hitler told an audience in the Kindi Keller: ‘The National Socialist Movement in Munich will in future ruthlessly prevent — if necessary by force — all meetings or lectures that are likely to distract the minds of our fellow countrymen.’[84] In September of the same year Hitler personally led his followers in storming the platform of a meeting addressed by Ballerstedt of the federalist Bavarian League. When examined by the police commission which inquired into the incident, Hitler replied: ‘It’s all right. We got what we wanted. Ballerstedt did not speak.’[85]

Far from using violence in a furtive underhand way, Hitler gave it the widest possible publicity. In this way people were forced to pay attention to what he was doing and they were impressed even against their will. No government of any determination would have tolerated such methods, but the Republican Government in Berlin had virtually no authority in Bavaria, and the Bavarian State Government showed remarkable complacence towards political terrorism, provided it was directed against the Left.

The ‘strong-arm’ squads were first formed in the summer of 1920, under the command of an ex-convict and watchmaker, Emil Maurice, but their definitive organization dates from

August 1921, when a so-called ‘Gymnastic and Sports Division’ was set up inside the Party. ‘It is intended,’ said the Party proclamation, ‘to serve as a means for bringing our youthful members together in a powerful organization for the purpose of utilizing their strength as an offensive force at the disposal of the movement.’[86] The German Government, under pressure from the Allies, had ordered the dissolution of the Freikorps and Defence Leagues, and the Nazi Gymnastic and Sports Division was one of many camouflages used by Rohm and his friends to keep together the disbanded forces. After 5 October, it changed its name to Sturmabteilung (the S.A., or Storm Section of the Party) and was largely composed of ex-Freikorps men, especially from the Ehrhardt Brigade and the Organization Consul which had carried out Erzberger’s murder. The first S.A. leader, Johann Ulrich Klintzsch, had been one of Ehrhardt’s lieutenants and was for a time in prison in connexion with the Erzberger assassination.

In November 1921, the S.A. went into action in the so-called Saalschlacht,[87] a fierce fight with the Reds in a Nazi meeting at the Hofbrauhaus, which was built up into a Party legend. Next year, in August, S.A. formations paraded with swastika flags flying in a demonstration of the Patriotic Associations on the Munich Konigsplatz, and a month later eight ‘ Hundreds ’ (Hundertschaften) were organized. The use Hitler intended to make of the S.A. was shown in October 1922, when he took eight hundred of his stormtroopers to Coburg for a nationalist demonstration, defied the police ban on marching through the town and fought a pitched battle in the streets with the Socialists and Communists.[88] To have been at Coburg was a much-prized distinction in the Nazi Party, and a special medal was later designed for those who had taken part in Coburg Day.


By 1921 it was clear that the Party was developing rapidly away from the original conceptions of Harrer and Drexler. Inevitably, Hitler’s propaganda methods, his attempt to turn the Party into a mass following for himself and to ride roughshod over the other members of the committee, produced resentment. Harrer resigned from the Party chairmanship in 1920, but this was not the end of the trouble. In the early summer of 1921 Hitler spent some time in Berlin, where he got into touch with certain of the nationalist groups in the north and spoke at the National Club. While he was away from Munich the other members of the Party committee, long since thrust into the shade, revolted against Hitler’s dictatorship and tried to recapture the direction of the Party. The occasion was a proposal to unite with certain other small groups, the most important of which was Brunner’s and Streicher’s German Socialist Party. The merger, it was hoped, would fetter Hitler’s freedom of action.

Hitler returned immediately to Munich, and countered the move by offering his own resignation. This put the rest of the committee in an awkward position, for there was no doubt who had brought the Party so far, and who found the Party funds as well as the publicity. The last thing they could afford was to let Hitler resign. Hitler, however, far from making concessions, demanded dictatorial powers if he was to remain, together with the retirement of the committee and a ban on Party negotiations for six years. In a leaflet defending themselves, the members of the committee wrote:

A lust for power and personal ambition have caused Herr Adolf Hitler to return to his post after his six weeks’ absence in Berlin, the other purpose of which has not yet been disclosed. He regards the time as ripe for bringing dissension and schism into our ranks by means of shadowy people behind him, and thus furthering the interests of the Jews and their friends. It grows more and more clear that his purpose is simply to use the National Socialist Party as a springboard for his own immoral, purposes and to seize the leadership in order to force the Party on to a different track at the psychological moment.[89]

But the committee was no match for Hitler, who received powerful support from Eckart. They had to repudiate the leaflet after Hitler sued the newspaper which printed it for libel and at two meetings on 26 and 29 July they capitulated, making Hitler president and giving him virtually unlimited powers. Drexler was kicked upstairs as Honorary President.

The split between Hitler and the committee went deeper than personal antipathy and mistrust. Drexler and Harrer had always thought of the Party as a workers’ and lower-middle-class party, radical and anti-capitalist as well as nationalist. These ideas were expressed in the programme, with its Twenty-five Points (drawn up by Drexler, Hitler, and Feder, and adopted in February 1920), as well as in the name of the German National Socialist Workers’ Party. The programme was nationalist and anti-Semitic in character. All Germans (including those of Austria and the Sude- tenland) were to be united in a Greater Germany. The treaties of Versailles and St Germain were to be abrogated. Jews were to be excluded from citizenship and office; those who had arrived since 1914 were to be expelled from Germany.

At the same time the Party programme came out strongly against Capitalism, the trusts, the big industrialists, and the big landowners. All unearned income was to be abolished; all war profits to be confiscated; the State was to take over all trusts and share in the profits of large industries; the big department stores were to be communalized and rented to small tradespeople, while preference in all public supplies was to be given to the small trader. With this went equally drastic proposals for agrarian reform: the expropriation without compensation of land needed for national purposes, the abolition of ground rents, and the prohibiting of land speculation.

There is no doubt that on Drexler’s and Feder’s part this represented a genuine programme to which they always adhered. Hitler saw it in a different light. Although for immediate tactical reasons in 1926 he was forced to declare the Party programme unalterable, all programmes to Hitler were means to an end, to be taken up or dropped as they were needed. ‘Any idea,’ he says in Mein Kampf, ‘ may be a source of danger if it be looked upon as an end in itself.’[90] Hitler’s own programme was much simpler: power, power for himself, for the Party, and the nation with which he identified himself. In 1920 the Twenty-five Points were useful, because they brought support; as soon as the Party had passed that stage, however, they became an embarrassment. Hitler was as much interested in the working class and the lower middle class as Drexler, but he had no more sympathy for them than he had had in Vienna: he was interested in them as material for political manipulation. Their grievances and discontents were the raw stuff of politics, a means, but never an end. Hitler had agreed to the Socialist clauses of the programme, because in 1920 the German working class and the lower middle classes were saturated in a radical anti-capitalism; such phrases were essential for any politician who wanted to attract their support. But they remained phrases. What Hitler himself meant by Socialism can be illustrated by a speech he made on 28 July 1922. ‘Whoever is prepared to make the national cause his own to such an extent that he knows no higher ideal than the welfare of his nation; whoever has understood our great national anthem, Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles, to mean that nothing in the wide world surpasses in his eyes this Germany, people and land, land and people — that man is a Socialist.’[91]

The situation repeated itself in 1930 when Otto Strasser and his friends left the Party, complaining bitterly that they had been deceived in their belief that it was a radical and socialist movement.

For the same reasons Hitler was not prepared to limit membership of the Party to any one class. All forms of discontent were grist to his mill; there was as much room in his Party for the unemployed ex-officer like Göring and Hess, or the embittered intellectual like Rosenberg and Goebbels, as for the working man who refused to join a trade union or the small shopkeeper who wanted to smash the windows of the big Jewish department stores. Ambition, resentment, envy, avidity for power and wealth — in every class — these were the powerful motive forces Hitler sought to harness. He was prepared to be all things to all men, because to him all men represented only one thing, a means to power. The character of the following Hitler was beginning to collect in Munich, no less than the methods by which he attracted it, shocked the prim, old-fashioned prejudices of Drexler and his friends, but they had no weapons with which to fight against his combination of energy and unscrupulousness, backed by the argument of success. On his side Hitler did not conceal his contempt for those he described in Mein Kampf as ‘antiquated theorists whose practical success is in inverse proportion to their wisdom’.[92]

The committee which had hitherto controlled the Party was now swept away — Hitler had long since ceased to attend its meetings. The new president put in Max Amann, the ex-sergeant- major of the List Regiment, to run the business side of the Party, and Dietrich Eckart as editor of the Völkischer Beobachter. The power of making all big decisions he kept in his own hands. The dismal back room at the Sterneckerbräu which had served as a committee-room was abandoned for new and larger offices at 12 Comeliusstrasse. Bit by bit they accumulated office furniture, files, a typewriter, and a telephone. By February 1923, they were able to bring out the Völkischer Beobachter as a daily, with editorial offices at 39 Schellingstrasse.

Hitler worked in these early years in Munich as he had never worked before; it was only sheer hard work that could create the illusion of success. But it was work which suited him: his hours were irregular, he was his own master, his life was spent in talking, he lived in a whirl of self-dramatization, and the gap between his private dream-world and his outer life had been narrowed, however slightly.

Until the end of his life Hitler continued to look back and recall these early years of the Nazi movement with pride as the heroic period of the Party’s struggle, the Kampfzeit. In January 1932 he said:

I cast my eyes back to the time when with six other unknown men I founded this association, when I spoke before eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, twenty, thirty, fifty persons. When I recall how after a year I had won sixty-four members for the movement, I must confess that that which has today been created, when a stream of millions is flowing into our movement, represents something unique in German history. The bourgeois parties have had seventy years to work in. Where is the organization which in seventy years has achieved what we have achieved in barely twelve?[93]

This was the ‘miracle’ of National Socialism. ‘And it is truly a miracle to trace this development of our movement. To posterity it will appear like a fairy-tale. A people is shattered and then a small company of men arises and begins an Odyssey of wanderings, which begins in fanaticism, which in fanaticism pursues its course.’[94]

Who were the men with whom Hitler began his ‘Odyssey’ in Munich ? One of the most important was Ernst Röhm, a man for whom soldiering was his whole life and who had little but contempt for anything outside it. ‘From my childhood I had only one thought and wish — to be a soldier.’ These are the opening words of his Memoirs. Röhm was too independent and had too much the unruly temper of a condottiere to fit easily into the rigid pattern of the Reichswehr: he had finally to resign his commission in 1923. None the less he provided an invaluable link with the Army authorities, even after his resignation, and more than any other man it was he who created the S.A.

Two other ex-officers may be mentioned with Röhm. Rudolf Hess, the son of a German merchant, who had been born in Alexandria, was seven years younger than Hitler. He had served for part of the war in the same regiment as Hitler before becoming a pilot in the Air Force. Now a student at the University of Munich, he won a prize for an essay on the theme : ‘ How Must the Man be Constituted who will Lead Germany back to Her Old Heights?’ Hess, a solemn and stupid young man who took politics with great seriousness, conceived a deep admiration for Hitler and became his secretary and devoted follower. It was through Hess that Hitler came into touch with the geopolitical theories of Karl Haushofer, a former general who had become a professor at Munich University.

A very different figure from the humourless Hess was Hermann Göring, the last commander of the crack Richthofen Fighter Squadron and holder of Germany’s highest decoration for bravery under fire, the Pour le Mérite. Swaggering and loud in his behaviour, Göring and his Swedish wife Karin, who had means of her own, settled in Munich in 1921 and lived in some style. The exmajor dabbled in studies at the University, then in the autumn of 1922 heard Hitler speak and was soon drawn into the movement. Shortly afterwards, he took Klintzsch’s place as commander of the S.A.

Like Röhm, Gottfried Feder, and Dietrich Eckart had joined the German Workers’ Party before Hitler. Both were men of some education and well known in Munich. Feder was a civil engineer by profession, with unorthodox ideas about economics and the abolition of ‘interest slavery’ which he preached with the persistence of a crank. Feder made a great impression on Hitler, who writes in admiration of him in Mein Kampf;[95] he lost influence, however, and after the Nazis’ rise to power remained in obscurity in Munich. Dietrich Eckart was considerably older than Hitler, well known as a journalist, poet, and playwright, a Bavarian character, fond of beer, food, and talk, a great habitué of such places as the Brennessel wine-cellar in Schwabing. Eckart was a friend of Röhm, with violent nationalist, anti-democratic, and anti-clerical opinions, a racist with an enthusiasm for Nordic folk-lore and a taste for Jew-baiting. At the end of the war he owned a scurrilous sheet called Auf gut’ Deutsch and became the editor of the Völkischer Beobachter, for which be found the greater part of the purchase price. Eckart was a man who had read widely — he had translated Peer Gynt and had a passion for Schopenhauer. He talked well even when he was fuddled with beer, and had a big influence on the younger and still very raw Hitler. He lent him books, corrected his style of expression in speaking and writing, and took him around with him.

It was Eckart who first introduced Hitler to the Obersalzberg, where they frequently stayed at the pension Moritz with Eckart’s girl-friend Anna, Hoffmann, Hermann Esser, Drexler, and another friend of Eckart’s, Dr Emil Gansser. ‘Doctor Gansser deserves eternal gratitude from the Party,’ Hitler said later. ‘I owe him a whole series of very important relationships. If I hadn’t, thanks to him, made the acquaintance of Richard Frank, the wheat man, I wouldn’t have been able to keep the Beobachter going in 1923. The same’s true of Bechstein.’[96]

The Bechsteins, wealthy and famous piano manufacturers, belonged to the wide circle of friends to whom Eckart introduced Hitler. Frau Hélène Bechstein took a great liking to the young man and he was a frequent visitor at her house in Berlin. Frau Bechstein gave parties for people to meet the new prophet, found money for the Party and later visited him in prison. It was through Eckart again, who was a member of the Thule Society — ostensibly interested in Nordic mythology but meddling also in political conspiracy — that Hitler met Hess and Rosenberg.

Alfred Rosenberg was a refugee of German descent from the Baltic town of Reval. He had been trained as an architect in Moscow, but fled to escape the Revolution. Through Rosenberg, who succeeded Eckart as the editor of the Völkischer Beobachter in 1923, Hitler came into touch with a group of passionately antiBolshevik and anti-Semitic Russian émigrés, the most important of whom was General Skoropadski, the German-appointed Governor of the Ukraine in 1918. Skoropadski, his so-called ‘Press-agent’, Dr Nemirovitch-Dantchenko, and others of the group used the Völkischer Beobachter for their White Russian propaganda. General Biskupski is said to have been one of the paper’s principal financial supporters. Another of this group, Schcubner-Richter, a German from the Baltic provinces of Russia, had spent an adventurous war as German consul in Erzerum, stirring up trouble among the Armenians and amongst the Kurdish tribes. Returning to Munich by way of East Prussia and Danzig, he acted as Ludendorff’s liaison man with Hitler and was shot at Hitler’s side in the unsuccessful putsch of 1923.

The fact that Rosenberg had been trained as an architect impressed the man who had failed to get into the Vienna Academy, while his pedantic and laborious discussion of questions of race and culture (later published in Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts) led Hitler to see in this muddled and stupid ‘philosopher’ the heir to the mantle of Houston Stewart Chamberlain and the prophet of the new racist Weltanschauung.[97] In the summer of 1923, Hitler visited Wahnfried, the home of the Wagner family in Bayreuth. For Hitler this was holy ground. He impressed Winnifried Wagner and captivated the aged Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who had married one of Wagner’s daughters and who wrote to him afterwards: ‘ My faith in the Germans had never wavered for a moment, but my hope, I must own, had sunk to a low ebb. At one stroke you have transformed the state of my soul.’[98]

Friedelind Wagner, the musician’s granddaughter, remembers him as a young man ‘in Bavarian leather breeches, short, thick woollen socks, a red-blue-checked shirt and a short blue jacket that bagged about his unpadded skeleton. His sharp cheekbones stuck out over hollow, pasty cheeks, and above them was a pair of unnaturally bright-blue eyes. There was a half-starved look about him, but something else too, a sort of fanatical look.’[99] Later, he was to become a frequent visitor to Wahnfried.

Two years after the Völkischer Beobachter had been bought for him, Hitler made it into a daily. This required money. Some of it was provided by Frau Gertrud von Seidlitz, a Baltic lady who had shares in Finnish paper mills, while Putzi Hanfstängl, a son of the rich Munich family of art publishers, advanced a loan of a thousand dollars. Hanfstängl, who had been educated at Harvard, not only took Hitler into his own home — where he delighted him by his piano-playing, especially of Wagner — but introduced him to a number of other well-to-do Munich families, including the Bruckmanns, another firm of Munich publishers.

Like the Bechsteins, the Bruckmanns were charmed and made into friends for life. But Hitler could be highly disconcerting in company. Ill at ease on any formal social occasion, he cleverly exploited his own awkwardness. He deliberately behaved in an exaggerated and eccentric fashion, arriving late and leaving unexpectedly, either sitting in ostentatious silence or forcing everyone to listen to him by shouting and making a speech. A description of him by a fellow guest at a party in 1923 is quoted by Konrad Heiden:

Hitler had sent word to his hostess that he had to attend an important meeting and would not arrive until late: I think it was about eleven o’clock. He came, none the less, in a very decent blue suit and with an extravagantly large bouquet of roses, which he presented to his hostess as he kissed her hand. While he was being introduced, he wore the expression of a public prosecutor at an execution. I remember being struck by his voice when he thanked the lady of the house for tea or cakes, of which, incidentally, he ate an amazing quantity. It was a remarkably emotional voice, and yet it made no impression of conviviality or intimacy but rather of harshness. However, he said hardly anything but sat there in silence for about an hour; apparently he was tired. Not until the hostess was so incautious as to let fall a remark about the Jews, whom she defended in a jesting tone, did he begin to speak and then he spoke without ceasing. After a while he thrust back his chair and stood up, still speaking, or rather yelling, in such a powerful penetrating voice as I have never heard from anyone else. In the next room a child woke up and began to cry. After he had for more than half an hour delivered a quite witty but very one-sided oration on the Jews, he suddenly broke off, went up to his hostess, begged to be excused and kissed her hand as he took his leave. The rest of the company, who apparently had not pleased him, were only vouchsafed a curt bow from the doorway.[100]

As Heiden remarks, no one who was at that party ever forgot Adolf Hitler.

There were other companions who came from the same lower middle class as Hitler himself and with whom he was more at home than with anyone else. Hoffmann, a vulgar, jolly, earthy Bavarian with a weakness for drinking parties and hearty jokes, understood little about politics, but was the one man allowed to photograph Hitler and, long after his friend had become Chancellor and Führer, enjoyed the licence of a court jester. Max Amann Hitler’s former sergeant-major, tough, rude, but a reliable business man, became the Party’s publisher and made a fortune out of Mein Kampf and the Party newspapers. Ulrich Graf, Hitler’s bodyguard, had been a butcher’s apprentice and amateur wrestler, with a great taste for brawling. He was well matched by Christian Weber, a former horse trader of great physical strength who had worked as a ‘chucker-out’ at various beerhalls and whose social life consisted in drinking endless seidels of Bavarian beer.

Rohm’s reputation — his homosexuality was later to become notorious — was none too good; nor was that of Hermann Esser, the only speaker in those early days who for a time rivalled Hitler. Esser was a young man to whom Hitler openly referred as a scoundrel. He boasted of sponging on his numerous mistresses and made a speciality of digging up Jewish scandals, the full stories of which in all their scabrous details were published in the Völkischer Beobachter. Esser’s only competitor was Julius Streicher, an elementary-school teacher in Nuremberg, who excelled in a violent and crude anti-Semitism. In 1923 Streicher founded Der Stürmer (The Stormtrooper), in which he published fantastic accounts of Jewish ritual murders, of the Jewish world conspiracy revealed in the so-called ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, and of Jewish sexual crimes. Streicher revelled in pornography and was never seen in public without a whip. Hitler’s success in persuading him to break away from the German Socialist Party and join the Nazis with his Nuremberg following was a minor triumph, and not only in Mein Kampf but as late as December 1941 Hitler went out of his way to express his gratitude to Streicher.[101]

Hitler had no illusions about the type of man his movement attracted in its early days, but he also understood their value. ‘Such elements,’ he remarked later, ‘are unusable in time of peace, but in turbulent periods it’s quite different.... Fifty bourgeois wouldn’t have been worth a single one of them. With what blind confidence they followed me! Fundamentally, they were just overgrown children.... During the war they’d fought with the bayonet and thrown hand grenades. They were simple creatures, all of a piece. They couldn’t let the country be sold out to the scum who were the product of defeat. From the beginning I knew that one could make a party only with elements like that.

‘What a contempt I acquired for the Bourgeoisie! If a bourgeois gave me a hundred or two hundred marks, he thought he’d given me the whole of Golconda. But these fine chaps, what sacrifices they were willing to make. All day at their jobs, and all night off on a mission for the Party. I specially looked for people of dishevelled appearance. A bourgeois in a stiff collar would have bitched up everything.’[102] Such were the men with whom the ‘miracle’ of National Socialism was accomplished.

How Hitler managed to make a living at this time is far from clear. In the leaflet which was drawn up by the dissident members of the Committee in July 1921, this was one of the principal points of accusation against Hitler: ‘If any member asks him how he lives and what was his former profession, he always becomes angry and excited. Up to now no answer has been supplied to these questions. So his conscience cannot be clear, especially as his excessive intercourse with ladies, to whom he often describes himself as the King of Munich, costs a great deal of money.’

During the libel action to which this led, Hitler was asked to tell the court exactly how he lived. Did he, for instance, receive money for his speeches? ‘If I speak for the National Socialist Party,’ Hitler replied, ‘I take no money for myself. But I also speak for other organizations, such as the German National Defence and Offensive League, and then, of course, I accept a fee. I also have my midday meal with various Party comrades in turn. I am further assisted to a modest extent by a few Party comrades.’[103] Hitler was obviously embarrassed by these inquiries, for Hess was put up to write an open letter to the Volkischer Beobachter assuring its readers that the leader, on this side too, was beyond reproach.

The probable answer is that Hitler was as careless about money as he had been in Vienna, that he lived from hand to mouth and bothered very little about who was going to pay for the next meal. At this time his home was at 41 Thierschstrasse, a poorish street near the river Isar. He had a single small room, its floor covered with lirioleum and a couple of cheap rugs. His books included a number of popular histories[104] and Clausewitz’s great work On War which he could quote at length. His other possessions were few. He habitually wore an old trenchcoat or a cheap raincoat and troubled little about his appearance or comforts. There was more than a touch of Austrian Schlamperei about Hitler; in matters of everyday life he was incapable of orderly routine or discipline, able to screw himself up to remarkable exertions, and then as suddenly relapsing into lethargy and a moody indifference.

To begin with, the Party, too, was run in the same casual way. Up to a point this was due to lack of funds and the consequent need to depend upon part-time help. Kurt Ludecke, one of the early Nazis, says in his memoirs:

The organization lived from day to day financially, with no treasury to draw on for lecture-hall rents, printing costs, or the thousand-and-one expenses which threatened to swamp us. The only funds we could count on were membership dues, which were small, merely a drop in the bucket. Collections at mass meetings were sometimes large, but not to be relied on. Once in a while a Nazi sympathizer would make a special contribution, and in a few cases these gifts were really substantial. But we never had money enough. Everything demanded outlays that were, compared to our exchequer, colossal. Many a time, posting the placards for some world-shattering meeting, we lacked money to pay for the poster.[105]

Undoubtedly Hitler received contributions from those who sympathized with the aims of his Party, but their amount and importance have been exaggerated. Hermann Aust, a Munich industrialist who gave evidence at the Court of Inquiry held after the putsch of November 1923, told the judge that he had introduced Hitler to a number of Bavarian business men and industrialists who had asked Hitler to speak to meetings in the Herrenklub and in the Merchants Hall at Munich. As a result several of those present gave Aust donations for the movement, which he passed on to Hitler. Dr Gansscr put Hitler in touch with a number of Berlin business men; Dietrich Eckart was generous in settling bills and Frau Seydlitz as well as Frau Bcchstein certainly contributed. In 1923, when Hitler and Ludendorff were working together, Fritz Thyssen, the chairman of the big United Steel works (Vereinigte Stahlwerke), gave them a hundred thousand gold marks, but such gifts were very rare in these early days.

There was a persistent rumour at the time, spread by their opponents, that the Nazis were financed by the French, but no concrete evidence has been produced to support this charge. According to other sources, Hitler received some support from Switzerland in 1923. Not until considerably later did be succeed in touching the big political funds of the German industrialists in the Ruhr and the Rhineland. In fact, the Nazi Party was launched on very slender resources.


The situation in Germany failed to improve with the passage of time. Four years after the end of the war Germany was still a sick, distracted and divided nation. A considerable section of the community was irreconcilable in its attitude to the Republican Government and repudiated the idea of loyalty to the existing régime. Only eighteen months after the establishment of the Republic, the parties which supported it lost heavily in the elections of June 1920 to the extremists of both Right and Left. The Social Democrats and the Democrats lost half the votes they had polled in January 1919, and saw the parties to the left and right of them increase their support in the same degree. Even more serious was the undisguised partiality shown by the Law Courts, by many officials and by the Army when it was a question of intimidation, or even murder, practised by the extremists of the Right and directed against the Republic.

In 1921„ following the murder of Erzberger on 26 August, the Wirth Government tried to assert its authority. The Kahr Ministry in Bavaria was obliged to give way over the dissolution of the Einwohnerwehr[106] and the para-military organizations, and eventually yielded its place to a ministry formed by Count Lerchenfeld, a man of moderate views who tried to support the government in Berlin. This was in September 1921. The new Bavarian Government forced Hitler to serve at least one of the three months’ imprisonment to which he had been sentenced for breaking up Ballerstedt’s meeting (24 June-27 July 1922), and showed itself much less friendly to the extremists than its predecessor had been.

But events were on the side of the extremists. In April 1921, the Allies had fixed the figure for reparations to be paid by Germany at 132 thousand million gold marks, or £6,600 million, while in October the League of Nations had overridden the recent plebiscite held in Upper Silesia in order to give the Poles a larger and more valuable share of former German territory. The policy of fulfilling the terms of the Peace Treaty advocated by Wirth and Rathenau found little support in the face of such bleak facts. Erzberger had been murdered in 1921. In June 1922, an attempt was made on the life of Scheidemann, the man who had proclaimed the Republic, and on 24 June Walther Rathenau-, Chancellor Wirth’s right-hand man and Foreign Minister, was shot dead in the street. Meanwhile a new and ominous development became more prominent, the fall in the value of the German mark. The mark, which at the end of 1918 had stood at the rate of four to the dollar, had dropped to seventy-five by the summer of 1921. In the summer of 1922 the dollar was worth four hundred marks, by the beginning of 1923 more than seven thousand. The inflation was under way, a further factor undermining stability and adding to the difficulties of the Government, which was forced to ask the Allies for a moratorium on reparation payments.

After the assassination of Rathenau the Wirth Government passed a special Law for the Protection of the Republic prescribing heavy penalties for terrorism. There was a loud outcry from the Right in Bavaria, and the Lerchenfeld Government was put under strong pressure to issue an emergency decree virtually suspending the operation of the new law in Bavaria. This was more than the Reich Government could tolerate, and Lerchenfeld was forced to promise the withdrawal of his decree. Thereupon a new agitation broke out in Bavaria, while Röhm, Pöhner, and Dr Pittinger, head of the Bund Bayern und Reich, the biggest of the anti-republican leagues, planned a coup d’etat to overthrow the governments in Munich and Berlin, in which Hitler’s National Socialists were to march with the rest and to which the Bavarian District Command of the Reichswehr was to give its support.

These plans came to nothing, but the Right-wing parties in Bavaria were unappeased, and on 8 November 1922 Lerchenfeld was obliged to resign in favour of a new Bavarian MinisterPresident, Eugen von Knilling. Giirtncr, a man notorious for his nationalist sympathies, was made Bavarian Minister of Justice, and on 16 November the Bavarian Right-wing organizations united their forces in the Union of Patriotic Societies. At the same time the extremists of the Nationalist Party in the north broke away to form a new German Racial Freedom Party (Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei). Ludendorff, a rabid nationalist who had been the military dictator of wartime Germany, and who now lived at Ludwigshöhe in Bavaria, provided a link between the Freiheitspartei and the anti-republican forces of the south. The success of Mussolini’s March on Rome in October 1922 offered an example and a happy auguiy for the success of a similar attempt in Germany.

Hitler had taken an active part in the agitation against the Law for Protection of the Republic. Nazi Party formations, including the S.A., had paraded on the Konigsplatz on 11 August 1922, in a big mass demonstration organized by the Patriotic Association, at which Hitler himself had been the chief speaker. He had been ready to march in the abortive putsch which Pittinger was to have organized, and the National Socialists had agreed to join the Union of Patriotic Societies founded in November.

At this point, however, a conflict began to develop between Hitler and the Bavarian authorities which supplies the key to the confused events of the twelve months that follow between November 1922 and November 1923. Three issues were involved. The first was the extent to which the quarrel between Bavaria and the Reich Government in Berlin should be pursued. The second was the political use to be made of this quarrel, whether to secure increased autonomy for Bavaria and the restoration of the Bavarian monarchy, even perhaps — as the extreme paiticularists hoped — separation from North Germany and union with Austria in a Catholic South German State; or, as Hitler demanded, to overthrow the Republican Government in Berlin and establish a nationalist régime in its place without impairing the unity and centralization of power in the Reich. The third was the part to be played by Hitler and the National Socialists in these developments, whether they were to continue in the role of useful auxiliaries for the Bavarian Government and its supporters, the ‘respectable’ Bavarian Peoples’ Party; or to take the lead in a revolutionary movement to sweep out the ‘November Criminals’ in Berlin, with Hitler as its political director and pacemaker.

The issues were never stated as baldly and simply as this at the time, for obvious reasons. On his side, Hitler had neither the following nor the resources to act on his own. He could only influence events if he could persuade the Bavarian State Government, the other nationalist groups in Bavaria and the Bavarian Command of the Army to go along with him. However much he might rage against all these in private, he was forced to be conciliatory and try to win them over. On their side, the Bavarian authorities, while often embarrassed and irritated by Hitler, especially by his claim to be treated as an equal partner, recognized his usefulness as an agitator, and were anxious to keep control over the small but politically dangerous Nazi Party. The Bavarian Government was in fact divided on the policy to be adopted towards the Nazis. While the Minister of the Interior, Franz Schweyer, was hostile and had already proposed Hitler’s deportation to Austria, the new Minister-President, Knilling, and the Minister of Justice, Gurtnei, saw in the Nazi movement a force to be put to good use, if it could only be kept in hand. Moreover, the Bavarian authorities, in contrast to Hitler, were themselves uncertain how far they wanted to push their quarrel with Berlin and what was to be made of it, changing course several times and frequently disagreeing among themselves. Indeed, Hitler was one of the few men in Bavaria who saw clearly what he wanted, but he lacked the power to impose his views on those in authority, and so had either to dissemble and compromise, or run the risk of outstripping his own strength.

The latent conflict between Hitler and the men who possessed the power to put his plans into operation began to appear before the end of 1922. On his release from prison at the end of July, Hitler became more and more unrestrained in his speeches. On 18 September he told the audience in the Zirkus Krone:

We want to call to account the November Criminals of 1918. It cannot be that two million Germans should have fallen in vain and that afterwards one should sit down as friends at the same table with traitors. No, we do not pardon, we demand — vengeance! The dishonouring of the nation must cease. For betrayers of the Fatherland and informers, the gallows is the proper place.[107]

In November he was saying:

The Marxists taught — If you will not be my brother, I will bash your skull in. Our motto shall be — If you will not be a German, I will bash your skull in. For we are convinced that we cannot succeed without a struggle. We have to fight with ideas, but, if necessary, also with our fists.[108]

This same month of November, Schweyer, the Minister of the Interior, sent for Hitler and warned him against the consequences of the inflammatory propaganda he was conducting. In particular he sought to dispel any illusion that the police would not lire if he attempted to resort to force. When Hitler, in a state of excitement, shouted, ‘ Herr Minister, I give you my word of honour, never as long as I live will I make a putsch,’ Schweyer replied: ‘All respect to your word of honour, but if you go on making such speeches as you have been making, the stream will one day burst loose of its own accord ... and you will swim with it.’[109] At the end of November Hitler’s most important link with the Army, Röhm, was removed from his position as adjutant to MajorGeneral Epp, the commander of the infantry forces in Bavaria. He was placed instead on the staff of the G.O.C. in Bavaria, General von Lossow, who had been appointed by the High Command in Berlin to restrain the Munich garrison from the sort of dangerous adventures in which Röhm had been engaging.

In the months that followed neither the Bavarian Government nor the Bavarian Command of the Army showed the least disposition to let this young agitator, who sometimes behaved as if he were half out of his mind, dictate the policy they were to pursue. Yet Hitler persisted in courting one rebuff after another. Why was he so persistent? Partly, no doubt, it was due to his innate ambition and arrogance; partly to an overestimate of his own importance and misjudgement of the political situation in Bavaria. But there was something else which powerfully influenced him: the belief that the circumstances of 1923 presented an opportunity to overthrow the existing régime which might not recur ; the suspicion that unless they were hustled and pushed into action the Bavarian authorities might let this opportunity slip, and the fear all the time that the quarrel between Munich and Berlin might be patched up and a deal concluded from which he would be excluded. The mistakes Hitler made in 1923 sprang from the fretting impatience of a man who saw his chance, but lacked the means to take it by himself, and so fell into the trap of over-reaching himself.

Nazism was a phenomenon which throve only in conditions of disorder and insecurity. While these had been endemic in Germany ever since the defeat of 1918, two new factors made their appearance in 1923 which brought the most highly industrialized country of continental Europe to the verge of economic and political disintegration: the occupation of the Ruhr and the collapse of the mark.

By the autumn of 1922 the negotiations on reparation payments between Germany and the allied Powers had reached a deadlock. In view of the economic difficulties of the country, the German Government professed itself unable to continue paying reparations and requested a moratorium. The French Government of Poincare refused to make any concession. Convinced that Germany could perfectly well afford to pay, if she wanted to, Poincare used the technical excuse of a German default in deliveries of timber to move French troops into the industrial district of the Ruhr on 11 January 1923. The occupation of the Ruhr amounted to the application of economic sanctions against Germany, and rapidly turned into a trial of strength between the two countries. The Ruhr was the industrial heart of Germany: after the loss of Upper Silesia it accounted for eighty per cent of Germany’s steel and pig-iron production and more than eighty per cent of her coal. To cut off these resources from the rest of Germany, as the French proceeded to do, was to bring the economic life of the whole country to a standstill. Such a prospect in no way deterred Poincare. By the rigorous application of the letter of the Treaty of Versailles, he appeared to be aiming at a substitute for that policy of breaking up the Reich which France had failed to impose at the end of the war. The support which the French gave to the highly suspect separatist movement for the establishment of an independent Rhineland added colour to this belief.

The result of the French occupation was to unite the German people as they had never been united since the early days of the war. The German Government called for a campaign of passive resistance,.which was waged with great bitterness on both sides, and soon extended to the French and Belgian zones of occupation in the Rhineland. Before long, passive resistance became a state of undeclared war in which the weapons on one side were strikes, sabotage, and guerrilla warfare, and on the other arrests, deportations, and economic blockade.

The occupation of the Ruhr gave the final touch to the deterioration of the mark. By 1 July 1923 the rate of exchange with the dollar had risen to a hundred and sixty thousand marks; by 1 August to a million; by 1 November to a hundred and thirty thousand million. The collapse of the currency not only meant the end of trade, bankrupt businesses, food shortage in the big cities and unemployment; it had the effect, which is the unique quality of economic catastrophe, of reaching down to and touching every single member of the community in a way which no political event can. The savings of the middle classes and working classes were wiped out at a single blow with a ruthlessness which no revolution could ever equal; at the same time the purchasing power of wages was reduced to nothing. Even if a man worked till he dropped it was impossible to buy enough clothes for his family — and work, in any case, was not to be found.

Whatever the cause of this phenomenon — and there were sections of the community, among them the big industrialists and landowners, who profited by it and sought to perpetuate its progress in their own interests — the result of the inflation was to undermine the foundations of German society in a way which neither the war, nor the revolution of November 1918, nor the Treaty of Versailles had ever done. The real revolution in Germany was the inflation, for it destroyed not only property and money, but faith in property and the meaning of money. The violence of Hitler’s denunciations of the corrupt, Jew-ridden system which had allowed all this to happen, the bitterness of his attacks on the Versailles settlement and on the Republican Government which had accepted it, found an echo in the misery and despair of large classes of the German nation.

Hitler saw the opportunity clearly enough, but it was more difficult to see how to take advantage of it and turn the situation to his own profit. Despite the growth of the Party and the S.A., it was still a provincial South German movement, with neither support nor organization outside Bavaria. The National Socialists had not got the strength to overthrow the Republic on their own. They could do that only if Hitler succeeded in uniting all the nationalist and anti-republican groups in Bavaria, and if he succeeded in securing the patronage of more powerful forces — of which the most obvious was the Bavarian State Government and the Bavarian District Command of the Army — for a march on Berlin. Hitler devoted his energies throughout 1923 to achieving these two objectives.

All the time, however, he was oppressed by anxiety lest events should outstrip him. In the early months of 1923 he was afraid lest the French occupation of the Ruhr might unite Germany behind the Government. Hitler had no use for national unity if he was not in a position to exploit it: the real enemy was not in the Ruhr, but in Berlin. In the Völkischer Beobachter he wrote: ‘So long as a nation does not do away with the assassins within its borders, no external successes can be possible. While written and spoken protests are directed against France, the real deadly enemy of the German people lurks within the walls of the nation.... Down with the November criminals, with all their nonsense about a United Front. ’

With the tide of national feeling running high against the French, and in support of the Government’s call for resistance, this was an unpopular line to take. To make people listen to him, Hitler summoned five thousand of the S.A. Stormtroopers to Munich for a demonstration at the end of January 1923. The authorities promptly banned it. Hitler went on his knees to Nortz, the new Police President who had replaced the sympathetic Pohner, begging him to get the ban lifted. When Nortz refused, Hitler began to rave: the S.A. would march, even if the police opened fire. The Bavarian Government retorted by issuing an additional ban on twelve meetings which Hitler was to address after the demonstration. Hitler was getting above himself: it was time to take him down a peg.

Even Rohm’s intervention with General von Lossow at first failed to secure a reversal of this decision. Only when Lossow had satisfied himself that his officers could be relied on to fire on the National Socialists if necessary — a significant change of attitude — were Rohm and Epp able to secure his promise to inform the Government ‘that in the interests of national defence, he would regret any vexation of the national elements’. The ban was thereupon lifted and Hitler held his demonstration.

In his speech at this first Party Day Hitler made no secret of his hope that the Berlin Government would fail to unite the nation in resistance to the French.

Whoever wants this fire [of enthusiasm for the glory of the Fatherland] to consume every single German must realize that first of all the archenemies of German freedom, namely, the betrayers of the German Fatherland, must be done away with.... Down with the perpetrators of the November crime.[110] And here the great mission of our movement begins. In all this prattle about a ‘ united front ’ and the like, we must not forget that between us and those betrayers of the people [i.e. the Republican Government in Berlin] ... there are two million dead.... We must always remember that in any new conflict in the field of foreign affairs the German Siegfried will again be stabbed in the back.[111]

Hitler was interested in the French occupation of the Ruhr only in so far as this might produce a state of affairs in Germany which could be used for the seizure of power. His purpose was revolutionary, and nationalism a means to this end. He had no use for talk of a national uprising and a new war of liberation which could only strengthen the position of the Government and divert attention to the enemy without. The time to deal with the French would come when the Republic had been overthrown. Here Hitler’s essentially political outlook differed sharply from that of the Army and ex-Freikorps officers like Röhm, who thought of a war of revenge against France.[112]

This conflict had been present from the beginning in the very different views Hitler and Röhm took of the S.A. Röhm was a soldier first and last. For him, as for the other officers and exofficers who helped to train the S.A., the first object was to build up in secret the armed forces forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. The Party’s stormtroop formations were a means to this end, just as the Freikorps, the Defence Leagues, and the Einwohnerwehr had been used in their turn as camouflages for an illegal reserve army ready to supplement the small regular Army which was all that Germany was allowed under the Peace Treaty. With the outbreak of a state of undeclared war with France, the Army leaders believed that this might well prove the prelude to a general war. In order to strengthen the Army it was planned to draw on the para-military formations like the S.A. Everything was to be done to bring them up to a high pitch of military efficiency, and Röhm flung himself into the task of expanding and training the S.A. with such effect that by the autumn of 1923 it numbered fifteen thousand men.

For Hitler, on the other hand, the Party, not the Army, came first, and the end was political power. The S.A. was not just a disguised Army reserve; these were to be political troops used for political purposes. With shrewder insight than Röhm and his friends, Hitler saw that the way to rebuild Germany’s national and military power, and to reverse the decision of the war, was not by playing at soldiers in the Bavarian woods or even by fighting as guerrillas against the French in the Ruhr. This led nowhere, for the French, with their superior forces, were bound to win. It was necessary to begin by capturing political power in the State, and the S.A. were to be used for that purpose. Once that had been secured, the rest would follow — as it did after 1933.[113]

At one time it had looked as if the Army leaders might be prepared to use their own forces for such a purpose, when the unsuccessful Kapp Putsch of 1920 was backed by part of the Army, under the leadership of the Commander in North Germany, General von Luttwitz. If, however, the generals were not prepared to carry out a coup d’état, Hitler feared that too great dependence upon the Army might tie his hands.

Hitler’s dislike and opposition to the expansion of the S.A. under the patronage of the Reichswehr was thus entirely logical, and when he set to work to rebuild the Party after 1924 there was no point upon which he laid greater stress in Mein Kampf than preventing the S.A. from again becoming a defence association in disguise.[114]

In 1923, however, Hitler had to work with those who would work with him. By the beginning of February, largely thanks to Röhm, an alliance had been effected between the Nazis and four other of the Patriotic Leagues in Bavaria — the Rcichsflagge (Reich Banner) of Captain Heiss, and Lieutenant Hofmann’s Kampfver- band Niederbayern (Lower Bavarian Fighting League), both of which had been persuaded to break away from the more cautious Pittinger and join Hitler; Zeller’s Vaterländische Vereine München (Patriotic Leagues of Munich); and Mulzcr’s Bund Oberland (Oberland Defence League). A joint committee was set up, and Lt-Col Kriebel appointed to act as military leader of this Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Vaterländischen Kampfverbände (Working Union of the Patriots Fighting Associations). This had only been accomplished with the greatest difficulty in face of the intrigues and jealousies with which the nationalist organizations were riddled. For the rest of 1923 Hitler and Röhm worked hard to bring in as many of the other groups as they could, and to secure for Hitler a position as political leader on equal terms with Kriebel’s as military leader.


If the Bavarian Government was not to be won over to the idea of a march on Berlin, what about the Army? When Seeckt, the Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr, visited Bavaria on a tour of inspection in March 1923, General von Lossow, the G.O.C. in Bavaria, persuaded him to meet the new political prophet who had arisen in Munich. Hitler launched into a tirade demanding violent action against the French and against the Republican Government which tolerated their occupation of the Ruhr. Seeckt remained cold and unmoved,[115] but Lossow and his staff were clearly impressed, as the General himself later admitted. During April, Hitler called on Lossow almost daily, but the Bavarian Command of the Army was no more prepared than the Bavarian politicians to risk taking action. This is the persistent theme of all Hitler’s speeches at this time:

Until the present day the half-hearted and the lukewarm have remained the curse of Germany.... For liberation something more is necessary than an economic policy, something more than industry: if a people is to become free, it needs pride and will-power, defiance, hate, hate and once again hate.[116]

We have the duty to speak, since in the near future, when we have gained power, we shall have the further duty of taking these creators of ruin (the November criminals), these clouts, these traitors to their State, and of hanging them to the gallows to which they belong. Let no one think that in them there has come a change of heart.[117]

Hitler’s hatred was still directed, not against the French, but against the Republic, which he depicted as a corrupt racket run by the Jews at the expense of the national interests. No accusation against the Jews was too wild for him, but his most bitter scorn was reserved for the ‘respectable’ parties of the Right who hesitated to act.

You must say farewell to the hope that you can expect action from the parties of the Right on behalf of the freedom of the German people. The most elementary factor is lacking: the will, the courage, the determination.[118]

We are now met by the question: Do we wish to restore Germany to freedom and power ? If ‘ yes then the first thing to do is to rescue it from the Jew who is ruining our country.... We want to stir up a storm. Men must not sleep: they ought to know that a thunderstorm is coming up. We want to prevent our Germany from suffering, as Another did, the death upon the Cross.[119]

But Hitler’s speeches were not even reported in the Press.

At the end of April, in an attempt to attract attention, the Nazis and their allies decided to break up the traditional socialist and trade-union demonstrations in Munich on May Day, unless the Bavarian Government acceded to their demand and banned them. This decision was taken at a meeting on 30 April, the minutes of which were later discovered by a Committee of Investigation of the Bavarian Diet.[120]

After the meeting Hitler went to see General von Lossow: he had a cold reception. When he demanded the arms which were stored in the barracks, on the pretext of a Communist putsch, Lossow refused and added that the Army would fire on anyone creating disorder in the streets, regardless of what party he belonged to. Colonel Seisser, the commander of the State police, gave the same answer.

Hitler had now placed himself in a difficult position. Emergency orders had gone out to the S.A. and other formations, and men were moving into Munich from as far away as Landshut and Nuremberg in the expectation that at last they were going to start the long-awaited putsch. It was too late to go back without loss of face. The only thing to do was to go on. The S.A. had considerable quantities of arms — the Landshut detachment led by Gregor Strasser and Himmler brought a hundred and forty rifles and a number of light machine guns with them — and at the last moment Röhm drove up to the barracks with an escort of Stormtroopers in trucks, bluffed his way in and took what he wanted.

But this time Hitler and Röhm had gone too far. On the morning of 1 May, while the Socialists marched peacefully through the streets of Munich, some twenty thousand Stormtroopers gathered on the Oberwiesenfeld, the big parade-ground on the outskirts of the city, waiting for orders. Hitler, wearing a steel helmet and his Iron Cross, was accompanied by Göring, the commander of the S.A., the two leaders of the Bund Oberland and the Reichsflagge, the veterinary Dr Friedrich Weber and Captain Heiss, Hess, Streicher, Frick, Gregor Strasser, Himmler, and the notorious ex-Freikorps leader, Lieutenant Rossbach, at the head of the Munich S.A. The military command was in the hands of Lt-Col Kriebel.

As the morning wore on, Hitler became more and more anxious: still the agreed signal from Röhm did not come. Röhm in fact was standing to attention before an angry General von Lossow and being reminded of his duty as a soldier. When he reached the Oberwiesenfeld, a little before noon, it was in the company of an armed detachment of troops and police, who drew a cordon round the Stormtroopers. Röhm brought the uncompromising message that the arms must be returned at once, or Hitler must take the consequences. Against the advice of Gregor Strasser and Kriebel, who wanted to use their superior numbers to overpower the troops, Hitler capitulated. The arms were returned to the barracks the same afternoon. Despite his attempt to explain away the ‘ postponement’ of any action, both in his speech on the Oberwiesenfeld, and again that night in the Zirkus Krone, nothing could disguise the fact that Hitler’s bluff had been called and that in front of thousands of his followers he had had to accept the public humiliation of defeat. This was the fruit, he must have reflected bitterly, of too great dependence on the Army.

For some time after 1 May Hitler dropped-out of the political scene. The early edition of his speeches does not mention a single occasion on which he spoke between 4 May and 1 August: he spent a good deal of the summer at Berchtesgaden and only occasionally visited Munich.[121] Röhm, too, disappeared from Munich in May and did not return until 19 September. None the less the fiasco of May Day had nothing like the consequences that might have been expected. There were two reasons for this: the equivocal attitude of the Bavarian authorities and the mounting state of crisis in Germany.

Hitler’s actions on 30 April and 1 May had laid him open to the gravest charges under the law, yet nothing was said or done to limit his freedom of action in the future. Proceedings were actually begun by the State Prosecutor, but the investigation came to an abrupt end on 1 August, and the next entry in the prosecutor’s files, dated 22 May 1924, records that the case had been dropped. Hitler himself had written to the State Prosecutor: ‘Since for weeks past I have been shamelessly abused in the Press and in the Diet, without being able, by reason of the consideration I owe the Fatherland, to defend myself in public, I am thankful to Fate that it now allows me to conduct my defence before a Court of Justice, where I can speak out openly.’[122]

The hint was taken, and Franz Gürtner, the Bavarian Minister of Justice, intervened to prevent the process of the law continuing. When Röhm was informed that he would be transferred to Bayreuth after the part he had played, he resigned his commission and wrote a letter of complaint against Lossow to the commander of the Munich garrison, General von Danner. Once again matters were patched up. Röhm withdrew his resignation, and Lossow secured the withdrawal of Rohm’s dismissal which had been telegraphed from Berlin. Instead, Röhm went on sick leave and retained his position on Lossow’s staff.

This compliant attitude on the part of the Bavarian Government and the Army suggested that the worst crimes of which Hitler and Röhm had been guilty were indiscretion and premature action, and that, in more favourable circumstances, another attempt to force the hand of the authorities might succeed. In August and September 1923, the more favourable circumstances appeared to be provided by the sharp deterioration of the political and economic situation in Germany.

The French occupation of the Ruhr still continued, but the initial mood of national unity on the German side had gone. The intensification of the inflation, the desperate economic position of millions of Germans and the growth of extremism both on the Right and on the Left, seemed to have brought the country close to civil war. The Cuno Government in Berlin fumbled with problems which threatened to overwhelm it, and on 11 August the Social Democrats openly demanded the Government’s resignation.

Stresemann, who took Cuno’s place as Chancellor, at first appeared no more able than his predecessor to master the disintegration of the economy and of the unity of the Reich. The value of the mark continued to fall. There were widespread strikes and riots under Communist leadership in many workingclass districts. Trains and trucks were raided for food by the halfstarving population of the cities. The French maintained their support of the Rhenish Separatists, and talk of a break with Berlin was rife in Bavaria as well as in the Rhineland.

Encouraged by the growing disorder, and the increasingly strained relations between Munich and Berlin, Hitler renewed his agitation in August. The fact that Stresemann was known to be anxious to end the exhausting campaign of passive resistance in the Ruhr and Rhineland enabled Hitler to change front. He now adopted the more popular line of attacking the Berlin Government for the betrayal of the national resistance to the French, as well as for allowing the inflation to continue.

On 2 September, the anniversary of the German defeat of France at Sedan in 1870, a huge demonstration, estimated by the police to have involved a hundred thousand people, celebrated German Day at Nuremberg amidst scenes of great enthusiasm. All the Patriotic Associations took part. During the parade Hitler stood at the side of Ludendorff, and afterwards flayed the Government in a characteristically violent speech.

Ludendorff’s presence was important. His reputation as the greatest military figure of the war and an unremitting opponent of the Republic made him the hero of the Right-wing extremists, while he still enjoyed considerable prestige in the Army. There was no one better placed to preside over a union of the quarrelsome and jealous patriotic leagues, and Hitler had carefully maintained close relations with the old man for some time past. Ludendorff was no political leader: in matters of politics he was invincibly stupid as well as tactless. He disliked Bavarians, was on the worst possible terms with Crown Prince Rupprecht, the Bavarian Pretender, and constantly attacked the Church in the most Catholic part of Germany. But at least he was reliable on the question of Bavarian separatism, and his political stupidity was an asset from Hitler’s point of view, for, skilfully managed, he could bring a great name to Hitler’s support without entrenching on the control of policy which Hitler was determined to keep in his own hands.

The demonstration at Nuremberg had immediate practical consequences. The same day a new German Fighting Union (Deutscher Kampf bund) was set up and a manifesto issued over the old signatures of Friedrich Weber (Bund Oberland), Heiss (Reichsflagge) and Adolf Hitler. The object of this renewed alliance was declared to be the overthrow of the November Republic and of the Diktat of Versailles.


The crisis came to a head and entered its final phase at the end of September 1923. On 26 September Stresemann announced the decision of the Reich Government to call off” the campaign of passive resistance in the Ruhr unconditionally, and two days later the ban on reparation deliveries to France and Belgium was lifted. This was a courageous and wise decision, intended as the preliminary to negotiations for a peaceful settlement. But it was also the signal the Nationalists had been waiting for to stir up a renewed agitation against the Government. ‘The Republic, by God,’ Hitler had declared on 12 September, ‘is worthy of its fathers.... The essential character of the November Republic is to be seen in the comings and goings to London, to Spa, to Paris and to Genoa. Subserviency towards the enemy, surrender of the human dignity of the German, pacifist cowardice, tolerance of every indignity, readiness to agree to everything until nothing remains.’[123]

On 25 September the leaders of the Kampf bund — Hitler, Göring, Röhm, Kriebel, Heiss, and Weber — had already met and discussed what they were to do. For two and a half hours Hitler put his point of view and asked for the political leadership of the alliance. So strong was the impression he made that both Heiss and Weber agreed, while Röhm, convinced that they were on the edge of big events, next day resigned his commission and finally threw in his lot with Hitler.

Hitler’s first step was to put his own fifteen thousand S.A. men in a state of readiness and announce fourteen immediate mass meetings in Munich alone. Whether he intended to try a coup d’état is not clear : probably he looked to the mass meetings and the state of public opinion they would reveal to make the decision for him. But the Bavarian Government was taking no chances. Knilling, the Minister President, was thoroughly alarmed. On 26 September the Bavarian Cabinet proclaimed a state of emergency and appointed Gustav von Kahr, one of the best-known Bavarian Right-wing politicians with strong monarchist and particularist leanings, as State Commissioner with dictatorial powers. Kahr promptly used his powers to ban Hitler’s fourteen meetings and refused to give way when Hitler, beside himself with rage, screamed that he would answer him with bloody revolution.

In the confused events that followed 26 September and led up to the unsuccessful putsch of 8–9 November, the position of two of the three parties is tolerably clear. Hitler consistently demanded a revolutionary course : a move on Berlin to be backed by the political and military authorities in Bavaria, but aiming at the substitution of a new régime for the whole of Germany. As he admitted later: ‘I can confess quite calmly that from 1919 to 1923 I thought of nothing else than a coup d’état.’[124] The twists and hesitations in Hitler’s conduct arose, not from any doubts about his aim, but from recognition of the fact that he could not carry such a plan through with his own resources, and must, somehow or other, persuade Kahr, the State Commissioner, and Lossow, the commanding officer in Bavaria, to join with him.

The attitude of the Central Government in Berlin was equally clearly defined. It had to face the threat of civil war from several directions: from Bavaria, where Hitler was openly calling for revolt, and where Kahr, the State Commissioner, began to pursue an independent course of action which ran counter to the policy of Berlin; from Saxony, where the State Government came increasingly under the influence of the Communists, who were also aiming at a seizure of power; from the industrial centres, like Hamburg and the Ruhr, where Communist influence was strong; from the Rhineland, where the Separatists were still active, and from the nationalist extremists of the north, where the para-military organization known as the Black Reichswehr, under the leadership of Major Buchrucker, attempted to start a revolt at the beginning of October.

The Stresemann Government’s chances of mastering this critical situation depended upon the attitude of the Army. The High Command could be relied upon to use force to suppress any attempt at revolution from the Left, but its attitude towards a similar move from the Right might well be uncertain. At the time of the Kapp Putsch in March 1920 part of the Army under General von Luttwitz had openly supported the coup d’état, while the Commander-in-Chief, General von Seeckt, although disagreeing with Luttwitz, had declined to allow his troops to be used to support the legal government. In the years since the war the protection of the Army had been invoked again and again by those like Hitler who were patently disloyal to the Republic and scheming to accomplish its overthrow.

Nothing could more clearly illustrate the unique position of the Army in German politics, a position fully appreciated by Seeckt and the Army High Command. Seeckt, one of the most remarkable men in the long history of the German Army, was equal to the occasion. Ten years later he wrote : ‘ The error of all those who organize armies is to mistake momentary for the permanent state.’[125] In 1923 he had the insight to see that it was in the longterm interests of Germany, and of the German Army he served, to uphold the authority even of a Republican government, and so to preserve the unity of the Reich, rather than allow the country to be plunged into civil war for the momentary satisfaction of Party rancour and class resentment. In the Order of the Day which he issued on 4 November 1923 Seeckt put his case in half a dozen sentences :

... As long as I remain at my post, I shall not cease to repeat that salvation for Germany cannot come from one extreme or the other, neither through help from abroad nor through revolution, whether of the Right or of the Left. It is only by hard work, silently and persistently pursued, that we can survive. This can only be accomplished on the basis of the legal constitution. To abandon this principle is to unleash civil war. In such a civil war none of the parties would succeed in winning; it would be a conflict which would end only in their mutual destruction, a conflict similar to that of which the Thirty Years War provides so terrible an example.[126]

Seeckt’s attitude allowed the political and military authorities in Berlin to speak with one voice, and on 26 September President Ebert invoked Clause 48 of the Weimar Constitution to confer emergency powers upon the Minister of Defence, Gessler, and the Commander-in-Chief, Seeckt. Until February 1924, when the state of emergency was brought to an end, this meant that the Army assumed the executive functions of the government and undertook the responsibility of safeguarding both the security of the Reich and the inviolability of the Republican Constitution. An attempt by Hitler — or anyone else — to carry out a march on Berlin would be met by force, with the Army on the side of the Government.

But there was a third party to be taken into account, the civil and military authority in Bavaria represented by Kahr and Lossow. It was the existence of this third factor, and the uncertainty of the policy Kahr and Lossow would adopt, which gave Hitler a chance of success and confuses the development of events for the historian.

Although the Bavarian Government had refused to allow the Nazis a free hand in May, and had now appointed Kahr to keep Hitler in check, relations between Munich and Berlin were strained. It was the action of the Bavarian Government in conferring dictatorial powers on Kahr which had led the Reich Government to declare a state of emergency itself, and Kahr’s intentions were regarded with suspicion in Berlin.

Kahr’s aims are still far from clear: probably they were never entirely clear to him at the time. Kahr, however, was a Bavarian and a monarchist; he was attracted by the idea of overthrowing the Republican régime in Berlin and putting in a conservative government which would give Bavaria back her old monarchy and a more autonomous position under a new constitution. At other times he played with the possibility of breaking away from the Reich altogether and establishing an independent South German State under a restored Bavarian monarchy. Such ideas were anathema to Hitler. Point I of the Nazi Party’s Programme demanded the union of all Germans (including those of Austria as well as Bavaria) in a single German State, while the final point contained an equally clear demand for ‘ the creation of a strong central authority in the State’. Hitler himself had persistently campaigned against the particularist sympathies of the various Bavarian parties. None the less, he saw that he could use an open quarrel between Munich and Berlin for his own purpose. If Kahr could only be persuaded to help overthrow the Republican régime in Berlin, Hitler had every hope of double-crossing his Bavarian allies once he was in power. It was equally possible for Kahr to use Hitler and the forces of the Kampfbund. Out of this ambiguous situation an uneasy alliance developed between Kahr and the Nazis, each trying to exploit the other’s support and subordinate the other’s political ends to his own. Once again the critical decision lay with the Army, this time with the local commander in Bavaria, General von Lossow. Like Kahr, however, Lossow never quite succeeded in making up his mind until events decided for him.

In October 1923, the quarrel between Munich and Berlin flared up, under direct provocation from Hitler. When the Nazi Völkischer Beobachter printed scurrilous attacks on Seeckt, Stresemann, and Gessler, the Minister of Defence in Berlin used his emergency powers to demand the suppression of the paper, as well as the arrest of Captain Heiss, Captain Ehrhardt, and Lieutenant Rossbach. Kahr refused to take orders from Berlin, and when the Minister of Defence went over his head and ordered General von Lossow to execute the ban, Lossow let himself be persuaded by Kahr into disobeying his orders. The next step was Berlin’s removal of Lossow from his post on 20 October and the appointment of General Kress von Kressenstein to take over his command. But again Kahr intervened. He announced that Lossow would remain in command of the Army in Bavaria, and exacted a special oath of allegiance to the Bavarian Government from both officers and men, an open breach of the constitution. On 27 October Kahr rejected an appeal from President Ebert, demanded the resignation of the Reich Government and ordered the armed bands which supported him — not the Kampf bund — to concentrate on the borders of Bavaria and Thuringia.

All this suited Hitler admirably. Power in Bavaria was concentrated in the hands of a triumvirate consisting of Kahr, Lossow, and Colonel Seisser, the head of the State police. An open rupture had occurred between Munich and Berlin. It was now, Hitler argued, only a question of whether Berlin marched on Munich, or Munich on Berlin. The situation in Saxony and Thuringia, on the northern borders of Bavaria, offered a splendid pretext for Kahr and Lossow to act. For there the Social Democratic cabinets of the two State Governments had been broadened to bring the Communists into power as partners of the Social Democrats, thereby providing the Communists with a spring-board for their own seizure of power. Action by the Bavarian Government to suppress this threat of a Left-wing revolution would undoubtedly command wide support, and, once at Dresden, Hitler reckoned, it would not be long before they were in Berlin.

Lossow and Kahr were full of smooth assurances that they would move as soon as the situation was ripe, yet Hitler and Röhm were mistrustful. They suspected that behind the façade of German Nationalism, with its cry of ‘Auf nach Berlin’’ (On to Berlin!), which Kahr kept up to satisfy the Kampf bund, he was playing with Bavarian separatist ideas under the very different banner of Los von Berlin’ (Away from Berlin!). Preparations went forward and discussions continued between Kahr, Lossow, and the Kampf bund leaders, but each side watched the other with growing suspicion.

Meanwhile the Government in Berlin was beginning slowly to master its difficulties. By the end of October the threat of a Communist revolution had been broken. A Communist rising in Hamburg had been suppressed by the police, while General Müller, acting on orders from Berlin, had turned out the offending governments in Saxony and Thuringia, thus depriving the Bavarian conspirators of their best pretext for intervention outside their own frontiers. These developments did not fail to impress Kahr and Lossow, and at the beginning of November Colonel Seisser, the third of the triumvirate, was sent to Berlin to size up the situation.

For Hitler, however, there could be no drawing back. He had committed himself too openly and worked his supporters up to such a pitch of expectation that a failure to act now must mean the collapse of the Nazi Party and the total discredit of its leader. Lieutenant Wilhelm Brückner later gave evidence that he had begged Hitler to strike soon, since ‘the day is coming when I won’t be able to hold the men back. If nothing happens now, they’ll run away from us.’ Hitler could not afford to repeat the fiasco of 1 May. Moreover, if the tide of events had really set in Stresemann’s favour, Germany might begin to recover from the disorder and insecurity which had haunted her since 1918, and Hitler lose the opportunity which still remained. By November, Röhm says, the preparations for action were complete, and the state of tension in Munich was such that the crisis had to find an immediate solution one way or another; it could not be prolonged.

Seisser’s report from Berlin was far from encouraging. He was convinced that there would be no support in Northern Germany for an uprising. Kahr and Lossow, who had no wish to become involved in an enterprise that was bound to fail, insisted at a meeting with the Kampfbund leaders on 6 November that they alone should decide the time to act and that they should not be hustled. It is possible that, left to themselves, they would have continued to sit on the fence until a compromise with the Stresemann Government could be arranged. If Kahr still seriously contemplated action, his inclination was more and more towards independent action by Bavaria, dropping altogether the idea of a march on Berlin and national revolution. Hitler was by now convinced that the only way to get Kahr and Lossow to do what he wanted was to present them with a fait accompli and bum their boats for them. Otherwise, he feared, they might carry out their own coup without him.

The original plan, proposed by Scheubner-Richter and Rosenberg, was to take advantage of the presence of Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser as well as the Crown Prince Rupprecht, at the parade to be held in Munich on 4 November, Totengedenktag, the Day of Homage to the Dead. Armed Stormtroopers were to surround them just before the parade and persuade them at the point of the pistol to lead the national revolution which Hitler would then proclaim. This plan fell through, but its essential features were kept and put into operation on 8 November.

A second plan was now sketched: to concentrate all the forces of the Kampfbund during the night of 10 November on the Frbttmaninger Heath, march into Munich the next day, seize the key points and push Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser into action under the impression of this demonstration of force. At this moment it was announced that a big meeting would be held in the Biirger- braukeller at which Kahr was to speak on the evening of 8 November. Lossow and Seisser, together with most of the other Bavarian political leaders, were all expected to be present. Kahr refused to see Hitler on the morning of the 8th, and Hitler was soon convinced that this meeting was to be the prelude to the proclamation of Bavarian independence and the restoration of the Wittelsbach monarchy. On the spur of the moment Hitler decided to move forward the date for action to the 8th, and so forestall Kahr.

The meeting on the evening of 8 November was attended by everyone who was well known in Munich politics and society. Hitler took up an inconspicuous position by one of the pillars with Max Amann, Rosenberg, and Ulrich Graf. No one paid any attention to him and the whole assembly was completely taken by surprise when, twenty minutes after Kahr had begun to speak, Goring, with twenty-five armed brownshirts, burst into the hall. In the middle of the uproar Hitler leaped on to a chair and fired a shot at the ceiling, then jumped down and began to push his way on to the platform. ‘The National Revolution,’ he shouted, ‘has begun. This hall is occupied by six hundred heavily armed men. No one may leave the hall. The Bavarian and Reich Governments have been removed and a provisional National Government formed. The Army and police barracks have been occupied, troops and police are marching on the city under the swastika banner.’ Many in the hall were angry at the effrontery of this young upstart trying to bluster his way into a political role. But no one could be certain how far Hitler was only bluffing. There were six hundred S.A. men outside, and a machine-gun in the vestibule. Moreover, with the help of Pöhner, the exPolice President of Munich, Hitler had persuaded Frick, who was still an official in the Police Department, to telephone the police officer at the hall and order him not to intervene, but simply to report if anything happened. Leaving Göring to keep order in the hall, Hitler pushed Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser into a side room. Meanwhile Scheubner-Richter was driving through the night to Ludwigshöhe to fetch General Ludendorff, whom Hitler wanted as the figurehead of his revolution.

Hitler, who was wildly excited, began the interview with Kahr and his companions in melodramatic style: ‘No one leaves this room alive without my permission.’ He announced that he had formed a new government with Ludendorff. (This, too, was untrue; Ludendorff knew nothing of what was happening.) They had only one choice: to join him. Waving his gun, and looking as if he was half out of his mind, he shouted: ‘I have four shots in my pistol. Three for my collaborators if they abandon me. The last is for myself.’ Setting the revolver to his head, he declared: ‘ If I am not victorious by tomorrow afternoon, I shall be a dead man.’

The three men were less impressed than they should have been. They found it difficult to take Hitler’s raving at all seriously, despite the gun and the armed guards at the windows. Lossow later claimed that as they went out of the hall he had whispered to Kahr and beisser: ‘‘Komödie spielen’ (Play a part). Kahr tried to put on a brave front: ‘You can arrest me or shoot me. Whether I die or not is no matter.’ Seisser reproached Hitler with breaking his word of honour not to carry out a putsch. Hitler was all contrition: ‘Yes, I did. Forgive me. I had to, for the sake of the Fatherland.’ But as soon as Kahr began to whisper to the silent Lossow, he flew into a rage and shouted: ‘No talking without my permission.’

So far he had made little progress. Now, leaving the room without a word, he dashed into the hall and announced that the three men had agreed to join him in forming a new German government:

The Bavarian Ministry is removed. I propose that a Bavarian government shall be formed consisting of a Regent and a Prime Minister invested with dictatorial powers. I propose Herr von Kahr as Regent and Herr Pohner as Prime Minister. The government of the November Criminals and the Reich President are declared to be removed. A new National Government will be nominated this very day, here in Munich. A German National Army will be formed immediately.... I propose that, until accounts have been finally settled with the November criminals, the direction of policy in the National Government be taken over by me. Ludendorff will take over the leadership of the German National Army. Lossow will be German Reichswehr Minister, Seisser Reich Police Minister. The task of the provisional German National Government is to organize the march on that sinful Babel, Berlin, and save the German people.... Tomorrow will see either a National Government in Germany or us dead.[127]

Hitler’s appearance as head of a new national government was far from impressive. He had taken off his trenchcoat and stood in an ill-cut black tailcoat which, as Hanfstangl admitted, made him look like a local collector of taxes in his Sunday best or ‘the slightly nervous sort of provincial bridegroom you can see in scores of pictures behind the dusty windows of Bavarian village photographers ’.[128]

But Hitler’s nerve carried him through. His speech was another piece of bluff, but it worked. The announcement that agreement had been reached completely changed the mood of the crowd in the hall, which shouted its approval: the sound of cheering impressed the three men who were still held under guard in the side room.

No sooner had Hitler returned to them than Ludendorff appeared. He was thoroughly angry with Hitler for springing a surprise on him, and furious at the distribution of offices which made Hitler, not Ludendorff, the dictator of Germany, and left him with the command of an army which did not exist. But he kept himself under control: this was a great national event, he said, and he could only advise the others to collaborate. Hitler added: ‘We can no longer turn back; our action is already inscribed on the pages of world history.’

Lossow later denied that he had replied: ‘I shall take your Excellency’s wishes as an order,’ but Ludendorff’s intervention turned the scales. When Kahr still made difficulties, Hitler used all his charm: ‘If Your Excellency permits, I will drive out to see His Majesty (the Bavarian Crown Prince Rupprecht) at once and inform him that the German people have arisen and made good the injustice done to His Majesty’s late lamented father.’ At that even Kahr capitulated and agreed to cooperate as the King’s deputy.

In apparent unity they all filed back into the hall. While the audience climbed on to the seats and cheered in enthusiasm, each made a brief speech, swore loyalty and shook hands on the platform. Hitler, exultant and relieved, spoke with passion. ‘I am going to fulfil the vow I made to myself five years ago when I was a blind cripple in the military hospital: to know neither rest nor peace until the November criminals had been overthrown, until on the ruins of the wretched Germany of today there should have arisen once more a Germany of power and greatness, of freedom and splendour.’ No sooner had he finished speaking than the whole assembly broke into Deutschland über Alles.

Barely had this touching scene of reconciliation been completed than Hitler was called out to settle a quarrel which had started when Stormtroopers of the Bund Oberland tried to occupy the Engineers’ barracks. By a bad error of judgement he left the hall without taking proper precautions. As soon as Hitler had gone, and the audience began to pour out of the exits, Lossow excused himself on the grounds that he must go to his office to issue orders, and left unobtrusively, followed by Kahr and Seisser. It was the last that was seen of General von Lossow or von Kahr that night.

Hitler already had several hundred Stormtroopers of the S.A. and Kampfbund at his command. By morning these had grown to some three thousand men, for considerable forces continued to come in from the countryside during the night — Strasser, for example, bringing a hundred and fifty from Landshut. While his own bodyguard (Stoss Truppe Hitler, the origin of the later black-shirted S.S.) occupied the offices of the Social Democratic Münchener Post and smashed the machines, the Reichskriegsflagge, under Röhm’s leadership, seized the War Ministry on Schönfeldstrasse and set up barbed-wire and machine guns. Hitler, whose main forces were kept on the other side of the river, bivouacking in the gardens or sleeping on the floor of the Bürgerbräukeller, came over to Röhm before midnight and held a council of war with Ludendorff, Kriebel and Weber. As time passed, however, they became concerned at the absence of any news from Lossow or Kahr, and were at a loss what to do next.

Messages to Lossow at the 19th Infantry Regiment’s barracks produced no answer; nor did the messengers return. The night was allowed to pass without the seizure of a single key position, apart from Rohm’s occupation of the Army headquarters. This was partly due to the Kampfbund leaders’ ignorance of what was happening and unwillingness to recognize that they had been deceived; even more, however, to the improvised character of the whole affair. Finally, between six and seven o’clock in the morning, Pöhner and Major Hühnlein were dispatched to occupy the police headquarters, but were promptly arrested instead, together with Frick.

As General von Lossow returned from the Bürgerbräukeller he was greeted by Lieutenant-General von Danner, the commander of the Munich garrison, with the cold remark: ‘All that of course was bluff, Excellency?’ In case Lossow had any doubts, Seeckt telegraphed from Berlin that, if the Army in Bavaria did not suppress the putsch, he would do it himself. There was considerable sympathy with Hitler and Röhm among the junior officers from the rank of major downwards, and the cadets of the Infantry School came over to Hitler’s side under the persuasion of the ex-Freikorps leader, Lieutenant Rossbach. But the senior officers were indignant at the insolence of this ex-corporal, and in the end discipline held. Orders were sent out to bring in reinforcements from outlying garrisons. Meanwhile the Bavarian State Government was transferred to Regensburg, and Kahr issued a proclamation denouncing the promises extorted in the Bürgerbräukeller and dissolving the Nazi Party and the Kampfbund. From Crown Prince Rupprecht came a brief but pointed recommendation to crush the putsch at all costs, using force if necessary. Rupprecht had no use for a movement which had Ludendorff as one of its leaders.

By the morning of 9 November it was clear to Hitler, Ludendorff, and the other leaders (although not to the rank and file) that the attempt had miscarried. At dawn Hitler returned with Ludendorff to the Bürgerbräu, leaving Röhm to hold out in the War Ministry. For a time Hitler considered retiring from Munich to Rosenheim and rallying his forces before trying to force his way back into the city. But this was rejected by Ludendorff. Hitler then conceived the idea of getting Crown Prince Rupprecht to intercede and settle matters peacefully. Lieutenant Neunzert, an old friend of the Crown Prince, was sent off to Rupprecht’s castle near Berchtesgaden, but failing to find a car had to travel by train and arrived too late for his message to have any effect. For in the meantime, Ludendorff, who was convinced that the Army would never fire on the legendary figure of the First World War, had persuaded Hitler, against his better judgement, that they must take the offensive and try to restore the position by marching on Lossow’s headquarters. Once he stood face to face with the officers and men of the Army, Ludendorff was convinced that they would obey him and not Lossow. According to his own account at the subsequent trial, Hitler seems also to have believed that public opinion in Munich might still be won to his side — ‘and Messrs Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser could not be so foolish as to turn machine-guns on the aroused people.’

While these anxious discussions were being held in the Bürgerbräu, on the far side of the river, troops of the Regular Army had surrounded Röhm and his men in the centre of the city. Both sides were reluctant to open fire — there were many old comrades among Röhm’s Stormtroopers and many among the Army captains and lieutenants who sympathized with his aims. All that Röhm could do was to sit tight and await events.

Shortly after eleven o’clock on the morning of 9 November — the anniversary of Napoleon’s coup d’état of Brumaire in 1799 — a column of two or three thousand men left the Bürgerbräukeller, on the south bank of the River Isar, and headed for the Ludwig Bridge leading to the centre of the city. Only the leaders knew that this was a last desperate attempt to bluff their way out of a putsch which had already failed. During the night, a number of hostages had been taken, and it was with the threat of shooting these that Göring, the leader of the S.A., persuaded the officer commanding the police at the bridge to let them pass. At the head of the column fluttered the swastika flag and the banner of the Bund Oberland. In the first row marched Hitler, between Ludendorff, Scheubner-Richter, and Ulrich Graf on one side, Dr Weber, Feder, and Kriebel on the other. Most of the men carried arms, and Hitler himself had a pistol in his hand. Crowds thronged the streets and there was an atmosphere of excitement and expectation. Julius Streicher, who had been haranguing the crowd in the Marienplatz, climbed down to take his place in the second rank. Rosenberg and Albrecht von Graefe, the sole representative of the North German Nationalists, who had arrived that morning at Ludendorff’s urgent summons, trudged unhappily along with the rest.

From the Marienplatz the column swung down the narrow Residenzstrasse towards the Odeonsplatz, singing as it went. Beyond lay the old War Ministry, where Röhm was besieged. The time was half past twelve.

The police, armed with carbines, were drawn up in a cordon across the end of the street to prevent the column debouching on to the broad Place beyond. The Stormtroopers completely outnumbered the police — there were no troops present — but the narrowness of the street prevented them bringing their superior numbers to bear. Who fired first has never been settled. One of the National Socialists — Ulrich Graf — ran forward and shouted to the police officer: ‘Don’t fire, Ludendorff and Hitler are coming,’ while Hitler cried out: ‘Surrender!’ At this moment a shot rang out and a hail of bullets swept the street. The first man to fall was Scheubner-Richter, with whom Hitler had been marching arm-in-arm. Hitler fell, either pulled down or seeking cover. The shooting lasted only a minute, but sixteen Nazis and three police already lay dead or dying in the street. Göring was badly wounded, and was carried into a house. Weber, the leader of the Bund Oberland, stood against the wall weeping hysterically. All was confusion, neither side being at all sure what to do next. One man alone kept his head. Erect and unperturbed, General Ludendorff, with his adjutant, Major Streck, by his side, marched steadily on, pushed through the line of police and reached the Place beyond.

The situation might still have been saved, but not a single man followed him. Hitler at the critical moment lost his nerve. According to the independent evidence of two eye-witnesses, one of them a National Socialist — Dr Walther Schulz and Dr Karl Gebhard — Hitler was the first to scramble to his feet and, stumbling back towards the end of the procession, allowed himself to be pushed by Schulz into a yellow motor-car which was waiting on the Max Josef Platz. He was undoubtedly in great pain from a dislocated shoulder, and probably believed himself to have been wounded. But there was no denying that under fire the Nazi leaders had broken and fled, Hitler the first. Only two among them had been killed or badly wounded, Scheubner-Richter and Göring; the other killed and wounded were all in the following ranks, exposed to the fire by the action of their leaders in taking cover.

Two hours later Röhm was persuaded to capitulate and was taken into custody. Göring was smuggled across the Austrian frontier by his wife. On 11 November Hitler was arrested at Uffing, where he had taken refuge in Putzi Hanfstangl’s house and was being nursed by his wife.[129]


In many ways the attempt of 8–9 November was a remarkable achievement for a man like Hitler who had started from nothing only a few years before. In less than a couple of hours on the night of 8 November he had transformed the political situation in Bavaria and made a revolution by sheer bluff. However impermanent a triumph, the scene in the Biirgerbraukeller, with Kahr and Hitler shaking hands before the cheering crowd, and Generals Ludendorff and von Lossow agreeing to serve under the dictatorship of the ex-corporal — a scene which would have seemed incredible an hour before — was evidence of political talent of an unusual kind.

But the mistakes had been gross. The Kampfbund disposed of considerable forces — many more than those who took part in the march. They only needed to be concentrated and used to occupy such obvious positions as police headquarters, the central telephone exchange, the railway station and the power station. For all their talk of a putsch, not one of the rebel leaders had thought out the practical problems of making a revolution. Instead, S.A. detachments straggled into Munich all through the night and half the next day, and were left to stand about while the commanders argued what they should do. Finally, when they did decide to march, their leaders, who for years had appealed openly to violence, crumpled up and fled before one volley from a force of armed police whom they outnumbered by thirty to one. Worst of all, from Hitler’s point of view, was the contrast between his own behaviour under fire — the first to get to his feet and make his escape by car, leaving the wounded, the dead, and the rest of his followers to fend for themselves — and that of Ludendorff, who, in the sight of all, had marched steadily forward and brushed aside the police carbines with contemptuous ease.

The truth is, however, that Hitler’s plans had miscarried long before the column set out for the Odeonsplatz. As he admitted later: ‘We went in the conviction that this was the end, in one way or another. I know of one who, on the steps as we set out, said:

“This is now the finish.” Everyone in himself carried with him this conviction.’[130] Hitler had never intended to use force; from the beginning his conception had been that of a revolution in agreement with the political and military authorities. ‘We never thought to carry through a revolt against the Army: it was with it that we believed we should succeed.’[131] This explains why no adequate preparations had been made for a seizure of power by arms. The coup was to be limited to forcing Kahr and Lossow into acting with him, in the belief that it was only hesitation, not opposition, that held them back. Again and again Hitler had told his men that when the moment came they need not worry, neither the Army nor the police would fire on them. The shots on the Odeonsplatz represented something more than the resistance any revolutionary party may expect to meet and take in its stride; they represented the final collapse of the premises upon which the whole attempt had been constructed. It was this that accounted for Hitler’s despondency on the morning of 9 November and the absence of any plan. From the moment it became certain that Lossow and Kahr had taken sides against him, Hitler knew that the attempt had failed. There was a slender chance that a show of force might still swing the Army back to his side, and so he agreed to march. But it was to be a demonstration, not the beginning of a putsch; the last thing Hitler wanted, or was prepared for, was to shoot it out with the Army.

Never was Hitler’s political ability more clearly shown than in the way he recovered from this set-back. For the man who, on 9 November 1923, appeared to be broken and finished as a political leader — and had himself believed this — succeeded by April 1924 in making himself one of the most-talked-of figures in Germany, and turned his trial for treason into a political triumph.

The opportunity for this lay in the equivocal political situation in Bavaria, which had saved him once before after the fiasco of 1 May. This time he had to stand his trial, but the trial was held in Munich, and it was a trial for a conspiracy in which the chief witnesses for the prosecution — Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser — had been almost as deeply involved as the accused. The full story was one which most of the political leaders of Bavaria, the Bavarian People’s Party and the Monarchists were only too anxious to avoid being made public. Hitler exploited this situation to the full.

The trial began before a special court, sitting in the old Munich Infantry School in the Blutenburgstrasse, on 26 February 1924. It lasted for twenty-four days. For the whole of this period it was front-page news in every German newspaper, and a large group of foreign correspondents attended the trial. For the first time Hitler had an audience outside the frontiers of Bavaria. Hitler’s old protector and future minister, Franz Giirtner, was still Minister of Justice in the Bavarian Government, and active on his behalf behind the scenes. One of the features of the trial was the leniency with which the judges treated the accused in court, and the mildness of their rebukes to Hitler for his interruptions.

Nine men sat beside Hitler in the dock, all accused of high treason: Ludendorff, Pohner, and Frick; Rohm, Weber, and Kriebel, the other leaders of the Kampfbund; and Lieutenants Bruckner, Wagner, and Pemet, three lesser figures who had been active leaders of the Stormtroopers. Of the ten, Ludendorff was by far the most distinguished and famous, but it was Hitler who took the lead and stood out from all the rest.

From the first day Hitler’s object was to recover the political initiative and virtually put the chief witnesses for the prosecution in the dock. He did this by the simple device of assuming full responsibility for the attempt to overthrow the Republic, and, instead of apologizing or trying to belittle the seriousness of this crime, indignantly reproaching Lossow, Kahr, and Seisser with the responsibility for its failure. This was a highly effective way of appealing to nationalist opinion, and turning the tables on the prosecution. In his opening speech[132] Hitler declared: ‘One thing was certain, Lossow, Kahr, and Seisser had the same goal that we had — to get rid of the Reich Government with its present international and parliamentary government. If our enterprise was actually high treason, then during this whole period Lossow, Kahr, and Seisser must have been committing high treason along with us, for during all these weeks we talked of nothing but the aims of which we now stand accused.’

This was perfectly true, as everybody in the court knew, and Hitler pressed his advantage. ‘I alone bear the responsibility,’ he concluded, ‘but I am not a criminal because of that. If today I stand here as a revolutionary, it is as a revolutionary against the Revolution. There is no such thing as high treason against the traitors of 1918. It is impossible for me to have committed high treason, for the treason would not consist in the events of 8 November, but in all our activities and our state of mind in the preceding months — and then I wonder why those who did exactly the same are not sitting here with me. If we committed high treason, then countless others did the same. I deny all guilt as long as I do not find added to our little company the gentlemen who helped even in the pettiest details of the preparation of the affair.... I feel myself the best of Germans who wanted the best for the German people.’

Neither Kahr nor Seisser had the skill to withstand such tactics, while the judges sat placidly through Hitler’s mounting attack on the Republic whose authority they represented, only interrupting to reprove those who applauded openly in the court. One man alone stood up to Hitler, and this surprisingly enough was General von Lossow.[133]

Von Lossow was an angry man. His career had ended abruptly as a result of the November affair, and he had to listen in silence while his reputation was tom to shreds in the court, and he was represented as a coward, who had lacked the courage to declare either for or against the conspiracy. Now he had his chance to reply, and he expressed all the contempt of the officer caste for this jumped-up, ill-educated, loud-mouthed agitator who had never risen above the rank of corporal and now tried to dictate to the Army the policy it should pursue. ‘I was no unemployed comitadji? he declared; ‘at that time I occupied a high position in the State. I should never have dreamed of trying to get myself a better position by means of a putsch.’ Lossow dealt bluntly with Hitler’s own ambitions: ‘He thought himself the German Mussolini or the German Gambetta, and his followers, who had entered on the heritage of the Byzantine monarchy, regarded him as the German Messiah.’ For his own part he looked upon Hitler as fitted to play no more than the role of a political drummer. ‘The well-known eloquence of Herr Hitler at first made a strong impression on me. But the more I heard him, the fainter this impression became. I realized that his long speeches were almost always about the same thing, that his views were partly a matter- of-course for any German of nationalist views, and partly showed that Hitler lacked a sense of reality and the ability to see what was possible and practicable.’ In his closing speech the Public Prosecutor used the same patronizing language: ‘At first Hitler kept himself free of personal ambition for power. Later on, when he was being idolized by certain circles, he thoughtlessly allowed himself to be carried beyond the position assigned to him.’

But Hitler had the last word. In cross-examination he made Lossow lose his temper, and in his final speech he established a complete mastery over the court. Lossow had said he was fit only to be ‘the drummer’ and had accused him of ambition.

How petty are the thoughts of small men [Hitler retorted].[134] Believe me, I do not regard the acquisition of a Minister’s portfolio as a thing worth striving for. I do not hold it worthy of a great man to endeavour to go down in history just by becoming a Minister. One might be in danger of being buried beside other Ministers. I aimed from the first at something a thousand times higher than a Minister. I wanted to become the destroyer of Marxism. I am going to achieve this task, and if 1 do, the title of Minister will be an absurdity as far as I am concerned. When I stood for the first time at the grave of Richard Wagner my heart overflowed with pride in a man who had forbidden any such inscription as: Here lies Privy Councillor, Music-Director, His Excellency Baron Richard von Wagner. I was proud that this man and so many others in German history were content to give their names to history without titles. It was not from modesty that I wanted to be a drummer in those days. That was the highest aspiration: the rest is nothing.

The man who is born to be a dictator is not compelled; he wills it. He is not driven forward, but drives himself. There is nothing immodest about this. Is it immodest for a worker to drive himself towards heavy labour ? Is it presumptuous of a man with the high forehead of a thinker to ponder through the nights till he gives the world an invention? The man who feels called upon to govern a people has no right to say: If you want me or summon me, I will cooperate. No, it is his duty to step forward.

Looking back on the trial years later, Hitler remarked:

When the Kapp Putsch was at an end, and those who were responsible for it were brought before the Republican courts, then each held up his hand and swore that he knew nothing, had intended nothing, wished nothing. That was what destroyed the bourgeois world — that they had not the courage to stand by their act, that they had not the courage to step before the judge and say: ‘Yes, that was what we wanted to do; we wanted to destroy the State....’ It is not decisive whether one conquers; what is necessary is that one must with heroism and courage make oneself responsible for the consequences.[135]

Hitler not only took the responsibility for what had happened and left to those who had refused to march with him the odium of abandoning the national cause; he deliberately built up the failure of 8 and 9 November into one of the great propaganda legends of the movement. Year after year, even after the outbreak of war, he went back to the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich on 8 November, and to the Feldhermhalle, the War Memorial on the Odeonsplatz, to renew the memory of what had happened there on that grey November morning in 1923. Regularly each year he spoke to the Nazi Old Guard (the Alte Kämpfer) in the Bürgerbräukeller, and the next morning on the Odeonsplatz solemnly recalled the martyrs of the movement who died for their faith.

When the bodies of the sixteen dead of 1923 were re-interred in 1935 in a new memorial, Hitler said: ‘They now pass into the German immortality.... For us they are not dead. These temples are no crypts: they are an eternal guard post. Here they stand for Germany and keep guard over our people. Here they lie as true witnesses to our movement.’[136] These were the men whom twelve years before Hitler had left dying in the street while he fled. By skilful propaganda he had turned the fiasco of 1923 and his own failure as a leader into retrospective triumph.

But the unsuccessful putsch of 1923 has a still more important place in the history of the Nazi movement for the lessons which Hitler drew from it and by which he shaped his political tactics in the years that followed. In 1936, three years after he became Chancellor, he summed up the lessons of that earlier attempt to seize power: ‘We recognized that it is not enough to overthrow the old State, but that the new State must previously have been built up and be practically ready to one’s hand. And so only a few days after the collapse I formed a new decision: that now without any haste the conditions must be created which would exclude the possibility of a second failure. Later you lived through another revolution. But what a difference between them! In 1933 it was no longer a question of overthrowing a state by an act of violence; meanwhile the new State had been built up and all that there remained to do was to destroy the last remnants of the old State — and that took but a few hours.’[137]

When Hitler spoke of a ‘new decision’ he was exaggerating; he had never intended to seize power by force. His revolution — even in 1923 — had been designed as a ‘revolution by permission of the Herr President’. But the failure of 1923 strengthened his hand. ‘After the putsch I could say to all those in the Party what otherwise it would never have been possible for me to say. My answer to my critics was: Now the battle will be waged as I wish it and not otherwise.’[138] ‘This evening and this day (8–9 November) made it possible for us afterwards to fight a battle for ten years by legal means; for, make no mistake, if we had not acted then I should never have been able to found a revolutionary movement, and yet all the time maintain legality. One could have said to me with justice: You talk like all the others and you will act just as little as all the others.’[139]

Hitler had already laid the foundations of this policy at the trial of 1924. In his closing speech, he went out of his way to avoid recrimination and renew the old offer of alliance with the Army. The failure of 1923 was the failure of individuals, of a Lossow and a Kahr; the most powerful and the most permanent of German institutions, the Army, was not involved. ‘I believe that the hour will come when the masses, who today stand in the street with our swastika banner, will unite with those who fired upon them.... When I learned that it was the police who fired, I was happy that it was not the Reichswehr which had stained its record; the Reichswehr stands as untarnished as before. One day the hour will come when the Reichswehr will stand at our side, officers and men.’

The President of the Court rebuked Hitler for his slighting reference to the police, but Hitler brushed aside his interruption.

The army we have formed is growing from day to day.... I nourish the proud hope that one day the hour will come when these rough companies will grow to battalions, the battalions to regiments, the regiments to divisions, that the old cockade will be taken from the mud, that the old flags will wave again, that there will be a reconciliation at the last great divine judgement which we are prepared to face.... For it is not you, gentlemen, who pass judgement on us. That judgement is spoken by the eternal court of history. What judgement you will hand down, I know. But that court will not ask us: ‘Did you commit high treason, or did you not ?’ That court will judge us, the Quartermaster-General of the old Army (Ludendorff), his officers and soldiers, as Germans who wanted only the good of their own people and Fatherland; who wanted to fight and die. You may pronounce us guilty a thousand times over, but the goddess of the eternal court of history will smile and tear to tatters the brief of the State Prosecutor and the sentence of this court. For she acquits us.[140]

It took Hitler nine years to convince the Army that he was right. Meanwhile, as Konrad Heiden remarks, the verdict of the court was not so far from the judgement of the Goddess of History. Gürtner had seen to that. In face of all the evidence Ludendorff was acquitted, and Hitler was given the minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment. When the lay judges protested at the severity of the sentence, the President of the Court assured them that Hitler would certainly be pardoned and released on probation. Despite the objection of the State Prosecutor and the attempts of the police to get him deported, Hitler was in fact released from prison after serving less than nine months of his sentence — and promptly resumed his agitation against the Republic. Such were the penalties of high treason in a State where disloyalty to the régime was the surest recommendation to mercy.



Fifty miles west of Munich in the wooded valley of the Lech lies the small town of Landsberg. It was here that Hitler served his term of imprisonment from 11 November 1923 to 20 December 1924, with only the interlude of the trial in Munich to interrupt it. In the early summer of 1924 some forty other National Socialists were in prison with him, and they had an easy and comfortable life. They ate well — Hitler became quite fat in prison — had as many visitors as they wished, and spent much of their time out of doors in the garden, where, like the rest, Hitler habitually wore leather shorts with a Tyrolean jacket. Emil Maurice acted partly as Hitler’s batman, partly as his secretary, a job which he later relinquished to Rudolf Hess, who had voluntarily returned from Austria to share his leader’s imprisonment. Hitler’s large and sunny room, No. 7, was on the first floor, a mark of privilege which he shared with Weber, Kriebel, and Hess. On his thirty-fifth birthday, which fell shortly after the trial, the parcels and flowers he received filled several rooms. He had a large correspondence in addition to his visitors, and as many newspapers and books as he wished. Hitler presided at the midday meal, claiming and receiving the respect due to him as leader of the Party: much of the time, however, from July onwards he shut himself up in his room to dictate Mein Kampf, which was begun in prison and taken down by Emil Maurice and Hess.

Max Amann, who was to publish the book, had originally hoped for an account, full of sensational revelations, of the November putsch. But Hitler was too canny for that; there were to be no recriminations. His own title for the book was Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice, reduced by Amann to Mein Kampf — My Struggle. Even then Amann was to be disappointed. For the book contains very little autobiography, but is filled with page after page of turgid discussion of Hitler’s ideas, written in a verbose style which is both difficult and dull to read.

Hitler took the writing of Mein Kampf with great seriousness. Dietrich Eckart, Feder, and Rosenberg had all published books or pamphlets, and Hitler was anxious to establish his own position of intellectual as well as political authority in the Party. He was eager to prove that he too, even though he had never been to a university and had left school without a certificate, had read and thought deeply, acquiring his own Weltanschauung. It is this thwarted intellectual ambition, the desire to make people take him seriously as an original thinker, which accounts for the pretentiousness of the style, the use of long words and constant repetitions, all the tricks of a half-educated man seeking to give weight to his words. As a result Mein Kampf is a remarkably interesting book for anyone trying to understand Hitler’s mind, but as a party tract or a political best-seller it was a failure, which few, even among the party members, had the patience to read.

While Hitler turned his energies to writing Mein Kampf the Party fell to pieces; 9 November had been followed by the proscription of the Party and its organizations throughout the Reich, the suppression of the Völkischer Beobachter and the arrest or flight of the leaders. Göring remained abroad until 1927, Scheubner-Richter had been killed, and Dietrich Eckart, who had been ill for some time, died at the end of 1923. Quarrels soon broke out among those who remained at liberty or were released from prison.

Before his arrest Hitler had managed to send a pencilled note to Rosenberg with the brief message: ‘Dear Rosenberg, from now on you will lead the movement.’ As Rosenberg himself admits in his memoirs, this was a surprising choice. Although at one time he had great influence on Hitler, Rosenberg was no man of action and had never been one of the small circle who led the conspiracy. As a leader he was ineffective, finding it difficult either to make up his mind or to assert his authority. It was precisely the lack of these qualities which attracted Hitler: Rosenberg as his deputy would represent no danger to his own position in the Party.

Rosenberg, who was not only an intellectual but respectable and prim as well, was soon on the worst terms with the rougher elements in the Party, notably the two rival Jew-baiters and lechers, Julius Streicher and Hermann Esser, who combined to attack every move made by Rosenberg, Gregor Strasser, Ludendorff, and Pöhner, and accused them of undermining Hitler’s position. These in turn retorted by demanding the others’ expulsion from the Party and Hitler’s repudiation of them. But Hitler declined to take sides: if pushed to decide, he preferred Streicher, Esser, and Amann, however disreputable, because they were loyal to him and dependent on him. Men like Strasser, with ten times the others’ abilities, were for that very reason more inclined to follow an independent line.

Political issues of importance were involved in these personal quarrels. What was to be done now that the Party had been dissolved and Hitler was in prison? Hitler’s answer, however camouflaged, was simple: Nothing. He had no wish to see the Party revive its fortunes without him. But Gregor Strasser, Röhm, and Rosenberg, supported by Ludendorff, were anxious to take part in the national and State elections of the spring of 1924. Hitler, who was not a German citizen, was automatically excluded, and had from the beginning attacked all parliamentary activity as worthless and dangerous to the independence of the movement. It was true that such tactics were now essential if the Party was to follow the path of legality, but Hitler was concerned with the threat to his personal position as leader of the Party if others were elected to the Reichstag while he remained outside.

Despite Hitler’s opposition, loudly echoed by Streicher and Esser, Rosenberg, Strasser, and Ludendorff agreed to cooperate with the other Völkisch[141] groups and won a minor triumph at the April and May elections. The Völkisch bloc became the second largest party in the Bavarian Parliament, while in the Reichstag elections the combined list of the National Socialist German Freedom Movement (N.S. Deutsche Freiheitsbewegung) polled nearly two million votes and captured thirty-two seats. Among those elected were Strasser, Röhm, Ludendorff, Feder, and Frick. Ironically, they owe much of their success to the impression made by Hitler’s attitude at the Munich trial, but it was only with great difficulty that Hitler had been persuaded to agree to the election campaign at all.

The combination, under cover of which the proscribed Nazi Party had entered the election campaign, raised another important issue. Ludendorff and Strasser were anxious to consolidate and extend the electoral alliance they had concluded with the North German Deutsch-völkische Freiheitspartei led by Albrecht von Graefe and Graf Ernst zu Reventlow, with nationalist, racist, and anti-Semitic views similar to those of the Nazis in the south. In August 1924, a congress of all the Völkisch groups was held at Weimar. In Part I of Mein Kampf (written in the years 1924–5) Hitler expressed his dislike of such alliances. ‘It is quite erroneous to believe that the strength of a movement must increase if it be combined with other movements of a similar kind.... In reality the movement thus admits outside elements which will subsequently weaken its vigour.’[142]

There was some truth in this. The traditional animosity of Prussians and Bavarians; the open hostility of the North Germans to the Roman Catholic Church (whose stronghold was Bavaria), and the opposition of the more bourgeois North German nationalists to the radical and socialist elements in the Nazi programme — all these represented factors which might well weaken the appeal of the Nazis as a Bavarian and South German party. But the root of Hitler’s objection was his jealous distrust and fear for his own position. Hitler lacked any ability for cooperation and compromise. The only relationship he understood was that of domination. He preferred a party, however small, over which he could exercise complete and unquestioned control to a combination, however large, in which power must inevitably be shared and his own position reduced to that of equality with other leaders. In Part II of Mein Kampf Hitler returns to the question and devotes a whole chapter to it under the title: ‘The Strong are Strongest when Alone.’

On the very next page Hitler goes out of his way to praise Julius Streicher, who had magnanimously subordinated his own German Socialists to the Nazi Party, and contrasts his loyalty with the behaviour of those ‘ambitious men who at first had no ideas of their own, but felt themselves “called” exactly at that moment in which the success of the N.S.D.A.P. became unquestionable.’[143] There were long and sometimes bitter arguments between Hitler and his visitors at Landsberg on these issues in 1924. Hitler was both suspicious and evasive. He tried by every means to delay decisions until he was released, and once again Streicher and Esser proved their worth to him by founding a rival party, the Grossdeutsche Volksgemeinschaft, in open opposition to Strasser’s Völkisch bloc in Bavaria.

A further cause of disagreement was the S.A. Röhm, although found guilty of treason, had been discharged on the day sentence was pronounced. He at once set to work to weld together again the disbanded forces of the Kampf bund. Ludecke was one of those who agreed to help Röhm. ‘Many of the men with whom I conferred,’ he says, ‘ were veritable condottieri, such as Captain von Heydebreck and Edmund Heines. Almost without exception they resumed Röhm’s work eagerly, only too glad to be busy again at the secret military work without which they found life wearisome.’[144] The Frontbann, as it was now called, grew rapidly, for Röhm was an able organizer and possessed untiring energy: he journeyed from one end of Germany to the other, including Austria and East Prussia, and soon had some thirty thousand men enrolled.

But the greater Röhm’s success, the more uneasy Hitler became. His activities threatened Hitler’s chances of leaving prison. The Bavarian Government arrested some of the subordinate leaders of the Frontbann, and Hitler’s release on parole, which he had expected six months after sentence had been passed, on 1 October 1924, was delayed. ‘Hitler, Kriebel, and Weber in their cell,’ Röhm wrote later, ‘could not realize what was at stake. They felt that their approaching freedom was endangered and laid the blame, not on the enemy, but on the friends who were fighting for them.’[145]

Hitler was no less worried by the character Röhm was giving to the new organization which had replaced and absorbed the old S.A. The two men had never agreed about the function of the Stormtroops. For Hitler the S.A. had first and last a political function: they were to be instruments of political intimidation and propaganda subordinate to the Party. On 15 October, however, Röhm wrote to Ludendorff, as leader of the Völkisch bloc in the Reichstag:

The political and military movements are entirely independent of each other.... As the present leader of the military movement I make the demand that the defence organizations should be given appropriate representation in the parliamentary group and that they should not be hindered in their special work.... The National Socialist Movement is a fighting movement. Germany’s freedom — both at home and abroad — will never be secured by talk and negotiations; it must be fought for.[146]

Hitler flatly disagreed with such a view, just as much as he disliked the military organization of the Frontbann, its rapid expansion and growing independence. In December, when new elections for the Reichstag were held, Röhm did not find a place on the Nazi list.

By the end of Hitler’s year in prison these quarrels and disagreements had reached such a pitch that it appeared possible to write off the former Nazi Party as a serious force in German or Bavarian politics. The Reichstag elections of December 1924 confirmed this. The votes cast for the Nazi-Völkisch bloc fell by more than half, from 1,918,300 to 907,300; instead of 32 seats they had only 14 in the new Reichstag, less than five per cent of the total. Hitler had already remarked to Hess: ‘I shall need five years before the movement is on top again.’

Much of the blame for this state of affairs fell on Hitler — with considerable justice. ‘Hitler,’ Ludecke writes, ‘was the one man with power to set things straight; yet he never so much as lifted his little finger or spoke one word.’[147] Röhm, Strasser, Ludendorff, and Rosenberg all complained in the same exasperated terms. They could never get a firm answer from him. In disgust Rosenberg threw up the job of deputy leader of the Party. Twenty years later, reflecting on what had happened, while waiting to be tried by the International Court of Nuremberg, he wrote: ‘Hitler deliberately allowed antagonistic groups to exist within the Party, so that he could play umpire and Führer.’[148]

Ludecke arrived at the same conclusion: ‘To suppose that Hitler, behind prison walls, may have been ignorant of conditions outside is to be unjust to his political genius. A more reasonable supposition is that he was deliberately fostering the schism in order to keep the whip-hand over the party.’[149] And he succeeded. The plans for a united Völkisch Front came to nothing. Ludendorff and Röhm left in disgust, and no powerful Nazi group was created in the Reichstag under the leadership of someone else. The price of this disunity was heavy, but for Hitler it was worth paying. By the time he came out of prison the Party had broken up almost completely — but it had not found an alternative leader, there was no rival to oust. Hitler’s tactics of evasion and ‘ divide and rule ’ had worked well.

On 8 May 1924, and again on 22 September, the Bavarian State Police submitted a report to the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior recommending Hitler’s deportation. Hitler could still be considered an Austrian citizen and put across the frontier. The second of these reports stated: ‘The moment he is set free, Hitler will, because of his energy, again become the driving force of new and serious public riots and a menace to the security of the State. Hitler will resume his political activities, and the hope of the nationalists and racists that he will succeed in removing the present dissensions among the para-military troops will be fulfilled.’[150]

Thanks to the intervention of Giirtner, the Bavarian Minister of Justice, this threat of deportation was averted. In July Hitler formally resigned the leadership of the Party as a gesture of appeasement to the authorities. The activities of Rohm and the Frontbann temporarily endangered his release, but the failure of the Nazis in the December elections probably convinced the Bavarian Government that they had nothing more to fear from Hitler. On the afternoon of 20 December a telegram from the Public Prosecutor’s office ordered Hitler’s and Kriebel’s release on parole. Adolf Muller, the Party’s printer and Hoffmann at once drove out from Munich to fetch Hitler. Cap in hand and a raincoat belted over his shorts, he paused for his photograph to be taken. An hour or two later he walked up the stairs of 41 Thiersch- strasse to the apartment he rented at the top of the house. His room was filled with flowers and laurel wreaths, his dog bounded down the stairs to greet him: he was home for Christmas.


Hitler’s return from prison by no means meant the end of the quarrels and disunity in the Party. On 12 February 1925, Ludendorff, Strasser, and von Graefe resigned their leadership of the National Sozialistische Freiheitsbewegung, which was thereupon dissolved. After the fiasco of the presidential elections later in the spring the break between Hitler and Ludendorff became irreparable. In April Rohm demanded a decision about the future of the Frontbann. The independent terms on which Röhm proposed cooperation between the political and military leadership were rejected by Hitler in a conversation on 16 April: rather than agree to these he preferred to let the Frontbann go and build up the S.A. again from scratch. The following day Röhm wrote to resign the leadership of both the S.A. and the Frontbann. Hitler sent no reply. On 30 April Röhm wrote again to Hitler. He ended his letter: ‘I take this opportunity, in memory of the fine and difficult hours we have lived through together, to thank you (Dir) for your comradeship and to beg you not to exclude me from your personal friendship.’[151] But again Röhm got no reply. The next day a brief notice appeared in the Völkischer Beobachter announcing Röhm’s resignation of his offices and withdrawal from politics. With Röhm, Brückner too left the Party. Earlier in April Pöhner had been killed in a road accident. Göring was still abroad; Kriebel retired to Carinthia and later went to Shanghai; Scheubner-Richter and Eckart were dead, Rosenberg offended. Not many were left with whom to begin the task of rebuilding.

Hitler’s first move on leaving prison had been to consult Pöhner, and on Pöhner’s advice he went to call on the MinisterPresident of Bavaria and leader of the strongly Catholic and particularist Bavarian People’s Party, Dr Heinrich Held. The meeting took place on 4 January 1925. Despite Hitler’s efforts at conciliation, Dr Held’s reception was cold. The putsch, Hitler admitted, had been a mistake; his one object was to assist the Government in fighting Marxism; he had no use for Ludendorff’s and the North Germans’ attacks on the Catholic Church, and he had every intention of respecting the authority of the State. Held’s attitude was one of scepticism tinged with contempt, but he agreed — with a little prompting from Gürtner, still Minister of Justice, and Held’s friend as well as Hitler’s — to raise the ban on the Party and its newspaper. ‘The wild beast is checked,’ was Held’s comment to Gürtner. ‘We can afford to loosen the chain.’[152]

The fact that Hitler had made his peace with the priest-ridden Bavarian Government only increased the scorn and hostility of Ludendorff and the North German Völkisch leaders, Reventlow and Graefe, who were outspoken in their hostility to the Church. Hitler was unrepentant; he even attacked the Völkisch deputies in the Bavarian Parliament for their failure to accept the offer of a seat in Held’s Cabinet. When one of the deputies replied that principles were more important than securing Hitler’s release, Hitler retorted that his release would have been a thousand times more valuable for the movement than the principles of two dozen nationalist deputies.[153] This uncompromising attack lost him the support of most of the Völkisch bloc: only six of the twenty-four deputies in the Bavarian Landtag remained faithful to him, the rest broke away and gradually drifted into other parties. However compliant Hitler showed himself to Held and the Government, inside the Party he was determined to insist upon unconditional authority and obedience.

On 26 February 1925, the Völkischer Beobachter reappeared with a lengthy editorial from Hitler headed ‘A New Beginning.’ ‘I do not consider it to be the task of a political leader,’ Hitler wrote, ‘to attempt to improve upon, or even to fuse together, the human material lying ready to his hand.’[154] This was his answer to those who still objected to Streicher and Esser. He added ‘a special protest against the attempt to bring religious disputes into the movement or even to equate the movement with religious disputes.... Religious reformations cannot be made by political children, and in the case of these gentlemen it is very rarely that anything else is in question.’[155] This was his answer to the North German Völkisch movement which put anti-clericalism at the head of its programme.

The next day, 27 February, Hitler gathered the few who remained faithful for a mass meeting in the Bürgerbräukeller. But for the Munich Carnival he would have held it on 24 February, the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Party’s programme. Hitler telephoned to Anton Drexler asking him to take the chair, but Drexler demanded the exclusion of Esser: Hitler told him to go to the devil, and rang off. In Drexler’s place, Max Amann conducted the meeting. Strasser, Röhm, and Rosenberg stayed away. Besides Amann, Hitler’s only prominent supporters were Streicher and Esser, Gottfried Feder and Frick, and the Bavarian and Thuringian District Leaders, Buttmann and Dintner.

Hitler had not lost his gifts as an orator. When he finished speaking at the end of two hours there was loud cheering from the four thousand who filled the hall. He was perfectly frank in his claims.

If anyone comes and wants to impose conditions on me, I shall say to him: ‘Just wait, my young friend, and see what conditions I impose on you. I am not contending for the favour of the masses. At the end of a year you shall judge, my comrades. If I have acted rightly, well and good. If I have acted wrongly, I shall resign my office into your hands. Until then, however, I alone lead the movement, and no one can impose conditions on me so long as I personally bear the responsibility. And I once more bear the whole responsibility for everything that occurs in the movement.... To this struggle of ours there are only two possible issues: either the enemy pass over our bodies or we pass over theirs, and it is my desire that, if in the struggle I should fall, the Swastika banner shall be my winding sheet.’[156]

In the glow of enthusiasm a reconciliation was effected. The leaders shook hands on the platform. Streicher spoke of Hitler’s release as a gift from God. Buttmann declared: ‘All my scruples vanished when the Führer spoke.’

With the re-founding of the Nazi Party in February 1925, Hitler set himself two objectives. The first was to establish his own absolute control over the Party by driving out those who were not prepared to accept his leadership without question. The second was to build up the Party and make it a force in German politics within the framework of the constitution. Ludecke reports a conversation with Hitler while he was still in Landsberg prison in which he said: ‘When I resume active work it will be necessaty to pursue a new policy. Instead of working to achieve power by an armed coup, we shall have to hold our noses and enter the Reichstag against the Catholic and Marxist deputies. If out-voting them takes longer than out-shooting them, at least the result will be guaranteed by their own Constitution. Any lawful process is slow.... Sooner or later we shall have a majority — and after that, Germany.’[157]

The process was to prove even slower than Hitler had expected. Not only had he to begin at the beginning again, but the times were no longer so favourable as they had been in 1920–3. Hitler’s speech on 27 February had been too successful, the display of his demagogic power too convincing. He had laid great stress on the need to concentrate opposition against a single enemy — Marxism and the Jew. But he had added, in an aside which delighted his audience: ‘If necessary, by one enemy many can be meant.’ In other words, under cover of fighting Marxism and the Jew, the old fight against the State would be resumed. Such phrases as: ‘Either the enemy will pass over our bodies or we over theirs,’ scarcely suggested that Hitler’s new policy of legality was very sincere. The authorities were alarmed and immediately afterwards prohibited him from speaking in public in Bavaria. This prohibition was soon extended to other German states as well. It lasted until May 1927 in Bavaria and September 1928 in Prussia, and was a severe handicap for a leader whose greatest asset was his ability as a speaker. Hitler, however, had no option but to obey. He was on parole for some time after leaving prison and he was anxious lest the Bavarian authorities might proceed with the threat to deport him. An interesting correspondence on the question of Hitler’s citizenship between Hitler’s lawyer, the Austrian Consul-General in Munich, and the Vienna authorities, is to be found in the Austrian police records. It illustrates the anxiety Hitler felt on this score in the mid 1920s.

An even more serious handicap was the improvement in the position of the country, which began while Hitler was in prison and had already been reflected in the reduced Nazi vote at the elections of December 1924. Three days after the unsuccessful putsch, on 12 November 1923, Dr Schacht had been appointed’ as special commissioner to restore the German currency; by the summer of 1924 he had succeeded and the inflation was at an end. At the end of February 1924, the threat to the stability of the Republic from either the extreme Left or the extreme Right had been mastered and the state of martial law ended. Stresemann’s hopes of a settlement with the allied powers had not proved vain. A new reparations agreement — the Dawes Plan — was negotiated, and this was followed in turn by the evacuation of the Ruhr; the Locarno Pact, guaranteeing the inviolability of the Franco- German and Belgian-German frontiers: the withdrawal of allied troops from the first zone of the demilitarized Rhineland, and Germany’s entry into the League of Nations by unanimous vote of the League Assembly on 8 September 1926. At each stage the Republican Government had had to meet with violent opposition from both the political extremes, from the Communists and from the Nationalists. The fact that on each occasion it had been able to carry its proposals through the Reichstag, and that in December 1924 the Social Democrat Party increased its vote by thirty per cent on a platform of the defence of the Republic, suggested that at last the period of disturbance which had lasted from 1918 to the beginning of 1924 was at an end.

The presidential elections in the spring of 1925 appeared to mark a turning-point in the history of the Weimar Republic. President Ebert, the former Social Democratic Chancellor, who had held office since the Republic’s foundation, died on 28 February 1925. In the election held at the end of March the Nazis put up Ludendorff as their candidate, but won no more than 211,000 votes out of a total of close on 27 millions. As none of the candidates obtained a clear majority, a second election was held in April. This time the Nazis abandoned Ludendorff (this was the cause of the final breach between Hitler and Ludendorff) and supported Field-Marshal von Hindenburg, who had been brought in at the last minute by the Nationalists. Hindenburg won by a narrow margin to the anger and dismay of the democratic and republican forces. But the Nazis had little cause for congratulation. For the election of Hindenburg, the greatest figure of the old Army, a devoted Monarchist, a Conservative, and a Nationalist, had the paradoxical effect, in the short run, of strengthening the Republic. The simple fact that Hindenburg was at the head of the State did more than anything else could have done to reconcile traditionally minded and conservative Germans to the Republican régime. At the same time his scrupulous respect for the democratic constitution during the first five years of his Presidency cut the ground away from under the feet of those who attacked the Republic as the betrayal of the national cause.

Hitler’s emphasis on legality was an attempt to adjust the Party’s policy to the changed situation in Germany. Legality was a matter of tactics; the ineradicable hostility towards the Republic and all its works, the purpose of overthrowing it, even if by legal means, remained unchanged. In these calmer and more prosperous days, however, Hitler’s appeal to hatred, his tirades against ‘intolerable burdens’ and his prophecies of disaster found less and less response outside the ranks of the converted.

Money, too, was more difficult to find. Until 1929 Hitler had little success in his efforts to tap the political funds of heavy industry and big business. The principal sources of Party revenue remained the members’ dues of a mark a month (of which only ten per cent was forwarded to Party headquarters), collections or charges for admission at meetings, such private subscriptions as they could secure, and the income from the Party newspapers and publishing house in the hands of Max Amann.

The ban on his public speaking forced Hitler to turn more to writing between 1925 and 1928. The first volume of Mein Kampf was published in the summer of 1925. The style had been pruned and parts of it rewritten by Father Bernhard Stempfle who belonged to the Hieronymite Order and edited a small antiSemitic paper in Miesbach. Four hundred pages long and costing the high price of twelve marks, the book sold 9,473 copies the year it was published. Sales went down from 6,913 in 1926 to 3,015 in 1928 (by which time the second volume had been published); they more than doubled in 1929 and shot up to 50,000 in 1930 and 1931. By 1940 six million copies had been sold.

No sooner had he finished the first volume of Mein Kampf than Hitler set to work on the second part which was published at the end of 1926. He then went on, in the summer of 1928, to dictate a book on foreign policy to his publisher, Max Amann. Amann, who already had Mein Kampf on his hands, was not eager to publish another slow-seller, especially as it repeated much that had already been said in Mein Kampf. The text soon went out of date and the typescript remained in Amann’s office until after the war: it was finally published in 1961 as Hitlers Zweites Buch.

From 1925 the royalties from his book and the fees he received for newspaper articles were Hitler’s principal source of personal income. After the war his income tax file was discovered, including his correspondence with the tax authorities on the expenses which he claimed.[158] Hitler described himself as a writer and gave his income as 19,843 Reichsmarks in 1925; 15,903 in 1926; 11,494 in 1927; 11,818 in 1928; and 15,448 in 1929. These figures correspond fairly closely to the royalties he received from Mein Kampf.

An additional source of income, not mentioned in his tax returns, was the fees which he received for articles published in the Nazi press. The high fees which he was believed to demand for these and which the struggling papers could ill afford to pay, were a cause of much grumbling against Hitler in Party circles.

How much Hitler personally received from the Party’s funds or the contributions which he raised remains unknown. To all appearances the years 1925 to 1928 were a lean period for him: he had difficulty in paying his taxes even on the incomplete return which he made, and he ran up considerable debts on which he had to pay interest of 1,706 marks in 1927. Yet he certainly did not live in poverty. He had always shown a particular liking for Berchtesgaden and the mountain scenery of the Bavarian Alps close to the Austrian frontier. After coming out of prison, he spent much of his time there, working on Mein Kampf and his newspaper articles. He stayed at first in a boarding house, the pension Moritz, then at the Deutsche Haus in Berchtesgaden. ‘I lived there like a fighting cock,’ he recalled later. ‘Every day I went up to Obersalzberg which took me two and a half hours’ walking there and back. That’s where I wrote the second volume of my book. I was very fond of visiting the Dreimadlerhaus, where there were always pretty girls. This was a great treat for me. There was one of them, especially, who was a real beauty.’[159]

In 1928 Hitler rented a villa, Haus Wachenfeld, on the Obersalzberg for a hundred marks a month. It had been built by an industrialist from Buxtehude and Hitler later bought it. This was Hitler’s home. ‘I’ve spent up there,’ he said later, ‘the finest hours of my life.... It’s there that all my great projects were conceived and ripened.’ Although he later rebuilt Haus Wachenfeld on a grander scale and re-named it the Berghof, he remained faithful, as he put it, to the original house. As soon as he secured the lease of it, he persuaded his widowed half-sister, Angela Raubal, to come from Vienna and keep house for him, bringing with her her two daughters, with the elder of whom, then a pretty blonde of twenty, Hitler rapidly fell in love.

The following year, 1929, he rented a handsome nine-roomed flat in the fashionable Prinzregentenstrasse of Munich, taking the whole of the second floor of No. 16 and installing Frau Winter, the housekeeper, from the house in which he had lodged in the Thierschstrasse. Geli Raubal was given her own room in the new flat as well as at Obersalzberg.

Another expense which led to animated correspondence with the tax authorities was Hitler’s car, a supercharged Mercedes, which he bought shortly after leaving Landsberg prison, at a cost of more than 20,000 marks. When asked to account for this expenditure, Hitler replied that he had raised a bank loan. He had, in fact, long displayed a passion for motoring, and quite apart from this believed that possession of a car was an important stage property for a politician. Before the 1923 putsch he had owned an old green Selve tourer, then a Benz which the police seized on his arrest. He did not drive himself but even in 1925 employed a chauffeur. There was another item which aroused the interest of the tax office: a private secretary (Hess), paid 300 marks a month, and an assistant as well as a chauffeur who received 200.

To be driven fast was a great pleasure to Hitler. It fitted the same dramatic picture of himself as the rhinoceros-hide whip which he carried with him wherever he went. But he also delighted to go off on a picnic with a few friends and Geli. This was, in fact, the time in his life when he enjoyed more private life than at any other, and he was later often to refer to it nostalgically.

Many times during the Russian campaign he recalled occasions such as that in 1925 when at the age of thirty-six he stayed with the Bechsteins as their guest at the Bayreuth Festival.

T used to spend the day in leather shorts. In the evening I would put on a dinner jacket or tails to go to the opera. We made excursions by car into the Fichtelgebirge and the Franconian mountains.... My supercharged Mercedes was a joy to all. Afterwards, we would prolong the evening in the company of the actors, either at the theatre restaurant or on a visit to Berneck.... From all points of view, those were marvellous days.’[160]


Such success as the Nazis had at this time was due less to Hitler than to Gregor Strasser, who was threatening to take Hitler’s place as the effective leader of the Party and was breaking new ground in the north of Germany and the Rhineland, where the Party had hitherto failed to penetrate. Gregor Strasser joined the Nazis at the end of 1920 and became the local leader in Lower Bavaria. A Bavarian by birth, and some three years younger than Hitler, he had won the Iron Cross, First Class, in the war and ended his service as a lieutenant. After the war he had married and opened a chemist’s shop in Landshut. A powerfully built man with a strong personality, Strasser was an able speaker and an enthusiast of radical views who laid as much stress on the anticapitalist points in the Nazi programme as on its nationalism. While Hitler was in prison Strasser had been one of the promoters of the attempt to create a united front with the North German Völkisch movement. A man of independent views, he was critical of Hitler’s attitude and little disposed to submit to his demands for unlimited authority in the Party. Strasser had not attended the meeting on 27 February, and it was only a fortnight later that Hitler persuaded him to resume work in the Party by offering him the leadership in North Germany.

This suited Strasser very well, and with the help of his brother, Otto Strasser, he rapidly built up a following in the north and an organization which, while nominally acknowledging Hitler as leader, soon began to develop into a separate party. Gregor Strasser, who was a Reichstag deputy with a free pass on the railways and no ban to prevent him speaking in public, spent days and nights in the train, speaking several times in the week at one big town after another in the Rhineland, Hanover, Saxony, and Prussia. He founded a newspaper, the Berliner Arbeitszeitung, edited by Otto Strasser, and a fortnightly periodical, National- sozialistische Briefe, intended for Party officials. Strasser was particularly active in strengthening the organization of the movement, appointing district leaders and frequently coming down to talk with them. As editor of the Briefe and Gregor’s private secretary, the Strassers secured a young Rhinelander, then still under thirty, a man of some education who had attended a number of universities, and written novels and film scripts which no one would accept, before taking a job as secretary to a Reichstag deputy. His name was Paul Josef Goebbels, and he soon showed himself to possess considerable talent as a journalist and as a speaker.

The Strasser brothers did not share Hitler’s cynical disregard for any programme except as a means to power. Their own programme was vague enough, but it proposed the nationalization of heavy industry and the big estates in the interests of what they called ‘State feudalism’, together with the decentralization of political power on a federal basis, the break-up of Prussia and the establishment of a chamber of corporations on Fascist lines to replace the Reichstag. Hitler had little sympathy with these ideas, least of all with the Strassers’ anti-capitalism and their demand for the breaking up of big estates, which embarrassed him in his search for backers among the industrialists and landowners. But while Hitler spent his time in Berchtesgaden, Gregor and Otto Strasser were actively at work extending their influence in the movement.

On 22 November 1925, the Strassers called together a meetingof the North German district leaders in Hanover. Among the twenty-five present were Karl Kaufmann, from the Ruhr, subsequently Gauleiter of Hamburg; Bernhard Rust, later the Nazi Minister of Education; Kerri, later Nazi Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs; Robert Ley, from Cologne, in time the boss of Hitler’s Labour Front; Friedrich Hildebrandt, after 1933 the Gauleiter of Mecklenburg; and Erich Koch, who became not only Gauleiter of East Prussia but, after 1941, Reichskommissar for the Ukraine. Hitler was represented by Gottfried Feder, but it was only by a bare majority that Feder was admitted to the meeting at all, after Goebbels had demanded his ejection.

The split between the Strassers and Hitler crystallized round a question which excited much feeling in Germany in 1925–6, whether the former German royal houses should be expropriated and whether their possessions should be regarded as their own private property or as the public property of the different states. On this issue Gregor and Otto Strasser sided with working-class opinion against the princes, while Hitler supported the propertied classes. At this time he was receiving fifteen hundred marks a month (three-quarters of his income) from the divorced Duchess of Sachsen-Anhalt, and he denounced the agitation as a Jewish swindle. The Hanover meeting voted to follow the Strasser line, only Ley and Feder supporting Hitler. When Feder protested in Hitler’s name, Goebbels jumped to his feet: ‘In these circumstances I demand that the petty bourgeois Adolf Hitler be expelled from the’National Socialist Party.’ Rust added: ‘The National Socialists are free and democratic men. They have no pope who can claim infallibility.’[161] More important still, the Hanover meeting accepted the Strassers’ programme and resolved to substitute it for the Twenty-five Points of the official programme adopted in February 1920. This was open revolt.

Hitler took time to meet the challenge, but when he did move he showed his skill in the way he outmanoeuvred Strasser without splitting the Party. On 14 February 1926 he summoned a conference in his turn, this time in the South German town of Bamberg. Hitler deliberately avoided a Sunday, when the North German leaders would have been free to attend in strength. As a result the Strasser wing of the Party was represented only by Gregor Strasser and Goebbels. In the south Hitler had made the position of District Leader (Gauleiter) a salaried office, a step which left the Gauleiters free to attend solely to Party business and made them much more dependent upon himself. He could thus be sure of a comfortable majority in the meeting at Bamberg.

The two protagonists fought out their differences in a day-long debate which ranged over half a score of topics: Socialism, the plebiscite on the Princes’ property, the policy of legality versus that of revolution, foreign affairs, the role of the working classes, and the organization of the Party. Strasser was outnumbered from the beginning, and Hitler added to his triumph by the capture of Goebbels, hitherto one of the Strassers’ strongest supporters. Half-way through the meeting Goebbels stood up and declared that, after listening to Hitler, he was convinced that Strasser and he had been wrong, and that the only course was to admit their mistake and come over to Hitler. Having won his point, Hitler did all he could to keep Strasser in the Party. In the middle of the debate he put his arm round his shoulders and said: ‘Listen, Strasser,, you really mustn’t go on living like a wretched official. Sell your pharmacy, draw on the Party funds and set yourself up properly as a man of your worth should.’[162] Hitler’s conciliatory tactics proved successful. The Strasser programme was abandoned, a truce patched up and the unity of the Party preserved. This was not the end of the Strasser episode, but Hitler had handled his most dangerous rival with skill and papered over the breach between himself and the radical wing of the Party.

Hitler had still to face other difficulties in the Party. There was persistent criticism and grumbling at the amount of money the Leader and his friends took out of Party funds for their own expenses, and at the time he spent away from headquarters in Berchtesgaden, or driving around in a large motor-car at the Party’s expense. An angry controversy started between Hitler and Gauleiter Münder of Württemberg which led to Munder’s eventual dismissal in 1928. Quarrelling, slander, and intrigue over the most petty and squalid issues seemed to be endemic in the Party.

To keep these quarrels within bounds, Hitler set up a Party court in 1926, the Uschla, an abbreviated form of Untersuchungsund Schlichtungs-Ausschuss (Committee for Investigation and Settlement). Its original chairman, the former General Heinemann, failed to understand that its primary purpose was to preserve Party discipline and the authority of the leader, turning a blind eye to dishonesty, crime, and immorality, except in so far as these affected the efficiency and unity of the Party. His successor, Major Walther Buch, understood his job better, and with the assistance of Ulrich Graf and a young Munich lawyer, Hans Frank (later Governor-General of Poland), turned the Uschla into an effective instrument for Hitler’s tighter control over the Party.

In May 1926, Hitler summoned the Munich members of the Party to a meeting which was a logical consequence of the Bamberg conference of February. At this meeting a resolution was passed to the effect that henceforward the sole ‘bearer’ of the movement was the National Socialist German Workers’ Association in Munich. The Munich group was to choose its own leadership, which would automatically become the leadership of the whole Party. Hitler explained that, although German law required the formal election of the chairman by the members, once elected he would have the right to appoint or dismiss the other Party leaders, including the Gauleiters, at his pleasure. At the same time the Twenty-five Points of the programme adopted in February 1920 were declared to be immutable, not because Hitler attached any importance to them, but as a further prop to his authority over the Party.

In July 1926, Hitler felt strong enough to hold a mass rally of the Party at Weimar, in Thuringia, one of the few States in which he was still allowed to speak. Five thousand men took part in the march past, with Hitler standing in his car and returning their salute, for the first time, with outstretched arm. Hoffman’s photographs made it all look highly impressive, and a hundred thousand copies of the Völkischer Beobachter were distributed throughout the country. It was the first of the Reichsparteitage later to be staged, year after year, at Nuremberg.

Goebbels was now whole-heartedly Hitler’s man. In November Hitler appointed him as Gauleiter of ‘ Red’ Berlin, an assignment which was to stretch to the full his remarkable powers as an agitator. He took over a Party organization so riven with faction that Hitler had to dissolve it, and ordered Goebbels to begin again from the bottom. By moving Goebbels to Berlin Hitler not only strengthened the movement in a key position, but provided another check against the independence of the Strasser group. The Strasser brothers had kept their own press and publishing house in Berlin, and Goebbels, whose desertion to Hitler was regarded as rank treachery by the Strassers, employed every means in his power to reduce their influence and following. In 1927 he founded Der Angriff as a rival to the Strassers’ paper, and used the S.A. to beat up their most loyal Supporters. Appeals to Hitler by Gregor and Otto Strasser produced no effect: he declared he had no control over what Goebbels did. None the less it was Hitler’s game that Goebbels was playing for him.


For the next two years the fortunes of Hitler and the Nazi Party changed very little. The old trouble with the S.A. reappeared. In November 1926, Hitler reformed the S.A. and found a new commander in Captain Pfeffer von Salomon, but the ex-officers still thought only in military terms. The S.A. was to be a training ground for the Army and the height of their ambition was to hand it over lock, stock, and barrel to the Army, with jobs for themselves in the higher ranks. Both the Berlin and Munich S.A. leadership had to be purged. The Munich S.A. had become notorious for the homosexual habits of Lieutenant Edmund Heines and his friends: it was not for his morals, however, or his record as a murderer, that Hitler threw him out in May 1927, but for lack of discipline and insubordination. Such was the élite of the new Germany.

Whatever steps Hitler took, however, the S.A. continued to follow its own independent course. Pfeffer held as obstinately as Rohm to the view that the military leadership should be on equal terms with, not subordinate to, the political leadership. He refused to admit Hitler’s right to give orders to his Stormtroops. So long as the S.A. was recruited from the ex-service and ex-Frei- korps men who had so far provided both its officers and rank and file, Hitler had to tolerate this state of affairs. These men were not interested in politics; what they lived for was precisely this ‘playing at soldiers’ Hitler condemned — going on manoeuvres, marching in uniform, brawling, sitting up half the night singing camp songs and drinking themselves into a stupor, trying to recapture the lost comradeship and exhilaration of 1914—18. In time Hitler was to find an answer in the black-shirted S.S., a hand-picked corps d’élite (sworn to absolute obedience) very different from the ill-disciplined S.A. mob of camp followers. But it was not until 1929 that Hitler found the right man in Heinrich Himmler, who had been Gregor Strasser’s adjutant at Landshut and later his secretary. In 1928 Himmler, who had been trained as an agriculturalist, was running a small poultry farm at the village of Waldtrüdering, near Munich. When he took over the S.S. from Erhard Heiden, the troop numbered no more than two hundred men, and it took Himmler some years before he could provide Hitler with what he wanted, an instrument of complete reliability with which to exercise his domination over the Party and eventually over the German nation.

Yet, if the Party still fell far short of Hitler’s monolithic ideal, 1927 and 1928 saw a continuation of that slow growth in numbers and activity which had begun in 1926. In May 1927, after giving further assurances for his good behaviour, Hitler was again allowed to speak in Bavaria, and in September 1928 in Prussia. In August 1927, at the first of the Nuremberg Party days, thirty thousand S.A. men are said to have paraded before the Party Leader. From 27,000 in 1925 the number of dues-paying members rose to 49,000 in 1926, 72,000 in 1927, 108,000 in 1928, and 178,000 in 1929. An organization for far bigger numbers was already being built up. The country was divided into Gaue, corresponding roughly to the thirty-four Reichstag electoral districts, with a Gauleiter appointed by Hitler at its head. There were seven additional Gaue for Austria, Danzig, the Saar, and the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. To the Hitler Youth were added the Nazi Schoolchildren’s League (Schülerbund) and Students’ League; the Order of German Women; a Nazi Teachers’ Association, and unions of Nazi Lawyers and Nazi Physicians. The circulation of the Völkischer Beobachter crept up and the Illustrierter Beobachter was turned into a weekly.

By 1928 the Party organization was divided into two main branches : one directed by Gregor Strasser and devoted to attacking the existing régime, the other directed by Constantin Hierl and concerned with building up in advance the cadres of the new State. The first section had three divisions: foreign (Nieland), Press (Otto Dietrich), infiltration and the building up of party cells (Schumann). The second section consisted of Walther Darré (Agriculture), Wagener (Economics), Konopath (Race and Culture), Nicolai (work of the Ministry of the Interior), Hans Frank (Legal questions), Gottfried Feder (Technical questions), and Schulz (Labour Service).

Propaganda was a separate department, the director of which worked directly under Hitler. From October 1925 to January 1927, this had been Gregor Strasser’s job, but Hitler had then transferred Strasser to build up the organization, and in November 1928 put in Goebbels as his propaganda chief. At the end of 1927

another familiar figure, Hermann Göring, returned to Germany from Sweden. Göring established himself in Berlin, living by his wits and his social connexions. Hitler, looking for just such contacts in upper-class Berlin, soon renewed his association with Göring. In May 1928, as their reward Göring and Goebbels were both elected to the Reichstag on the short Nazi list of twelve deputies, together with Strasser, Frick, and General von Epp, who had resigned from the Army to rejoin the Party. Hitler himself never stood as a candidate for the Reichstag. Since he was not a German citizen he was ineligible. He resigned his Austrian citizenship on 7 April 1925. This left him without a country. Efforts behind the scenes to persuade the Bavarian Government to make him a German national failed and Hitler would ask no favours in public of the Republican regime which he detested. He did not become naturalized until 1932, on the eve of his candidature for the German Presidency, when the Nazis had secured control of the State Government in Brunswick and were in a position to make the change without awkward questions being asked.

But the fact which overshadowed all Hitler’s efforts in these years and dwarfed them into insignificance was the continued success of the Republican regime. By 1927 the despised Government of the ‘November Criminals’, the Jew-ridden ‘Republic of Betrayal’, had succeeded in restoring order, stabilizing the currency, negotiating a settlement of reparations, ending the occupation of the Ruhr, and securing Germany’s entry into the League of Nations. To the Locarno Pact in the west Stresemann had added the settlement with the Soviet Union embodied in the Treaty of Berlin of April 1926, and to the evacuation of the First Zone of the demilitarized Rhineland the withdrawal of the Allied Military Control Commission at the end of January 1927. In August 1928, at the invitation of the French Government, Stresemann visited Paris to sign the Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war, on equal terms with the other Great Powers. The visit to Paris and the friendliness of Stresemann’s reception symbolized the progress Germany had made, through the policy of ‘Fulfilment’, in recovering that equality of rights to which Hitler and the Nationalists never tired of appealing.

These successes in the political field, which, it might be argued, affected only that part of the nation which interested itself in politics, were matched by an economic recovery which touched every man and woman in the country. The basis of this recovery was the huge amount of foreign money lent to Germany, especially by American investors, after the Dawes Plan and the re-establishment of the currency seemed to have made her a sound financial risk again. The official estimate of Germany’s foreign debts at the end of 1930 was between 28,500 and 30,000 million gold marks, almost all of which had been borrowed between the beginning of 1924 and the beginning of 1929.[163]

Not only the German Government, but the States, the big cities, even the Churches, as well as industry and business, borrowed at high rates and short notice, spending extravagantly without much thought of how the loans were to be repaid except by borrowing more. In this way Germany made her reparation payments promptly, and at the same time financed the rationalization and re-equipment of her industry, great increases in social services of all kinds and a steady rise in the standard of living of all classes. During the inflation (1923) German industrial production had dropped to fifty-five per cent of the 1913 figure, but by 1927 it had recovered to a hundred and twenty-two per cent, a recovery which far outdistanced that of the United Kingdom.[164] Unemployment fell to six hundred and fifty thousand in the summer of 1928. In this same year retail sales showed an increase of twenty per cent over 1925 figures, while by next year, 1929, money wages had risen by eighteen per cent and real wages by ten per cent over the average for 1925.[165]

Against facts like these, translated into the simplest terms of more food, more money, more jobs, and more security, all Hitler’s and Goebbels’s skill as agitators made little headway. Hitler’s instinct was right. The foundations of this sudden prosperity were exceedingly shaky, and Hitler’s prophecies of disaster, although he was wrong in predicting a new inflation, were to be proved right. But, in 1927 and 1928, few in Germany wanted to listen to such gloomy threats, any more than they listened to the warnings of the President of the Reichsbank, Dr Schacht, or of the Agent- General for Reparations, Parker Gilbert.

The general mood of confidence and the sense of recovery after the fevers and exhaustion of the post-war years were reflected in the results of the Reichstag elections held in May 1928. The Social Democrats, the party most closely identified with the Republic, increased their vote from 7–88 to 9–15 millions, while the Rightwing German National Party, who had been unwavering in their vilification of the Weimar régime, saw their support drop from 6–2 to 4–3 million votes. The Nazis polled only 810,000 votes and secured no more than twelve seats out of a total of 491, ranking as the ninth party in the Chamber.

Thus although Hitler had certainly made some progress in rebuilding the Party when judged by the level to which it had fallen in 1924–5, as soon as it was measured against the standards of national politics his success was seen to be negligible. At the end of 1928 Hitler was still a small-time politician, little known outside the south and even there regarded as part of the lunaticfringe of Bavarian politics. These were the years of waiting, years in which Hitler had to face the worst of all situations, indifference and half-amused contempt, years in which it would have been all too easy for the movement to disintegrate and founder.

In September 1928, Hitler called a meeting of the Party leaders in Munich and talked to them frankly. Much of his speech was taken up with attempting to belittle Stresemann’s achievement in foreign policy.

In the first place our people must be delivered from the hopeless confusion of international convictions and educated consciously and systematically to fanatical Nationalism.... Second, in so far as we educate the people to fight against the delirium of democracy and bring it again to the recognition of the necessity of authority and leadership, we tear it away from the nonsense of parliamentarianism. Third, in so far as we deliver the people from the atmosphere of pitiable belief in possibilities which lie outside the bounds of one’s own strength — such as the belief in reconciliation, understanding, world peace, the League of Nations, and international solidarity — we destroy these ideas. There is only one right in the world and that right is one’s own strength.[166]

But he did not disguise the difficulties which lay ahead. Above all, they had to strengthen the individual Party comrade’s confidence in the victory of the movement. ‘It does not require much courage to do silent service in an existing organization. It requires more courage to fight against an existing political régime.... Attack attracts the personalities which possess more courage. Thus a condition containing danger within itself becomes a magnet for men who seek danger.... What remains is a minority of determined, hard men. It is this process which alone makes history explicable: the fact that certain revolutions, emanating from very few men and giving the world a new face, have actually taken place.... All parties, public opinion, take a position against us. But therein lies the unconditional, I might say the mathematical, reason for the future success of our movement. As long as we are the radical movement, as long as public opinion shuns us, as long as the existing factors of the State oppose us — we shall continue to assemble the most valuable human material around us, even at times when, as they say, all factors of human reason argue against it.’[167]

It was with such arguments that Hitler held the men around him together. This is the one striking quality of his leadership in these years, the fact that he never let go, never lost faith in himself and was able to communicate this, to keep the faith of others alive, in the belief that some time a crack would come and the tide at last begin to flow in his favour.


Hitler’s first chance came in 1929, a prelude to the great ctisis of 1930–3, and it came in the direction Hitler had foreseen, that of foreign policy.

Although Stresemann’s policy had brought solid gains for Germany, nothing would appease the German National Party which continued to attack every item of the Versailles and subsequent settlements. The difficulties of Stresemann’s position made him peculiarly vulnerable. Any concession to be secured from a grudging and suspicious France required much patience and circumspection: the policy of ‘Fulfilment’ could not be hurried. In these circumstances it was the easiest thing in the world for the Nationalists and Nazis to whip up German impatience and decry any success as insufficient and less than Germany was entitled to, attacking the Government for truckling to France and sacrificing national interests. Every outburst of this kind added to Stresemann’s difficulties — and was meant to do so — by raising French resistance and casting doubts on his ability to speak for, or control, public opinion in Germany.

Hitler had been unwearying in his attacks on Stresemann. The very idea of reconciliation, of settlement by agreement, roused his anger. An appeal to nationalist resentment was an essential part of Hitler’s stock-in-trade; at all costs that resentment must be kept alive and inflamed. France must be represented as the eternal enemy, and Stresemann’s policy of ‘Fulfilment’ as blind illusion or, better still, deliberate treachery. So far this attack from the Right had failed to destroy the support of the majority for Stresemann’s policy, but a better chance of success appeared to offer itself in 1929, and although in the end this, too, failed, the way in which the campaign was organized and the part Hitler was able to secure in it for himself marked a decisive stage in the rise of the Nazi Party.

The occasion was the renewal of negotiations for a final settlement of reparations. The Dawes Plan of 1924 had not attempted to fix the final amount to be paid by Germany or the number of years for which Germany was to continue to pay. In the winter of 1928–9 these questions were submitted to a committee of experts under the chairmanship of the American banker, Owen D. Young. After lengthy negotiations the Young Committee signed a report on 7 June 1929 which required the Germans to pay reparations for a further fifty-nine years. The annual payments were fixed on a graded scale, the average of which was considerably lower then the sum already being paid under the Dawes Plan (2,050 million marks a year as against 2,500 million). The total was substantially less than the 132 milliard gold marks originally claimed by the Allies, while the international controls over Germany’s economy established by the Dawes Plan were to be abolished. Whatever doubts he may have entertained, Strese- mann proposed to accept these terms, although they were far stiffer than those contained in the German proposals to the Committee, in the hope that thereby he could secure evacuation of the remaining zones of the Occupied Rhineland. In the international conference which met at the Hague in August 1929 he succeeded in linking the two questions of reparations and evacuation, and in persuading the French to agree that the withdrawal of the occupying forces should begin in September, five years ahead of time, and be completed by the end of June 1930.

This was the last of Stiesemann’s triumphs. He died on 3 October 1929, worn out by the exertions of the past six years. Before he died he had overcome the opposition of the French, but the Germans still remained to be convinced. On 9 July 1929, a national committee had been formed to organize a campaign for a plebiscite rejecting the new reparations settlement and the ‘lie’ of Germany’s war-guilt which represented the legal basis of the Allies’ claims. From then until 13 March 1930, when President Hindenburg finally signed the legislation in which the Young Plan was embodied, the Press and parties of the German Right united in a most violent campaign to defeat the Government and to use the issues of foreign policy and reparations for their ultimate purpose of overthrowing, or at least damaging, the hated Republic. It was by means of this campaign that Hitler first made his appearance on the national stage of German politics.

The leader of the agitation was Alfred Hugenberg, a bigoted German nationalist whose aim was to tear up the Versailles Treaty, overthrow the Republic, and smash the organized working-class movement. An ambitious, domineering and unscrupulous man of sixty-three, Hugenberg had large resources at his disposal. At one time a director of Krupps, he made a fortune out of the inflation and with it bought up a propaganda empire, a whole network of newspapers and news agencies, as well as a controlling interest in the big U.F.A. film trust. These he used not so much to make money as to push his own views. In 1928 he took over the leadership of the German National Party and by his extravagant opposition in the next two years caused a secession of more moderate members.

Hugenberg could count on the support of the Stahlhelm, by far the largest of the German ex-servicemen’s organizations, under the leadership of Franz Seldte; of the Pan-German League, whose chairman, Heinrich Class, joined Hugenberg’s Committee for the Initiative; and of powerful industrial and financial interests, represented by Dr Albert Voegler, General Director of the big United Steel (Vereinigte Stahlwerke), and later by the President of the Reichsbank, Dr Hjalmar Schacht, the two chief German delegates to the Young Committee, both of whom came out violently against the Plan. What they lacked was mass support, someone to go out and rouse the mob. Through Finanzrat Bang, Hitler and Hugenberg were brought together and met at the Deutscher Orden, a nationalist club in Berlin. Hitler was not easily persuaded to come in, partly because of the opposition to such an alliance with the reactionary Hugenberg and the representatives of industry which he could expect to meet from the radical Strasser group. But the advantages of being able to draw on the big political funds at the disposal of Hugenberg, and the offer of an equal position with the National Party in launching the agitation, converted him. He put his price high: complete independence in waging the campaign in his own way, and a large share of the Committee’s resources to enable him to do it.[168] For his representative on the Joint Finance Committee Hitler deliberately chose Gregor Strasser: when others in the Party complained, he laughed and told them to wait until he had finished with his allies.

In September 1929, Hugenberg and Hitler published a draft ‘Law against the Enslavement of the German People’. After repudiating Germany’s responsibility for the war, Section III demanded the end of all reparations and Section IV the punishment of the Chancellor, the Cabinet, and their representatives for high treason if they agreed to new financial commitments. For their bill to be submitted to the Reichstag the sponsors had to secure the support of ten per cent of the electorate; the lists were opened on 16 October and they got the votes of 10–02 per cent, not many over four millions. After all the violent propaganda about turning Germany into a ‘Young Colony’, crippling national survival for two generations, and enslaving the nation to foreign capitalists, this was a sharp failure. The Committee had even less success in the Reichstag when the Bill was introduced at the end of November and defeated clause by clause, one group of the German National Party under Treviranus refusing to vote for the controversial Section IV and breaking away from Hugenberg. The submission of the motion to a national plebiscite at the end of December, the final stage in the process, underlined the defeat of the extremists. To win, Hugenberg and Hitler needed more than twenty-one million votes; they got less than six million. The bills embodying the legislation for carrying out the Young Plan were passed by the Reichstag on 12 March 1930. The last hope of the Nationalists was that President Hindenburg would refuse to sign them, and pressure was exerted on him by his Nationalist friends. But Hindenburg refused to be diverted from his constitutional duty, and on 13 March put his signature to the Young Plan laws. The fury of the Hugenberg and Nazi Press and their open attacks on the President (‘Is Hindenburg still alive?’ Goebbels sneered in Der Angriff) revealed the bitterness of their defeat.

But the defeat for Hugenberg and his ‘Freedom Law’ was no defeat for Hitler. In the preceding six months he had succeeded for the first time in breaking into national politics and showing something of his ability as a propagandist. Every speech made by Hitler and the other Nazi leaders had been carried with great prominence by the Hugenberg chain of papers and news agencies. To millions of Germans who had scarcely ever heard of him before Hitler had now become a familiar figure, thanks to a publicity campaign entirely paid for by Hugenberg’s rival party. More important still, he had attracted the attention of those who controlled the political funds of heavy industry and big business to his remarkable gifts as an agitator. This, in Hitler’s eyes, far outweighed the defeat.

Already, through the agency of Otto Dietrich, Hitler had been brought into touch with Emil Kirdorf. Otto Dietrich, who was soon to become Hitler’s Press Chief, was the son-in-law of Reismann-Grone of Essen, the owner of the Rheinisch-Westfälische Zeitung (the paper of the Ruhr industrialists), and political adviser to the Mining Union (Bergbaulicher Verein). Kirdorf was one of the biggest names in German industry, the chief shareholder of the Gelsenkirchen Mine Company, the founder of the Ruhr Coal Syndicate, and the man who controlled the political funds of the Mining Union and the North-west Iron Association, the so-called Ruhr Treasury (Ruhrschatz). At the Nuremberg Party Day of August 1929, Kirdorf was a guest of honour and was so impressed by the sixty thousand National Socialists who assembled to cheer their leader that he wrote afterwards to Hitler: ‘ My wife and I shall never forget how overwhelmed we were in attending the memorial celebration for the World War dead.’[169] From now on Hitler could count upon increasing interest and support from at least some of those who, like Kirdorf, had money to invest in nationalist, anti-democratic and anti-workingclass politics.

With this money Hitler began to put the Party on a new footing. He took over the Barlow Palace, an old mansion on the Brienner- strasse in Munich, and had it remodelled as the Brown House. A grand staircase led up to a conference chamber, furnished in red leather, and a large corner room in which Hitler received his visitors beneath a portrait of Frederick the Great. The Brown House was opened at the beginning of 1931, a very different setting from the dingy rooms in the Corneliusstrasse or the Schelling- strasse. Before that, in 1929, Hitler himself had moved to a large nine-roomed flat covering the entire second floor of No. 16 Prinzregentenstrasse, one of Munich’s fashionable streets. Frau Winter, from the Thierschstrasse, came to keep house for him, while Frau Raubal continued to look after Haus Wachenfeld at Berchtesgaden. Hitler himself was now seen more frequently in Munich, occasionally in the company of his favourite niece, Geli Raubal, who had a room in the new flat.

Not only the paymasters, but also the voters of the Right had been impressed by the fact that whatever success had been won in the campaign against the Young Plan was due to Hitler and the Nazis. For years Hitler had been pouring scorn on the bourgeois parties of the Right for their ‘respectable’ inhibitions and their failure to go to the masses. Now he had been able to demonstrate, on a larger scale than ever before, what he meant. He underlined his criticism by promptly breaking with the National Party once the campaign was over and placing the entire blame for the failure on their half-hearted support. The fact that the Nationalists had split over Hugenberg’s tactics added weight to Hitler’s criticism, and the lesson was not lost on those who sought more effective means to damage and undermine the democratic Republic. In the provincial elections from October 1929 onwards, the Nazis made considerable gains in Baden, Lübeck, Thuringia, Saxony, and Brunswick, as well as in the communal and municipal elections in Prussia — and they made them very largely at the expense of the National Party. In Thuringia, in December, they won eleven per cent of the votes cast and Frick became the first Nazi to assume office as Thuringian Minister of the Interior. In the summer of 1929 the membership of the Nazi Party had been 120,000; by the end of 1929 it was 178,000; by March 1930 it had grown to 210,000.

At the Party conference which followed the alliance with Hugenberg Hitler had had to meet a good deal of criticism, voiced by Gregor Strasser, of the dangers of being tarred with the reactionary brush and losing support by too close association with the ‘old gang’, the old ruling class of pre-war Germany, the industrialists, the Junkers, the former generals, and higher officials who were the backbone of the National Party. His critics had underestimated Hitler’s unscrupulousness, that characteristic duplicity, now first exhibited on this scale. With considerable skill he turned an episode which in itself was an outright failure to great political advantage for himself and his Party, then not only dropped the alliance with Hugenberg and the Nationalists as unexpectedly as he had made it, but proceeded to attack them. For Hugenberg the campaign against the Young Plan was one more in the disastrous series of mistakes which marked his leadership of the National Party; for Hitler it was a decisive stage, the foundations for the use which he was able to make of the months of opportunity ahead.


In the six years since the ending of 1923 Germany had made an astonishing recovery. This recovery, however, was abruptly ended in 1930 under the impact of the World Depression. The fact that 1930 was also the year in which Hitler and the Nazi Party for the first time became a major factor in national politics is not fortuitous. Ever since he came out of prison at the end of 1924 Hitler had prophesied disaster, only to see the Republic steadily consolidate itself. Those who had ever heard of Adolf Hitler shrugged their shoulders and called him a fool. Now, in 1930, disaster cast its shadow over the land again, and the despised prophet entered into his inheritance. Three years later he told a Munich audience: ‘We are the result of the distress for which the others were responsible.’[170] It was the depression which tipped the scales against the Republic and for the first time since 1923 shifted the weight of advantage to Hitler’s side.

No country in the world was more susceptible to the depression, which began in the U.S.A, in 1929, intensified and spread in 1930 and 1931, and lasted throughout 1932. Its economic symptoms were manifold: contracting trade and production, cessation of foreign loans and the withdrawal of money already lent, falls in prices and wages, the closing of factories and businesses, unemployment and bankruptcy, the forced sale of property and farms. The foundation of German economic recovery had been the large amounts of money borrowed from abroad. Not only had much of this borrowed money been spent extravagantly; no one had faced the question of how it was to be repaid if the supply of further loans came to an end, and the money already lent, much of it on short-term credit, were to be reclaimed. This began to happen in 1929. At the same time a sharp contraction of world trade made it more difficult than ever for Germany to support herself and pay her way by any increase in exports. Thus, only a few years after the experience of inflation, Germany in 1930–2 again faced a severe economic crisis.

Hitler neither understood nor was interested in economics, but he was alive to the social and political consequences of events which, like the inflation of 1923, affected the life of every family in Germany. The most familiar index of these social consequences is the figure for unemployment. In Germany this rose from 1,320,000 in September 1929 to 3,000,000 in September 1930, 4,350,000 in September 1931, and 5,102,000 in September 1932. The peak figures reached in the first two months of 1932, and again of 1933, were over six millions.[171] These, it should be added, are the figures for only the registered unemployment; they do not give the whole picture of actual unemployment in the country, nor do they take account of short-time working. Translate these figures into terms of men standing hopelessly on the street corners of every industrial town in Germany; of houses without food or warmth; of boys and girls leaving school without any chance of a job, and one may begin to guess something of the incalculable human anxiety and embitterment burned into the minds of millions of ordinary German working men and women. In the history of Great Britain it is no exaggeration to describe the mass unemployment of the early 1930s as the experience which has made the deepest impression on the working class of any in the present century. In Germany the effect was still more marked since it came on top of the defeat and the inflation, through Which most of these people had already lived.

The social consequences of the depression were not limited to the working class. In many ways it affected the middle class and the lower middle class just as sharply. For they — the clerks, shopkeepers, small business men, the less successful lawyers and doctors, the retired people living on their savings — were threatened with the loss not only of their livelihood, but of their respectability. Themiddleclasseshadno trade unions or unemployment insurance, and poverty carried a stigma of degradation for them that it did not have for the working class. The small property holder, shopkeeper, or business man was forced to sell, only to see his property bought up at depreciated values by the big men. As during the inflation, anti-capitalist feeling against the combines, the trusts, and department stores spread widely amongst a class which had once owned, or still owned, property itself.

Nor was the impact of the slump limited to the towns. The fall in agricultural prices was one of the first and most severe symptoms of the crisis. In many parts of Germany the peasants and farmers were in an angry and desperate mood, unable to get a fair return for the work put into raising crops or stock, yet hard pressed to pay the interest on mortgages and loans or be turned out of their homes.

Like men and women in a town stricken by an earthquake, millions of Germans saw the apparently solid framework of their existence cracking and crumbling. In such circumstances men are no longer amenable to the arguments of reason. In such circumstances men entertain fantastic fears, extravagant hatreds, and extravagant hopes. In such circumstances the extravagant demagogy of Hitler began to attract a mass following as it had never done before.

The scale of the depression was not yet evident in the spring and early summer of 1930 and its full force was not to strike Germany until 1931, but it was already clear that economic crisis would produce a political crisis as well — more than a change of government, a crisis of the régime. The greatest weakness of the Weimar Republic from the beginning had been its failure to provide a stable party basis for government. In the Reichstag elections of 1930, for instance, ten parties polled more than a million votes each, a state of division which made it impossible for any of the parties to have a clear majority. Coalition government need not necessarily have meant weak government. In Prussia, where the Social Democrats and the Centre Party commanded a steady majority, the State Government enjoyed a stability which made it the bulwark of democracy in Germany and a particular object of hatred to both the Nazis and the Communists. But in the Reichstag elections, unlike those for the Prussian Diet, the three parties which had been responsible for the adoption of the Weimar Constitution, the so-called Weimar Coalition of the Social-Democrats, the Catholic Centre, and the Democrats, never again obtained a majority after 1919. They could only form a ministry with a majority in the Reichstag if they took in other parties, which meant stretching agreement to disagree to such a point that any firmness of policy was excluded. On the other hand, the chief Opposition parties, the German National Party on the Right, and the Communists on the Left, were never able themselves to construct a coalition which could take the place of the Weimar parties.

The party leaders, absorbed in manoeuvring and bargaining for party advantages — Kuhhandel, cattle-trading, is the expressive German word — were not displeased with this situation. Weak governments suited them to this extent that it made those in power more accessible to party pressure and blackmail. But the short-sightedness of this view became evident the moment the country was faced with a major crisis. From March 1930 it no longer proved possible to construct a coalition government which could be sure of a majority of votes in the Reichstag. Each section of the community — industrialists, trade unionists, shopkeepers, landowners, farmers — looked to the State for aid and relief while grudging it to the others. Instead of drawing closer together to establish a government of unity with an agreed programme, the parties insisted on forwarding the sectional economic interests they represented, without regard to the national interests. Differences on the share of sacrifice each class was to bear — whether unemployment pay and wages were to be cut, taxes raised, a capital levy exacted, tariffs increased, and help given to landowners and farmers — were allowed to become so bitter that the methods of parliamentary government, which in Germany meant the construction of a coalition by a process of political bargaining, became more and more difficult to follow. Dr Brüning, who became Chancellor at the end of March 1930, had to rely on precarious majorities in the Reichstag laboriously reassembled for each piece of legislation. Effective government on such a basis was impossible. On 16 July 1930, the Reichstag rejected part of the Government’s fiscal programme by 256 votes to 193. Thereupon the President, by virtue of the emergency powers granted to him in Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, put the Chancellor’s programme into effect by decree. The Reichstag challenged the constitutionality of this action and passed a further motion demanding the abrogation of the decrees. Brüning’s retort was to dissolve the house and fix new elections.

The responsibility for this deadlock has been much disputed. The case against the Party leaders is that they forced Brüning to act as he did by their refusal to combine; the case against Brüning is that he failed to do all that could have been done to win parliamentary support and that he was too quick to resort to emergency powers. But whoever bore the responsibility, one thing was clear: unless the new elections produced the basis for a stable coalition, which seemed unlikely, parliamentary institutions were in danger of being discredited by their failure to provide the strong government which the country so obviously needed.

Such a situation was much to the advantage of the Nazis, who had been unremitting in their attacks on the parliamentary republic and democratic methods of government. The Nazis had already shown they were alive to the possibilities opening before them by launching a propaganda campaign especially designed to win support among the first class to feel the onset of the depression, the farmers. Through Hess, Hitler had met a German agricultural expert, Walther Darré (like Hess and Rosenberg, born abroad), who had recently written a book on the peasantry as the ‘Life Source of the Nordic Race’. Hitler was impressed by Darré and appointed him as the Party’s agricultural adviser with the commission to draw up a peasant programme. This was published over Hitler’s name on 6 March 1930, and was marked not only by practical proposals to give economic aid to the farming population — State-credits, reduction and remission of taxes, higher tariffs, cheaper artificial manures, cheaper electricity, and the revision of the inheritance laws — but also by its insistence upon the peasantry as the most valuable class in the community. In the years ahead the support which the Nazis received from the rural districts of Germany richly repaid the work of propaganda and organization they began to undertake there during 1930.

In the case of agriculture it was simple to play for the support of both the big landowners and the peasants, since these had a common economic interest in the demand for protection and higher prices, and a common grievance in their neglect by parties which were too preoccupied with the urban population of Germany. But when it came to industry, business, and trade (especially the retail trade), it was not so easy to square the circle, for here there was an open clash of interests and bitter antagonism between the workers and the employers, no less than between the small trader or shopkeeper and the big companies and department stores. Hitler needed the support of both, of the industrialists and big business interests because they controlled the funds to finance his organization and propaganda, of the masses because they had the votes. But in origin the National Socialists had been a radical anti-capitalist party, and this side of the Nazi programme was not only taken seriously by many loyal Party members but was of increasing importance in a period of economic depression.

The question, how seriously Hitler took the socialist character of National Socialism, had already been raised both before and after 1923. It was to remain one of the main causes of disagreement and division within the Nazi Party up to the summer of 1934; this was well illustrated in 1930 by the final breach between Hitler and Otto Strasser.

When Gregor Strasser moved to Munich, his brother Otto remained in Berlin, and through his paper, the Arbeitsblatt (which was actually still the official Nazi journal in the north), and his publishing house, the Kampfverlag, maintained an independent radical line which irritated and embarrassed Hitler. In April 1930, the trade unions in Saxony declared a strike, and Otto Strasser came out in full support of their action in the papers which he controlled, notably the Sächsischer Beobachter, the Nazi paper in Saxony. It was made perfectly plain to Hitler by the industrialists, on their side, that unless the Party at once repudiated the stand Strasser had taken there would be no more subsidies. With the help of Mutschmann, the Gauleiter of Saxony, Hitler enforced an order that no member of the Party was to take part in the strike, but he was unable to silence Strasser’s papers. Following this, on 21 May Hitler suddenly appeared in Berlin and invited Otto Strasser to meet him for a discussion at his hotel. Strasser agreed, and on that day and the next they ranged over the whole field of their differences. The only account we possess of the discussion is Otto Strasser’s, but there is little doubt that it can be accepted as accurate in substance. It was published very shortly afterwards, it was never challenged or repudiated by Hitler — although it must have done him considerable damage in some quarters — and all that Hitler is reported to have said is perfectly consistent with his known opinions.[172]

Hitler’s tactics were a characteristic mixture of bribery, appeals, and threats. He offered to take over the Kampfverlag on generous terms, and make Otto Strasser his Press Chief for the entire Reich; he appealed to him, with tears in his eyes and in the name of his brother Gregor, as an ex-soldier and a veteran National Socialist ; he threatened that if Strasser would not submit to his orders he would drive him and his supporters out of the Party and forbid any Party member to have anything to do with him or his publications.

The discussion began with an argument about race and art, but soon shifted to political topics. Hitler attacked an article Strasser had published on ‘Loyalty and Disloyalty’, in which the writer, Herbert Blank, had distinguished between the Idea, which is eternal, and the Leader, who is only its servant. ‘This is all bombastic nonsense,’ Hitler declared, ‘ it boils down to this, that you would give every Party member the right to decide on the idea — even to decide whether the leader is true to the so-called idea or not. This is democracy at its worst, and there is no place for such a view with us. With us the Leader and the Idea are one, and every Party member has to do what the Leader orders. The Leader incorporates the Idea and alone knows its ultimate goal. Our organization is built up on discipline. I have no wish to see this organization broken up by a few swollen-headed littérateurs. You were a soldier yourself.... I ask you : are you prepared to submit to this discipline or not?’

After further discussion, Otto Strasser came to what he regarded as the heart of the matter. ‘You want to strangle the social revolution,’ he told Hitler, ‘ for the sake of legality and your new collaboration with the bourgeois parties of the Right.’

Hitler, who was rattled by this suggestion, retorted angrily: ‘I am a Socialist, and a very different kind of Socialist from your rich friend, Reventlow. I was once an ordinary working-man. I would not allow my chauffeur to eat worse than I eat myself. What you understand by Socialism is nothing but Marxism. Now look: the great mass of working-men want only bread and circuses. They have no understanding for ideals of any sort whatever, and we can never hope to win the workers to any large extent by an appeal to ideals. We want to make a revolution for the new dominating caste which is not moved, as you are, by the ethic of pity, but is quite clear in its own mind that it has the right to dominate others because it represents a better race : this caste ruthlessly maintains and assures its dominance over the masses.

‘ What you preach is liberalism, nothing but liberalism,’ Hitler continued. ‘There are no revolutions except racial revolutions: there cannot be a political, economic, or social revolution — always and only it is the struggle of the lower stratum of inferior race against the dominant higher race, and if this higher race has forgotten the law of its existence, then it loses the day.’

On the next day, 22 May, the conversation was continued in the presence of Gregor Strasser, Max Amann, Hess, and one of Otto Strasser’s supporters, Hinkel. Strasser had demanded the nationalization of industry. Hitler regarded such a proposal with scorn: ‘Democracy has laid the world in ruins, and nevertheless you want to extend it to the economic sphere. It would be the end of German economy.... The capitalists have worked their way to the top through their capacity, and on the basis of this selection, which again only proves their higher race, they have a right to lead. Now you want an incapable Government Council or Works Council, which has no notion of anything, to have a say: no leader in economic life would tolerate it.’

When Strasser asked him what he would do with Krupps if he came to power, Hitler at once replied: ‘Of course I should leave it alone. Do you think that I should be so mad as to destroy Germany’s economy? Only if people should fail to act in the interests of the nation, then — and only then — would the State intervene. But for that you do not need any expropriation, you do not need to give the workers the right to have a voice in the conduct of the business: you need only a strong State.’

For the moment the conversation was left unfinished. But at the end of June Hitler wrote to Goebbels instructing him to drive Otto Strasser and his supporters from the Party. Goebbels obliged with alacrity. Otto Strasser stuck to his Socialist principles, published his talks with Hitler, broke with his brother Gregor (who stayed with Hitler), and set up a Union of Revolutionary National Socialists, later known as the Black Front.The dispute over the socialist objectives of National Socialism was not yet settled — it was to reappear again and again in the next few years — but Hitler had only gained, not lost, by making clear his own attitude. Even in the provincial elections in Saxony, held in June, 1930, the Nazi representation rose from five to fourteen, making them the second strongest party in Saxony, despite Hitler’s open repudiation of the strike earlier in the year. In September the Nazi success at the National elections astonished the world. It was Hitler, not Strasser, who captured the mass vote, while the Black Front dwindled into insignificance and its founder sought refuge over the frontier.


In the election campaign, which followed the dissolution in July and led up to polling day on 14 September, the Nazis used every trick of propaganda to attract attention and win votes. In the big towns there was a marked increase in public disorder in which the S.A. took a prominent part. Slogans painted on walls, posters, demonstrations, rallies, mass meetings, crude and unrestrained demagogy, anything that would help to create an impression of energy, determination and success was pressed into use. Hitler’s appeal in the towns was especially to the middle class hit by the depression, and was aimed to take votes from the more moderate and respectable bourgeois parties like the Democrats, the People’s Party, and the Economic Party — as well as from the rival parties of the Right, Hugenberg’s Nationalists and the break-away Conservatives of Treviranus. He had advantages over both. He was prepared to be much more extreme than the middle-class parties at a time when extremism was the growing mood, and he was able to exploit German nationalism and xenophobia without rousing the dislike many people felt for the Nationalists and Conservatives as ‘class’ parties, preoccupied with putting the old ruling class back in power. What Hitler offered them was their own lower middle-class brand of extremism — radical, antiSemitic, against the trusts and the big capitalists, but at the same time (unlike the Communists and the Social Democrats) socially respectable; nationalist, pan-German, against Versailles and reparations, without looking back all the time (as the Nationalists did) to the lost glories and social prestige of the past and the old Imperial Germany.

At the same time the Nazis devoted much time and attention to the rural voter, and in both town and countryside swept in the new generation. Many who were voting for the first time responded eagerly to attacks on the ‘System’ which left them without jobs, and to the display of energy, the demand for discipline, sacrifice, action and not talk, which was the theme of Nazi propaganda.

In 1930 the mood of a large section of the German nation was one of resentment. Hitler, with an almost inexhaustible fund of resentment in his own character to draw from, offered them a series of objects on which to lavish all the blame for their misfortunes. It was the Allies, especially the French, who were to blame, with their determination to enslave the German people; the Republic, with its corrupt and self-seeking politicians; the money barons, the bosses of big business, the speculators and the monopolists; the Reds and the Marxists, who fostered class hatred and kept the nation divided; above all, the Jews, who fattened and grew rich on the degradation and weakness of the German people. The old parties and politicians offered no redress; they were themselves contaminated with the evils of the system they supported. Germany must look to new men, to a new movement to raise her up again, to make her strong and feared, to restore to her people the dignity, security and prosperity which were their birthright, to recover the old German virtues of discipline, industry, self-reliance, and self-respect.

To audiences weighed down with anxiety and a sense of helplessness Hitler cried: If the economic experts say this or that is impossible, to hell with economics. What counts is will, and if our will is hard and ruthless enough we can do anything. The Germans are the greatest people on earth. It is not your fault that you were defeated in the war and have suffered so much since. It is because you were betrayed in 1918 and have been exploited ever since by those who are envious of you and hate you; because you have been too honest and too patient. Let Germany awake and renew her strength, let her remember her greatness and recover her old position in the world, and for a start let’s clear out the old gang in Berlin.

This is a fair summary of the sort of speech Hitler and his lieutenants made in hundreds of meetings in the summer of 1930. Their opponents scorned such methods as being demagogy of the most blatant kind, but it showed a psychological perception of the mood of a large section of the German people which was wholly lacking from the campaigns of the other parties. Hitler never forgot the principle he had underlined in Mein Kampf-. go for the masses. Their neglect of this accounted, in Hitler’s eyes, for the failure of the other principal Right-wing Party, the Nationalists, to recover its old position in the country. Only the Communists could rival Hitler in this sort of agitation, but the Communists deliberately limited their appeal to one class, while Hitler aimed to unite the discontented of all classes; the Communists were hampered by rigid doctrinaire beliefs, while Hitler was prepared to adapt or abandon his programme to suit his audience; and the Communists, while they could outbid the Nazis in radicalism, could not hope to match the skill with which Hitler played on the nationalist drum as well, potentially the most powerful appeal in German politics.

In the middle of September thirty million Germans went to the polls, four millions more than in 1928. The results surprised even Hitler, who had hoped at most for fifty or sixty seats. The Nazi vote leaped from the 1928 figure of 810,000 to 6,409,600, and their numbers in the Reichstag from 12 to 107. From ninth the Nazis had become the second Party in the State. Little less spectacular were the Communists’ gains, 4,592,000 votes as against 3,265,000 in 1928, and 77 in place of 54 deputies in the Reichstag. The two parties which had openly campaigned for the overthrow of the existing régime and had deliberately framed their appeal in extremist terms had together won close on a third of the votes and of the seats in the new House. The three bourgeois parties, the Democrats, the People’s Party, and the Economic Party, had lost a million and a quarter of their 1928 votes between them, and had completely failed to capture the new votes of those who went to the polls for the first time. Still more interesting from Hitler’s point of view was the fact that the biggest set-back in the elections had been suffered by his chief rivals on the Right, the Nationalists, whose vote fell from 4,381,600 in 1928 to 2,458,300 in 1930. Although Hugenberg succeeded in reuniting some of the factions into which the German National Party had been split, with only 41 deputies against Hitler’s 107 he was now in a position of inferiority in any combination of the Right that might be proposed.

Overnight, therefore, Hitler had become a politician of European importance. The foreign correspondents flocked to interview him. The Times printed his assurances of goodwill at length, while in the Daily Mail Lord Rothermere welcomed Hitler’s success as a reinforcement of the defences against Bolshevism.

Now that the Nazis had won this great electoral success the question arose, what use were they going to make of it. Hitler gave part of an answer in a speech he made at Munich ten days after the election: ‘If today our action employs among its different weapons that of Parliament, that is not to say that parliamentary parties exist only for parliamentary ends. For us Parliament is not an end in itself, but merely a means to an end.... We are not on principle a parliamentary Party — that would be a contradiction of our whole outlook — we are a parliamentary Party by compulsion, under constraint, and that compulsion is the Constitution. The Constitution compels us to use this means.... And so this victory that we have just won is nothing else than the winning of a new weapon for our fight.... It is not for seats in Parliament that we fight, but we win seats in Parliament in order that one day we may be able to liberate the German people.’[173]

This was quite in accord with what Hitler had said before the elections: ‘It is not parliamentary majorities that mould the fate of nations. We know, however, that in this election democracy must be defeated with the weapons of democracy.’[174] What Hitler’s speech failed to make clear was how far he meant to go with these tactics of legality; whether he meant to use the Nazi faction in the Reichstag to discredit democratic institutions and bring government to a standstill, following this with a seizure of power by force; or whether he intended to come to power legally as a result of success in the elections and postpone any revolutionary action until after he had secured control of the machinery of the State.

Almost certainly it was the second of these alternatives which Hitler had in mind. Hitler meant to have his revolution, but he meant to have it after, not before, he came to power. He was too impressed by the power of the State to risk defeat in the streets, as he had, against his better judgement, in November 1923. The revolutionary romanticism of the barricades was out of date; it had ceased to be plausible since the invention of the machine-gun. Hitler’s aim now — as it had been in 1923 — was a revolution with the power of the State on his side. But revolution was not the means of securing such power; that had to be obtained legally.

There were several reasons, however, why Hitler was unwilling to say this too openly. He had to consider the effect such a declaration might have on his own Party. For many were attracted to the Party by the promise of violence. They thought in terms of a March on Berlin and the seizure of power by an act of force, and they only tolerated Hitler’s talk of legality because they thought it was a camouflage behind which the real plans for a putsch could be prepared with great immunity. At the same time, his greatest asset in persuading those who controlled access to power — the Army commanders, for instance, and the President’s advisers — to bring him in, was their fear that he would seize power by force if his terms were not met peacefully. To repudiate revolution altogether was to throw away his best chance of coming to power legally. Finally, Hitler had always to reckon with the possibility that, if the tactics of legality failed, he might be faced with the alternatives of political decline or making a putsch in earnest. It was a gamble which Hitler would always be reluctant to make, but one which, in desperation, he might be forced to take. Meanwhile the attitude of the average Party member was probably best summed up by Göring when he said: ‘We are fighting against this State and the present System because we wish to destroy it utterly, but in a legal manner — for the long-eared plain-clothes men. Before we had the Law for the Protection of the Republic we said we hated this State; under this law we say we love it — and still everyone knows what we mean.’[175]

Two particular problems were bound up with the question of legality which recur throughout the history of the National Socialist movement up to 1934, the relations of the Nazi Party and the Army, and the role to be played by the brown-shirted S.A. The two questions are in fact only different sides of the same penny, but it will be easier to deal with them separately.

Since Röhm’s resignation the relations between the Nazis and the Army had been bad. In an effort to keep control over the S.A., Hitler had forbidden them to have any connexion with the Army, and the Ministry of Defence had retorted by forbidding the Army to accept National Socialists as recruits or to employ them in arsenals and supply depots,* since the Party has set itself the aim of overthrowing the constitutional State form of the German Reich’. This was in 1927.

Yet Hitler was very much aware that the support, or at least the neutrality, of the Army was the essential key to his success — as it had been in 1923. In March 1929, he delivered a speech at Munich on the subject of National Socialism and the Armed Forces which was in the nature both of a challenge to the Army and of a bid for its favour. Hitler began by attacking the idea which General von Seeckt had made the guiding principle of the new Army — that the Army must stand apart from politics. This, Hitler declared, was simply to put the Armyatthe serviceof the Republicanregime, which had stabbed the old Army in the back in 1918 and betrayed Germany to her enemies.

There is another State in which the Army had a different conception of these needs. That was in the State where, in October 1922, a group made ready to take the reins of the State out of the hands of the gangsters, and the Italian Army did not say: ‘Our only job is to protect peace and order.’ Instead they said: ‘It is our task to preserve the future for the Italian people.’ And the future does not lie with the parties of destruction, but rather with the parties who carry in themselves the strength of the people, who are prepared and who wish to bind themselves to this Army, in order to aid the Army some day in defending the interests of the people. In contrast we still see the officers of our Army belatedly tormenting themselves with the question as to how far one can go along with Social-Democracy. But, my dear sirs, do you really believe that you have anything in common with an ideology which stipulates the dissolution of all that which is the basis of the existence of an army ?...

The victory of one course or the other lies partially in the hands of the Army — that is, the victory of the Marxists or of our side. Should the Leftists win out through your wonderful un-political attitude, you may write over the German Army: ‘The end of the German Army.’ For then, gentlemen, you must definitely become political, then the red cap of the Jacobins will be drawn over your heads.... You may then become hangmen of the régime and political commissars, and, if you do not behave, your wife and child will be put behind locked doors. And if you still do not behave, you will be thrown out and perhaps stood up against a wall, for a human life counts little to those who are out to destroy a people.[176]

Hitler’s speech was published verbatim in a special Army issue of the Völkischer Beobachter, and Hitler followed it up by articles in a new Nazi monthly, the Deutscher Wehrgeist (The German Military Spirit), in which he argued that by its attitude of hostility towards nationalist movements like the Nazis the Army was betraying its own traditions and cutting the ground away from under its own feet. Hitler’s arguments, which showed again his uncanny skill in penetrating the minds of those he sought to influence, were not without effect, especially among the younger officers, who saw little prospect of promotion in an army limited by the Treaty to a hundred thousand men, and who were attracted by Hitler’s promises that he would at once expand and restore the Army to its old position in the State if he came to power.

The success of this Nazi campaign to win over opinion in the Army was shown in 1930 at the trial of Lieutenants Scheringer, Ludin, and Wendt before the Supreme Tribunal at Leipzig. In November 1929, Scheringer and Ludin, who were officers of the Ulm garrison, had gone to Munich and there got into touch with a number of Nazi leaders, including Captain von Pfeffer, the chief of the S.A. They had undertaken to bring as many other officers as they could into sympathy with the Nazi point of view and had subsequently travelled to Hanover and Berlin on this business. To Lieutenants Wintzer and Lorenz, whom he met at Hanover, Ludin declared that the Army must be prevented from running into a conflict with Hitler like that of 1923. The Nazis would not enter into anything if they knew the Army would oppose them, and the Army must be prevented from taking up such an attitude of opposition. The important thing was to find a few officers in each military district who could be relied on.

Shortly afterwards, in February 1930, Scheringer, Ludin, and Wendt were arrested and charged with spreading Nazi propaganda in the Army. General Groener, the Minister of Defence, tried to treat the matter as a simple breach of discipline, but was compelled by the attitude of the accused to let the case go before the Supreme Court at Leipzig. Groener was criticized for this by General von Seeckt himself and by other senior officers; Seeckt accused him of weakening the spirit of comradeship and solidarity within the Officer Corps, a revealing comment.

By the time the trial opened, on 23 September, Hitler had become the leader of the second most powerful Party in the country, and the Army leaders were extremely interested to discover what his attitude towards the Army would be. On 25 September Hans Frank, the Nazi defence lawyer, introduced Hitler as a witness. Hitler did not miss his opportunity, and every one of his statements was made with an eye to its effect, not on the Court, but on the Army. He went out of his way to reassure them about the S.A. Stormtroops. ‘ They were set up exclusively for the purpose of protecting the Party in its propaganda, not to fight against the State. I have been a soldier long enough to know that it is impossible for a Party Organization to fight against the disciplined forces of the Army.... I did everything I could to prevent the S.A. from assuming any kind of military character. I have always expressed the opinion that any attempt to replace the Army would be senseless. We are none of us interested in replacing the Army; my only wish is that the German State and the German people should be imbued with a new spirit.’[177]

For the same reason, he insisted, ‘ I have always held the view that every attempt to disintegrate the Army was madness. None of us have any interest in such disintegration.’ In view of the evidence before the Court this was a barefaced lie, but Hitler carried it off with assurance: ‘We will see to it that, when we have come to power, out of the present Reichswehr a great German People’s Army shall arise. There are thousands of young men in the Army of the same opinion.’

The President of the Court here interrupted to remark that the Nazis could scarcely hope to realize these ideals by legal means. Hitler indignantly denied this. There were no secret directives. ‘On questions of this kind only my orders are valid and my basic principle is that if a Party regulation conflicts with the law it is not to be carried out. I am even now punishing failure to comply with my orders. Many Party members have been expelled for this reason; among them Otto Strasser, who toyed with the idea of revolution.’

All this was meant for the generals, but there was also the Party to be considered, and Hitler added, with sinister ambiguity: ‘I can assure you that, when the Nazi movement’s struggle is successful, then there will be a Nazi Court of Justice too, the November 1918 revolution will be avenged, and heads will roll.’ At this there were loud cheers from the gallery.

What then, asked the President, did Hitler mean by the expression, the German National Revolution?

It should always be considered [Hitler blandly replied] in a purely political sense. For the Nazis it means simply an uprising of the oppressed German people.... Our movement represents such an uprising, but it does not need to prepare it by illegal means.... Our propaganda is the spiritual revolutionizing of the German people. Our movement has no need of force. The time will come when the German nation will get to know of our ideas; then thirty-five million Germans will stand behind me.... We will enter the legal organizations and will make our Party a decisive factor in this way. But when we do possess constitutional rights, then we will form the State in the manner which we consider to be the right one.

the president: This, too, by constitutional means.

hitler: Yes.[178]

When General Jodi was examined at Nuremberg after the war he told the Tribunal that he had not been reassured until Hitler, during the Leipzig Trial, gave the assurance that he was opposed to any disorganization of the Reichswehr.[179] There is, indeed, little doubt that it was Hitler’s explicit statement at Leipzig, coming immediately after his success in the elections, which provided the basis for his subsequent negotiations with the Army leaders and their eventual agreement to his assumption of power.

Hitler’s talk of legality, however, was only a half-truth, a trick to get power on the cheap, to persuade the generals and the other guardians of the State to hand over power without forcing him to seize it. They were only tactics of legality, for everything about the movement proclaimed its brazen contempt for law. Hitler had therefore to take care that in his preoccupation with tactics he did not so far compromise the revolutionary character of his movement as to rob it of its attractive power. The possibility of such a danger was illustrated by the subsequent history of Lieutenant Scheringer, who, after being condemned to eighteen months’ imprisonment, went over to the Communists while still in prison. When Goebbels telegraphed to ask if the letter which a Communist deputy had read in the Reichstag was genuine, Scheringer wired back: ‘Declaration authentic. Hitler revolution betrayed.’ If many others were to follow Scheringer — or Otto Strasser — Hitler would be in a difficult position.

The danger point was the S.A., which was to become, between 1930 and the summer of 1934, the expression of the Party’s revolutionary purpose. One of the favourite S.A slogans was: ‘Possession of the streets is the key to power in the State,’ and from the beginning of 1930 the political struggle in the Reichstag and at elections was supplemented — in part replaced — by the street fights of the Party armies in Berlin and the other big cities of Germany.

In the course of one of these gang feuds in February 1930, a young Berlin S.A. leader, Horst Wessel, was shot by the Communists, and was skilfully built up by Goebbels into the prototype of the martyred Nazi idealist, whose verses provided the S.A. with their marching song, the famous Horst Wessel Lied. In the first six months of 1930 the authorities issued a number of prohibitions to check this growth of public disorder. Outdoor meetings and parades were forbidden in Prussia (16 January); a new Law for the Protection of the Republic and for the suppression of political disturbances was passed by the Reichstag in March; in June the Prussian Minister of the Interior prohibited the Nazis from wearing uniforms and emblems. But these measures proved ineffective; forbidden to wear their brown shirts, the Nazis paraded in white. Night after night they and the Communists marched in formation singing down the streets, broke up rival political meetings, beat up opponents, and raided each other’s ‘territory’. As the unemployment figures rose, the number of recruits mounted. Anything was better than loafing on the street corners, and the S.A. offered a meal and a uniform, companionship and something exciting to do.

In July 1930, one of the Nazi deputies, Wagner, summed up the character of the Nazi campaign in one sentence, when he said: ‘The N.S.D.A.P. will not let the people rest in peace until they have obtained power.’ The key to this campaign was incessant activity, a sustained effort of propaganda and agitation not limited to elections, but kept up all the year round. In this the S.A. had an essential part to play, for violence and the display of force had always formed a central part of Nazi propaganda. But it was propaganda that Hitler had in mind; the S.A. were to be the shock troops of a revolution that was never to be made. Hitler’s problem was to keep the spirit of the S.A. alive without allowing it to find an outlet in revolutionary action; to use them as a threat of civil war, yet never to let them get so far out of hand as to compromise his plan of coming to power without a head-on collision with the forces of the State, above all with the Army.

Just before the elections of September 1930 the Berlin S.A. mutinied and smashed up the Berlin headquarters of the Party. Their real grievance was their pay, but undercurrents of discontent against the Party leadership also came to the surface. Goebbels proved incapable of handling the situation — he had actually to ask for police protection to get the Brown Shirts out of headquarters — and Hitler had to intervene personally. He levied a special tax for the S.A. on the whole Party, came at once to Berlin and drove round one beer-hall after another, appealing to the Stormtroopers, promising them better pay, telling them the Party was on the eve of great victories, and assuring them that in future bad leaders (on whom he threw the blame) would not be allowed to come between him and the faithful rank-and-file. At the end of an exhausting night Hitler had restored his authority; he promptly took the opportunity to retire Captain von Pfeffer, and on 2 September himself assumed the position of Oberster S.A. Fuhrer — Supreme S.A. Leader.

In the electoral successes that followed, the incident was soon forgotten — not, however, by Hitler. The following month, October, he persuaded Ernst Röhm, then serving as an officer in the Bolivian Army, to leave South America and return to Germany, to take over the reorganization of the S.A. as its Chief of Staff. In Röhm, he hoped, he had found the man to pull the S.A. together and keep it in hand.

Despite these troubles, as the year 1930 came to an end Hitler had considerable cause for satisfaction. Party membership was rising towards the four hundred thousand figure; a vote of more than six millions at the elections had raised the Nazi strength in the Reichstag to 107. When the swastika flag was hoisted over the Brown House on 1 January 1931 he could feel he had already covered the most difficult part of the road; there was no danger now that people would not pay attention to the unknown man of the 1920s. In the Reichstag the Nazis — every man in brown uniform — had already shown their strength and their contempt for Parliament by creating such disorder that the sittings had to be frequently suspended. In the streets the S.A. had scored another triumph by forcing the Government to ban the further showing of the anti-militarist film, All Quiet on the Western Front, by calculated hooliganism.

Hitler was in no danger of underestimating the opposition to his leadership which still existed in the Party. Failure or setbacks would bring it quickly to the surface; success alone would silence criticism. Yet success no longer seemed impossible. This was the measure of his achievement in 1930. He had reached the threshold of power.


At the beginning of January 1931, Röhm took over his new duties as Chief of Staff of the S.A. He immediately set to work to make the S.A. by far the most efficient of the Party armies. The whole of Germany was divided into twenty-one districts, with an S.A. Group in each under the command of an Obergruppenführer. The organization was closely modelled on that of the Army, with its own headquarters and General Staff quite separate from the organization of the Party, and its own training college for S.A. and S.S. leaders opened at Munich in June 1931.

Since 1929 Himmler had been Reichsführer of the S.S., but he too was now brought under Röhm, although the S.S. with its distinctive black uniform and death’s head badge retained its separate identity. Another of Rohm’s auxiliaries was the N.S.K.K. — the Nazi Motor Corps — a flying squad under the command of Major Hühnlein. At the time Röhm took over, in January 1931, the S.A. numbered roughly a hundred thousand men; a year later Hitler could claim three hundred thousand.

The Party Organization itself, designed by Gregor Strasser, also followed a highly centralized pattern, subject to the will of the Party chairman and leader, Hitler. The basis of this organization was the Gau and the Gauleiter, each Gau in turn being divided and subdivided down to the lowest unit, the Cell, corresponding to the S.A. squad. The central directorate of the Party was still in Munich, where special departments sprang up and multiplied rapidly, among them the Factory Cell Organization (N.S. Betriebszellen-Organisation), under Walther Schumann; the Economic Policy Department, run by Otto Wagener; and the pension fund {Hilfskasse), administered by Martin Bormann, to aid the families of those killed or disabled in the Party’s fight.[180]

The direction of the Party in the years 1931 and 1932 was for all practical purposes in the hands of six men — Hitler himself, Röhm, Gregor Strasser, Göring, Goebbels, and Frick. Röhm’s importance consisted not only in his talents as an organizer and his office as Chief of Staff of the S. A., but also in his contacts with the Army. Göring, with his wide range of acquaintances, his good-humoured charm and ease of manner, became in the course of 1931 Hitler’s chief political ‘contact-man’ in the capital, with a general commission to negotiate with other parties and groups.[181] The following year he was Hitler’s choice for the Presidency of the Reichstag when this office fell to the Nazis as the strongest Party. From the end of August 1932, when he was elected, to Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, the Reichstag President’s palace opposite the Reichstag was the centre from which the Party’s manoeuvres and intrigues were directed.

The leader of the Nazi Party in the Reichstag — and the first Nazi Minister to hold office (in Thuringia) — was Dr Wilhelm Frick, by profession a civil servant, and in 1919–23 one of Hitler’s protectors in the Munich police. An early and convinced National Socialist, although one of the less colourful of the Nazi leaders, he was useful to Hitler as a good administrator and a man who knew thoroughly the machinery and the mentality of the German civil service.

The remaining two had been enemies ever since Goebbels’s desertion of Strasser after the Bamberg meeting in 1926. Both were able speakers, and both held high office in the Party, Goebbels as Propaganda Director and Gauleiter of Berlin, Strasser at the head of the Political Organization, with powerful influence among the Gauleiters and local branches. How far Hitler trusted Strasser may well be questioned, but Strasser was undoubtedly the most powerful of Hitler’s lieutenants, the only man in the Party who, if he had had more of Hitler’s power of will and ambition, and less good-natured easy-going Bavarian indulgence in his nature, might have challenged Hitler’s leadership. Strasser possessed the personality to be a leader in his own right if he bestirred himself; Goebbels, undersized, lame and much disliked for his malicious tongue, could rise only under the aegis of someone like Hitler, to whom he was useful for his abounding energy and fertility of ideas, apt at times to be too clever and to over-reach himself, but exploiting with brassy impudence every trick of propaganda.

There were others — Darré, the agricultural and peasant expert; Baldur von Schirach, the leader of the Hitler Youth; Hess, the Führer’s inseparable secretary; Wilhelm Brückner, his personal adjutant; Max Amann, the Party’s publisher; Franz Xavier Schwarz, the fat, bald Party treasurer ; Philipp Bouhler, the Party’s young business manager; Hans Frank, the Party’s legal expert; and Otto Dietrich, its Press chief. But none of these held anything like the position of Röhm and Strasser, Göring and Goebbels, or even Frick, the five men with whom Hitler captured power.

It is obvious that so highly organized a machine must have cost large sums of money to run. ‘When I visited Berlin before we came to power,’ Hitler recalled later, ‘I used to stay at the Kaiserhof; and as I was always accompanied by a complete general staff, I generally had to book a whole floor and our bill for food and lodging usually came to about 10,000 marks a week. I earned enough to defray these costs mostly by means of interviews and articles for the foreign press. Towards the end of the Kampfzeit, I was being paid as much as two or three thousand dollars a time for such work.’[182] This was Hanfstängl’s job as Foreign Press Chief, to place Hitler’s articles and arrange interviews with him.

A good deal of money, of course, came from the Party itself — from membership dues; from the sale of Party newspapers and literature, which members were always being pressed to buy; from the admission charges and collections at the big meetings. There is no doubt that the Party made heavy demands on its members — even the unemployed S.A. men had to hand over their unemployment-benefit money in return for their food and shelter. Almost certainly the proportion of revenue which was raised by the Party itself has been underestimated. But there were also subsidies from interested supporters.

Some light on the means by which these subsidies were obtained is thrown by the interrogation of Walther Funk at Nuremberg after the war. Funk, a shifty, unimpressive little man who was later to succeed Schacht as President of the Reichsbank and Minister of economics, had been editor-in-chief of the Berliner Börsen-Zeitung, a leading financial newspaper, in the 1920s. In 1931 he gave up his post as editor and began to act as a ‘ contactman’ between the Nazi Party and certain industrial and business interests. For a time he ran the Wirtschaftspolitischer Pressedienst, an economic Press and Information Service controlled by Dr Wagener, the head of the Nazi Party’s Economic Policy Department. There were no more than sixty subscribers to this agency, but according to Funk ‘they paid very well’. In return Funk was expected to influence the Party’s economic policy and to persuade Hitler to repudiate the anti-capitalist views of men like Gottfried Feder. ‘At that time,’ Funk says, ‘the leadership of the Party held completely contradictory and confused views on economic policy. I tried to accomplish my mission by impressing on the Führer and the Party as a whole that private initiative, the selfreliance of the business man, and the creative powers of free enterprise should be recognized as the basic economic policy of the Party. The Führer personally stressed time and again, during talks with me and industrial leaders to whom I had introduced him, that he was an enemy of state-economy and of so-called “planned economy”, and that he considered free enterprise and competition as absolutely necessary in order to gain the highest possible production.’[183]

An illustration of the consequences of the new contacts which Hitler was now making is given by an incident which took place in the autumn of 1930. On 14October theNazi Party in the Reichstag introduced a bill to limit rates of interest to four .per cent; to expropriate the entire property of ‘ the bank and stock-exchange magnates’, and of all Eastern Jews without compensation; and to nationalize the big banks. This was the work of Gregor Strasser, Feder, and Frick. Hitler at once intervened and forced them to withdraw the motion. When the Communists reintroduced the Bill in the exact wording the Nazis had used, he compelled the Party to vote against it. If Hitler intended to impress Funk’s friends, there was no room for such bills in the Party’s programme. On the other hand, Funk found Hitler very reserved about the policy he would himself adopt once in power. ‘I cannot’, Hitler told him, ‘commit myself to an economic policy at present; the views expressed by my economic theorists, such as Gottfried Feder, are not necessarily mine.’[184] Hitler, in short, while anxious to keep the industrialists friendly, declined to tie his own hands, and he very largely succeeded. As Funk admits: ‘My industrial friends and I were convinced in those days that the N.S.D.A.P. would come to power in the not too distant future and that this had to be, if Communism and civil war were to be avoided.’[185]

Only a section of German industry and big business was willing to support Hitler and the Nazis at this time. Funk says specifically that the greater part of industry’s political funds still went to the German National Party, the Democrats, and the People’s Party. The main support for the Nazis came from a powerful group of coal and steel producers in the Rhineland and Westphalia. In addition to Emil Kirdorf, the biggest figure in the Ruhr coal industry, Fritz Thyssen and Albert Voegler of the United Steel Works, Funk mentions Friedrich Springorum and Tengelmann, Ernest Buskiihl and H. G. Knepper of the Gelsenkirchen Mine Company. Among bankers and financiers who, according to Funk, met Hitler in 1931–2 and, in some cases at least, helped him, were Stein and Schroder of the Stein Bank in Cologne; E. G. von Stauss, of the Deutsche Bank; Hilgard, of the Allianz Insurance Corporation; and two more bankers, Otto Christian Fischer and Fr. Reinhart.

Funk’s list is haphazard and is obviously not comprehensive. None the less, it gives some interesting clues to the sort of men Hitler was beginning to meet and who were now interested to meet him, even if these encounters did not always lead to such direct financial aid as in the case of Thyssen. Besides the names already mentioned, Funk adds the potash industry led by August Rosterg of Kassel, and August Diehn; shipping circles in Hamburg, of whom the most important was Cuno, of the Hamburg- Amerika Line; Otto Wolf, a big Cologne industrialist and business man who was friendly with Robert Ley, the local Gauleiter; the brown coal industry of Central Germany — Deutsches Erdöl, Brabag, and the Anhaitische Kohlenwerke; and Dr Erich Lub- bert of the A.G. für Verkehrswesen and the Baugesellschaft Lenz.

There were, of course, others besides Funk who were interested in bringing together Hitler and the men with money and influence. When Dr Schacht, the ex-President of the Reichsbank, first met Hitler in January, 1931, it was at Goring’s flat, where he and Fritz Thyssen spent an evening listening to Hitler talking. Göring was particularly active in arranging such meetings; so was the Graf von Helldorf, who became the S.A. leader in Berlin. Grauert, an influential figure in Düsseldorf as manager of the Employers’ Association in the Rhineland and Westphalia, with its large funds for strike-breaking, used his position to help the Nazi cause, and was later rewarded with the post of Göring’s Under-Secretary in the Prussian Ministry of the Interior. Wilhelm Keppler, another who aspired to be Hitler’s economic adviser, had wide connexions, was friendly with Schröder, the Cologne banker, and founded Himmler’s private circle known by the pleasing name of Freundeskreis der Wirtschaft, literally ‘ Friends of the Economy’. Otto Dietrich, the young journalist who introduced Hitler to Kirdorf and who became the Party’s Press chief, writes in his memoirs ‘In the summer of 1931 our Führer suddenly decided to concentrate systematically on cultivating the influential economic magnates.... In the following months he traversed Germany from end to end, holding private interviews with prominent personalities. Any rendezvous was chosen, either in Berlin or in the provinces, in the Hotel Kaiserhof or in some lonely forest-glade. Privacy was absolutely imperative, the Press must have no chance of doing mischief. Success was the consequence.’[186]

How much all this produced in hard cash it is impossible to say. Funk mentions three figures. In his interrogation at Nuremberg[187] he said that during the elections of 1932, when the Party was short of money, he asked directly for money: ‘in three or four cases where direct intervention was sought, the total was approximately half a million marks.’ The second figure he gives is for the contributions of the important Rhenish-Westphalian group in 1931— 32: during that period, he states in his affidavit, they did not amount to one million marks.[188] Finally, when he was asked to give a global figure for the support Hitler received from industry in the period before he became Chancellor, Funk answered: ‘In contrast to other parties, I don’t think that it was much more than a couple of million marks.’[189]

Thyssen’s memoirs, despite their title -1 Paid Hitler[190] - are disappointing, and add little to Funk’s evidence. Thyssen joined the Party openly in December 1931, and was responsible for the best- known of all Hitler’s meetings with industrialists, when he spoke to the Industry Club at Düsseldorf in January 1932.[191] T have,’ he writes, ‘personally given altogether one million marks to the Nazi Party.... It was during the last years preceding the Nazi seizure of power that the big industrial corporations began to make their contributions. But they did not give directly to Hitler; they gave them direct to Dr Alfred Hugenberg, the leader of the Nationalists, who placed at the disposal of the Nazi Party about onefifth of the amounts given. All in all, the amounts given by heavy industry to the Nazis may be estimated at two million marks a year.’[192] Unfortunately, it is not clear to what period Thyssen is referring. @@@@@@@@ Beyond such tantalizing and imprecise figures it is not yet possible to go. But it is easy to exaggerate the importance of these outside subventions, for the most important point of all is that Hitler, however much he received from Kirdorf, Thyssen, and the rest, was neither a political puppet created by the capitalists, nor a mere agent of the big industrialists who had lost his independence. Thyssen’s and Schacht’s accounts are there as records of the disillusionment of those who thought they had bought Hitler and would henceforward call the tune he was to play. They were to discover, like the conservative politicians and the generals, that, contrary to the popular belief, bankers and business men are too innocent for politics when the game is played by a manlike Hitler.


In speaking of the Nazi movement as a ‘party ’ there is a danger of mistaking its true character. For the Nazi Party was no more a party, in the normal democratic sense of that word, than the Communist Party is today; it was an organized conspiracy against the State. The Party’s programme was important to win support, and, for psychological reasons which Hitler discussed quite frankly in Mein Kampf, the programme had to be kept unalterable and never allowed to become a subject for discussion. But the attitude of the leaders towards the programme was entirely opportunist. For them, as for most of the old Party members, the real object was to get their hands on the State. They were the Catilines of a new revolution, the gutter élite, avid for power, position, and wealth; the sole object of the Party was to secure power by one means or another.

The existence of such an organization was in fact incompatible with the safety of the Republic. No State could tolerate the threat which it implied, if it was resolved to remain master in its own house. Why then were no effective steps taken by the German Government to arrest the leaders of the Nazi Party and break up their organization? As Dr Kempner has shown, recommendations to this effect, with legal grounds for the action proposed, were submitted by the police authorities to the Reich Attorney- General even before the Nazis’ electoral triumph of September 193O.[193] Yet no action was taken.

In the case of Dr Kempner’s police report, the Reich Attorney- General was a crypto-Nazi who used his office to prevent any action being taken. This in itself is a significant enough sidelight on the state of affairs in Germany in 1930–3, but it is not a sufficient answer to the more general question. If the people in authority in Germany at this time had been really determined to smash the Nazi movement they would have found the means. The question to be asked is, why they lacked the will and the determination. To this there are not one, but several, answers.

In the first place, Hitler’s tactics of legality were designed to enable him to win the maximum advantage from the democratic constitution of the Weimar Republic. Thereby he avoided giving his opponents the chance of shifting the fight for power on to a level where the Army would be the decisive factor. As Hitler was shrewd enough to realize, he would be the loser, not the gainer, in any attempt to resort to force, whereas so long as he kept within the letter of the law he could fetter the authorities with their own slow-moving legal processes.

In May 1931, four National Socialists were brought for trial after a shooting affair with some Communists. Hitler was called upon to give evidence. ‘I have never left any doubt,’ he declared, ‘that I demanded from the S.A. men the strict observance of the path of legality, and, if this veto on illegality was anywhere violated, then the leaders concerned have always been brought to account.... Acts of violence have never been contemplated by our Party, nor has the individual S.A. man ever wished for them.... We stand absolutely as hard as granite on the ground of legality.’[194] In December 1931, Hitler again underlined the importance he attached to keeping within the law by a proclamation to the S.A. and S.S. in which he assured them that victory was certain, if they remained true to the policy of legality. They were not to allow themselves to be provoked. ‘He who fails in the last days of his test is not worthy to witness victory.’[195]

In the second place, so long as the challenge to the authority of the State remained latent and was camouflaged by fair words, there was a strong temptation for any government in Germany in 1931 and 1932 not to add to its difficulties. For throughout the winter of 1930–1 the economic crisis, far from lifting, bore down more heavily upon the German people. The figures for registered unemployment, which, in September 1930 had stood at three millions, mounted to four and three-quarter millions at the end of March 1931. The financial crisis reached its peak in July 1931, when, following the failure of Austria’s greatest banking institution the Kreditanstalt, and an unprecedented flight of capital from Germany, the Darmstadt and National Bank (the Danat), one of the big three joint-stock banks in Germany, had to close its doors and suspend payment. When the British Ambassador returned to Berlin on 16 July he wrote: ‘I was much struck by the emptiness of the streets and the unnatural silence hanging over the city, and particularly by an atmosphere of extreme tension similar in many respects to that which I observed in Berlin in the critical days immediately preceding the war.’[196]

With help from abroad the threat of financial collapse was staved off, but the measures taken by the Brüning Government — heavy additional taxation, cuts in official salaries and wage rates, the reduction of unemployment benefits — while imposing considerable sacrifices on the people, were insufficient to enable the Government to master the crisis. In such circumstances Hitler found no difficulty in laying the blame for all the economic distress of the country on the Government’s policy, particularly as Germany was still saddled with reparation payments, and the worsening of the crisis in the summer of 1931 had been partly occasioned by a stinging rebuff in foreign policy.

In March 1931, the German Foreign Minister, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the slump in Central Europe, put forward the proposal of an Austro-German Customs Union. Whatever the economic arguments in favour of such a step, France, supported by Italy and Czechoslovakia, had taken this to be a move towards the political and territorial union of Austria with Germany which was expressly forbidden by the Treaties of Versailles and St Germain. She had promptly mobilized her financial as well as her diplomatic resources to prevent it. The measures taken by the French proved effective: they not only helped to precipitate the failure of the Austrian Kreditanstalt and the German financial crisis of the summer but forced the German Foreign Minister to announce on 3 September that the project was being abandoned. The result was to inflict a sharp humiliation on the Brüning Government and to inflame national resentment in Germany.

Hitler was not slow to point the lesson: so long as Germany continued to be ruled by the present system she would continue to suffer economic misery at home and contemptuous insults abroad. Two years before Gregor Strasser had written in the Nationalsozialistische Briefe: ‘Everything that is detrimental to the existing order has our support.... We are promoting catastrophic policies — for only catastrophe, that is, the collapse of the liberal system, will clear the way for the new order.... All that serves to precipitate the catastrophe of the ruling system — every strike, every governmental crisis, every disturbance of the State power, every weakening of the System — is good, very good for us and our German revolution.’[197] The Nazis were now beginning to gamer the harvest of their policy of catastrophe.

Faced with such difficulties, both in domestic and foreign policy, any government was likely to hesitate before adding to its problems by the uproar which the suppression of the Nazi Party, the second largest in the Reichstag, would inevitably have entailed, so long as Hitler was clever enough to avoid any flagrant act of illegality. For the Brüning Ministry lacked the support to play the role of a strong government. The Chancellor’s appeal for national unity had failed, and the elections of September 1930, far from producing a stable parliamentary basis for Brüning’s policy, had only multiplied the strength of the two extremist parties, the Nazis and the Communists. Brüning was only able to continue governing Germany after the elections because the Social Democrats, alarmed at the growing political and economic crisis, gave him unofficial support in the Reichstag, and the President of the Republic continued to use his emergency powers under Article 48 to sign the necessary decrees. The refusal of the German parties to sink their differences, unite in face of the emergency, and jointly assume responsibility for the unpopular measures which had to be taken, drove Brüning into a dangerous dependence on support outside the Reichstag, upon the support of the President and the support of the Army. The attitude of both towards the Nazis was equivocal. Here was the third reason for the reluctance to take action against the Nazis.

From the beginning of 1930, General Groener, the Minister of Defence, a man of integrity and experience, had been uneasily conscious that a good many members of the Officer Corps were becoming sympathetic to the Nazis. The Leipzig Trial of Lieutenants Ludin and Scheringer, and the storm of criticism to which he had been subjected for allowing the trial to take place at all, showed that Hitler’s propaganda directed at the Army had been far from unsuccessful. After the elections of September 1930, the British Military Attaché reported that the officers he had met on the autumn manoeuvres were deeply impressed by the growth of National Socialism. ‘It is the Jugendbewegung (Youth Movement),’ they said; ‘it can’t be stopped.’[198] Professor Meinecke records that the attitude of Army officers was summed up in the phrase: ‘What a pity it would be to have to fire on these splendid youths in the S.A.’[199] The nationalist appeal of Nazi propaganda and its promise of a powerful Germany with an expanded Army were beginning to have their effect.

The Army could still be relied on to support Brüning if Hitler attempted to make a putsch. ‘It is a complete mistake to ask where the Army stands,’ Groener told his friend, Meinecke. ‘The army will do what it is ordered to do, und damit Basta - and that’s that.’[200] To General von Gleich, Groener wrote that, if Hitler resorted to force, he would meet ‘the unqualified employment of the resources of the State. The Army is so completely in our hands that it will never hesitate in this eventuality’.[201] In an article published since the war Dr Brüning confirms this. In the autumn of 1931 he writes: ‘the two generals (von Schleicher and von Hammerstein) and myself were fully agreed that, if the Nazis imitated Mussolini’s March on Rome the Army would make short work of them.... We also expected that we would finally get Hindenburg’s consent to the immediate suppression of the Nazi Party, if they resorted to open revolt.’[202]

But it was not at all certain that the Government would be able to count on the support of the Army if it was a question of suppressing the Nazi Party without the pretext of revolt. Once again the cleverness of Hitler’s tactics of legality was demonstrated. Groener, who never wavered in his dislike and contempt for Nazism, hesitated to take action against the Party, even after he had become Minister of the Interior as well as Minister of Defence (October 1931). Later he admitted to Meinecke: ‘We ought to have suppressed them by force.’[203] But at the time Groener was too unsure of feeling in the Army to risk action, at least until Brüning should have secured the agreement of the other Powers to the creation of a German conscript militia, which would reassure those officers who looked to the S.A. as an Army reserve in case of war, and draw away the young men attracted by the militarist propaganda of the Nazis.

The President, Field-Marshal von Hindenburg, was now a very old man, eighty-four in October 1931, and such political judgement as he had ever had was failing. What he cared about most of all was the German Army in which he had spent his life. Between the President and the Army there existed, as Professor Meinecke says, ‘relations of mutual dependence. The Reichswehr obeyed him, but he listened to it. He absorbed into his mind and spirit everything to which it was sensitive. He was flesh and blood of its flesh and blood, an off-shoot of that Prusso-German militarism which had produced so many first-rate technical and so few politically far-sighted heads.’[204] Faithfully reflecting opinion in the Army, Hindenburg too was opposed to the use of force against the Nazis. He would only agree to it if there was some unequivocal act of rebellion on their part or if at the same time action were taken against the other extremist party the Communists.[205]

More important still than the opinion of either General Groener or President Hindenburg was that of Major-General Kurt von Schleicher, who, by 1930–2, had made himself virtually the authoritative voice of the Army in politics. General Schleicher was a General Staff Officer — able, charming, and ambitious-who was far more interested in politics and intrigue than in war. Fifteen years younger than Groener, he had risen rapidly from one Staff appointment to another until Groener became Minister of Defence in 1928 — partly thanks to Schleicher’s efforts on his behalf — and made Schleicher the head of a new department in his Ministry, the Ministeramt. This was to handle all matters common to both the Army and Navy and to act as liaison between the armed services and other ministeries. Schleicher used the key position created for him to make himself one of the most powerful political figures in Germany. Both Groener and the C.-in-C. of the Army, General von Hammerstein, were under his influence. Through the fortunate chance of an old friendship with the President’s son, Colonel Oskar von Hindenburg, he had an entrée to the old man, who listened and was impressed by what he said. Indeed it was Schleicher who had first proposed Bruning’s name to the President in 1930 and had overcome Bruning’s own objections to serving as Chancellor. In dealing with his brother officers Schleicher had the advantage of quickness and self-confidence in political matters, where they were hesitant and diffident. In dealing with politicians he had the indefinable advantage in German politics of being a general, not a civilian, and of being able to claim that he represented the views of the Army in a country where the Army took precedence over every other institution as the supreme embodiment of the national tradition.

Schleicher’s object was to secure a strong government which, in place of coalitions spending their energy in political horse-dealing and compromise, would master the economic and political crisis and prevent the Army being forced to intervene to put down revolution. He believed he had found the answer in Brüning, whose cabinet was made up of men from several parties, without being based upon a coalition, and who, with the promise of the President’s emergency powers at his disposal, could follow a firm policy without having to truckle too much to the parties in the Reichstag. But the appeal Brüning made over the heads of the parties to the German people at the elections of September 1930 had failed. It was not Brüning but the two extremist parties which had won the votes, and Schleicher’s anxieties revived. ‘The load which constantly weighed on General Schleicher’s mind’, Brüning writes, ‘ was the fear, based on the experience of 1923, that Nazi and Communist uprisings might break out simultaneously and thus give foreign powers an opportunity to extend their borders still further at Germany’s expense.’[206] In particular he feared an attack by Poland, if the German Army should be fully occupied in dealing with simultaneous Nazi and Communist risings.

Schleicher, therefore, shared fully — and was partly responsible for — the reluctance of Groener and Hindenburg to take any initiative against the Nazis. But Schleicher went further: impressed by the Nazi success at the elections and by their nationalist programme, Schleicher began to play with the idea of, somehow or other, winning Hitler’s support for Brüning and converting the Nazi movement with its mass following into a prop of the existing government, instead of a battering ram directed against it. Here was an attractive alternative to that of using the Army to suppress the Nazis; it might even be possible to bring them into a coalition government in which they would be forced to share the responsibility for the unpopular measures which would have to be taken.

It was in this direction that Schleicher began to look during 1931 for a way out of the political deadlock. It took time for his ideas to mature, but he made a beginning by removing the old causes of quarrel between the Army and the Nazi Party. The ban on the Army’s employment of National Socialists in arsenals and supply depots and the prohibition of Nazi enlistment in the Army were removed in January 1931. In return Hitler reaffirmed his adherence to the policy of legality by an order (dated 20 February 1931) forbidding the S.A. to take part in street-fighting. During the succeeding months Schleicher had several talks with Rohm, eager as always to work with the Army, as well as with Gregor Strasser. By the latter half of 1931 he was ready to try to secure Hitler’s agreement to Hindenburg’s re-election — his seven-year term of office expired in 1932 — as a first step to drawing the Nazis into support of the Government and taming their revolutionary ardour.

Nothing could have suited Hitler better. For, a year after the great success he had won at the September elections of 1930, Hitler was still no nearer attaining office. He had built up a remarkable organization, the strength of which grew steadily, but the question remained how was he to change the success he had won into the hard coin of political power.

The two most obvious ways by which men come to supreme power in the State — apart from conquest in war — are by force, i.e. by revolution, or by consent, i.e. by an electoral majority. The first of these Hitler himself ruled out, but the second never became a practical alternative. At the height of their success in the elections of July 1932, when they won 230 out of 608 seats in the Reichstag, the Nazis were never in sight of a clear majority. Even in the elections held after Hitler had come to power, the elections of March 1933, they obtained no more than 288 out of 647 seats.

One way of adding to the Nazi vote was to combine with Hugenberg’s German National Party. On 9 July 1931, Hitler and Hugenberg met in Berlin and issued a statement to the effect that they would henceforward cooperate for the overthrow of the existing ‘System’. The first fruit of this affiance, which had produced the plebiscite against the Young Plan in 1929, was another plebiscite in August 1931, this time demanding a dissolution of the Diet in Prussia, by far the most important of the German states, in which power was exercised by a coalition of the hated Social Democrats and the Catholic Centre Party. Even with the support of the Communist vote, which was flung against the rival working-class party of the Social Democrats, the two Right-wing parties, however, secured no more than thirty-seven per cent of the votes and promptly proceeded to blame each other for the failure. Alliance with the Nationalists, with their strongly upperclass character, was in fact a dubious policy for the Nazis, bound to lead to much discontent in the radical wing of the Party. Although Hitler continued to make intermittent use of the Nationalist alliance, it was with reluctance and misgivings, for limited purposes only, when no other course presented itself.

Yet the only justification of the course of legality was success. It would not be possible to hold the precarious balance between legality and illegality indefinitely. As General Groener remarked: ‘Despite all the declarations of legality ... such an organization has its dynamic in itself and cannot simply be declared now legal and now illegal.’[207] The grumbling in the S.A. at Hitler’s policy again found a focus in Berlin and a revolt, which had contacts with Otto Strasser’s revolutionary Black Front, was planned by Walter Stennes, a former police captain and the leader of the S.A. for the whole of Eastern Germany. An immediate grievance was Hitler’s order of 20 February, ordering the S.A. to refrain from street-fights. Hitler intervened at the beginning of April 1931, before the revolt had got under way, threw out Stennes, and replaced him by one of the most notorious of Rossbach’s former Freikorps men, Edmund Heines, who had already served a term of imprisonment for murder and whom Hitler himself had expelled from the Party in 1927. This was, however, the second S.A. mutiny in Berlin in seven months, and it was noticeable that Stennes, instead of making his peace with Hitler, denounced him and joined forces with Otto Strasser.

If Hitler was to carry his policy of legality to success it could only be done in one way, a possibility created by the peculiar system under which Germany was now governed. From the breakdown of the coalition headed by Herman Müller in 1930, Brüning, his successor as Chancellor, and Briining’s own successor, Papen, had both to govern without being able to find a stable parliamentary majority or to win an election. The use of the President’s emergency powers, upon which they relied to issue decrees, placed great power in the hands of the President and his advisers; in effect, political power in Germany was transferred from the nation to the little group of men round the President. The most important members of this group were General von Schleicher; Oskar von Hindenburg; Otto Meissner, the head of the Presidential Chancery; Brüning and, after his loss of favour, Papen, Brüning’s successor as Chancellor. If Hitler could persuade these men to take him into partnership and make him Chancellor, with the right to use the President’s emergency powers — a presidential, as opposed to a parliamentary, government — then he could dispense with the clear electoral majority which still eluded him and with the risky experiment of a putsch.

At first sight nothing appeared more improbable than such a deal. Yet neither Schleicher nor the President was at all satisfied with the existing situation. They did not believe that the President’s emergency powers could be made into a permanent basis for governing the country. They were looking for a government which, while prepared to take resolute action to deal with the crisis, would also be able to win mass support in the country, and, if possible, secure a majority in the Reichstag. Brüning had failed to win such a majority at the elections. Schleicher, therefore, began to look elsewhere for the mass support which he felt to be necessary for the presidential government.

With six million votes Hitler was a possibility worth considering. For Hitler had two assets, both of which counted with the General. The Nazi success at the elections was a promise of the support Hitler would be able to provide, if he was bought in. The organized violence of the S.A. was a threat of the revolution he might make if he were left out. Hitler’s game, therefore, from 1931 to 1933 was to use the revolution he was unwilling to make and the mass support he was unable to turn into a majority, the first as a threat, the second as a promise, to persuade the President and his advisers to take him into partnership and give him power.

This is the key to the complicated and tortuous political moves of the period between the autumn of 1931 and 30 January 1933, when the game succeeded and Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor legally. The milestones on the path of the Nazi Party to power between these two dates are the successive negotiations between the little group of men who bore the responsibility for the experiment of presidential government and the Nazi leaders. Hitler did not at the time see this as the only means by which he could come to power legally. He continued to speculate on the possibility of a coalition with the Nationalists — even at one time with the Centre — or, better still, on the chances of winning an outright majority at the next elections. Each time the negotiations broke down he turned again to these alternatives. Yet each time he gives the impression that his eye is always on a resumption of negotiations, and that the measures he takes are designed primarily to put pressure on the other side to begin talks again rather than to bring him into office by other means.

Years ago, in Vienna, Hitler had admired the tactics of Karl Lueger and had summed them up in two sentences in Mein Kampf: ‘In his political activity, Lueger attached the main importance to winning over those classes whose threatened existence tended to stimulate rather than paralyse their will to fight. At the same time he took care to avail himself of all the instruments of authority at his disposal, and to bring powerful existing institutions over to his side, in order to gain from these well-tried sources of power the greatest possible advantage for his own movement.’[208] Hitler was well on the way to ‘winning over those classes whose existence was threatened’; now he faced the task of ‘bringing the powerful existing institutions over to his side’, above all the Army and the President. The years of waiting were at an end.



The first contacts between Hitler and the men who disposed of power in Germany were scarcely auspicious. At the beginning of the autumn of 1931 Schleicher had a meeting with Hitler, arranged with Rohm’s help, and subsequently persuaded both the Chancellor and the President to see him. Brüning received the Nazi leader, accompanied by Göring, at the home of one of his Ministers, Treviranus.

What Brüning asked for was Hitler’s support until the reparations question was settled and Hindenburg re-elected as President. After this had been accomplished he was willing to retire and allow someone else more acceptable to the parties of the Right to take his place. Instead of giving a direct answer, Hitler launched into a monologue, the main point of which was that when he came to power he would not only get rid of Germany’s debts but would re-arm and, with England and Italy as his allies, force France to her knees. He failed to impress either the Chancellor or Treviranus, and the meeting ended inconclusively, neither Hitler nor Hugenberg (whom Brüning saw about the same time) being willing to bind themselves.

The interview with the President on 10 October was the first occasion on which the two men had met. Hitler was nervous and ill-at-ease; his niece, Geli Raubal, with whom he was in love, had committed suicide three weeks before,[209] and he had wired to Göring, who was at the bedside of his dying wife in Sweden, to return and accompany him. Nazi accounts of the meeting are singularly reticent,[210] but Hitler obviously made the mistake of talking too much and trying to impress the old man with his demagogic arts; instead he bored him. Hindenburg is said to have grumbled to Schleicher afterwards that he was a queer fellow who would never make a Chancellor, but, at most, a Minister of Posts.

Altogether it was a bad week for Hitler. The day after his interview with the President he took part in a great demonstration of the Right-wing ‘National’ opposition at Harzburg, a little watering-place in the Hartz Mountains. Hugenberg, representing the Nationalists; Seldte and Düsterberg, the leaders of the Stahlhelm; Dr Schacht and General von Seeckt; Graf Kalkreuth, the president of the Junkers’ Land League, and half a score of figures from the Ruhr and Rhineland industries, all joined in passing a solemn resolution uniting the parties of the Right. They demanded the immediate resignation of Brüning’s Government and of the Braun Ministry in Prussia, followed by new elections in both the Reich and Prussia. Hitler only agreed to take part in the Rally with great reluctance, and Frick felt obliged to defend the decision to the Nazi contingent with a speech in which he said openly that they were only using the Nationalists as a convenient ladder to office, just as Mussolini had begun with a coalition and later got rid of his allies. The whole atmosphere irritated Hitler. He felt oppressed by his old lack of self-confidence in face of all these frock-coats, top-hats, Army uniforms, and formal titles. This was the Reaktion on parade, and the great radical Tribune was out of place. To add to his irritation, the Stahlhelm arrived in much greater numbers than the S.A., and Hugenberg and Seldte stole the limelight. Hitler declined to take part in the official procession, read his speech in a perfunctory fashion, and left before the Stahlhelm marched past. The united front of the National Opposition had virtually collapsed before it was established. The fight between the rival Right-wing parties, and the rival party armies, Stahlhelm and S.A., continued unabated, despite the bitter complaints of the Nationalist and Stahlhelm leaders at the Nazis’ uncomradely conduct.[211]

Two days later, on 13 October, Brüning presented to the Reichstag a reconstituted government in which General Groener, the Minister of Defence — at Schleicher’s suggestion — took over the Ministry of the Interior, and the Chancellor himself became Foreign Minister. In face of the Nationalists’ and Nazis’ demands for his resignation, Brüning appeared to be taking on a new lease of political life, with renewed proofs of the support of the Army and the President.

Hitler expressed his frustration and fury at the course of events in an open letter to the Chancellor (published on 14 October) in which he attacked the policy of the Government as a disastrous betrayal of German interests, adding a stinging postscript for the benefit of Generals Groener and von Schleicher:

The most regrettable feature of all is that the last instrument which is still sound in its general outlook — the instrument on which you alone can still today rely for support — the Army — is now involved through its representatives in the Government directly and indirectly in these struggles.... For us the Army is the expression of the strength of the nation for the defence of its national interests abroad. For you, Herr Chancellor Briining, it is in the last resort an institution for the defence of the Government at home. The triumph of our ideas will give the entire nation a political and philosophical outlook which will bring the Army in spirit into a truly close relationship to the whole people and will thus free it from the painful circumstance of being an alien body within its own people. The consequence of your view, Herr Chancellor, will be an obligation on the part of the Army to uphold a political system which in its traditions and inmost views is the deadly opponent of the spirit of an army. And so finally, whether deliberately or not, the Army will be stamped with the character of a police-troop designed more or less for internal purposes.[212]

Having delivered this broadside, Hitler went off on 17 October to Brunswick, where more than a hundred thousand S.A. and S.S men tramped past the saluting base for six hours, and the thundering cheers mollified his wounded vanity. Thirty-eight special trains and five thousand lorries brought the Brown Shirts pouring into Brunswick. Hitler presented twenty-four new standards, and at night a great torchlight parade lighted up the countryside. This was a show the like of which neither Hugenberg and the Stahlhelm nor the Government could put on: while they continued to talk of the need for popular support, Hitler already had it.

The first attempt to initiate negotiations had broken down, but the failure was not irremediable. Events continued to flow in Hitler’s favour. In December 1931, the figure of registered unemployment passed the five-million mark. On 8 December the President signed new emergency decrees making further reductions in wages, prices, and interest rates, together with an increase in taxation. It was a grim winter in Germany. Briining described his measures as unequalled in the demands they made on the German people, yet all he could do was to hold on in the hope that, with the spring, the Depression might begin to lessen in severity. Then he might be able to negotiate the end of reparations (which were already suspended) and secure some satisfaction of Germany’s demands from the Disarmament Conference due to meet in the coming year. This was poor comfort, however, to a people suffering from the primitive misery of hunger, cold, lack of work, and lack of hope. Nor was Briining, with his aloof and reserved manner, the man to put across a programme of sacrifice and austerity.

By contrast, the Nazis gained steadily in strength. Their membership of 389,000 at the beginning of 1931 rose to more than 800,000 at the end of the year. Following their success in the Oldenburg provincial elections in May (over thirty-seven per cent of the votes), and at Hamburg in September, the Nazis swept the board at the Hessian elections in November.[213] They more than doubled the votes they had won in Hesse during the Reichstag elections of September 1930, and pushed up their numbers in the Diet from one to twenty-seven deputies. Their average vote for the eight most recent provincial elections was thirty-five per cent, compared with the eighteen per cent which had given them over six million votes in the national elections of September 1930. The threat and the promise were gaining in weight.

These facts were not lost on General von Schleicher, who continued his talks with Hitler in November and December. Schleicher was more and more impressed with the need to bring Hitler into the game and make use of him. The French Military Attaché in Berlin, Colonel Chapouilly, reported on 4 November 1931: ‘In Schleicher’s view, Hitler knows very well how to distinguish between the demagogy suitable to a young Party, and the needs of national and international life. He has already moderated the actions of his troops on more than one occasion, and one can secure more from him. Faced with the forces he controls, there is only one policy to adopt — to use him and win him over, foreseeing with some reason the loss of the revolutionary wing of his party.’[214] Under the influence of Schleicher, even Groener — so Professor Meinecke records[215] — resigned himself during the winter to the idea of compromising with the Nazis and bringing individual National Socialists into the Government.

Hitler meanwhile kept up the attack on Brüning as the embodiment of all the evils of the ‘System’ by which Germany had been governed since 1918. He answered Brüning’s broadcast of 8 December, in which the Chancellor explained and defended his new decrees, with another open letter (published 13 December 1931). Brüning’s appeal for national unity and an end of factious criticism he met with the retort that there was still freedom of speech in Germany. ‘You yourself, Herr Chancellor, jealously see to it that only the Government is permitted liberty of action in Germany; and thus there arises of necessity the limitation of the opposition to the sphere of criticism, of speech.... The Government, Herr Chancellor, can act. It can prove the rightness of its views by deeds. And it takes jealous care that no one else shall enjoy such possibilities. What then, Herr Chancellor, remains for us but speech, to bring to the knowledge of the German nation our views on the ruinous character of your plans, or the errors which underlie them, and the disasters which must ensue ? ’[216]

This letter is interesting for a frank statement by Hitler of what he meant by legality. In his broadcast Brüning had said: ‘When a man declares that once he has achieved power by legal means he will break through the barriers, he is not really adhering to legality.’[217] Hitler replied: ‘You refuse, as a “statesman”, to admit that if we come to power legally we could then break through legality. Herr Chancellor, the fundamental thesis of democracy runs: “All power issues from the People.” The constitution lays down the way by which a conception, an idea, and therefore an organization, must gain from the people the legitimation for the realization of its aims. But in the last resort it is the People itself which determines its Constitution.

‘Herr Chancellor, if the German nation once empowers the National Socialist Movement to introduce a Constitution other than that which we have today, then you cannot stop it.... When a Constitution proves itself to be useless for its life, the nation does not die — the Constitution is altered.’[218]

Here was a plain enough warning of what Hitler meant to do when he got power, yet Schleicher, Papen, and the rest were so sure of their own ability to manage this ignorant agitator that they only smiled and took no notice.

Brüning had fewer illusions, but all his plans depended upon being able to hold out until economic conditions improved, or he could secure some success in foreign policy. His ability to do this depended in turn upon the re-election of Hindenburg as President at the end of his term of office. This was a considerable risk to take, as Hindenburg was eighty-four and failing in health, yet Brüning believed that he could rely on Hindenburg to support him and continue to sign the decrees he laid before him. The old man was reluctant to go on, and only agreed when the Chancellor promised to try to secure an agreement with the Party leaders in the Reichstag which would provide the two-thirds majority necessary to prolong the presidential term of office without reelection. In any case, a bitter electoral contest for the Presidency at such a time was something to be avoided. And so Brüning, too, agreed to further negotiations with Hitler in order to win him over to his plan.

Hitler was in Munich, in the offices of the Völkischer Beobachter, when the summons came. A telegram was brought in to him as he stood talking to Hess, Rosenberg, and Wilhelm Weiss, one of the editors. When he read it he is reported to have purred with satisfaction and crashed his fist down on the telegram in exultation: ‘Now I have them in my pocket. They have recognized me as a partner in their negotiations.’[219]

The talks took place early in the New Year, 1932. Hitler saw General Groener on 6 January, Brüning and Schleicher on the 7th. Further conferences followed on the 10th, at which Hitler was accompanied, as before, by Röhm. Brüning’s proposal was substantially the same as in the previous autumn: Hitler was asked to agree to a prolongation of Hindenburg’s presidency for a year or two, until the country had begun its economic recovery and the issues of reparations and the German claim to equality of rights in armaments had been settled. In return, Briining renewed his offer to resign as soon as he had settled the question of reparations. According to some accounts,[220] although this is omitted by others and neither confirmed nor denied by Dr Briining himself, the Chancellor added that he would then suggest Hitler’s name to the President as Chancellor.

Hitler asked for time to consider his reply and withdrew to the Kaiserhof, the big hotel in the Wilhelmstrasse, opposite the Reich Chancellery and the Presidential Palace, where he had made his headquarters. Hugenberg, who was also consulted by the Chancellor, as leader of the Nationalists, was strongly opposed to prolonging Hindenburg’s term of office, arguing that it could only strengthen Briining’s position. Goebbels took the same view. In his diary he wrote: ‘The Presidency is not really in question. Briining only wants to stabilize his own position indefinitely.... The contest for power, the game of chess, has begun. It may last throughout the year. It will be a fast game, played with intelligence and skill. The main point is that we hold fast, and waive all compromise.’[221] Two opposing arguments had to be weighed against each other. Gregor Strasser’s view was that Hindenburg would be unbeatable in any election the Nazis might force on the Government, and that it was in the Party’s interests to accept a temporary truce. But Rohm as well as Goebbels argued that it would be a fatal mistake for the Party to appear to avoid a chance to go to the nation, especially after the recent successes in the provincial elections. Long and anxious debates followed among the Nazi leaders. In the end Rohm’s point of view was accepted.

Hugenberg’s reply to Briining’s proposal, on behalf of the Nationalists, was delivered on 12 January 1932, and contained a blank refusal. Hitler also rejected it, but tried to drive a wedge between Chancellor and President. He did this by writing direct to the President over Briining’s head, warning him that the Chancellor’s plan was an infringement of the Constitution; adding, however, that he himself was willing to support Hindenburg’s re-election if the President would repudiate Briining’s proposal. To Meissner, whom he invited to a conference at the Kaiserhof as the President’s representative, Hitler offered to make Hindenburg the joint presidential candidate of the Nazis and the Nationalists, if the old man would agree to dismiss Brüning, form a Right-wing ‘National’ government, and hold new elections for the Reichstag and the Prussian Diet.[222] The newly elected Reichstag, in which Hitler was confident of a majority for the Nazi and Nationalist parties, would then proceed to prolong his term of office.

When this manoeuvre broke down on Hindenburg’s refusal, Hitler launched a violent attack on Brüning in two more open letters, dated 15 and 25 January, the second being in answer to Brüning’s reply. Hitler repeated the charge that Brüning was proposing to violate the Constitution in order to keep himself in power, and declared that the Reichstag elected in 1930 was not competent to prolong Hindenburg’s term of office, since it no longer represented the German people. When Brüning in turn accused Hitler of playing party politics at the expense of Germany’s chances of improving her international position, Hitler retorted that nothing could be more beneficial to German foreign policy then the overthrow of the ‘System’ by which Germany had been governed since 1918. ‘It would never have come to a Treaty of Versailles, if the parties which support you — the Centre, the Social Democrats, and the Democrats — had not undermined, destroyed, and betrayed the old Reich, if they had not prepared and carried through the Revolution (of 1918) or at least accepted and defended it.’[223]

After this exchange any hopes of avoiding an election for the presidency were at an end. For a second time the attempt to do a deal with Hitler had failed. Brüning, who had never had much hope of its success, threw all his energy into the campaign. Schleicher, who had counted on Röhm to get the other Nazi leaders to accept the proposal made to them, was equally set on securing the President’s re-election, since the position and powers of the Presidency were the basis of his plans. Until that had been accomplished he could not develop these plans further. For that reason he was willing to support Brüning’s continuance in office so that he could manage the election campaign. After that, General von Schleicher considered, a lot of things might happen. The President himself was nettled by the refusal of the Rightwing parties to support the prolongation of his office, and finally agreed to offer himself for re-election. On the Government side of the fence, therefore, the breakdown of the negotiations had been followed by at least a temporary consolidation of forces in Bruning’s favour.


This was far from being the case in the Nazi camp. Now that his attempt to split Hindenburg and Bruning had failed, Hitler had to face an awkward decision. Was he to risk an open contest with Hindenburg? The President’s reputation as the most famous figure of the old Army would inevitably attract many votes from the Right, while his position as the defender of the Republic against the extremists would win the support of the moderate and democratic parties. Hindenburg, or rather the Hindenburg legend, was a formidable opponent. Failure might destroy the growing belief in Nazi invincibility: on the other hand, dare they risk evading the contest ?

For a month Hitler hesitated, and Goebbels’s diary is eloquent on the indecision and anxiety of the Nazi leaders. By 2 February Hitler had tentatively decided to stand, but to delay the announcement. Goebbels adds: ‘ The whole thing teems with worry.’ The next days he records: ‘Late at night many old members of the Party come to see me. They are discouraged at not yet having heard anything decisive. They fear the Leader may wait too long.’ A week after the first decision, on 9 February, Goebbels writes: ‘The Leader is back in Berlin. More discussions at the Kaiserhof. Everything is in suspense.’ 12 February: ‘Publication of the decision is put off a few days longer.’ 21 February: ‘ This everlasting waiting is almost demoralizing.’ Not until 22 February would Hitler allow Goebbels to announce his candidature to a packed Nazi meeting at the big Berlin Sportpalast. ‘When, after about an hour’s preparation, I publicly proclaim that the Leader will come forward as a candidate, a storm of deafening applause rages for nearly ten minutes. Wild ovations for the Leader. The audience rises with shouts of joy. They nearly raise the roof.... People laugh and cry at the same time.’[224]

Shortly before Goebbels spoke the Nationalists and the Stahlhelm announced that they would put up their own candidate. The Harzburg front of the Nationalists and Nazis was thus finally broken; or, as Goebbels put it: ‘We have come to grips now for the first time with the Reaction.’ With little confidence in the result, the Nationalists chose as their candidate, not Hugenberg, nor even Seldte, the leader of the Stahlhelm, but Seldte’s second- in-command, Duesterberg. This was as good as saying that they expected to lose in advance. Characteristically, Hitler, after hesitating for a month, now staked everything on winning, and flung himself into the campaign with a whole-hearted conviction of success. Once he had embarked on a course of action, Hitler was not a man to look back.

The period of waiting had not been wasted. Even before Hitler finally broke off the negotiations with Brüning, Goebbels was already at work preparing for the election campaign. On 24 January he noted in his diary: ‘The elections are prepared down to the minutest detail. It will be a struggle such as the world has never before witnessed.’ On 4 February he writes: ‘ The lines of the election campaign are all laid down. We now need only to press the button to set the machine going.’

One of Goebbel’s greatest anxieties had been the financing of the election campaign. On 5 January he wrote despairingly: ‘Money is wanting everywhere. It is very difficult to obtain. Nobody will give us credit. Once you get the power you can get the cash galore, but then you need it no longer. Withour the power you need the money, but then you can’t get it.’ A month later (8 February) he was much more cheerful: ‘Money affairs improve daily. The financing of the electoral campaign is practically assured.’ One of the reasons for this sudden change of tone in Goebbels’s references to finance was a visit Hitler had paid to Düsseldorf, the capital of the German steel industry, on 27 January.

The meeting, arranged by Fritz Thyssen, was held in the Park Hotel, where Hitler spoke to the Industry Club. It was the first time that many of the West German industrialists present had met Hitler, and their reception of him was cool and reserved. Yet Hitler, far from being nervous, spoke for two and a half hours without pause, and made one of the best speeches of his life. In it is to be found every one of the stock ideas out of which he built his propaganda, brilliantly dressed up for the audience of businessmen he was addressing. For this reason it is worth quoting at some length as an example of his technique as a speaker.

With his mind still full of the last exchange of letters with the Chancellor, Hitler began by attacking Brüning’s view that the dominant consideration in German politics at this time ought to be the country’s foreign relations. ‘I regard it as of the first importance to break down the view that our destiny is conditioned by world events.... Assertions that a people’s fate is solely determined by foreign powers have always formed the shifts of bad governments.’ The determining factor in national life was the inner worth of a people and its spirit. In Germany, however, this inner worth had been undermined by setting up the false values of democracy and the supremacy of mere numbers in opposition to the creative principle of individual personality.

Hitler chose his illustrations with skill. Private property, he pointed out, could only be justified on the ground that men’s achievements in the economic field were unequal. ‘But it is absurd to build up economic life on the conceptions of achievement, of the value of personality and on the authority of personality, while in the political sphere you deny this authority and thrust in its place the law of the greatest number — democracy.’ Not only was it inconsistent, it was dangerous, for the philosophy of egalitarianism would in time be extended from politics to economics, as it already had been in Bolshevik Russia: ‘In the economic sphere Communism is analogous to democracy in the political sphere.’

Hitler dwelt at length on the threat of Communism, for it was something more, he said, than ‘a mob storming about in some of our streets in Germany, it a conception of the world which is in the act of subjecting to itself the entire Asiatic continent’. Unless it were halted it would ‘gradually shatter the whole world... and transform it as completely as did Christianity’. Already, thanks to the economic crisis, Communism had gained a foothold in Germany. Unemployment was driving millions of Germans to look on Communism as the ‘logical theoretical counterpart of their actual economic situation’. This was the heart of the German problem — not the result of foreign conditions, ‘ but of our internal aberration, our internal division, our internal collapse’. And this state of affairs was not to be cured by the economic expedients embodied in emergency decrees, but by the exercise of political power. It was not economics but politics that formed the prime factor in national life.

For it was not German business that conquered the world, followed by the development of German power, but the power-State which created for the business world the general conditions for its subsequent prosperity [ Very true!]. In my view it is to put the cart before the horse when today people believe that by business methods they can recover Germany’s power-position, instead of realizing that the power-position is also the condition for the improvement of the economic situation.... There is only one fundamental solution — the realization that there can be no flourishing economic life which has not before it and behind it a flourishing, powerful State as its protection.... There can be no economic life unless behind this economic life there stands the determined political will of the nation absolutely ready to strike — and to strike hard.... The essential thing is the formation of the political will of the nation: that is the starting point for political action.

The same, Hitler went on, was true of foreign policy.

The Treaty of Versailles in itself is only the consequence of our own slow inner confusion and aberration of mind.... In the life of peoples the strength which can be turned outwards depends upon the strength of a nation’s internal organization, and that in turn upon the stability of views held in common on certain fundamental questions.

It was no good appealing for national unity and sacrifice for the State when

fifty per cent of the people wish only to smash the State in pieces and feel themselves to be the vanguard not only of an alien attitude towards the State ... but of a will which is hostile to the State ... when only fifty per cent of a people are ready to fight for the national colours, while fifty per cent have hoisted another flag which stands for a State which is to be found only outside the bounds of their own State.

Unless Germany can master this internal division in Weltanschauungen no measures of the legislature can stop the decline of the German nation. [Very true!]

Recognizing this fact, the Nazi movement had set out to create a new outlook which would re-unite and re-vitalize the German people.

Here is an organization which is filled with an indomitable, aggressive spirit, an organization which, when a political opponent says ‘Your behaviour we regard as a provocation,’ does not see fit immediately to retire from the scene, but brutally enforces its own will and hurls against the opponent the retort: ‘We fight today! We fight tomorrow! And if you regard our meeting today as a provocation we shall hold yet another next week — until you have learned that it is no provocation when German Germany also professes its belief....’ And when people cast in our teeth our intolerance, we proudly acknowledge it — yes, we have formed the inexorable decision to destroy Marxism in Germany down to its very last root.... Today we stand at the turning-point of Germany’s destiny.... Either we shall succeed in working out a body- politic hard as iron from this conglomeration of parties, associations, unions, and Weltanschauungen, from this pride of rank and madness of class, or else, lacking this internal consolidation, Germany will fall in final ruin....

Remember that it means sacrifice when today many hundreds of thousands of S.A. and S.S. men every day have to mount on their lorries, protect meetings, undertake marches, sacrifice themselves night after night and then come back in the grey dawn to workshop and factory, or as unemployed to take the pittance of the dole; it means sacrifice when from the little they possess they have to buy their uniforms, their shirts, their badges, yes, and even pay their own fares. But there is already in all this the force of an ideal — a great ideal! And if the whole German nation today had the same faith in its vocation as these hundred thousands, if the whole nation possessed this idealism, Germany would stand in the eyes of the world otherwise than she stands now![225]

When Hitler sat down the audience, whose reserve had long since thawed, rose and cheered him wildly. ‘The effect upon the industrialists,’ wrote Otto Dietrich, who was present, ‘was great, and very evident during the next hard months of struggle.’[226] Thyssen adds that, as a result of the impression Hitler made, large contributions from the resources of heavy industry flowed into the Nazi treasury. With an astuteness which matched that of his appeal to the Army, Hitler had won an important victory. As the Army officers saw in Hitler the man who promised to restore Germany’s military power, so the industrialists came to see in him the man who would defend their interests against the threat of Communism and the claims of the trade unions, giving a free hand to private enterprise and economic exploitation in the name of the principle of ‘creative individuality’.


The election campaign for the Presidency was the first of five major electoral contests in Germany in less than nine months. It was notable for a number of reasons. First, because of the bitterness with which it was fought. Goebbels set the tone by his reference to Hindenburg in the Reichstag as ‘the candidate of the party of deserters’, and the Nazis, who knew they were fighting against heavy odds, spared neither the President nor anyone else in their attacks on the ‘System’. Their violence aroused the Republican parties to great efforts in their turn: nearly eighty-five per cent of the total electorate voted, and in many urban areas the vote was as high as ninety-five per cent. Second, because of the extraordinary confusion of parties. Hindenburg, a Protestant, a Prussian, and a monarchist, received his most solid support from the Social Democrats and the trade unions, the Catholic Centre (Briining’s own party), and the other smaller democratic parties, to whom the old man had become a symbol of the Constitution. The conservative upper classes of the Protestant north voted either for Düsterberg, the candidate of the Nationalist Party (to which Hindenburg himself belonged by rights), or for the Austrian demagogue, Hitler, who was hurriedly made a German citizen only on the eve of the election by the Nazi-controlled state of Brunswick. Industry and big business divided its support between all three candidates, while the working-class vote was split by the Communists, whose bitterest attack was directed against the rival Social Democrats and the trade unions.

The third factor which made the election notable was the character of the Nazi campaign, a masterpiece of organized agitation which attempted to take Germany by storm. Every constituency down to the most remote village was canvassed. In the little Bavarian hamlet of Dietramszell, where the President spent his summer holidays, the Nazis brought in some of their best speakers to capture 228 votes against the Field-Marshal’s 157 — a typical piece of Nazi spite. The walls of the towns were plastered with screaming Nazi posters; films of Hitler and Goebbels were made and shown everywhere (an innovation in 1932); gramophone records were produced which could be sent through the post, two hundred thousand marks spent on propaganda in one week alone. But, true to Hitler’s belief in the superiority of the spoken word, the main Nazi effort went into organizing a chain of mass meetings at which the principal Nazi orators, Hitler, Goebbels, Gregor Strasser, worked their audiences up to hysterical enthusiasm by mob oratory of the most unrestrained kind. Goebbels’s own programme, which can be reconstructed from his diary, is impressive enough. Between 22 February and 12 March he made nineteen speeches in Berlin (including fouf in the huge Sportpalast) and addressed mass meetings in nine other towns as widely separated as Breslau, Dresden, Cologne, Hamburg, and Nuremberg, dashing back to Berlin by the night train to supervise the work of the central propaganda organization. At Breslau Hitler spoke to sixty thousand people; in other places to crowds estimated at one hundred thousand.

The result was baffling. When the polls were closed on the evening of 13 March the Nazi vote had been pushed up from just under six and a half millions in September 1930 to just under eleven and a half millions, an increase of eighty-six per cent, giving Hitler nearly one-third of the total votes in Germany. But all the Nazi efforts left them more than seven million votes behind Hindenburg’s figure of 18,661,736. In Berlin alone Hindenburg had polled 45 per cent of the votes and the Communists 28 -7 as against Hitler’s 23 per cent. This was outright defeat, and Goebbels was in despair.

By a quirk of chance, however, Hindenburg’s vote was 0–4 per cent — less than two hundred thousand votes — short of the absolute majority required. A second election had therefore to be held. While Goebbels in Berlin threw up his hands, Hitler in Munich immediately announced that he would stand again, and before morning on 14 March special editions of the Völkischer Beobachter were on the streets carrying a new election manifesto: ‘The first election campaign is over, the second has begun today. I shall lead it.’

It was an uphill fight, with Hitler driving a tired and dispirited Party, but the ingenious mind of Goebbels, once he had recovered his nerve, hit on a novel electioneering device. The leader should cover Germany by plane — ‘Hitler over Germany’. On 3 April the flight began with four mass meetings in Saxony, at which Hitler addressed a quarter of a million people. After Dresden, Leipzig, Chemnitz, and Plauen came more meetings at Berlin, Königsberg, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Essen, Stuttgart, and Munich — in all, twenty different towns in a week from East Prussia to Westphalia, from the Baltic to Bavaria. On 8 April, when a violent storm raged over Western Germany and all other air traffic was grounded, the leader flew to Düsseldorf and kept his engagement, with the whole Nazi Press blaring away that here at last was the man with the courage Germany needed.

Defeat was certain, but by his exacting performance Hitler pushed up his vote again on 10 April by more than two millions to 13,417,460. The President was safely home with a comfortable 53 per cent — over nineteen and a quarter million votes — yet by tenacity and boldness Hitler had avoided disaster, capturing votes not only from the Nationalist candidate, who had failed to stay the course in the second election, but also from the Communists, whose vote fell by over a million. The day after the election Goebbels wrote in his diary: ‘The campaign for the Prussian State elections is prepared. We go on without a breathing space.’

Once again, however, the awkward question presented itself: how was electoral success, which, however remarkable, still fell far short of a clear majority, to be turned to political advantage? On 11 March Goebbels noted: ‘Talked over instructions with the S.A. and S.S. commanders. Deep uneasiness is rife everywhere. The notion of an uprising haunts the air.’ And again, on 2 April: ‘The S.A. getting impatient. It is understandable enough that the soldiers begin to lose morale through these long-drawn-out political contests. It has to be stopped though, at all costs. A premature putsch would nullify our whole future.’ On the other side, Gregor Strasser, who had opposed fighting the presidential campaign from the beginning, now renewed his argument that the chances of success for the policy of legality were being thrown away by Hitler’s ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude and his refusal to make a deal, except on his own exaggerated terms. What was the point of Hitler’s virtuoso performance as an agitator, Strasser asked, if it led the Party, not to power, but into a political cul- de-sac?

For the moment Hitler had no answer to either side, either to the impatient S.A. or to the critical Strasser. It was the Government which, strengthened by the elections, now took the initiative and used its advantage to move at last against the S.A.

At the end of November 1931 the State authorities of Hesse had secured certain documents drawn up by the legal adviser to the Nazi Party in Hesse, Dr Werner Best, after secret discussions among a small group of local Nazi leaders at the house of a Dr Wagner, Boxheimer Hof — from which they became known as the Boxheim Papers. These papers contained a draft of the proclamation to be issued by the S.A. in the event of a Communist rising, and suggestions for emergency decrees to be issued by a provisional Nazi government after the Communists had been defeated. Such an emergency, according to the documents captured, would justify drastic measures, and arrangements were to be made for the immediate execution of those who resisted the Nazi authorities, who refused to cooperate or who were found in possession of arms. Amongst the measures proposed was the abolition of the right to private property, of the obligation to pay debts of interest on savings, and of all private incomes. The S.A. was to be given the right to administer the property of the State and of all private citizens; all work was to be compulsory, without reward, and people were to be fed by a system of food cards and public kitchens. Provision was added for the erection of courts-martial under Nazi presidents.

The discovery of these plans caused a sensation, and seriously embarrassed Hitler, who declared (probably with justice) that he had known nothing of them and, had he known, would have disavowed them. Despite pressure from the Prussian State Government, however, the Reich Government declined to take action against the Nazis, and General Groener, the Reich Minister of the Interior, expressed his confidence in Hitler’s adherence to a policy of legality.[227]

Evidence of Nazi plans for a seizure of power continued to accumulate. However much Hitler underlined his insistence upon legal methods, the character of the S.A. organization was such that the idea of a putsch was bound to come naturally to men whose politics were conducted in an atmosphere of violence and semilegality. On the day of the first presidential election (Röhm had ordered his S.A. and S.S. troops to stand by in their barracks, while a ring of Nazi forces was drawn round the capital. Prussian police, raiding Nazi headquarters, found copies of Rohm’s orders and marked maps which confirmed the report that the S.A. had been prepared to carry out a coup d’état if Hitler secured a majority. Near the Polish frontier other orders were captured instructing the local S.A. in Pomerania not to take part in the defence of Germany in the event of a surprise Polish attack.

As a result of these discoveries the State governments, led by Prussia and Bavaria, presented Groener with an ultimatum. Either the Reich Government must act against the S.A. or, they hinted, they would take independent action themselves. In his letter of 1947 Brüning expresses the view that such action was premature[228] although he gives no reasons for this. Groener, however, felt obliged to act, partly to avoid a situation which would undermine the authority of the Reich Government, partly to avoid the loss of the Social Democratic support on which Brüning depended, and which was likely to be withdrawn if the demands of the Prussian State Government were not met. On 10 April, the day of the second election, a meeting presided over by the Chancellor confirmed Groener’s view, and on the 14th a decree was promulgated dissolving the S.A., the S.S., and all their affiliated organizations. The decree added, as the grounds for this belated action: ‘These organizations form a private army whose very existence constitutes a state within the State, and represent a permanent source of trouble for the civil population.... It is exclusively the business of the State to maintain organized forces. The toleration of such a partisan organization ... inevitably leads to clashes and to conditions comparable to civil war.’

Röhm for a moment thought of resistance; after all, the S.A. now numbered four hundred thousand men, four times the size of the Army allowed to Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. But Hitler was insistent: the S.A. must obey. His authority held, and overnight the Brown Shirts disappeared from the streets. But the S.A. organization was left intact; the S.A. troops were merely dismissed from parade, to reappear as ordinary Party members; Brüning and Groener would get their answer, Hitler declared, at the Prussian elections.

Prussia was by far the largest of the German states, embracing nearly two-thirds of the whole territory of the Reich, with a population of forty out of a total of sixty-five millions. Throughout the period of the Weimar Republic the Prussian Diet and the Prussian State Government, based on a coalition of the Social Democratic and Centre parties, had been the stronghold of German democracy. The Prussian Ministry of the Interior, which controlled by far the biggest administration and police force in Germany and was held by a Social Democrat, Karl Severing, had been more active than any other official agency in trying to check Nazi excesses, and was the object of venomous Nazi attacks. To capture a majority in Prussia, therefore, would be a political victory for the Nazis second only in importance to securing a majority in the Reichstag.

The date of the Prussian elections had been fixed for 24 April, at the same time as State elections in Bavaria, Anhalt, Württemberg and Hamburg. Altogether some four-fifths of Germany would go to the polls. The Nazi propaganda machine was switched immediately from the Presidential to the State elections. In a second series of highly publicized flights over Germany, Hitler spoke in twenty-six towns between 15 and 23 April. His attack this time was directed against the Social Democrats, and in the working-class quarters of the big towns the Nazis got rough handling. In Prussia they won the same thirty-six per cent of votes they had secured in the second presidential election, and, with eight million votes, became the strongest party in the Prussian Diet. The coalition of the Social Democrats and the Centre lost its majority, and the Government of Prussia without Nazi cooperation became an impossibility. Yet once again the Nazis fell short of the majority for which they had hoped.

Even with the support of the Nationalists, the Nazis were not strong enough to form an administration in Prussia. Elsewhere — in Württemberg, Bavaria, and Hamburg — their gains in the number of deputies were offset by the fact that they had failed to reach the national percentage of votes they had won in the second presidential election. By comparison with the thirty-six per cent they secured on 10 April, their votes now stood at 26–4 per cent in Württemberg, 32–5 in Bavaria, and 31 per cent in Hamburg. In all three they were well short of a majority. The deadlock therefore continued. Three times the trumpet had sounded and still the walls refused to fall. At the end of a list of their triumphs Goebbels added to his diary the despondent comment: ‘Something must happen now. We must shortly come to power, otherwise our victory will be a Pyrrhic one.’[229]

At this moment there appeared a deus ex machina in the shape of General von Schleicher, prepared to discuss once again the admission of the Nazis by the back door.


General Schleicher had resumed his relations with Röhm and with the Chief of the Berlin S.A., Helldorf, before the presidential elections. He appears at this time to have been playing with the idea of detaching the S.A. from Hitler, and bringing them under the jurisdiction of the State as the militia Röhm had always wanted to make them.[230] Unknown to Hitler, it had already been agreed between Röhm and Schleicher that, in the event of a waremergency, the S.A. would come under the command of the Army. Schleicher, however, was still attracted by the alternative idea of bringing Hitler himself into the Government camp. In either case, the prohibition of the S.A. was bound to embarrass his plans.

Although he agreed to Groener’s action on 8 April, when it was first discussed, the next day Schleicher began to make objections and propose changes of plan — such as a last warning to Hitler. This was rejected at the meeting in the Chancellery on the 10th, but Schleicher persisted in stirring up opposition in the Army and went behind Groener’s back to the President. He let Hitler know that he did not agree with the ban, and persuaded Hindenburg to write an irritable letter to Groener complaining about the activities of the Social Democratic organization, the Reichsbanner, with the implication that the prohibition of the S.A. had been one-sided. The material for this letter, Groener discovered, had been provided from a section in his own Ministry of Defence which was under Schleicher’s direction, and the letter had been made public almost before he had received it. A malicious whispering campaign against Groener himself now began, and on 10 May Göring delivered a violent attack on him in the Reichstag. When Groener, a sick man, attempted to reply, he met a storm of abuse and obstruction from the Nazi benches. Scarcely had he sat down, exhausted by the effort, when he was blandly informed by Schleicher, the man he regarded almost as his own son, and by Hammerstein, the Commander-in-Chief, that the Army no longer had confidence in him, and that it would be best for him to resign. Brüning loyally defended Groener, but on 12 May there were such scenes of uproar in the Reichstag that the Chamber had to be cleared by the police. The next day Groener resigned. The Nazis were jubilant.

Groener’s fall, treacherously engineered by Schleicher, was a grave blow to German democracy. One of the greatest weaknesses of the Weimar Republic was the equivocal attitude of the Army towards the republican regime. Groener was the only man amongst the Army’s leaders who had served it with wholehearted loyalty, and there was no one to replace him.

But Groener’s departure was only a beginning. Schleicher had now made up his mind that the chief obstacle to the success of his plan for the deal with the Nazis was Brüning, who was reluctant to make concessions to the Nazis to win their support, and who had become the butt of Nazi attacks on the ‘System’. The man he had himself proposed as Chancellor in March 1930 had outlived his usefulness. With the same cynical disloyalty with which he had stabbed Groener in the back, Schleicher now set about unseating Brüning.

Brüning was not in a strong position to defend himself.

Although he had striven honestly and dourly to master the crisis in Germany for two years, success still eluded him. He had failed to secure a stable majority in the Reichstag, and had so far failed to restore prosperity to Germany, even though he believed that the next few months would see a gradual easing of the depression. His great hope of redressing the humiliation of the Austro-German Customs Union plan and of offsetting domestic failure by a big success in foreign policy — the cancellation of reparations and the recognition of Germany’s right to equality in armaments — had been frustrated, the first by the postponement of the Reparations Conference at Lausanne until June 1932, the second by the long-draw-out opposition of the French at the Disarmament Conference. He was to enjoy the bitter consolation of seeing his successors secure the fruits of his own labours in foreign policy, but his efforts for Germany abroad were to contribute nothing to alleviate his own difficulties. Ironically, his one great success, the re-election of the President, weakened rather than strengthened his position. For, with that safely accomplished, Bruning no longer appeared indispensable, and, under the careful coaching of Schleicher and other candid friends, the old man had come to feel resentment against the Chancellor as the man whose obstinacy had forced him to endure an election campaign, and to stand as the candidate of the Left against his own friends on the Right.

Moreover, Brüning had made powerful enemies who enjoyed great influence with the President, the man on whose willingness to continue signing emergency decrees the Chancellor ultimately depended. The industrialists complained of his attempts to keep prices down and of the social policies initiated by Stegerwald, Brüning’s Labour Minister, the leader of the Catholic trade unions. A proposal for taking over insolvent properties in Eastern Germany and using these for land-colonization roused the passionate hostility of the powerful Junker class, who used the opportunity of Hindenburg’s visit to his estate of Neudeck at Whitsuntide to press their demand for Brüning’s dismissal as the sponsor of ‘Agrarian Bolshevism’. Finally, Schleicher, claiming to speak with the legendary authority of the Army, announced that the Army no longer had confidence in the Chancellor. A stronger man was needed to deal with the situation, and he already had a suitable candidate ready in Papen. He added the all-important assurance that the Nazis had agreed to support the new Government. With Papen the President would be sure of a Ministry which would be acceptable to his friends of the Right and to the Army, and at the same time command popular support — that elusive combination which Brüning had failed to provide.

Ostensibly Hitler played no part in the manoeuvres which led to Brüning’s dismissal. On the surface, the Nazi leaders were occupied with negotiations for a possible coalition in Prussia and with the provincial elections in Mecklenburg. The possibility of a combination between the Nazis and the Catholic Centre to form a government in Prussia interested Brüning, who hoped in this way to force the Nazis to accept a share of responsibility. Safeguards could be provided by combining the premiership of Prussia with his own office of Chancellor, as Bismarck had done, and by placing control of the police in Prussia and the other federal states in the hands of the Reich Minister of the Interior. On the Nazi side, Brüning’s offer was supported by Gregor Strasser, still seeking to effect a compromise solution. Even Goebbels, who hated Strasser, was impressed. On 26 April he wrote in his diary: ‘We have a difficult decision to make. Coalition with the Centre and power, or opposition to the Centre minus power. From a parliamentary point of view, nothing can be achieved without the Centre — either in Prussia or the Reich. This has to be thoroughly thought over.’ But Schleicher, who was in touch with the Nazi leaders through Röhm and Helldorf, and who was bent on frustrating Brüning’s plans, offered more tempting possibilities. The negotiations with the Centre suddenly ceased to make progress.

On 28 April Hitler himself had a talk with Schleicher, and Goebbels, after noting that the conference went off well, added: ‘The Leader has decided to do nothing at the moment, but mark time. Things are not to be precipitated.’ On 8 May another meeting took place. In order to lull Brüning’s suspicion, it was decided that Hitler should keep away from Berlin. Until the end of the month Hitler spent most of his time in Mecklenburg and Oldenburg — two states in which provincial elections were impending — or down in Bavaria. Röhm and Göring acted as his representatives in Berlin, but they had little more to do than to keep in touch with Schleicher and wait for news of developments.

What Schleicher offered was the overthrow of the Brüning Cabinet, the removal of the ban on the S.A. and S.S., and new elections for the Reichstag. In return for these solid advantages he asked only for tacit support, the ‘neutrality’ of the Nazis towards the new presidential cabinet which Papen was to form. Such a promise cost Hitler nothing to give. Time would show who was to do the double-crossing, Schleicher or the Nazis. Meanwhile Hitler’s agreement provided Schleicher with a winning argument for Hindenburg. Papen would be able to secure what Brüning had failed to get, Hitler’s support, without taking him into the Cabinet. If necessary, Schleicher too reflected, alliances could always be repudiated; the important thing was to get Brüning out and Papen in.

Groener’s fall on 13 May raised the hopes of the Nazi leaders high. On the 18th Goebbels wrote in his diary: ‘Back in Berlin’ — he had been to Munich to report to Hitler — ‘For Brüning alone winter seems to have arrived. He is being secretly undermined and is already completely isolated. He is anxiously looking for collaborators — “My kingdom for a Cabinet Minister!” General Schleicher has declined the Ministry of Defence.[231] ... Our mice are busily at work gnawing through the last supports of Bruning’s position.’ ‘Rat’ would perhaps have been a better word to describe the part played by General von Schleicher. Goebbels added some venomous comments on the activities of Gregor Strasser, who was still trying to revive the idea of a coalition with the Centre and a compromise with Brüning as an alternative to the deal with Schleicher. But Strasser’s manoeuvres came to nothing. On the 24th Goebbels wrote: ‘Saturday [28 May] will see the end of Brüning. The list of Ministers is more or less settled. The main point as far as we are concerned is that the Reichstag is dissolved.’

Once Brüning had secured the passage of the Finance Bill through the Reichstag there was no further need to delay. At the end of May Schleicher’s and the Junkers’ intrigues were crowned by the President’s abrupt request for the Chancellor’s resignation. On 30 May Brüning resigned. That fatal reliance on the President which he had been forced to accept as the only way out of the political deadlock had produced a situation in which governments could be made and unmade by the simple grant or withdrawal of the President’s confidence. Who bore the responsibility for allowing such a situation to arise will long be a matter of controversy, but the result was plain enougn: it was the end of democratic government in Germany. The key to power over a nation of sixty-five million people was now openly admitted to lie in the hands of an aged soldier of eighty-five and the little group of men who determined his views.

Hitler was at Horumersiel, on the North Sea, taking part in the Oldenburg elections which on 29 May provided the Nazis with a well-timed success, over forty-eight per cent of the votes and a clear majority of seats in the Diet. Over the week-end he moved to Mecklenburg. Hardly had he begun work there when the news came that Bruning was out. Goebbels rang up from Berlin just after noon and motored out to meet Hitler at Nauen. As they drove back they discussed the situation. There was little time to talk, for Hitler had to see the President at four o’clock. Goring accompanied him and the interview lasted only a few minutes. Hindenburg informed them briefly that he intended to appoint von Papen as Chancellor and understood that Hitler had agreed to support him. Was this correct? Hitler answered: ‘Yes.’ Back in Berlin, Goebbels commented in his diary: ‘Von Papen is, it seems, to be appointed Chancellor, but that is neither here nor there. The Poll! The Poll! It’s the people we want. We are all entirely satisfied.’


The new Chancellor, Franz von Papen, a man in his fifties, came from a Catholic family of the Westphalian nobility. He had belonged to the right cavalry regiment (he was a celebrated gentleman-rider) and now to the right clubs, the Herrenklub and the Union. He had great charm, a wide acquaintance in the social world, connexions with both German and French industry (he had married the daughter of a wealthy Saar industrialist), and considerable political ambitions. So far these ambitions had not been taken seriously by anyone else. He owned a big block of shares in Germania, the Centre Party’s paper, and was nominally a member of the Centre Party. He only sat in the Prussian Diet, however, not in the Reichstag, and there he was in single-handed opposition to the Centre’s combination with the Social Democrats by which Prussia had been governed until the April elections. Papen was no democrat; he talked vaguely of a Christian Conservatism, which in practice meant a restoration of the privileges and power of the old ruling class of Imperial days in an authoritarian state with a veneer of respectability. If Schleicher did not go as far as Clemenceau, who is reported to have urged the election of Sadi Carnot to the French Presidency with the recommendation ‘Vote for the stupidest’, he was certainly attracted to the improbable choice of Papen as Chancellor by the belief that he would prove a pliant instrument in his hands. This was to prove a serious underestimate of Papen’s ambition and tenacity, no less than of his unscrupulousness. It was a choice which startled everyone and pleased few, with the important exception of the President, who was delighted with the company of a Chancellor who knew how to charm and flatter so well that he soon established relations with him such as no other minister had ever had.

If Schleicher believed that Papen would be able to rally a coalition of the Centre and the Right he was soon disillusioned. The Centre Party, furious at the arbitrary way in which Briining had been dismissed, went into determined opposition. Hugen- berg, the leader of the Nationalists, was indignant at the failure to consider his own claims, while Hitler had bound himself to no more than a vague promise of support, and no Nazis were included in the Ministry. The character of the new Government was in fact so blatantly out of keeping with feeling in the country that it aroused a universal storm of abuse. Only with great difficulty, and by the exercise of the President’s personal authority, had it been possible to collect a Cabinet of men willing to serve under Papen. Of its ten members, none of whom was a political figure of the front rank, seven belonged to the nobility with known Right-wing views. Of the remainder, Professor Warmbold, the Minister of Economics, was connected with the great Dye Trust, I.G. Farben; Schaeffer, the Minister of Labour, was a director of Krupps; while the Minister of Justice, Franz Gürtner, was the Bavarian Minister who had most persistently protected Hitler in the 1920s.

Brüning, although driven to rely on the President’s emergency power, had none the less been a parliamentary Chancellor in the sense that he had only once been actually defeated in the Reichstag and had then gone to the country. But from the beginning there was not the least chance of Papen avoiding an overwhelming defeat if he met parliament; the power of the ‘Cabinet of Barons’ was openly and unashamedly based upon the support of the President and the Army. The Social Democratic paper, Vorwärts, could be excused a justifiable exaggeration when it wrote of ‘this little clique of feudal monarchists, come to power by backstairs methods with Hitler’s support, which now announces the classwar from above’.

Of the four parties in Germany which commanded mass support, two, the Communists and the Social Democrats, were bound to oppose Papen’s government; the third, the Centre, had excommunicated him; only the fourth, the Nazis, remained as a possible ally. A temporary tolerance had been secured from the Nazis at the price of two concessions: the dissolution of the Reichstag and the lifting of the ban on the S.A. The question which dominated German politics from the end of May 1932 to the end of January 1933 was whether this temporary arrangement could be turned into a permanent coalition.

Both sides were willing to consider such a proposal — Hitler because this was the only way in which he could come to power if he failed to win an outright majority, and turned his back on a putsch; and the group around the President, Papen and Schleicher, because this offered the only prospect of recruiting popular support for their rule and the best chance, as they believed, of taking the wind out of the Nazi sails. The elements of a deal were present all the time; the question was, on whose terms — Hitler’s or Papen’s? Hitler was even less content than in 1923 to be the drummer and leave the decisions to the gentlemen and the generals. On the other side, Papen and Schleicher persisted in believing that they could get Nazi support for less than Hitler demanded. Each side therefore tried to blockade the other. When Papen could not get Nazi support on his terms, he left them to cool their heels, calculating that the strain on the Party of continued frustration would force Hitler to reduce his demands. Hitler, on his side, tried to stick it out without capitulating. This is the underlying pattern of events in the latter half of 1932. Superimposed on it is a second pattern created by the fact that both sides, the group around the President and the Nazi leaders, became divided on the right tactics to pursue; on one side this is represented by a split between Papen and Schleicher, on the other side by the quarrel between Hitler and Gregor Strasser.

With this in mind, the period from Papen’s Chancellorship to Hitler’s can be divided into four sections.

The first, from Bruning’s resignation on 30 May 1932 to the Reichstag elections on 31 July.

The second, from the Reichstag election of July to those of 6 November 1932.

The third, from the Reichstag elections of November to the beginning of Schleicher’s Chancellorship on 2 December 1932.

The fourth, from Schleicher’s Chancellorship to Hitler’s, which began on 30 January 1933.

The first of these periods was inconclusive, indeed was bound to be so. For, until the elections had been held, neither side was able to gauge its own or the other’s strength. Hitler was still hopeful that the elections, the first elections for the Reichstag since September 1930, might bring him an outright majority. At the Mecklenburg provincial elections on 5 June the Nazis polled forty-nine per cent of the votes, and in Hesse, later in the month, forty-four per cent. The tide still appeared to be running in their favour.

Papen dissolved the Reichstag on 4 June, and fixed the new elections for the last day of July. Even this brief delay aroused Nazi suspicions; and when the lifting of the S.A. ban was postponed until the middle of the month, relations between Hitler and the new Government became strained. On 5 June Goebbels wrote in his diary. ‘We must disassociate ourselves at the earliest possible moment from the temporary bourgeois Cabinet.’ When Hitler saw Papen on the 9th, he made no pretence of his attitude. ‘I regard your Cabinet,’ he told the Chancellor, ‘only as a temporary solution and will continue my efforts to make my party the strongest in the country. The Chancellorship will then devolve on me.’[232] There was considerable grumbling in the Party at a ‘compromise with Reaction’. Unless the Nazis were to be tarred with the same brush, and to leave to the parties of the Left a monopoly of attacking the ‘Cabinet of Barons’, they had to assert their independence.

When the ban on the S.A. was lifted, Thaelmann, the Communist leader, described it as an open provocation to murder. This proved to be literally true, for, in the weeks which followed, murder and violence became everyday occurrences in the streets of the big German cities. According to Grzesinski, the Police President of Berlin at the time, there were 461 political riots in Prussia alone between 1 June and 20 July 1932, in which eighty- two people were killed and four hundred seriously wounded.[233] The fiercest fighting was between the Nazis and the Communists; of eighty-six people killed in July 1932, thirty were Communists and thirty-eight Nazis. Provocation was certainly not confined to one side: on an election visit to the Ruhr in July, Goebbels was given a rough reception, and the funerals of S.A. men became the occasion of big Nazi demonstrations. Pitched battles took place on Sunday 10 July in which eighteen people were killed. The next Sunday, the 17th, saw the worst riot of the summer, at Altona, near ‘ Red ’ Hamburg, where the Nazis under police escort staged a march through the working-class districts of the town, and were met by a fusillade of shots from the roofs and windows, which they immediately returned. Nineteen people were reported to have been killed and two hundred and eighty-five wounded on that day alone.

The Altona riots gave Papen the excuse he needed to end the political deadlock in Prussia, where the Social-Democratic and Centre coalition remained in office without a majority in the Diet. On the flimsy pretext that the Prussian Government could not be relied on to deal firmly with the Communists, Papen used the President’s emergency powers on 20 July to depose the Prussian Ministers, appointing himself as Reich Commissioner for Prussia, and Bracht, the Burgomaster of Essen, as his Deputy and Prussian Minister of the Interior. By this action Papen hoped partly to conciliate the Nazis, partly to steal some of the Nazi thunder against ‘Marxism’. To carry out his plan Papen had stretched the constitutional powers of the President to the limit, and Karl Severing, the Social Democratic Minister of the Interior in Prussia, required a show of force before he was prepared to yield. But it was only a show. The trade unions and the Social Democratic Party, which had defeated the Kapp Putsch in 1920 by a general strike, discussed the possibility of another such strike, only to reject it. Whether they were right to yield or should have resisted, and what would have been their chances of success, has been much debated since.[234] Whatever view one takes of the Labour leaders’ action, however, the fact that the two largest working-class organizations in Germany, the Social Democratic Party and the trade unions, had not put up even a token resistance in face of Papen’s coup d’etat, was a significant pointer to the opposition (or lack of it) which Hitler might expect to meet if he came to power.

The removal of the Prussian Government, even if it was only the logical sequel to the defeat of the Government parties at the Prussian elections of April 1932, was a heavy blow to those who still remained loyal to the Weimar Republic. The republican parties were shown to be on the defensive and lacking the conviction to offer more than a passive resistance. However much Papen and Schleicher might claim the credit of this show of energy for the new government, in fact any blow which discredited democratic and constitutional government must bring advantage to the Nazis and the Communists, the two extremist parties. The impression that events favoured the triumph of one or other form of extremism was strengthened, and helped both parties to win votes at the coming elections.

The elections were held on the last day of July. Goebbels had been making his preparations since the beginning of May and the fourth election compaign in five months found the Nazi organization at the top of its form. The argument that things must change, and the promise that, if the Nazis came to power, they would, proved a powerful attraction in a country driven to the limit of endurance by two years of economic depression and mass unemployment, made worse by the inability of the Government to relieve the nation’s ills. It was the spirit of revolt engendered by these conditions to which Nazism gave expression, unhampered by the doctrinaire teaching and class exclusiveness of Communism.

‘ The rise of National Socialism,’ Gregor Strasser said in the Reichstag on 10 May, ‘is the protest of a people against a State that denies the right to work and the revival of natural intercourse. If the machinery for distribution in the present economic system of the world is incapable of properly distributing the productive wealth of nations, then that system is false and must be altered. The important part of the present development is the anti-capitalist sentiment that is permeating our people; it is the protest of the people against a degenerate economic system. It demands from the State that, in order to secure its own right to live, it shall break with the Demons Gold, World Economy, Materialism, and with the habit of thinking in export statistics and the bank rate, and shall be capable of restoring honest payment for honest labour. This anti-capitalist sentiment is a proof that we are on the eve of a great change — the conquest of Liberalism and the rise of new ways of economic thought and of a new conception of the State.’[235]

It may well be asked how Strasser’s speech was to be reconciled with Hitler’s talk to the industrialists at Düsseldorf a few months before, or what precisely the Nazis meant by ‘new ways of economic thought and a new conception of the State’. In 1932, however, large sections of the German people were in no mood to criticize the contradictions of the Nazi programme, but were attracted by the radicalism of its appeal and the violence of its protest against a system which — whatever was to be put in its place — they passionately desired to see overthrown.

This sentiment was exploited by skilful electioneering. ‘Once more eternally on the move,’ Goebbels complained on 1 July. ‘Work has to be done standing, walking, driving, flying. The most urgent conferences are held on the stairs, in the hall, at the door, or on the way to the station. It nearly drives one out of one’s senses. One is carried by train, motor-car, and aeroplane crisscross through Germany.... The audience generally has no idea of what the speaker has already gone through during the day before he makes his speech in the evening.... And in the meantime he is struggling with the heat, to find the right word, with the sequence of a thought, with a voice that is growing hoarse, with unfortunate acoustics and with the bad air that reaches him from the tightly packed audience of thousands of people.’[236]

The whole familiar apparatus of Nazi ballyhoo was brought into play — placards, Press, sensational charges and countercharges, mass meetings, demonstrations, S.A. parades. As a simple feat of physical endurance, the speaking programme of men like Hitler and Goebbels was remarkable. Again Hitler took to the skies, and in the third ‘Flight over Germany’ visited and spoke in close on fifty towns in the second half of July.’ Delayed by bad weather, Hitler reached one of his meetings, near Stralsund, at half past two in the morning. A crowd of thousands waited patiently for him in drenching rain. When he finished speaking they saluted the dawn with the mass-singing of Deutschland Uber Alles. This was more than clever electioneering. The Nazi campaign could not have succeeded as it did by the ingenuity of its methods alone, if it had not at the same time corresponded and appealed to the mood of a considerable proportion of the German people.

When the results were announced on the night of 31 July the Nazis had outstripped all their competitors, and with 13,745,000 votes and 230 seats in the Reichstag had more than doubled the support they had won at the elections of September 1930. They were now by far the largest party in Germany, their nearest rivals, the Social Democrats, polling just under eight million votes, the Communists five and a quarter million, and the Centre four and a half. Taking 1928 as the measuring rod, the gains made by Hitler — close on thirteen million votes in four years — are still more striking. If he had done little to shake the solid bloc of Social Democratic and Centre votes, he had taken away some six million votes from the parties to the Right of them and captured the greater part of the six million new voters. The mass support of the Nazis in 1932 came from those who had voted in 1928 for the middle-class parties, like the People’s Party, the Democrats, and the Economic Party, whose combined vote of 5,582,500 in 1928 had sunk to 954,700 in 1932; from the Nationalist Party, which had lost a million and a half votes; from young people, many without jobs, voting for the first time; and from those who had not voted before, but had been stirred by events and by propaganda to come to the polls this time.

The second period began therefore with a resounding success for the Nazis, but a success which remained inconclusive, and left Papen and Hitler free to put very different interpretations on the situation. For the Nazi vote (37–3 per cent) still fell short of the clear majority for which they had hoped. Moreover, although the Nazis’ figures showed an increase in votes, the rate of increase was dropping:

September 1930 (Reichstag)

March 1932 (1st presidential election)

April 1932 (2nd presidential election)

April 1932 (Prussian Diet)

July 1932 (Reichstag)

18–3 per cent of votes cast

99 99

36*7 99 95 55 55 95

36*3 ,, ,, „ ,, ,,


‘ 55 99 99 99 99

As the British Ambassador remarked in a dispatch to the Foreign Secretary: ‘Hitler seems now to have exhausted his reserves. He has swallowed up the small bourgeois parties of the Middle and the Right, and there is no indication that he will be able to effect a breach in the Centre, Communist, and Socialist parties.... All the other parties are naturally gratified by Hitler’s failure to reach anything like a majority on this occasion, especially as they are convinced that he has now reached his zenith.’[237]

From the point of view, however, of a deal with Papen and Schleicher, Hitler felt himself to be in a very strong position. The Nationalist and People’s parties, to which alone the Government could look for support apart from the Nazis, had again lost votes, and together held no more than 44 out of a total of 608 seats. The combined strength of the two extremist parties, the Nazi and the Communists (230 and 89), added up to more than fifty per cent of the Reichstag, sufficient to make government with parliament impossible, unless the Nazis could be brought to support the Government. With a voting strength of 13,700,000 electors, a party membership of over a million and a private army of 400,000 S.A. and S.S., Hitler was the most powerful political leader in Germany, knocking on the doors of the Chancellery at the head of the most powerful political party Germany had ever seen.

Inflamed by the election campaign, and believing that the long- awaited day was within sight, the S.A. threatened to get out of hand. On 8 August, Goebbels wrote in his diary: ‘The air is full of presage.... The whole party is ready to take over power. The S.A. down everyday tools to prepare for this. If things go well, everything is all right. If they do not, it will be an awful setback.’ Two days later: ‘The S.A. is in readiness for an alarm and is standing to.... The S.A. are closely concentrated round Berlin; the manoeuvre is carried out with imposing precision and discipline.’ The outbreaks of street-shooting and bomb-throwing flared up, especially in the eastern provinces of Silesia, and East Prussia. In the first nine days of August a score of incidents was reported every day, culminating on 9 August in the murder at Potempa, a village in Silesia, of a Communist called Pietrzuch, who was brutally kicked to death by five Nazis in front of his mother. The same day Papen’s Government announced the death penalty for clashes which led to people being killed. The Nazis at once protested indignantly.

Aware of the highly charged feeling in the Party, Hitler took time before he moved. He held a conference of his leaders at Tegernsee, in Bavaria, on 2 August, but arrived at no final decision. A coalition with the Centre Party would provide a majority in the Reichstag, but Hitler was in a mood for ‘all-or- nothing’. He must have the whole power, not a share of it. On 5 August he saw General von Schleicher at Fiirstenberg, north of Berlin, and put his demands before him: the Chancellorship for himself, and other Nazis at the head of the Prussian State Government, the Reich, and Prussian Ministries of the Interior (which controlled the police). With these were to go the Ministry of Justice and a new Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, which was reserved for Goebbels. An Enabling Bill, giving Hitler full power to govern by decree, would be presented to the Reichstag; if the Chamber refused to pass it, it would be dissolved. Whatever Schleicher said, Hitler came away in high hopes that the General would use all his influence to secure the Chancellorship for him. He was so pleased that he suggested to Schleicher a tablet should be affixed to the walls of the house to commemorate their historic meeting. He then returned to Berchtesgaden to await events.

On 9 August, Strasser and Frick joined him there with disquieting news. The violent behaviour of the S.A. and some of the wilder election and post-election statements were making people ask if the Nazis were fit to have power. Funk, who arrived with a message from Schacht, confirmed this. Business and industrial circles were becoming worried lest a Hitler Chancellorship should lead to radical economic experiments on the lines Gottfried Feder and Gregor Strasser had often threatened. Still no word came from Berlin.

On 11 August Hitler decided to bring matters to a head.[238] Sending messengers ahead to arrange for him to see the Chancellor and the President, he left the mountains, and, after a further conference with his lieutenants on the shores of the Chiemsee, motored north to Berlin. Goebbels summed up the results of the conference: ‘If they do not afford us the opportunity to square accounts with Marxism, our taking over power is absolutely useless.’[239] This assurance was Hitler’s sop to the impatient S.A.

Late in the evening of the 12th Hitler reached Berlin and drove out to Goebbels’s house at Caputh, to avoid being seen. Röhm had already visited Papen and Schleicher and had asked bluntly who was to be Chancellor. Had Hitler misunderstood Schleicher? The answer Röhm had been given was none too satisfactory. After Goebbels told him the news, Hitler paced up and down for a long time, uneasily calculating his chances. A hundred times he must have asked himself whether he was pitching his claims too high. On the other hand, to pitch them lower, to agree to anything less than full power, was to court trouble with the Party and the S.A. Hitler went to bed late, after listening to some music; the decisive meeting with Papen and Schleicher was fixed for the next day at noon.

What had been happening on the Government side of the fence since the elections is more difficult to follow. Despite the failure of the two parties he had counted on for support — the Nationalists and the People’s Party — Papen was less impressed by Hitler’s success than might have been expected. Hitler had failed to win the majority he hoped for, and Papen could argue that the results of the elections and the divisions in the Reichstag were such as to justify the continuation of a presidential cabinet, independent of the incoherent Party groupings. Indeed, Papen saw no reason at all why he should resign in Hitler’s favour. He enjoyed the favour of the President as no one ever had before, and the President certainly had no wish to exchange the urbane and charming Papen for a man whom he disliked and regarded as ‘queer’. Nazi violence during and after the election had hardened opinion against them, not only in the circle round the President, but among the propertied classes generally, and, most important of all, in the Army. Reports from abroad of the possible repercussions of Hitler’s advent to power had impressed the Cabinet and the Army, while for the President it was quite enough that Hitler had broken his promise and attacked a government he had undertaken to support. Finally, Papen, like most other political observers, was convinced that the Nazis had reached their peak and from now on would begin to lose votes. If he was still prepared to do a deal with Hitler it must be on his, and not Hitler’s, terms.

Schleicher’s attitude too had changed since the meeting at Furstenberg on the 5th. When Hitler met the General and Papen together on the 13th, the most they were prepared to offer him was the Vice-Chancellorship, together with the Prussian Ministry of the Interior for one of his lieutenants. Hitler’s claim to power as the leader of the largest party in the Reichstag was politely set aside. The President, Papen told him, insisted on maintaining a presidential cabinet in power and this could not be headed by a Party leader like Hitler. Hitler rejected Papen’s offer out of hand, lost his temper and began to shout. He must have the whole power, nothing less. He talked wildly of mowing down the Marxists, of a St Bartholomew’s Night, and of three days’ freedom of the streets for the S.A. Both Papen and Schleicher were shocked by the raging uncontrolled figure who now confronted them. They were scarcely reassured by his declaration that he wanted neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Ministry of Defence, but only as much power as Mussolini had claimed in 1922. While Hitler meant by this a coalition government, including nonFascists, such as Mussolini had originally formed, they understood him to be claiming a dictatorship in which he would govern alone without them — and, as the history of Hitler’s Chancellorship in 1933 was later to show, they were fundamentally right.

After prolonged and heated argument, Hitler left in a rage of disappointment, and drove back to Goebbels’s flat on the Reichs- kanzlerplatz. When a telephone call came from the President’s Palace at three o’clock, Frick or Goebbels answered that there was no point in Hitler coming, as a decision had already been arrived at. But the President insisted. Nothing, it was said, would be finally decided till he had seen Hitler — and Hitler, angry and shaken, went.

The President received him standing up and leaning on his stick. His manner was cold. Hitler’s argument that he sought power by legal means, but to obtain his ends must be given full control over government policy, made no impression on the old man. According to Meissner, who was one of those present at the interview, the President retorted that in the present tense situation he could not take the risk of transferring power to a new Party which did not command a majority and which was intolerant, noisy, and undisciplined.

At this point Hindenburg, with a certain show of excitement, referred to several recent occurrences — clashes between the Nazis and the police, acts of violence committed by Hitler’s followers against those of different opinions, excesses against Jews and other illegal acts. All these incidents had strengthened him in his conviction that there were numerous wild elements in the Party beyond effective control. Conflicts with other states had also to be avoided under all circumstances. Hindenburg proposed to Hitler that he should cooperate with the other parties, in particular with the Right and the Centre, and that he should give up the one-sided idea that he must have complete power. In cooperating with other parties he would be able to show what he could achieve and improve upon. If he could show positive results, he would acquire increasing influence even in a coalition government. This would also be the best way to eliminate the widespread fear that a National Socialist government would make ill use of its power. Hindenburg added that he was ready to accept Hitler and his movement in a coalition government, the precise composition of which could be a subject of negotiation, but that he could not take the responsibility of giving exclusive power to Hitler alone.... Hitler, however, was adamant in his refusal to put himself in the position of bargaining with the leaders of the other parties and of facing a coalition government.[240]

Before the interview was over Hindenburg took the chance to remind Hitler of the promise, which he had now broken, to support Papen’s Government. In the words of the communiqué, ‘he gravely exhorted Herr Hitler to conduct the opposition on the part of the N.S. Party in a chivalrous manner, and to bear in mind his responsibility to the Fatherland and to the German people.’ For once, the Nazi propaganda machine was caught off its guard, and the Government’s damaging version of the meeting was on the streets and half-way round the world before the Nazis realized what was happening. It spoke of Hitler’s ‘demand for entire and complete control of the State’; described the President’s refusal to hand over power to ‘a movement which had the intention of using it in a one-sided manner’ ; referred explicitly to Hitler’s disregard of the promises of support he had given before the election, and repeated Hindenburg’s warning to him on the way to conduct opposition. Hitler’s humiliation in the eyes of the world, and of his own Party, was complete.


If ever Hitler needed confidence in his own judgement, it was now. A false move could have destroyed his chances of success, and it was easy to make such a move. The policy of legality appeared discredited and bankrupt. Hitler had won such electoral support as no other party had had in Germany since the First World War, he had kept strictly to the letter of the Constitution and knocked on the door of the Chancellery, only to have the door publicly slammed in his face. The way in which his demands had been refused touched Hitler on a raw spot; once again he had been treated as not quite good enough, an uneducated, rough sort of fellow whom one could scarcely make Chancellor. This was Lossow, Kahr, and Munich all over again, and his old hatred and contempt for the bourgeoisie and their respectable politicians — top-hat, frock-coat, the Herr Doktor with his diploma — flared up.

He was angry and resentful, feeling he had walked into a trap and was being laughed at by the superior people who had made a fool of him. He had made the mistake of playing his cards too high; now his bluff had been called and, instead of sweeping into power, he had had to stand and listen to the President giving him a dressing-down for bad manners and behaviour not becoming a gentleman. In such a mood there was a great temptation to show them he was not bluffing, to give the S.A. their head, and let the smug bourgeois politicians see whether he was just a ‘revolutionary of the big mouth’, as Goebbels had once called Strasser.

There was strong pressure from the Party in the same direction. A considerable section, strongly represented in the S.A., had always disliked the policy of legality, and had only been constrained to submit to it with difficulty. Now that legality had led to an open set-back and humiliation they were even more restive and critical. The difficulties with which Hitler was confronted are vividly illustrated by the case of the Potempa murderers. The five Nazis responsible for the murder of the Communist miner, Pietrzuch, were sentenced to death on 22 August. All five men were members of the S.A., and the case had attracted the widest publicity. The S.A. were furious: this was to place the nationally- minded Nazis and the anti-national Communists on the same footing, the very reverse of what Hitler and the Nazis meant by justice. Hitler had therefore to choose between offending public opinion and travestying his own policy of legality if he came out on the side of the murderers, or risking a serious loss of confidence on the part of the S.A. if he failed to intervene on their behalf, thus publicly admitting his inability to defend his own followers. Hitler’s answer was to send a telegram to the five murderers: ‘ My comrades: in the face of this most monstrous and bloody sentence I feel myself bound to you in limitless loyalty. From this moment, your liberation is a question of our honour. To fight against a government which could allow this is our duty.’ He followed this with a violent manifesto in which he attacked Papen for deliberately setting on foot a persecution of the ‘nationally minded’ elements in Germany: ‘German fellow countrymen: whoever among you agrees with our struggle for the honour and liberty of the nation will understand why I refused to take office in this Cabinet.... Herr von Papen, I understand your bloody “objectivity” now. I wish that victory may come to nationalist Germany and destruction upon its Marxist destroyers and spoilers, but I am certainly not fitted to be the executioner of nationalist fighters for the liberty of the German people.’[241] Röhm visited the condemned men and assured them they would not be executed. Nor was this an idle boast: a few days after Hitler’s telegram their sentences were commuted to imprisonment for life.

There is no doubt that Hitler’s action shocked German public opinion, for the justice of the sentence scarcely admitted dispute. Yet this was the price which Hitler had to pay if he meant to keep his movement together and preserve his own authority. Nor is there any reason to suppose that he felt the least compunction about the murder at Potempa; the publicity it had received was inconvenient, but kicking a political opponent to death was well within the bounds of what Hitler meant by legality.

Nevertheless, although the Nazi Press and Nazi speeches show an increasing radicalism from August up to the second Reichstag elections in November, and although Hitler came out in uncompromising opposition to Papen’s Government, he still refused to depart from his tactics of legality, or to let himself be provoked into the risk of attempting a seizure of power by force. The very day of his humiliating interview with the President he called in Röhm and the other S.A. leaders to insist that they must give up any idea of a putsch. Goebbels, recording the meeting, adds: ‘Their task is the most difficult. Who knows if their units will be able to hold together.... The S.A. Chief of Staff (Röhm) stays with us for a long time. He is extremely worried about the S.A.’[242] To this line of policy Hitler remained faithful throughout; he was determined to avoid open conflict with the Army and to come to power legally. The situation was not yet ripe, he told Goebbels; Papen and the President were not yet convinced that they would have to take him on his own- terms, but it was still to a deal, and not to revolution, that he looked as the means to power.

Shortly after the Potempa incident Hermann Rauschning, one of the leaders of the Danzig Senate, visited Hitler at Haus Wachenfeld on the Obersalzberg. The little party from Danzig found him moody and preoccupied, sitting on the veranda and staring out over the mountain landscape. His silence was interspersed with excited and violent comments, many of them on the character of the next war. Much of it was prophetic; he laid great stress upon the psychological and subversive preparations for war -if these were carried out with care, peace would be signed before the war had begun. ‘The place of artillery preparation for frontal attack will in future be taken by revolutionary propaganda, to break down the enemy psychologically before the armies begin to function at all.... How to achieve the moral break-down of the enemy before the war has started — that is the problem that interests me.... We shall provoke a revolution in France as certainly as we shall not have one in Germany. The French will hail me as their deliverer. The little man of the middle class will acclaim us as the bearers of a just social order and eternal peace. None of these people any longer want war or greatness.’[243] Rauschning could get little out of Hitler about the current political situation. He was angry and uncertain, ‘divided’, Rauschning thought, ‘between his own revolutionary temperament which impelled him to passionate action, and his political astuteness which warned him to take the safe road of political combination and postpone his revenge till later.’[244] Hitler talked much of ruthlessness and was inclined to lash out at anyone who irritated him. He was scornful and impatient of economic problems on which Rauschning tried to draw him: if the will were there the problems would solve themselves, he retorted. Only when they came to discuss Danzig did Hitler show any interest in the actual position in Germany. His first question was whether Danzig had an extradition agreement with Germany, and it was soon clear that his mind was occupied with the possibility of having to go underground, if the Government should move against the Party and ban it. In that case Danzig, with its independent status under the League of Nations, might well offer a useful asylum.

As they left to drive to Munich Goebbels came stumping up the path to the house, summoned from Berlin for more anxious consultations on the policy to be pursued if the Party was to get out of the political cul-de-sac into which it had been manoeuvred.

Desultory contacts with the Government continued through the rest of the summer and into the autumn, but they led nowhere. Papen was still confident that by a process of ‘wearing-down’ the Nazis, by keeping them waiting on the threshold of power, he could force Hitler to accept his terms. It was a question of who would crack first.

In August and September the Nazis made an approach to the Centre Party: together they could command a majority in the Reichstag, and Hitler, amongst other proposals, suggested that they should put through a joint motion deposing the President and providing for a new election. On 25 August Goebbels noted: ‘We have got into touch with the Centre Party, if merely by way of bringing pressure to bear upon our adversaries.... There are three possibilities. Firstly: Presidential Cabinet. Secondly: Coalition. Thirdly: Opposition.... In Berlin I ascertain that Schleicher already knows of our feelers in the direction of the Centre. That is a way of bringing pressure to bear on him. I endorse and further it. Perhaps we shall succeed thus in expediting the first of these solutions.’[245] One practical result of these talks was the election of Göring to the presidency of the Reichstag by the combined votes of the Nazis, the Centre, and the Nationalists on 30 August.

Papen refused to be impressed by the threat of a Nazi-Centre combination against him. He was firmly convinced that the prolongation of the deadlock was working to the disadvantage of the Nazis, and that in any new elections they were bound to lose votes. He believed that, in the threat to dissolve the Reichstag and force a further appeal to the country, he held the ace of trumps, and, if necessary, he was resolved to play it.

The climax of these weeks of intrigue and manoeuvring came on 12 September. After the election of Göring to its presidency on 30 August the Reichstag had adjourned until the 12th, the first full session since the elections at the end of July. Foreseeing trouble, the Chancellor procured a decree for the Chamber’s dissolution from the President in advance. With this up his sleeve, he felt in complete command of the situation. The actual course of events on 12 September, however, took both sides by surprise. When the session opened, before a crowded audience in the diplomatic and public galleries, the Communist deputy Torgler moved a vote of censure on the Government as an amendment to the Order of the Day. It had been agreed amongst the other parties that there was nothing to be gained by such a move, and that one of the Nationalist deputies should formally oppose it, the objection of one member being sufficient to prevent an amendment to the Order of the Day without due notice. When the moment came, however, the Nationalists made no move, and amid a puzzled and embarrassed silence Frick rose to his feet to ask for half an hour’s delay. In the excited crowd which filled the lobbies and corridors it was said that Papen had decided to dissolve, and that it was in agreement with him that the Nationalists had gone back on the original plan. At a hurried meeting in the palace of the Reichstag President, Göring, Hitler, Strasser, and Frick decided to out-smart the Chancellor, vote with the Communists, and defeat the Government before the Chamber could be dissolved.

Immediately the deputies had taken their seats again Göring, as President, announced that a vote would be taken at once on the Communist motion of no-confidence. Papen, rising in protest, requested the floor. But Göring, studiously affecting not to see the Chancellor, looked in the other direction, and the voting began. White with anger, Papen produced the traditional red portfolio which contained the decree of dissolution, thrust it on Göring’s table, then ostentatiously marched out of the Chamber accompanied by the other members of his cabinet. Still Göring had no eyes for anything but the voting. The Communist vote of no-confidence was carried by 513 votes to 32, and Göring promptly declared the Government overthrown. As for the scrap of paper laid on his desk, which he now found time to read, it was, he declared, obviously worthless since it had been countersigned by a Chancellor who had now been deposed.

Whether — as the Nazis affected to believe — the elaborate farce in the Reichstag, and the almost unanimous vote against him, had really damaged Papen or not, for the moment the Chancellor had the advantage. For Papen insisted that, as the decree of dissolution had already been signed and placed on the table before the vote took place, the result of the motion was invalid. The Reichstag was dissolved, after sitting for less than a day, and the Nazis faced the fifth major electoral contest of the year.

Privately they were only too well aware that Papen was right and that they must count on a reduced vote. Hitler refused to consider a compromise, and accepted von Papen’s challenge, but there was no disguising the fact that this would be the toughest fight of all. On 16 September Goebbels wrote with a heavy heart: ‘Now we are in for elections again! One sometimes feels this sort of thing is going on for ever.... Our adversaries count on our losing morale, and getting fagged out. But we know this and will not oblige them. We would be lost and all our work would have been in vain if we gave in now ..., even if the struggle should seem hopeless.’[246] A month later he admitted: ‘The organization has naturally become a bit on edge through these everlasting elections. It is as jaded as a battalion which has been too long in the trenches, and just as nervy. The numerous difficulties are wearing me out.’[247]

One of the worst difficulties was lack of money. Four elections since March had eaten deep into the Party’s resources, and the invaluable contributions from outside had lately begun to dwindle. Hitler’s refusal to come to terms, his arrogant claim for the whole power, his condonation of violence at Potempa, the swing towards Radicalism in the campaign against the ‘ Government of Reaction’ — all these factors, combined, no doubt, with strong hints from von Papen to industrial and business circles not to ease the blockade, had placed the Party in a tight spot. In the middle of October Goebbels complained: ‘Money is extraordinarily difficult to obtain. All gentlemen of “Property and Education” are standing by the Government.’[248]

In these circumstances it was only Hitler’s determination and leadership that kept the Party going. His confidence in himself never wavered. When the Gauleiters assembled at Munich early in October he used all his arts to put new life and energy into them. ‘He is great and surpasses us all,’ Goebbels wrote enthusiastically. ‘He raises the Party’s spirits out of the blackest depression. With him as leader the movement must succeed.’

Another picture of the Nazi leader at this time is given by Kurt Ludecke.[249] Ludecke had gone to visit Hitler in Munich at the end of September, and, after an evening spent in Hitler’s company at his Munich flat listening to him denounce the influence of Christianity, he accompanied him by car to a mass Hitler Youth demonstration at Potsdam.

Ludecke found Hitler imperturbable and confident, already talking of what he would do when he became Chancellor. They started out from Munich in the late afternoon in three powerful Mercedes, one of them filled with Hitler’s bodyguard of eight, armed with revolvers and hippopotamus whips, under the command of Sepp Dietrich, later to achieve fame as an S.S. general. Hitler, although he never took the wheel himself, had a passion for speed, and they drove fast across Bavaria towards the frontiers of Saxony. Ludecke talked about America, and Hitler, who had never been out of Germany, questioned him eagerly. As a boy he had read Karl May’s stories about the Red Indians, and they found a common interest in the adventures of Old Shatterhand and Winnetou. Every time Hitler dozed he would rouse himself again: ‘Go on, go on — I mustn’t fall asleep. I’m listening.’ At Nuremberg Julius Streicher was waiting, while at Bemeck, where they paused for a brief sleep in an inn, Göring met them and stayed talking with Hitler until 4 a.m. Soon after nine they were on the road again, a road of which Hitler knew every bend and dip, halting for a picnic lunch and then driving through the Communist districts of Saxony. At one point they passed a line of trucks filled with Communist demonstrators. ‘We slowed down. It was apparent that because of the state of the road we were going to have to pass them at low speed. I could see Sepp Dietrich whistling through his teeth. Everybody stopped talking, and I noticed that the right hand of each of the men in the car in front disappeared at his side. We crept by. Everyone, the Führer included, looked straight into the faces of the Communists.’ He was recognized and hissed at, but nobody dared to interfere with the bodyguard.

At Potsdam more than a hundred thousand boys and girls of the Hitler Youth had gathered in the torch-lit stadium. After a brief address Hitler spent the rest of the night trying to find accommodation for the thousands who had arrived unexpectedly. In the morning the review began at eleven o’clock on a sunny October day. From then until six o’clock in the evening, for seven hours, Hitler stood to take the salute as the steady columns of brown-shirted Hitler Youth marched past him. Once he came over to Ludecke and said: ‘You see ? No fear — the German race is on the march.’ Later that night, after Hitler had dined with Prince Auwi, one of the Kaiser’s sons who had joined the S.A., Ludecke saw him again in the train for Munich. ‘As we stepped into the railway carriage, Brückner, Hitler’s adjutant, blocked the way: “Leave him alone,” he said. “The man’s played out.” He was sitting in the comer of the compartment, utterly spent. Hitler motioned weakly to us to come in. He looked for a second into my eyes, clasped my hand feebly, and I left.

‘When next I saw him he was Chancellor.’[250]

The genuineness of the Nazis’ radical campaign against the ‘caste government of Reaction’ was put to the test a few days before the election by the outbreak of a transport strike in Berlin. The strike was caused by a cut in wages as part of Papen’s policy of meeting the crisis. It was disavowed by the Social Democrats and the Trade Unions, but was backed by the Communists. To many people’s surprise the Nazis joined the Communists in supporting the strikers. Goebbels, in his diary, is quite frank about the reasons: ‘The entire Press is furious with us and calls it Bolshevism; but as a matter of fact we had no option. If we had held ourselves aloof from this strike our position among the working classes would have been shaken. Here a great occasion offers once again of demonstrating to the public that the line we have taken up in politics is dictated by a true sympathy with the people, and for this reason the N.S. party purposely eschews the old bourgeois methods.’[251]

The Nazi move, however, had other consequences as well. The next day Goebbels wrote: ‘Scarcity of money has become chronic.... The strike is grist to the mill of the bourgeois Press. They are exploiting it against us unconscionably. Many of our staunch partisans, even, are beginning to have their doubts.... The consequences of the strike are daily putting us into new predicaments.’[252]

The election campaign came to an end on the evening of 5 November. ‘Last attack,’ Goebbels commented. ‘Desperate drive of the Party against defeat. We succeed in obtaining ten thousand marks at the very last moment. These are to be thrown into the campaign on Saturday afternoon. We have done all possible. Now let Fate decide.’[253]


The Nazi leaders were under no illusions about the election results. The fifth election of the year found a mood of stubborn apathy growing among the German people, a feeling of indifference and disbelief, against which propaganda and agitation beat in vain. It was precisely on this that Papen had calculated and his calculation was not far wrong. For the first time since 1930 the Nazis lost votes, two millions of the 13,745,000 they had polled in July 1932, cutting their percentage from 37–3 to 33–1. Their seats in the Reichstag were reduced from 230 out of 608 to 196 out of 584, although they still remained by far the largest party in the Chamber.

This set-back was thrown into sharper relief by the success of two other parties. The Nationalists, who had been steadily losing votes since 1924, suddenly raised the number of their seats from 37 to 52, and the Communists, who polled close on six million votes, secured a hundred seats in the Reichstag. The Communist success was particularly striking for it showed that the Nazis were beginning to lose their hold on that current of revolt which had so far carried them forward. It was no secret that the bulk of the Communists’ new voters were disillusioned supporters of the Nazis and the Social Democrats, looking for a genuinely revolutionary party.

Papen was delighted with the results, which he regarded as a moral victory for his government and a heavier defeat for Hitler than the figures actually showed. The Nazi movement had always claimed to be different from the other parties, to be a movement of national resurgence. Now its spell was broken, the emptiness of its claims exposed and Hitler himself reduced to the proportions of any other politician scrambling for power. Its fall, Papen was convinced, would be as rapid as its rise. If Hitler wanted power he had better come to terms before his electoral assets dwindled still further.

At first, therefore, it looked as if the November elections would be followed by a repetition of what had happened after 31 July, with the odds against Hitler lengthened, and a much greater likelihood of his being forced to accept von Papen’s terms. In this third period, however, it was Papen who overplayed his hand, with unexpected results.

Determined, in spite of the electoral set-back, not to walk into another trap like that of 13 August, Hitler sat tight and refused to be drawn by Papen’s first indirect approaches. On 9 November Goebbels recorded in his diary: ‘The Wilhelmstrasse has sent an emissary to the Leader. The same conditions are proposed as those suggested on 13 August (i.e. the Vice-Chancellorship), but he remains inexorable.’ Three days later he wrote: ‘The Leader is keeping away from Berlin. The Wilhelmstrasse waits for him in vain; and that is well. We must not give in as we did on 13 August.’[254]

On 13 November Papen wrote officially to Hitler suggesting that they should bury their differences and renew negotiations for a concentration of all the nationally minded parties.[255] Hitler let a couple of days pass, and replied at length on the 16th with a letter which was an open rebuff. He laid down four conditions for any negotiations: that they should be conducted in writing, so that there could be no disagreement this time about what was said; that the Chancellor should take full responsibility for his actions, and not try to dodge behind the figure of the President as he had in August; that he, Hitler, should be told in advance what policy he was being asked to support, ‘since, in spite of the closest consideration, I have never quite understood the present Government’s programme’; and, finally, that the Chancellor should assure him that Hugenberg, the leader of the Nationalists, was prepared to enter a national bloc.[256] Hitler’s reply ruled out the possibility of any further negotiations between himself and Papen at this stage. Indeed, he had already issued a manifesto immediately after the elections in which, underlining the fact that ninety per cent of the nation were ranged against the Government, he had charged Papen with the responsibility for the increase in the Communist vote. By this reactionary policy, Hitler declared, Papen was driving the masses to Bolshevism. There could be no compromise with such a régime.

While this exchange was taking place, Papen, who was perfectly prepared to plunge the country into still another election in order to force the Nazis to their knees, unexpectedly encountered opposition in his own Cabinet, notably from Schleicher. Not only was Schleicher irritated by Papen’s increasing independence and the close relationship he had established with the President, but he began to see in Papen’s personal quarrel with Hitler, and his determination to prosecute it to the limit, an obstacle to securing that concentration of the ‘national’ forces which was, in Schleicher’s view, the only reason for ever having made Papen Chancellor. Papen was now beginning to talk confidently of governing the country by a dictatorship, if Hitler would not come to his senses. Schleicher, on the other hand, had not failed to notice the ominous increase in the Communist vote, the growing radicalism of the Nazis and their cooperation with the Communists in the Berlin transport strike. He was more than ever alarmed at the prospect of a civil war in which both the Communists and the Nazis might be on the other side of the barricade. It did not take long for him to reach the conclusion that Papen was becoming more of a hindrance than an asset to the policy of a deal with the Nazis which was still his own objective.

Schleicher found support for his views in the Cabinet, and Papen was urged to resign, in order to allow the President to consult the Party leaders and try to find a way out of the deadlock, which appeared to be impossible so long as he remained in office. With considerable shrewdness Papen swallowed his anger and agreed; he was confident that, in any case, negotiations with Hitler and the other Party leaders would not remove the deadlock, and that after their failure he would return to office with his hand strengthened. He would then be able to insist on whatever course he saw fit to recommend. His own influence over the President, and the fact that Hindenburg was obviously irritated by the whole affair, saw no reason at all why he should part with Papen, and had become increasingly suspicious of Schleicher, augured well for the success of these calculations. Accordingly, on 17 November, Papen tendered the resignation of his Cabinet, and the President, on his advice, requested Hitler to call on him.

Events followed the course Papen had foreseen. On 18 November Hitler arrived in Berlin and spent some hours in discussion with Goebbels, Frick, and Strasser; Göring was hastily summoned from Rome, where he had been engaged in talks with Mussolini. The next day, cheered by the crowds, Hitler drove to the Palace. The conversation was at least more friendly than the chilly interview of 13 August. He was invited to sit down and stayed for over an hour. A second conference followed on the 21st. The gist of Hindenburg’s offer was contained in three sentences from the official record of the discussion on the 21st. ‘You have declared,’ the President said, ‘that you will only place your movement at the disposal of a government of which you, the leader of the Party, are the head. If I consider your proposal, I must demand that such a Cabinet should have a majority in the Reichstag. Accordingly, I ask you, as the leader of the largest party, to ascertain, if and on what conditions, you could obtain a secure workable majority in the Reichstag on a definite programme.’

On the face of it this was a fair offer, but it was so designed as to make it impossible for Hitler to succeed. For Hitler could not secure a majority in the Reichstag. The Centre Party, in view of their vendetta with Papen, might be willing to join a coalition with Hitler — Göring was already engaged in negotiating with the Centre leaders — but Hugenberg and the Nationalists would never come in. In any case, what Hitler wanted was to be made, not a parliamentary Chancellor, shackled by a coalition, but a presidential Chancellor, with the same sweeping powers as the President had given to Papen. To this the old man sternly refused to agree. If Germany had to be governed by the emergency powers of a presidential Chancellor, then there was no point in replacing Papen; the only argument in favour of his resignation was that Hitler would be able to provide something which Papen had failed to secure, namely, a parliamentary majority.

A lengthy correspondence between Hitler and the President’s State Secretary, Meissner, failed to alter the terms of the offer. Papen’s presidential Cabinet, Meissner pointed out, had resigned ‘because it could not find a majority in parliament to tolerate its measures. Consequently a new presidential Cabinet would be an improvement only if it could eliminate this deficiency.’[257] In his final letter on the 24th Meissner said that the President was unable to give the powers of a presidential Chancellor to a Party leader ‘ because such a Cabinet is bound to develop into a party dictatorship and increase the state of tension prevailing among the German people.’ For this the President could not take the responsibility before his oath and his conscience. Hitler could only retort that the negotiations had been foredoomed to fail in view of Hindenburg’s resolve to keep Papen, whatever the cost. There was nothing left but to admit defeat and break off the negotiations. Once again the policy of legality had led to public humiliation; once again the Leader returned from the President’s palace empty-handed and out-manoeuvred.

Discussions between the President and other Party leaders produced no better result. But at this point Papen’s calculations began to go wrong. For Schleicher, too, had not been idle, and through Gregor Strasser he was now sounding out the possibility of the Nazis joining a Cabinet in which, not Papen, but Schleicher himself would take the Chancellorship. The offer was communicated to Hitler in Munich, and on the evening of 29 November Hitler left by train for the north. According to one version, Hitler was inclined to accept and was already on his way to Berlin when he was intercepted by Göring at Jena, persuaded to go no farther and taken off to Weimar for a conference with the other Nazi leaders. For once the Nazi version, as it is given by Otto Dietrich and Goebbels, seems more probable: according to this, Hitler declined to be drawn by Schleicher’s move and called a conference of his chief lieutenants at Weimar, where he was already due to take part in the election campaign for the forthcoming Thuringian elections. At this Weimar conference, on 1 December, Strasser came out strongly in favour of joining a Schleicher Cabinet and found some support from Frick. Göring and Goebbels, however, were opposed to such a course, and Hitler accepted their point of view. A long talk with an officer, Major Ott, whom Schleicher had sent to see Hitler at Weimar, failed to change this decision; Hitler still held out and was only prepared to make a deal on his own terms. Goebbels wrote in his diary: ‘Anyone can see that the “System” is breathing its last, and that it would be a crime to form an alliance with it at the present moment.’[258]

Meanwhile, on the evening of 1 December, Schleicher and Papen saw Hindenburg together. Papen’s plan was perfectly clear: the attempt to find an alternative government had failed, and he proposed that he should resume office, prorogue the Reichstag indefinitely, and prepare a reform of the constitution to provide for a new electoral law and the establishment of a second Chamber. Until that could be carried out he would proclaim a state of emergency, govern by decree, and use force to smash any opposition. Schleicher’s objections were threefold: such a course was unconstitutional; it involved a danger of civil war, since the vast majority of the nation had declared themselves emphatically opposed to Papen in two elections ; and it was unnecessary. He announced that he was convinced he himself could obtain a parliamentary majority in the Reichstag.

If Hitler would not join him, he was confident that he could detach Gregor Strasser and as many as sixty Nazi deputies from the Party. To these, Schleicher believed, he could add the middleclass parties and the Social Democrats, and might even win the support of the trade unions.

From the discussion that followed Papen emerged triumphant. The old President was shocked at Schleicher’s suggestion and turning to Papen entrusted him, not Schleicher, with the task of forming a new government.[259] But Schleicher had the last word. As he and Papen parted, he used the phrase addressed to Luther on the eve of his journey to the Diet of Worms: ‘Little Monk, you have chosen a difficult path.’

The next day, 2 December, Schleicher played his trump card once again. At a cabinet meeting held at nine o’clock in the evening, he announced that the Army no longer had confidence in Papen and was not prepared to take the risk of civil war — with both the Nazis and the Communists in opposition — which Papen’s policy would entail. Developing his argument, Schleicher produced one of his officers, Major Ott (later Hitler’s ambassador in Tokyo), to provide detailed evidence in its support. In November Schleicher had ordered the Ministry of Defence to discuss with the police and Army authorities what steps would have to be taken in the event of civil war. Their conclusion was that, in view of the possibility of a surprise attack by Poland at the same time as risings by the Communists and the Nazis and a general strike, the State did not possess sufficient forces to guarantee order. They must therefore recommend the Government not to declare a state of emergency.[260] Whether this was a just appreciation of the situation or not — Schleicher’s production of the report at this moment was too pat not to arouse suspicion — his authority as the representative of the Army was incontestable.

Once again the Army had shown itself to be the supreme arbiter in German politics, and Papen was left without a reply. ‘I went to Hindenburg,’ Papen told the Court at Nuremberg, ‘and reported to him. Herr von Hindenburg, deeply stirred by my report, said to me: “ I am an old man, and I cannot face a civil war of any sort in my country. If General von Schleicher is of this opinion, then I must — much as I regret it — withdraw the task with which I charged you last night.”’[261]

Von Papen had only two consolations, but they were to prove substantial. At last Schleicher, the man who had used his influence behind the scenes to unseat Müller, Groener, Brüning, and now Papen, was forced to come out into the open and assume personal responsibility for the success or failure of his plans. On 2 December General von Schleicher became the last Chancellor of preHitler Germany, and — Papen’s second consolation — he took office at a time when his credit with the President, on which he had drawn so lavishly in the past year, was destroyed. The old man, who had tolerated the intrigues which had led to the dismissal of Greener and Bruning, neither forgot nor forgave the methods by which Schleicher turned out Papen. Let von Schleicher succeed if he could; but if he failed, and turned to the President for support, he need expect no more loyalty or mercy than he had shown his own victims.


With the opening of the fourth and final period, from Schleicher’s Chancellorship which began on 2 December 1932, to Hitler’s which began on 30 January 1933, this tortuous story of political intrigue draws to its close. Yet the most surprising twists of all were reserved for the last chapter.

Schleicher had now to make good his claim that he could succeed where Papen had failed, and produce that national front, including the Nazis, which had been his consistent aim for two years. For all his love of intrigue and lack of scruple, Schleicher was an intelligent man. Without Papen’s class prejudices he had a far clearer conception than any of the men around the President of the depth and seriousness of the crisis through which German society had been passing since the end of 1929. He had never fallen into the error of supposing that ‘strong’ government by itself was a remedy for the crisis, nor did he underestimate the force which lay behind such extremist movements as the Nazis and the Communists. His aim, stated again and again in these years, was to harness one of these movements, the Nazis, to the service of the State.

Schleicher’s closest contact in the Nazi Party at this time was Gregor Strasser. If Hitler represented the will to power in the Party, and Rohm its preference for violence, Gregor Strasser represented its idealism — a brutalized idealism certainly, but a genuine desire to make a clean sweep. To Strasser National Socialism was a real political movement, not, as it was to Hitler, the instrument of his ambition. He took its programme seriously, as Hitler never had, and he was the leader of the Nazi Left-wing which, to the annoyance of Hitler’s industrialist friends, still dreamed of a German Socialism and still won votes for the Party by its anti-capitalist radicalism. But Strasser, if he was much more to the Left than the other Party leaders, was also the head of the Party Organization, more in touch with feeling throughout the local branches than anyone else, and more impressed than any of the other leaders by the set-backs of the autumn, culminating in the loss of two million votes at the November elections. Strasser was particularly impressed by the disillusionment of the more radical elements in the Party and their tendency to drift towards the Communists. He became convinced that the only course to save the Party from going to pieces was to make a compromise and get into power at once, even as part of a coalition. Hitler’s attitude he regarded as illogical. The Nazi leader’s insistence on legality offended and roused the suspicions of those who wanted a revolution, while his uncompromising demand for ‘all or nothing’ defeated his own policy when he was offered a share in power. Strasser was a convert to the tactics of legality, but saw the Party’s chance to influence government policy and carry out at least a part of its programme being sacrificed to Hitler’s ambition and his refusal to accept anything less than ‘the whole power’.

This division of opinion in the Party leadership, and the strains to which it gave rise, had been present for some time. Goebbels, who was Strasser’s sworn enemy, records Hitler’s first open mention of the conflict on 31 August. Thereafter there are a dozen references to Strasser’s ‘intrigues’ between the beginning of September and the beginning of December.

The day after Schleicher became Chancellor he sent for Gregor Strasser and made an offer to the Nazis. Having failed to get Hitler to discuss a deal, Schleicher suggested that Strasser himself should enter his Cabinet as Vice-Chancellor and MinisterPresident of the Prussian State Government. If he accepted, Strasser could take over Schleicher’s plans for dealing with unemployment and help to establish cooperation with the trade unions. Schleicher’s programme was a broad front extending from the reasonable Nazis to the reasonable Socialists, with an energetic programme to reduce unemployment. The offer to Strasser was a clever move on Schleicher’s part. Not only was it attractive to Strasser as a way out of the Party’s difficulties, but it would almost certainly split the Party leadership. In that case, if Hitler stood out Strasser might agree to come into the Cabinet on his own responsibility, and carry his following out of the Party. The same day, 3 December, elections in Thuringia showed nearly a forty per cent drop in the Nazi vote since July. This added force to Strasser’s arguments for accepting Schleicher’s offer in order at all costs to avoid further national elections.

On 5 December a conference of the Party leaders was held in the Kaiserhof. Strasser found support from Frick, the leader of the Nazi group in the Reichstag, whose members were powerfully impressed by the Thuringian results and the threat that they might lose their seats and salaries in a new election. Göring and Goebbels, however, were hotly opposed, and carried Hitler with them. Hitler laid down terms for discussion with Schleicher, but placed the negotiations with the Chancellor in the hands of Göring and Frick — according to another version, of Göring and Röhm — deliberately excluding Strasser. On 7 December Hitler and Strasser had a further conversation in the Kaiserhof, in the course of which Hitler bitterly accused Strasser of bad faith, of trying to go behind his back and oust him from the leadership of the Party. Strasser angrily retorted that he had been entirely loyal, and had Only thought of the interests of the Party. Going back to his room in the Hotel Excelsior, he sat down and wrote Hitler a long letter in which he resigned from his position in the Party. He reviewed the whole course of their relationship since 1925, attacked the irresponsibility and inconsistency of Hitler’s tactics, and prophesied disaster if he persisted in them.

It is possible that if Strasser had stayed to fight out his quarrel with Hitler he could have carried a majority of the Party with him, although it would be unwise to underestimate Hitler’s wiliness when in a corner. There is no doubt that Hitler was shaken by Strasser’s revolt, as he had never been by any electoral defeat. The threat to his own authority in the Party touched him more closely than the loss of votes or the failure of negotiations had ever done. Goebbels wrote in his diary: ‘ In the evening the Leader comes to us. It is difficult to be cheerful. We are all rather downcast, in view of the danger of the whole Party falling to pieces and all our work being in vain. We are confronted with the great test.... Phone call from Ley. The situation in the Party is getting worse from hour to hour. The Leader must immediately return to the Kaiserhof.... Treachery, treachery, treachery! For hours the Leader paces up and down the room in the hotel. Suddenly he stops and says: “If the Party once falls to pieces, I shall shoot myself without more ado’.”’[262]

But Strasser had always lacked the toughness to challenge Hitler outright, as his earlier capitulations had shown. When his brother, Otto, had defied Hitler and been cast off, Gregor Strasser had made his peace and remained. He had never planned a revolt such as Hitler suspected, and now, instead of rallying the latent opposition to Hitler in the Party, he cursed the whole business and vanished without a word. While Frick searched anxiously for him in Berlin, he caught the train to Munich, and took his family off for a holiday in Italy.

Strasser’s disappearance gave Hitler time to recover his confidence and quell any signs of mutiny. The Party’s Political Organization department was broken up, Ley taking over part of its duties under Hitler’s direct supervision, the rest being transferred to Goebbels and Darré. A declaration condemning Strasser in the sharpest terms was submitted to a full meeting of the Party leaders and Gauleiters in the Palace of the President of the Reichstag on 9 December. When Feder, who shared Strasser’s Socialist ideals, refused to accept it, he was told to sign or get out. He signed. Hitler used all his skill to appeal to the loyalty of his old comrades and brought tears to their eyes. With a sob in his voice he declared that he would never have believed Strasser guilty of such treachery. Julius Streicher blubbered: ‘Maddening that Strasser could do this to our leader.’ At the end of this emotional tour de force ‘the Gauleiters and Deputies,’ Goebbels records, ‘burst into a spontaneous ovation for the leader. All shake hands with him, promising to carry on until the very end and not to renounce the great Idea, come what may. Strasser now is completely isolated, a dead man. A small circle of us remain with the Leader, who is quite cheerful and elated again. The feeling that the whole Party is standing by him with a loyalty never hitherto displayed has raised his spirits and invigorated him.’[263] A few days later, on 15 December, a Central Party Commission was set up under Hess to supervise and coordinate the policy of the Party throughout Germany.

While Hitler worked to restore the threatened unity of his Party, Schleicher continued his talks with the other Party leaders, including representatives of the trade unions. The failure to bring in the Nazis at this stage did not unduly depress him. On 15 December he expounded his plans in a broadcast to the nation. He asked his listeners to forget that he was a soldier, and to think of him as ‘the impartial trustee of the interests of all in an emergency’. He supported neither Capitalism nor Socialism, he declared: his aim was to provide work. A Reich Commissioner had been appointed to draw up plans for reducing unemployment; meanwhile there would be no new taxes or further wage cuts. The system of agricultural quotas which Papen had introduced for the benefit of the big landowners would be ended; a huge programme of subsidized land settlement in the eastern provinces would be undertaken; and the Government would control prices, in the first place those of meat and coal. The Chancellor followed his speech by the restoration of recent wage and relief cuts, and the grant of greater freedom of the Press and of assembly.

In the event, Schleicher fell between two stools. He failed to overcome the distrust and hostility of the Social Democrats and the trade unions, or even of the Centre, which, remembering his part in the overthrow of Brüning, was not converted to his support by his advocacy of a policy not unlike Brüning’s own. At the same time he stirred up the violent opposition of powerful interests in industry and agriculture. The industrialists disliked his conciliatory attitude towards labour; the farmers were furious at his reduction of agricultural protection; the East Elbian landowners denounced his plans for land settlement as ‘agrarian Bolshevism’ with the same uncompromising class spirit they had shown towards Brüning.

Schleicher made the great mistake of underestimating the forces opposed to him. In January 1933, Kurt von Schuschnigg, at that time Austrian Minister of Justice, paid a call on the Chancellor while visiting Berlin. ‘General von Schleicher,’ he wrote later, ‘showed himself to be exceptionally optimistic with regard to the state of affairs in the Reich, of which he talked in very lively terms, particularly as regards its economic and political prospects. I remember clearly the words he used in this connexion: he was endeavouring, he said, to establish contacts throughout the tradeunion organizations, and hoped in this way to build up a sound political platform, which would ensure a peaceful and prosperous development of the political situation. Herr Hitler was no longer a problem, his movement had ceased to be a political danger, and the whole problem had been solved, it was a thing of the past.’[264] Schuschnigg was so surprised by Schleicher’s optimism, which no one else in Berlin shared, that he made a note of the conversation and its date: it was 15 January. A fortnight later Schleicher was to be sadly disillusioned.

The basis of the Chancellor’s confidence was his belief that his enemies were unable to combine against him. So far as the Nazis were concerned there were good grounds for believing them to be a declining force. The last three months before Hitler came to power — November and December 1932, January 1933 — marked the lowest point of Hitler’s fortunes since he had broken into national politics in 1930. The most immediate problem was shortage of funds. The Nazi organization — an embryonic State within the framework of the old State, as Hitler claimed — was highly expensive to run. The Party was filled with thousands of officials who kept their places on the Party pay-roll often without clearly defined functions, often with duties that were either unnecessary or duplicated by someone else. The S.A., the hard core of which consisted of unemployed men who lived in S.A. messes and barracks, must have cost immense sums, however limited the amount spent on each man. Even at the rate of one mark a day, which is probably too low, that would mean an expenditure of the order of two million eight hundred thousand marks a week. Goebbels’s own comments on party finances are despondent:

11 November — Receive a report on the financial situation of the Berlin organization. It is hopeless. Nothing but debts and obligations, together with the complete impossibility of obtaining any reasonable sum of money after this defeat.

10 December - The financial situation of Gau Berlin is hopeless. We must institute strict measures of economy, and make it self-supporting. 22 December - We must cut down the salaries of our Gauleiters, as otherwise we cannot manage to make shift with our finances.[265]

This was the time when S.A. men were sent into the streets to beg for money, rattling their boxes and asking passers-by to spare something ‘for the wicked Nazis’. Konrad Heiden speaks of debts of twelve million marks, others of twenty million.

More serious was the sense of defeatism and demoralization in the Party. The very day after the loyal demonstration in Göring’s palace, Goebbels noted: ‘The feeling in the Party is still divided. All are waiting for something to happen.’[266] Every week-end after the Strasser crisis, Hitler, Göring, Ley, and Goebbels visited the different Gaue to talk to Party officials, and restore their confidence in the leadership. On 12 December, for instance, Goebbels reports that Hitler returned from a tour of Saxony where he spoke three times a day. The same evening he spoke again in Breslau. On the 18th, after speaking in Hagen and Münster, Goebbels joined Ley for a visit to the Ruhr. Together they addressed eight thousand local officials, Amtswalter, at Essen, and another ten thousand at Düsseldorf. Despite Goebbels’s efforts at whistling in the dark to keep his spirits up, at the end of 1932, two and a half years after the first great election campaign, he wrote in his diary: ‘This year has brought us eternal ill-luck.... The past was sad, and the future looks dark and gloomy; all chances and hopes have quite disappeared.’[267]

Suddenly, at the turn of the year, Hitler’s luck changed, and a chance offered itself. The varied antagonisms which Schleicher had aroused found a common broker in the unexpected figure of Franz von Papen, and on 4 January Papen and Hitler met quietly in the house of the Cologne banker, Kurt von Schröder. The circumstances and purpose of this meeting have been much disputed: the account followed here is in the main that given by Schröder himself in a statement made at Nuremberg on 5 December 1945.[268] The meeting was arranged through Wilhelm Keppler, one of the Nazi ‘contact-men’ with the world of business and industry. The idea was broached to Schröder by Papen about 10 December 1932. About the same time Keppler got in touch with Schröder with a similar proposal from Hitler. The beginning of January was fixed upon, when Papen would be staying in the Saar, and Hitler would be going to conduct an election campaign in Lippe-Detmold. Considerable precautions were taken to keep the meeting secret. Hitler took a night train to Bonn, drove to Godesberg, changed cars, and, giving the rest of his party a rendezvous outside Cologne, disappeared in a closed car for an unknown destination.

Hitler took with him Hess, Himmler, and Keppler, but the talk with Papen, which lasted for two hours, was held in Schroder’s study with only the banker present besides the two principals. First, misunderstandings had to be removed: the sentence on the Potempa murderers and Papen’s behaviour on 13 August. Papen slipped out of the responsibility for Hitler’s humiliation by putting all the blame on Schleicher for Hindenburg’s refusal to consider Hitler as Chancellor. The change of attitude on the President’s part, he said, had come as a great surprise to him. But what Papen had really come to talk about was the prospect of replacing Schleicher’s Government: he suggested the establishment of a Nationalist and Nazi coalition in which he and Hitler would be joint Chancellors. ‘Then Hitler made a long speech in which he said, if he were made Chancellor, it would be necessary for him to be the head of the Government, but that supporters of Papen’s could go into his Government as ministers, if they were willing to go along with him in his policy of changing many things. The changes he outlined at this time included elimination of the Social Democrats, Communists, and Jews from leading positions in Germany, and the restoration of order in public life. Papen and Hitler reached agreement in principle so that many of the points which had brought them in conflict could be eliminated and they could find a way to get together.’ After lunch Schroder’s guests stayed chatting together and left about 4 p.m.

Next day, to the embarrassment of both the participants, the meeting was headline news in the Berlin papers, and awkward explanations had to be given. Papen denied that the meeting was in any way directed against Schleicher, and, at his trial in Nuremberg,[269] he not only repudiated Schroder’s account as entirely false, but claimed that his main purpose had been to persuade Hitler to enter the Schleicher Cabinet. There seems no reason to suppose, however, that Schroder gave an inaccurate report; perhaps Papen’s memory played him a trick for once.

It is certainly wrong to suppose that the Hitler-Papen Government, which was to replace Schleicher, was agreed upon at Cologne; much hard bargaining lay ahead, and Schleicher’s position had still to be more thoroughly undermined. But the first contact had been made; the two men had found common ground in their dislike of Schleicher and their desire to be revenged on him, each had sounded out the other’s willingness for a deal. Hitler, moreover, received the valuable information that Schleicher had not been given the power to dissolve the Reichstag by the President, and — a point about which Schroder is modestly silent — arrangements were made to relieve the financial straits of the Nazi Party. Schroder was one of a group of industrialists and bankers who, in November 1932, sent a joint letter to Hindenburg urging him to give Hitler the powers to form a presidential cabinet.[270] Among those who had been active in collecting signatures was Dr Schacht,[271] and those who signed included many of the leaders of West German industry. At that time Papen had intervened to cut off financial supplies from the Nazis, but now, with his blessing and Schroder’s help, arrangements were made to pay the Nazis’ debts. Hitler’s break with Gregor Strasser, the acknowledged leader of the radical, anticapitalist wing of the Party, may well have helped to make the agreement more easy. A few days later Goebbels noted: ‘The financial situation has improved all of a sudden.’[272] The political hopes of the Nazis rose at the same time. On 5 January, commenting on the news of the meeting, Goebbels remarked: ‘The present Government knows that this is the end for them. If we are successful, we cannot be far from power.’[273]

The Nazis could do little to help forward the intrigue against Schleicher; that had to be left to von Papen, who was still by chance living next door to the President in Berlin, and was a welcome and frequent visitor in his house.[274] It was important, however, to remove the impression of their declining strength. For this purpose Hitler decided to concentrate all the Party’s resources on winning the elections in the tiny state of Lippe. The total vote at stake was only ninety thousand, but Hitler and Goebbels made their headquarters at Baron von Oynhausen’s castle, Schloss Vinsebeck, and spent days haranguing meetings in the villages and small towns of the district. At Schwalenberg Hitler declared: ‘ Power comes at last in Germany only to him who has anchored this power most deeply in the people.’[275] On 15 January the Nazis were rewarded by an electoral victory in which they secured 39–6 per cent of the votes, a rise of 17 per cent. The Nazi Press brought out banner headlines, claiming that the Party was on the march again. ‘ Signal Lippe ’ was the title of Goebbels’s own leader, and so loud was the noise made by the Nazi propaganda band that, even against their own better judgement, the group round the President were impressed.

The Nazis then proceeded to follow their success at Lippe by staging a mass demonstration in front of the Communist headquarters in Berlin, the Karl Liebknecht Haus. ‘We shall stake everything on one throw to win back the streets of Berlin,’ Goebbels wrote. The Government, after some hesitation, banned the Communists’ counter-demonstration, and on 22 January, with a full escort of armed police, ten thousand S.A. men paraded on the Biilowplatz and listened to a ranting speech by Hitler. ‘The Bulow Platz is ours,’ Goebbels exulted. ‘The Communists have suffered a great defeat.... This day is a proud and heroic victory for the S.A. and the Party.’[276]

By 20 January it was clear that Schleicher’s attempt to construct a broad front representing all but the extremist parties had failed. The possibility of Gregor Strasser entering Schleicher’s Cabinet was revived at the beginning of January, when Strasser returned to Berlin; and on 4 January, the day Hitler was meeting Papen in Cologne, Schleicher arranged for Strasser to talk to Hindenburg. As late as 14 January Goebbels was speculating anxiously on Strasser’s entry into the Government. By the 16th, however, Goebbels writes that the papers are dropping Strasser and that he is finished; by the 19th Strasser was asking to see Hitler, and was refused.

One after another all the German Party leaders turned down Schleicher’s approaches. The Nationalists had been alienated by the Chancellor’s schemes for land colonization and by the threat to publish a secret Reichstag report on the scandals of the Osthilfe, the ‘loans’ which successive governments had made available to distressed landowners in the eastern provinces. They finally broke with Schleicher on 21 January and turned to the Nazis. Hitler had already seen Hugenberg, the Nationalist leader, on the 17th, and the final stage of negotiations for a NaziNationalist Coalition opened on the evening of the 22nd in Ribbentrop’s house at Dahlem.

Up to the very evening before the announcement of Hitler’s Chancellorship, Papen continued to balance two possible plans. Either he could become Chancellor himself, with the support of Hugenberg and the Nationalists, in a presidential cabinet and dissolve the Reichstag for an indefinite period; or he could take the office of Vice-Chancellor in a Hitler Ministry, which would aim at a parliamentary majority with the help of the Nationalists and possibly of the Centre, dissolving the Reichstag if necessary in order to win a majority at fresh elections. In the second case, guarantees of various sorts would have to be obtained against the Nazis’ abuse of power, they would have to be tied down by their partners in the coalition and the President’s dislike of having Hitler as Chancellor would have to be overcome. Though he still insisted on the Chancellorship for himself, Hitler was now prepared to enter a coalition and to search for a parliamentary majority, but there was room for a great deal of manoeuvring and bargaining on the composition of the Cabinet and the reservation of certain posts — the Foreign Minister and the Minister President of Prussia, the Ministers of Defence and Finance — for the President’s own nominees.

On the Nazi side the principal negotiator was Göring, who was hastily summoned back from Dresden on 22 January for a meeting that evening, at which Papen, Meissner, and the President’s son, Oskar von Hindenburg, met Hitler, Göring, and Frick.[277] One important gain Hitler made that night was to win over Oskar von Hindenburg, with whom he had a private conversation of an hour. It is believed that Hitler secured his support by a mixture of bribes and blackmail, possibly threatening to start proceedings to impeach the President and to disclose Oskar’s part in the Osthilfe scandals and tax evasion on the presidential estate at Neudeck. It is not perhaps irrelevant to note that in August 1933 five thousand acres tax free were added to the Hindenburg estate, and that a year later Oskar was promoted from colonel to major-general. ‘In the taxi on the way back,’ Meissner recorded, ‘ Oskar von Hindenburg was extremely silent, and the only remark he made was that it could not be helped — the Nazis had to be taken into the Government.’[278]

The negotiations continued for another week. On the 23rd, the day after Hitler’s meeting with Papen and Oskar von Hindenburg, Schleicher went to see the President. His hopes of splitting the Nazi Party had been frustrated; he admitted that he could not find a parliamentary majority and he asked for power to dissolve the Reichstag and govern by emergency decree. Hindenburg refused, using the same argument Schleicher himself had employed against Papen on 2 December: that such a course would lead to civil war. Ironically, Schleicher had reached the same position as Papen at the beginning of December, when he had forced Papen out because the latter wanted to fight Hitler, and had himself urged the need to form a government which would have the support of the National Socialists. The positions were exactly reversed, for it was now Papen who was able to offer the President the alternative which Schleicher had advocated in December, the formation of a government with a parliamentary majority in which the Nazi leader would himself take a responsible position. With the knowledge that this alternative was now being prepared behind Schleicher’s back (Hitler and Papen had met again on the 24th), the President again refused his request on 28 January for power to dissolve the Reichstag, and left the Chancellor with no option but to resign. At noon the same day, Hindenburg officially entrusted Papen with the negotiations to provide a new government.

It was still uncertain whether it would be possible to bring Hitler and Hugenberg into the same coalition, and Papen had not yet put out of his mind the possibility of a presidential chancellorship with the support of Hugenberg and the Nationalists alone. Eager at any cost to prevent a Papen Chancellorship, and still convinced that the only practical course was to bring Hitler into the Government, Schleicher sent the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, General von Hammerstein, to see Hitler at the Bechsteins’ house in Charlottenburg on the afternoon of Sunday, 29 January, and to warn him that they might still both be left out in the cold by Papen. In that case Schleicher put forward the suggestion of a Hitler-Schleicher coalition to rule with the united support of the Army and the Nazis. Hitler, however, who was still hoping to hear that agreement had been reached for a full coalition between Papen, Hugenberg, and himself, returned a non-committal reply.

Much more alarming to Hitler was the possibility that the Army, under the leadership of Schleicher and Hammerstein, might intervene at the last moment to prevent the formation of the proposed coalition. On the evening of the 29th a rumour spread that Schleicher was preparing a putsch with the support of the Potsdam garrison. According to Hitler’s own later account, he feared that Schleicher might carry off the President to East Prussia, and proclaim martial law.[279]

How much truth there may have been in this it is difficult to say.[280] If they ever seriously considered such a plan, Schleicher and Hammerstein took no steps to put it into effect. But Hitler could not afford to take chances. On the night of 29 January he placed the Berlin S.A. under Helldorf in a state of alert and arranged with a Nazi police major, Wecke, to have six battalions of police ready to occupy the Wilhelmstrasse. Warning messages were sent to Papen and Hindenburg. Finally, arrangements were made for General von Blomberg, who had been recalled from Geneva to act as the new Minister of Defence, to be taken to the President the moment he reached Berlin the following morning.

The keys to the attitude of the Army were held by the President, the old Field-Marshal who was the embodiment of the military tradition, and thus in a position to suppress any possible attempt at a coup, and by General von Blomberg. Hindenburg had agreed to the formation of a Ministry in which Hitler was to be Chancellor and had nominated Blomberg to serve as Minister of Defence under Hitler. If Blomberg accepted the President’s commission, Hitler could be virtually sure of the Army. It would be interesting to know how far Blomberg had been courted by the Nazis in advance. Both Blomberg and Colonel von Reichenau, his Chief of Staff while he was in command in East Prussia, had been in touch with Hitler,[281] and Blomberg, who had recently been serving as chief military adviser to the German delegation at the Disarmament Conference, had been hurriedly recalled without Schleicher’s or Hammerstein’s knowledge. Hammerstein’s adjutant, Major von Kuntzen, was at the station when Blomberg arrived early on the morning of 30 January and ordered the general to report at once to the Commander-in-Chief. But beside von Kuntzen, another officer, Oskar von Hindenburg, adjutant to his father, was also present and ordered Blomberg to report at once to the President of the Republic. Fortunately for Hitler, it was the latter summons which the general obeyed. He accepted his new commission from the President, and the threat of a lastminute repudiation by the Army was thereby avoided. In September 1933, Hitler declared: ‘On this day we would particularly remember the part played by our Army, for we all know well that if, in the days of our revolution, the Army had not stood on our side, then we should not be standing here today.’[282] For once he spoke no more than the truth.

It is possible that fear of what Schleicher might do helped Papen and Hugenberg to make up their minds and hastily compose their remaining differences with the Nazis. At any rate, on the morning of Monday the 30th, after a sleepless night during which he sat up with Göring and Goebbels to be ready for any eventuality, Hitler received the long-awaited summons to the President. The deal which Schleicher had made the object of his policy, and for which Strasser had worked, was accomplished at last, with Schleicher and Strasser left out.

During the morning a silent crowd filled the street between the Kaiserhof and the Chancellery. Already the members of the new coalition had begun to quarrel. While they were waiting in Meissner’s office to go into the President, Hitler started to complain that he had not been appointed Commissioner for Prussia. If his powers were to be limited, he would insist on new Reichstag elections. This at once set Hugenberg off and a heated argument began which was only ended by Meissner insisting that the President would wait no longer and ushering them into his presence.[283]

In the meantime, at a window of the Kaiserhof, Röhm was keeping an anxious watch on the door from which Hitler must emerge. Shortly after noon a roar went up from the crowd: the Leader was coming. He ran down the steps to his car and in a couple of minutes was back in the Kaiserhof. As he entered the room his lieutenants crowded to greet him. The improbable had happened: Adolf Hitler, the petty official’s son from Austria, the down-and-out of the Home for Men, the Meldegänger of the List Regiment, had become Chancellor of the German Reich.




Nazi propaganda later built up a legend which represented Hitler’s coining to power as the upsurge of a great national revival. The truth is more prosaic. Despite the mass support he had won, Hitler came to office in 1933 as the result, not of any irresistible revolutionary or national movement sweeping him into power, nor even of a popular victory at the polls, but as part of a shoddy political deal with the ‘Old Gang’ whom he had been attacking for months past. Hitler did not seize power; he was jobbed into office by a backstairs intrigue.

Far from being inevitable, Hitler’s success owed much to luck and even more to the bad judgement of his political opponents and rivals. While the curve of Communist success at the elections continued to rise, the Nazis had suffered their sharpest set-back in November 1932, when they lost two million votes. As Hitler freely admitted afterwards, the Party’s fortunes were at their lowest ebb when the unexpected intervention of Papen offered them a chance they could scarcely have foreseen.

Before he came to power Hitler never succeeded in winning more than thirty-seven per cent of the votes in a free election. Had the remaining sixty-three per cent of the German people been united in their opposition he could never have hoped to become Chancellor by legal means; he would have been forced to choose between taking the risks of a seizure of power by force or the continued frustration of his ambitions. He was saved from this awkward dilemma by two factors: the divisions and ineffectiveness of those who opposed him, and the willingness of the German Right to accept him as a partner in government.

The inability of the German parties to combine in support of the Republic had bedevilled German politics since 1930, when Bruning had found it no longer possible to secure a stable majority in the Reichstag or at the elections. The Communists openly announced that they would prefer to see the Nazis in power rather than lift a finger to save the Republic. Despite the violence of the clashes on the streets, the Communist leaders followed a policy approved by Moscow which gave priority to the elimination of the Social Democrats as the rival working-class party.

Once the organization of the Social Democratic Party and the trade unions had been destroyed and the Nazis were in power the Communists believed that they would be within sight of establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. Sectarian bitterness and dogmatic miscalculation continued to govern their actions even after Hitler became Chancellor, and they rejected any suggestion of a common front with the Social Democrats up to the dissolution of the Party by the new Government. The Social Democrats themselves, though more alive to the Nazi threat, had long since become a conservative trade-union party without a single leader capable of organizing a successful opposition to the Nazis. Though loyal to the Republic, since 1930 they had been on the defensive, had been badly shaken by the Depression and were hamstrung by the Communists’ attacks.

The Catholic Centre, like the Social Democrats, maintained its voting strength to the end, but it was notoriously a Party which had never taken a strong independent line, a Party whose first concern was to make an accommodation with any government in power in order to secure the protection of its particular interests. In 1932–3 the Centre Party was so far from recognizing the danger of a Nazi dictatorship that it continued negotiations for a coalition with the Nazis and voted for the Enabling Law which conferred overriding powers on Hitler after he had become Chancellor.

In the 1930s there was no strong middle-class liberal Party in Germany — the lack of such a Party has more than once been one of the disasters of German political development. The middleclass parties which might have played such a role — the People’s Party and the Democrats — had suffered a more severe loss of votes to the Nazis than any other German parties, and this is sufficient comment on the opposition they were likely to offer.

But the heaviest responsibility of all rests on the German Right, who not only failed to combine with the other parties in defence of the Republic but made Hitler their partner in a coalition government. The old ruling class of Imperial Germany had never reconciled itself to the loss of the war or to the overthrow of the monarchy in 1918. They were remarkably well treated by the Republican régime which followed. Many of them were left in positions of power and influence; their wealth and estates remained untouched by expropriation or nationalization; the Army leaders were allowed to maintain their independent position; the industrialists and business men made big profits out of a weak and complaisant government, while the help given to the Junkers’ estates was one of the financial scandals of the century. All this won neither their gratitude nor their loyalty. Whatever may be said of individuals, as a class they remained irreconcilable, contemptuous of and hostile to the régime they continued to exploit. The word ‘Nationalist’, which was the pride of the biggest Party of the Right, became synonymous with disloyalty to the Republic.

There was certainly a period after Hindenburg was elected President in 1925 when this attitude was modified, but it hardened again from 1929 onwards, and both Papen and Hugenberg shared it to the full. What the German Right wanted was to regain its old position in Germany as the ruling class; to destroy the hated Republic and restore the monarchy; to put the working classes ‘in their places’; to rebuild the military power of Germany; to reverse the decision of 1918 and to restore Germany — their Germany — to a dominant position in Europe. Blinded by interest and prejudice, the Right forsook the role of a true conservatism, abandoned its own traditions and made the gross mistake of supposing that in Hitler they had found a man who would enable them to achieve their ends. A large section of the German middle class, powerfully attracted by Hitler’s nationalism, and many of the German Officer Corps followed their lead.

This was the policy put into effect by the formation of the coalition between the Nazis and the Right at the end of January 1933. The assumption on which it was based was the belief that Hitler and the Nazis, once they had been brought into the government, could be held in check and tamed. At first sight the terms to which Hitler had agreed appeared to confirm this belief.

He was not even a presidential chancellor; Hindenburg had been persuaded to accept ‘the Bohemian corporal’ on the grounds that this time Hitler would be able to provide — what he had been unable to provide in November 1932 — a parliamentary majority. No sooner was the Cabinet formed than Hitler started negotiations to bring the Centre Party into the coalition. Their 70 seats added to the 247 held by the Nazis and the Nationalists would give the new government a majority in the Reichstag. For this purpose the Ministry of Justice had been kept vacant, and when these negotiations did not lead to agreement it was Hitler who insisted, against Hugenberg’s opposition, that new elections must be held in order to provide a parliamentary basis for the coalition in the form of an electoral majority.

Papen might well feel scepticism about Hitler’s sincerity in looking so assiduously for a parliamentary majority; but he still saw nothing but cause for self-congratulation on his own astuteness. He had levelled scores with General von Schleicher, yet at the same time realized Schleicher’s dream, the harnessing of the Nazis to the support of the State — and this, not on Hitler’s, but on his own terms. For Hitler, Papen assured his friends, was his prisoner, tied hand and foot by the conditions he had accepted. True, Hitler had the Chancellorship, but the real power, in Papen’s view, rested with the Vice-Chancellor, himself.

It was the Vice-Chancellor, not the Chancellor, who enjoyed the special confidence of the President; it was the Vice-Chancellor who held the key post of Minister — President of Prussia, with control of the Prussian administration and police; and the ViceChancellor who had the right, newly established, to be present on all occasions when the Chancellor made his report to the President.

Only three of the eleven Cabinet posts were held by Nazis, and apart from the Chancellorship both were second-rate positions. The Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defence — with control of the Army — had been reserved for men of the President’s own choice — the first for Freiherr von Neurath, a career diplomat of conservative views, the second for General von Blomberg. The key economic ministries — the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, both in the Reich and in Prussia — were in the hands of Hugenberg, while the Ministry of Labour had been given to Seldte, the leader of the Stahlhelm. This was highly reassuring to the industrialists and landowners. All that was left for Hitler’s own Party was the Reich Ministry of the Interior (which did not control the State’s police forces) for Frick, and a Ministry without Portfolio for Göring. In addition, Göring was made Prussian Minister of the Interior, but, with Papen as head of the Prussian Government, Göring too would be pinned down.

It was with these arguments that Papen overcame Hindenburg’s reluctance to make Hitler Chancellor. In this way they would obtain that mass support which the ‘Cabinet of Barons’ had so notoriously lacked. Hitler was to play his old role of ‘Drummer’, the barker for a circus-show in which he was now to have a place as partner and his name at the top of the bill, but in which the real decisions would be taken by those who outnumbered him by eight to three in the Cabinet. This was Realpolitik as practised by Papen, a man who — as he prided himself — knew how to distinguish between the reality and the shows of power.

Rarely has disillusionment been so complete or so swift to follow. Those who, like Papen, believed they had seen through Hitler were to find they had badly underestimated both the leader and the movement. For Hitler’s originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal.

In the six months that followed the formation of the coalition government, Hitler and his supporters were to demonstrate a cynicism and lack of scruple — qualities on which his partners particularly prided themselves — which left Papen and Hugenberg gasping for breath. At the end of those six months they were to discover, like the young lady of Riga, the dangers of going for a ride on a tiger.[284] The first part of this chapter is the history of how the Nazis took their partners for a ride.

At five o’clock on the afternoon of Monday 30 January, Hitler presided over his first Cabinet meeting, the minutes of which are among the German documents captured after the war.[285] The Cabinet was still committed to seeking a parliamentary majority by securing the support of the Centre Party, and Goring duly reported on the progress of his talks with the leader of the Centre, Monsignor Kaas. If these failed, then, Hitler suggested, it would be necessary to dissolve the Reichstag and hold new elections. One at least of Hitler’s partners, Hugenberg, saw the danger of letting Hitler conduct an election campaign with the power of the State at his command. On the other hand, it was Hugenberg who, more than anyone else, objected to the inclusion of the Centre in the coalition. Hugenberg’s own solution was frankly to dispense with the Reichstag and set up an authoritarian régime. This, however, conflicted with the promise to Hindenburg that, if he agreed to Hitler as Chancellor, the new Ministry would relieve him of the heavy responsibility of governing by the use of the President’s emergency powers and would provide the constitutional support of a majority in the Reichstag. Reluctantly, Hugenberg allowed himself to be manoeuvred into agreeing that, if the talks with the Centre Party broke down, the Cabinet should dissolve the Reichstag and hold new elections. In return he had Hitler’s solemn promise — reaffirmed at the Cabinet meeting of 30 January — that the composition of the coalition government would not be altered, whatever the results of the elections.

The next day, when Hitler saw Monsignor Kaas, he took good care that the negotiations with the Centre should fail. When Kaas submitted a list of questions and guarantees on which the Centre would first require satisfaction — a list simply intended to serve as a basis for discussion — Hitler declared to his colleagues that his soundings had shown there was no possibility of agreement and that the only course was to dissolve at once. He gave the most convincing assurances of loyalty to his partners, and, on the advice of Papen, Hindenburg agreed once more to sign a decree dissolving the Reichstag ‘since the formation of a working majority has proved impossible’. The Centre Party protested to the President that this was not true, that the questions they had submitted to Hitler had only been intended as preliminaries to further discussion and that the negotiations had been allowed to lapse by the Chancellor himself. But by then it was too late : the decree had been signed, the date for the new elections fixed and the first and most difficult of the obstacles to Hitler’s success removed. Papen and Hugenberg had allowed themselves to be gently guided into the trap. For the last time the German nation was to go to the polls : this time, Goebbels wrote confidently in his diary, there would be no mistake. ‘The struggle is a light one now, since we are able to employ all the means of the State. Radio and Press are at our disposal. We shall achieve a masterpiece of propaganda. Even money is not lacking this time.’[286]

In order to leave no doubts of the expectations they had, Gôring summoned a number of Germany’s leading industrialists to his palace on the evening of 20 February. Among those present were Krupp von Bohlen; Voegler, of the United Steel Works; Schnitzler and Basch, of I.G. Farben, Walter Funk — in all some twenty to twenty-five people, with Dr Schacht to act as host.[287] Hitler spoke to them on much the same lines as at Düsseldorf a year before. ‘Now,’ he told his audience, ‘we stand before the last election. Whatever the outcome, there will be no retreat. One way or another, if the election does not decide, the decision must be brought about by other means.’ Göring, who followed, was blunter. ‘Other circles not taking part in this political battle should at least make the financial sacrifices so necessary at this time.... The sacrifice asked for is easier to bear if it is realized that the elections will certainly be the last for the next ten years, probably even for the next hundred years.’[288] After a short speech of thanks by Krupp von Bohlen, at Schacht’s suggestion it was agreed to raise an election fund of three million Reichsmarks from leading German firms. The fund was to be divided between the partners in the coalition, but there was little doubt that the Nazis would claim — and get — the lion’s share.

Throughout the election campaign Hitler refused to outline any programme for his Government. At Munich he said: ‘If, today, we are asked for the programme of this movement, then we can summarize this in a few quite general sentences: programmes are of no avail, it is the human purpose which is decisive.... Therefore the first point in our programme is: Away with all illusions! ’[289]

At Kassel he retorted on his opponents: ‘They have had no programme. Now it is too late for their plans, the time for their ideas is past.... The period of international phrases, of promises of international solidarity, is over and its place will be taken by the solidarity of the German people. No one in the world will help us — only ourselves.’[290]

The Nazi campaign was directed against the record of the fourteen years of party government in Germany; above all, against the Social Democratic and Centre Parties. Tn fourteen years the System which has now been overthrown has piled mistake upon mistake, illusion upon illusion.’[291] What had the Nazis to put in its place ? He was no democratic politician, Hitler virtuously replied, to trick the people into voting for him by a few empty promises. ‘I ask of you, German people, that after you have given the others fourteen years you should give us four.’[292] ‘What I claim is fair and just: only four years for us and then others shall form their judgement and pass sentence. I will not flee abroad, I will not seek to escape sentence.’[293]

Hitler did not rely on the spoken word alone. Although the other parties were still allowed to function, their meetings were broken up, their speakers assaulted and beaten, their posters torn down and their papers continually suppressed. Even the official figures admitted fifty-one people killed during the election campaign and several hundreds injured. This time the Nazis were inside the gate, and they did not mean to be robbed of power by any scruples about fair play or free speech.

Papen believed he had tied Hitler down by restricting the number of Cabinet posts held by the Nazis to a bare minimum, but while Hugenberg shut himself up with his economic plans and the Foreign Office was kept in safe hands the real key to power in the State — control of the Prussian police force and of the Prussian State Administration — lay with Göring. By the curious system of dual government which existed in Germany, the Prussian Ministry of the Interior carried out the work of administering two-thirds of Germany, and was of much greater importance than the Reich Ministry of the Interior, a head without a body. In the critical period of 1933^4, no man after Hitler played so important a role in the Nazi revolution as Göring. His energy and ruthlessness, together with his control of Prussia, were indispensable to Hitler’s success. The belief that Göring at the Prussian Ministry of the Interior would be restrained by Papen as Minister President of Prussia proved ill-founded. Göring showed no intention of being restrained by anybody: he issued orders and enforced his will, as if he were already in possession of absolute power.

The moment Göring entered office he began a drastic purge of the Prussian State service, in which hundreds of officials were dismissed and replaced by men who could be relied on by the Nazis. Göring paid particular attention to the senior police officers, where he made a clean sweep in favour of his own appointments, many of them active S.A. or S.S. leaders. In the middle of February Göring issued an order to the Prussian police to the effect that ‘the police have at all costs to avoid anything suggestive of hostility to the S.A., S.S., and Stahlhelm, as these organizations contain the most important constructive national elements.... It is the business of the police to abet every form of national propaganda.’ After urging the police to show no mercy to the activities of ‘organizations hostile to the State’ — that is to say, the Communists, and Marxists in general — Göring continued: ‘Police officers who make use of fire-arms in the execution of their duties will, without regard to the consequences of such use, benefit by my protection; those who, out of a misplaced regard for such consequences, fail in their duty will be punished in accordance with the regulations.’ In other words, when in doubt shoot. To make his intentions quite clear, Göring added: ‘Every official must bear in mind that failure to act will be regarded more seriously than an error due to taking action.’[294]

On 22 February Göring went a step further. He published an order establishing an auxiliary police force on the grounds that the resources of the regular police were stretched to the limit and must be reinforced. Fifty thousand men were called up, among them twenty-five thousand from the S.A. and fifteen thousand from the S.S. All they had to do was to put a white arm-band over their brown shirts or black shirts: they then represented the authority of the State. It was the equivalent of handing over police powers to the razor and cosh gangs. For the citizen to appeal to the police for protection became more dangerous than to suffer assault and robbery in silence. At best, the police turned their backs and looked the other way; more often the auxiliaries helped their S.A. comrades to beat up their victims. This was ‘legality’ in practice. In one of his dispatches the British Ambassador remarked that the daily Press now contained three regular lists:

  1. A list of Government and police officials who have either been suspended or sent away altogether;

  2. a list of papers suppressed or suspended; and

  3. a list of persons who have lost their lives or been injured in political disturbances.[295]

The day after Hitler became Chancellor, Goebbels noted in his diary: ‘In a conference with the Leader we arrange measures for combating the Red terror. For the present we shall abstain from direct action. First the Bolshevik attempt at a revolution must burst into flame. At the given moment we shall strike.’[296] Goebbels’s requirement was to be literally fulfilled. On 24 February the police raided Communist H.Q. in Berlin at the Karl Liebknecht Haus. An official communiqué reported the discovery of plans for a Communist revolution. The publication of the captured documents was promised in the immediate future. They never appeared, but the search for the counter-revolution was intensified, and on the night of 27 February the Reichstag building mysteriously went up in flames.

While the fire was still spreading, the police arrested a young Dutch Communist, van der Lubbe, who was found in the deserted building in circumstances which left little doubt that he was responsible.

Göring had been looking for a pretext to smash the Communist Party and at once declared that van der Lubbe was only a pawn in a major Communist plot to launch a campaign of terrorism for which the burning of the Reichstag was to be the signal. The arrest of Communist leaders, including the Bulgarian Dimitroff, followed at once, and the Reichstag Fire Trial was held in Leipzig with all the publicity the Nazis could contrive. The publicity, however, badly misfired. Not only did Dimitroff defend himself with skill, but the prosecution failed completely to prove any connexion between van der Lubbe and the other defendants. The trial ended in a fiasco with the acquittal and release of the Communist leaders, leaving the unhappy van der Lubbe to be hurriedly executed.

The convenience of the pretext which Göring found for attacking the Communists led many (including the present author) to believe that the burning of the Reichstag was, in fact, planned and carried out by the Nazis themselves. A circumstantial version described how a band of Berlin S.A. men led by Karl Ernst penetrated into the deserted building by an underground tunnel and set the place ablaze. Van der Lubbe, who had been picked up by the S.A. after attempting to set fire to other buildings as a protest against the way society had treated him, was used as a dupe and allowed to climb into the Reichstag and start a fire on his own in another part.

Whichever version is accepted, the part played by van der Lubbe remains a mystery, and it was this which led Herr Fritz Tobias to start an independent investigation of the evidence in 1955. Herr Tobias’s conclusion (published in Der Spiegel in 1959) rejects both the Nazi and the anti-Nazi account in favour of van der Lubbe’s own declaration, from which he never wavered, that he alone was reponsible for the fire and that he carried it out as a single-handed act of protest. Herr Tobias may well be right in arguing that this, the simplest explanation of all, is the true one.[297]

The question, Who started the fire? remains open, but there is no doubt about the answer to the question, Who profited by it? Hitler needed no prompting.

During the Reichstag Fire [he recalled later] I went in the middle of the night to the offices of the Völkischer Beobachter. It took half an hour before I cou Id find anyone to let me in. Inside there were a few compositors sitting around, and eventually some sub-editor appeared heavy with sleep.... ‘There’s no one here at this time of night; I must ask you to come back during business hours.’ ‘Are you mad!’ I cried. ‘Don’t you realize that an event of incalculable importance is actually now taking place.’ In the end I got hold of Goebbels, and we worked till dawn preparing the next day’s edition.[298]

The day after the fire, on 28 February, Hitler promulgated a decree signed by the President ‘for the protection of the People and the State’. The decree was described ‘as a defensive measure against Communist acts of violence’. It began by suspending the guarantees of individual liberty under the Weimar Constitution:

Thus, restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the Press; on the rights of assembly and association; violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications; warrants for house searches; orders for confiscation as well as restrictions on property, are permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.

Article 2 authorized the Reich Government if necessary to take over full powers in any federal State. Article 5 increased the penalty for the crimes of high treason, poisoning, arson, and sabotage to one of death, and instituted the death penalty, or hard labour for life, in the case of conspiracy to assassinate members of the Government, or grave breaches of the peace.[299]

Armed with these all-embracing powers, Hitler and Göring were in a position to take any action they pleased against their opponents. They cleverly postponed the formal proscription of the Communist Party until after the elections, so that the working-class vote should continue to be divided between the rival parties of the Communists and the Social Democrats. But acts of terrorism against the leaders, the Press, and organizations of the Left-wing parties were now intensified. When a British correspondent, Sefton Delmer of the Daily Express, asked Hitler what truth there was in rumours of a projected massacre of his political opponents, Hitler replied: ‘ My dear Delmer, I need no St Bartholomew’s Night. By the decrees issued legally we have appointed tribunals which will try enemies of the State legally, and deal with them legally in a way which will put an end to these conspiracies.’[300]

Meanwhile, in the last week of the election campaign, the Nazi propaganda machine redoubled the force of its attack on the ‘Marxists’, producing the most hair-raising accounts of Communist preparations for insurrection and a ‘blood-bath’, for which the Reichstag Fire and the arrest of van der Lubbe were used to provide substantiation. Even those who regarded the official version of the Fire with scepticism were impressed and intimidated by the ruthlessness of the Nazi tactics. Hitler stormed the country in a last hurricane campaign, declaring his determination to stamp out Marxism and the parties of the Left without mercy. For the first time the radio carried his words into every corner of the country.

To leave no doubt of what they meant, Göring assured an audience at Frankfurt on 3 March:

Fellow Germans, my measures will not be crippled by any judicial thinking. My measures will not be crippled by any bureaucracy. Here I don’t have to worry about Justice, my mission is only to destroy and exterminate, nothing more. This struggle will be a struggle against chaos, and such a struggle I shall not conduct with the power of the police. A bourgeois State might have done that. Certainly, I shall use the power of the State and the police to the utmost, my dear Communists, so don’t draw any false conclusions; but the struggle to the death, in which my fist will grasp your necks, I shall lead with those down there — the Brown Shirts.[301]

The campaign reached its climax on Saturday 4 March, the ‘Day of the Awakening Nation’, when Hitler spoke in Königsberg, the ancient coronation town and capital of the separated province of East Prussia. Attacking the ‘November politicians’, Hitler declared:

We have been asked today to define our programme. For the moment we can only say one thing: You began with a lie, and we want to make a fresh beginning with the truth.... And the first thought contained in this truth is this: a people must understand that its future lies only in its own strength, in its capacity, its industry, its courage....

One must be able to say once again: German People, hold your heads high and proudly once more! You are no longer enslaved and in bondage, but you are free again and can justly say: We are all proud that through God’s powerful aid we have once more become true Germans.[302]

As Hitler finished speaking bonfires blazed out on the hill-tops, all along the ‘threatened frontier’ of the east. It was the culmination of a month in which the tramping columns of S.A. troops, the torchlight parades, the monster demonstrations, cheering crowds, blaring loudspeakers, and mob-oratory, the streets hung with swastika flags, the open display of brutality and violence, with the police standing by in silence — all had been used to build up the impression of an irresistible force which would sweep away every obstacle in its path.

In face of all this it is a remarkable fact that still the German people refused to give Hitler the majority he sought. With close on ninety per cent of the electorate voting, the Nazis increased their own share of votes by five and a half millions, polling 17,277,200 out of a total of 39,343,300, a percentage of 43–9. Despite the Nazi hammering, the Centre Party increased their votes from 4,230,600 to 4,424,900; the Social Democrats held steady at 7,181,600, a drop of only 66,400; while even the Communists lost little more than a million votes, still returning a figure of 4,848,100. With the help of his Nationalist allies, who polled 3,136,800 votes (a meagre gain of 180,000), Hitler had a bare majority in the new Reichstag, 288 plus 52 seats in a house of 647 deputies. Disappointing though the results were, this was just enough, and it did not escape the attention of the Nazi leaders that with the proscription of the Communist deputies they would have a clear parliamentary majority themselves, without the need of the Nationalist votes. After the experience of the past few weeks, the chances of Papen, Hugenberg, and the Nationalists acting as an effective brake on their partners in the coalition appeared slight.


Hitler’s dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law. No National or Constitutional Assembly was called and the Weimar Constitution was never formally abrogated. Fresh laws were simply promulgated as they appeared necessary. What Hitler aimed at was arbitrary power. It took time to achieve this, but from the first he had no intention of having his hands tied by any constitution; there was no equivalent of the Fascist Grand Council which in the end was used to overthrow Mussolini. Long before the Second World War, even the Cabinet had ceased to meet in Germany.

The fundamental law of the Hitler régime was the so-called Enabling Law, Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich (Law for Removing the Distress of People and Reich). As it represented an alteration of the Constitution, a majority of two- thirds of the Reichstag was necessary to pass it, and Hitler’s first preoccupation after the elections was to secure this. One step was simple: the eighty-one Communist deputies could be left out of account, those who had not been arrested so far would certainly be arrested if they put in an appearance in the Reichstag. Negotiations with the Centre were resumed and, in the meantime, Hitler showed himself in his most conciliatory mood towards his Nationalist partners. Both the discussions in the Cabinet,[303] and the negotiations with the Centre,[304] revealed the same uneasiness at the prospect of the powers the Government was claiming. But the Nazis held the whip-hand with the decree of 28 February. If necessary, they threatened to make sufficient arrests to provide them with their majority without bothering about the votes of the Centre. The Nationalists comforted themselves with the clause in the new law which declared that the rights of the President remained unaffected. The Centre, after receiving lavish promises from Hitler, succeeded also in getting a letter from the President in which he wrote that ‘ the Chancellor has given me his assurance that, even without being forcibly obliged by the Constitution, he will not use the power conferred on him by the Enabling Act without having first consulted me.’[305] These were more paper-dykes to hold out the flood-tide, but Hitler was prepared to promise anything at this stage to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact.

Hitler’s master-stroke of conciliation towards the President, the Army, and the Nationalists was the ceremony in the Potsdam Garrison Church on 21 March, to mark the opening of the Reichstag, two days before it met to consider the Enabling Bill. At the same time Hitler established the claim of the new régime to be the heir of the military traditions of old Prussia and its Hohenzollem kings.

Potsdam, the royal town of the Hohenzollems, and the Garrison Church, which had been founded by Frederick William I and contained the grave of Frederick the Great, stood in deliberate contrast to Weimar, the city of Goethe and Schiller, where the National Assembly of the ‘November Republic’ had met in 1919. The date, 21 March, was that on which Bismarck had opened the first Reichstag of the German Empire in 1871, and on which Hitler was now to open the first Reichstag of the Third Reich. The guard of honour of the Army drawn up on one side, and the S.A. on the other, were the symbols of the two Germanies, the old and the new, united by the handshake of President and Chancellor.

It was a brilliant spring day in Potsdam, and the houses were hung with huge swastika banners, side by side with the blackwhite-red flags of the old Empire. In the church itself one whole gallery was filled with the marshals, generals, and admirals of the Imperial régime, all wearing their pre-war uniforms, and headed by Field-Marshal von Mackensen in the uniform of the Death’s Head Hussars. The chair reserved for the Kaiser was left empty, and immediately behind sat the former Crown Prince, in full- dress uniform. On the floor of the church were ranged the Nazi deputies, in brown shirts, flanked by the Nationalists and the Centre; not a single Social Democrat was present.

When the door was thrown open, the audience rose to its feet. The members of the Government entered the church. All eyes were on two men: the Austrian, Adolf Hitler, clad in formal morning-dress with a cut-away coat, awkward but respectful, and beside him the massive figure of the aged President, the Prussian Field-Marshal, who had first stood in this church in 1866 when, as a young lieutenant of the Guards, he had returned from the Austro-Prussian War in which German unity had been forged.

Slowly the old man advanced down the aisle, leaning on his cane. As he reached the centre, he turned and solemnly saluted with his Field-Marshal’s baton the empty throne of the Kaiser and the Crown Prince.

The President’s address, which he read, was brief. ‘ May the old spirit of this celebrated shrine,’ he ended, ‘permeate the generation of today, may it liberate us from selfishness and Party strife and bring us together in national self-consciousness to bless a proud and free Germany, united in herself.’

Hitler’s speech was framed with an eye to the representatives of the old régime who sat before him :

The revolution of November 1918 ended a conflict into which the German nation had been drawn in the most sacred conviction that it was but protecting its liberty and its right to live. Neither the Kaiser, nor the Government nor the Nation wanted the war. It was only the collapse of our nation which compelled a weakened race to take upon itself, against its most sacred convictions, the guilt for this war.... By a unique upheaval, in the last few weeks our national honour has been restored and, thanks to your understanding, Herr General-Feld- marschall, the union between the symbols of the old greatness and the new strength has been celebrated. We pay you homage. A protective Providence places you over the new forces of our Nation.[306]

With these words the Chancellor crossed to the old Marshal’s chair and, bending low, grasped his hand : the apostolic succession had been established.

Alone, the old man descended stiffly into the crypt to the tomb of Frederick the Great. Outside, in the March sunshine, the guns roared in salute and, to the crash of trumpets and drums, the German Army, followed by the S.A. and the Stahlhelm, paraded before the President, the Chancellor and the Crown Prince. As night fell a torchlight procession of ten thousand S.S. troops swept through the Brandenburger Tor to the cheers of a huge crowd, while at the Opera Furtwangler conducted a brilliant performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger.

As the French Ambassador later wrote: ‘After the dazzling pledge made by Hitler at Potsdam, how could Hindenburg and his friends fail to dismiss the apprehension with which they had begun to view the excesses and abuses of his party ? Could they now hesitate to grant him their entire confidence, to concede the full powers he claimed?’[307]

It was the other face of Nazism that was to be seen when the Reichstag assembled in the temporary quarters of the Kroll Opera House two days later. The Enabling Bill which was laid before the House contained five clauses. The first and fifth gave the Government the power for four years to enact laws without the cooperation of the Reichstag. The second and fourth specifically stated that this power should include the right to deviate from the Constitution and to conclude treaties with foreign States, the only subject reserved being the institutions of the Reichstag and Reichsrat. The third provided that laws to be enacted by the Government should be drafted by the Chancellor, and should come into effect on the day after publication.[308]

As the deputies pushed their way in they could see behind the tribune occupied by the Cabinet and the President of the Reichstag, a huge swastika banner filling the wall. Outside, they had had to pass through a solid rank of black-shirted S.S. men encircling the building; inside, the corridors and walls were lined with brown-shirted S.A. troops.

Hitler’s opening speech was restrained. He spoke of the disciplined and bloodless fashion in which the revolution had been carried out, and of the spirit of national unity which had replaced the party and class divisions of the Republic.

The Government [he declared] will only make use of these powers in so far as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures. Neither the existence of the Reichstag nor that of the Reichsrat is menaced. The position and rights of the President remain unaffected. It will always be the foremost task of the Government to act in harmony with his aims. The separate existence of the federal States will not be done away with. The rights of the Churches will not be diminished, and their relationship to the State will not be modified. The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one. All the more, however, the Government insist upon the passing of the law. They prefer a clear decision.

The Government [he concluded] offers to the parties of the Reichstag the opportunity for friendly cooperation. But it is equally prepared to go ahead in face of their refusal and of the hostilities which will result from that refusal. It is for you, gentlemen of the Reichstag, to decide between war and peace.[309]

After a recess it was the turn of the leader of the Social Democrats, Otto Wels, to speak. There was silence as he walked to the tribune, but from outside came the baying of the Stormtroopers chanting: ‘We want the Bill — or fire and murder.’ It needed courage to stand up before this packed assembly — most of the Communists and about a dozen of the Social Democrat deputies had already been thrown into prison — and to tell Hitler and the Nazis to their faces that the Social Democratic Party would vote against the Bill. Wels spoke with moderation; to be defenceless, he added, was not to be without honour. But the very suggestion of opposition had been enough to rouse Hitler to a fury; there was not a scrap of generosity in him for a defeated opponent. Brushing aside Papen’s attempt to restrain him, he mounted the tribune a second time and gave the Reichstag, the Cabinet, and the Diplomatic Corps a taste of his real temper, savage, mocking, and brutal. ‘I do not want your votes,’ he spat at the Social Democrats. ‘Germany will be free, but not through you. Do not mistake us for bourgeois. The star of Germany is in the ascendant, yours is about to disappear, your death-knell has sounded.’

The rest of the speeches were an anti-climax. Monsignor Kaas, still clinging to his belief in Hitler’s promises, rose to announce that the Centre Party, which had once humbled Bismarck in the Kulturkampf, would vote for the Bill, a fitting close to the shabby policy of compromise with the Nazis which the Centre had followed since the summer of 1932. Then came the vote, and excitement mounted. When Goring declared the figures — for the Bill, 441; against, 94 — the Nazis leaped to their feet and with arms outstretched in salute sang the Horst Wessel song.

Outside in the square the huge crowd roared its approval. The Nazis had every reason to be delighted: with the passage of the Enabling Act, Hitler secured his independence, not only from the Reichstag but also from the President. The earlier Chancellors, Bruning, Papen, and Schleicher, had all been dependent on the President’s power to issue emergency decrees under Article 48 of the Constitution: now Hitler had that right for himself, with full power to set aside the Constitution. The street gangs had seized control of the resources of a great modern State, the gutter had come to power.


In March 1933, however, Hitler was still not the dictator of Germany. The process of Gleichschaltung — ‘ coordination ’ — by which the whole of the organized life of the nation was to be brought under the single control of the Nazi Party, had still to be carried out. To illustrate what Gleichschaltung meant in practice it will be best to take the three most important examples: the federal States, the trade unions, and the political parties. Hitler and Frick had not waited for the passage of the Enabling Act to take steps to bring the governments of the States firmly under their control. Hitler had no intention of allowing such a conflict between Bavaria and the Reich as he had exploited in 1923 to develop again, and he knew that since 30 January there had been renewed talk of restoring the monarchy, and even of secession, in Bavaria. On the evening of 9 March von Epp, with full authority from Berlin, carried out a coup d’état in Munich. The Held Government was turned out, and Nazis appointed to all the principal posts. Hitler knew all the moves in the Bavarian political game. When the Prime Minister, Held, applied to the local Army C.-in-C., General von Leeb, for help against the Nazis, von Leeb telephoned to Berlin. He immediately received orders from Colonel von Reichenau at the Defence Ministry to avoid taking any part in internal politics and keep the Army off the streets. The ghost of Lossow had been laid.

Similar action was taken in the other States. Frick intervened, by virtue of the decree of 28 February, to appoint Reich Police Commissars in Baden, Württemberg, and Saxony. In each case they were Nazis, and in each case they used their powers to turn out the Government and put in Nazi-controlled ministries. Prussia was already under the control of Goring’s rough hand, and the State elections held there on 5 March produced much the same results as those for the Reichstag. On 31 March Hitler and Frick issued a law dissolving the Diets of all the other States and ordered them to be re-constituted without fresh elections, ‘according to the number of votes which in the election to the German Reichstag were given to the electoral lists within each federal State. In this connexion seats falling to the Communist Party will not be given out.’[310] A week later Hitler nominated Reich Governors (Reichsstatthälter in every State, and gave them the power to appoint and remove State Governments, to dissolve the Diets, to prepare and publish State laws, and to appoint and dismiss State officials.[311] All eighteen of the new Reich Governors were Nazis, usually the local Gauleiters. In Prussia the new law afforded an opportunity to turn out Papen, who had hitherto united the offices of Vice-Chancellor and Reich Commissioner for Prussia, with Goring as his subordinate. Hitler now appointed himself Reichsstatthâlter for Prussia and promptly delegated his powers to Goring as Prussian MinisterPresident. Papen ‘asked to be relieved of his post’, and the office of Reich Commissioner for Prussia, which had been instituted at the time of Papen’s coup d’état in July 1932, was abolished.

On the first anniversary of Hitler’s accession to power, 30 January 1934, a Law for the Reconstruction of the Reich rounded off this work of subordinating the federal States to the authority of the central Government. The State Diets were abolished; the sovereign powers of the States transferred to the Reich; and the Reichsstatthâlter and State Governments placed under the Reich Government.[312] This was the culmination of a year of Gleichschaltung, in which all representative self-government from the level of the States downwards through the whole system of local government had been stamped out. Although formally the individual States were not abolished, in fact the dual system of government, divided between the Reich and the States, which both the Bismarckian and the Weimar Constitutions had had to tolerate, was swept away. In March 1934, Hitler defined the position of the Reichsstatthâlter in terms that left no doubt of his intentions. ‘They are not,’ he said, ‘the administrators of the separate States, they execute the Will of the supreme leadership of the Reich; their commission comes, not from the States, but from the Reich. They do not represent the States over against the Reich, but the Reich over against the States.... National Socialism has as its historic task to create the new Reich and not to preserve the German States.’[313]

The process of Gleichschaltung did not stop with the institutions of government. If Hitler meant to destroy Marxism in Germany he had obviously to break the independent power of the huge German trade-union movement, the foundation on which the Social Democratic Party rested. In March and April the S.A. broke into and looted the offices of many local trade-union branches, but the trade-union leadership still hoped that they might obtain recognition from the Government: after all, no previous German Government had ever gone so far as to touch the unions. They, too, were soon disillusioned. The Nazis cleverly camouflaged their intentions by declaring May Day a national holiday, and holding an immense workers’ rally in Berlin which was addressed by Hitler. On the morning of the next day the trade-union offices all over the country were occupied by S.A. and S.S. troopers. Many union officials were arrested, beaten, and thrown into concentration camps. All the unions were then merged into a new German Labour Front. ‘Once the trade unions are in our hands,’ Goebbels commented, ‘the other parties and organizations will not be able to hold out long.... In a year’s time Germany will be entirely in our hands.’[314]

Hitler deliberately avoided placing the trade unions under the existing N.S.B.O. (National Socialist Factory Cell Organization), which was tainted with Socialist ideas and Strasserism. He gave control of the Labour Front to Robert Ley, who had been an opponent of Gregor Strasser’s as long ago as 1925, and had replaced him as head of the Political Organization in December 1932. In his initial proclamation Ley declared: ‘Workers! Your institutions are sacred to us National Socialists. I myself am a poor peasant’s son and understand poverty, I myself was seven years in one of the biggest industries in Germany and I know the exploitation of anonymous capitalism. Workers! I swear to you we will not only keep everything which exists, we will build up the protection and rights of the worker even further.’[315]

Hitler gave similar assurances when he addressed the First Congress of German Workers on 10 May. This speech[316] is well worth comparison with his address to the Industry Club at Düsseldorf a year before, as an example of Hitler’s skill in adapting himself to the audience he was facing. But the intentions behind Hitler’s talk of honouring labour and abolishing the class war were not long concealed. Before the month was out a new law ended collective bargaining and appointed Labour Trustees, under the Government’s orders, to settle conditions of work.[317]

Just as Leipart and Grassmann, the trade-union leaders, had hoped to preserve their organization intact by doing everything possible to avoid provoking the country’s new rulers, the Social Democrats too attempted to carry on loyally for a time, even after the Enabling Act had been passed. Their efforts proved equally futile. On 10 May Goring ordered the occupation of the Party’s buildings and newspaper offices, and the confiscation of the Party’s funds. Some of the Social Democratic leaders, like Otto Wels, moved to Prague and set up a centre of opposition there; others, like Karl Severing, simply retired into the obscurity of private life. As late as 19 June a new Party committee of four was elected in Berlin, but three days later Frick put an end to their uncertainty by banning the Social Democratic Party as an enemy of people and State. Social Democratic representation on any elected or other public body, like that of the Communists, was annulled.[318] The Communists, of course, had been virtually proscribed since the Reichstag Fire, although for tactical reasons they had been allowed to put forward a list at the Reichstag election. None of their deputies, however, had ever been allowed to take his seat, and on 26 May Hitler and Frick promulgated a law confiscating the entire assets and property of the Party.

The remaining parties represented a more delicate problem, but this did not long delay their disappearance. After the Bavarian People’s Party, the ally of the Centre, had seen their offices occupied and their leaders arrested on 22 June — on the pretext of a conspiracy with the Austrian Christian Socialists — the Party announced its own dissolution on 4 July, and was followed by the Centre Party on 5 July. The fact that a Catholic Party no longer existed in Germany was accepted by the Vatican in the Concordat which it concluded with Hitler’s Government this same summer. The Democrats (Staatspartei) and the People’s Party, which Stresemann had once led, reduced to mere shadows by the success of the Nazis in capturing the middle-class vote, had already immolated themselves.[319] Not even Hitler’s partners in the coalition, the Nationalists, were spared. Hugenberg’s resistance in the Cabinet and an angry appeal to the President proved ineffectual. On 21 June the police and S.A. occupied the Party’s offices in a number of German towns, and a week later the leaders, bowing to the inevitable, dissolved the Party.

On 14 July the Official Gazette contained the brief announcement:

The German Government has enacted the following law, which is herewith promulgated:

Article I: The National Socialist German Workers’ Party constitutes the only political Party in Germany.

Article II: Whoever undertakes to maintain the organizational structure of another political Party or to form a new political Party will be punished with penal servitude up to three years or with imprisonment up to three years, if the action is not subject to a greater penalty according to other regulations.

The Reich Chancellor,
Adolf Hitler.

The Reich Minister of the Interior,

The Reich Minister of Justice,
Dr Giirtner.[320]

The Stahlhelm took a little longer to absorb. A first step was Hitler’s success in persuading Seldte, the Stahlhelm leader and its representative in the Cabinet, to dismiss his second-in-command, Dusterberg, and to join the National Socialist Party himself. A succession of uneasy compromises with the S.A., punctuated by fights between the rival private armies, raids and arrests of Stahlhelm leaders, led to the incorporation of the Stahlhelm in the S.A. by the end of 1933, and to its formal dissolution in November 1935.

The remnants of the old Freikorps were ceremonially dissolved at Munich on the tenth anniversary of the unsuccessful putsch of 9 November 1923. The agitator who had then fled before the shots of the Bavarian police, now the Chancellor of Germany, laid a wreath on the tomb of the martyrs of the movement with the inscription: ‘Despite all, you have conquered.’ The roll-call of the Freikorps was called one by one — the Freikorps of the Baltic, of Silesia, and the Ruhr, the Ehrhardt Brigade, Oberland, Rossbach, the Hitler Shock Troop and the rest. As each answered ‘Present’, their stained and tattered flags were borne forward for the last time, and solemnly laid up in the hall of the Brown House under an S.A. guard of honour. It was the closing of a strange and sinister page in the post-war history of Germany. Just as the ceremony at Potsdam in March had marked the claim of the Nazis to be the heirs of the old Prussia, so by the Munich ceremony in November they made good their claim to embody the traditions of the Freikorps.

With the suppression of the parties, the basis of the coalition which had brought Hitler into power disappeared. With the passage of the Enabling Law the need for it had gone. Hitler had never been under any illusion about the intention of Papen and Hindenburg to tie him down; but equally, he had never had any doubts of his own ability to sweep away the restrictions with which they attempted to hedge him round. ‘The reactionary forces,’ Rauschning reports Hitler saying after the Reichstag Fire, ‘believe they have me on the lead. I know that they hope I will achieve my own ruin by mismanagement. But we shall not wait for them to act. Our great opportunity lies in acting before they do. We have no scruples, no bourgeois hesitations.... They regard me as an uneducated barbarian. Yes, we are barbarians. We want to be barbarians. It is an honourable title.’[321]

As so often later in his foreign policy, Hitler resorted to his favourite tactic of surprise, of doing just the things no one believed he would dare to do, with a bland contempt for convention or tradition. In a few weeks he had banned the Communist and Social Democratic Parties, dissolved the Catholic Centre and the Right-wing Nationalists, and taken over the Stahlhelm and the trade unions, six of the most powerful organizations in Germany — and, contrary to all expectations, nothing had happened. The strength of these organizations, even of a revolutionary party like the Communists, was shown to be a sham. Hitler had scoffed at the tradition of making concessions to Bavarian particularist feeling, and with equal success had ridden rough-shod over the rights of the federal States. The methods of gangsterism applied to politics, the crude and uninhibited use of force in the first, not in the last, resort, produced startling results.

Any opposition in the Cabinet crumpled up before the wave of violence which was eliminating all the political landmarks in the German scene. Papen, shorn of his power as Reich Commissioner in Prussia, was a shrunken figure. Hitler no longer paid attention to the rule that the Vice-Chancellor must always be present when he saw the President; indeed, he rarely bothered to see the President at all, now that he had the power to issue decrees himself. Seldte, the Stahlhelm leader and Minister of Labour, was soon persuaded to hand over his organization to Hitler and surrender his independence. Hugenberg held out till the end of June, but lost his fight to preserve the Nationalist Party, and was forced to resign on 29 June. His place as Minister of Economy was taken by Dr Schmitt. As Minister of Food and Agriculture his successor was Darré, who had already forced the once powerful Land League into a union with his own Nazi Agrarpolitischer Apparat, and turned out its Junker president, Graf Kalkreuth, on a framed charge of corruption. Immediately after the elections, Goebbels had been brought into the Cabinet as head of a new Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.[322] Three days later, after a short conversation with Hitler, the President of the Reichsbank, Dr Luther, suddenly resigned. His place was taken by Dr Schacht, a former President who had written to Hitler in August 1932, ‘to assure you of my unchanging sympathy — you can always count on me as your reliable assistant’.[323]

Thus by the summer of 1933 Hitler was complete master of a Government in which Papen only remained on sufferance, and which was independent alike of Reichstag, President, and political allies. All Papen’s calculations of January, his assurance that once the Nazi Party was harnessed to the State it would be tamed, had proved worthless. For Hitler had grasped a truth which eluded Papen, the political dilettante, that the key to power no longer lay in the parliamentary and presidential intrigues by means of which he had got his foot inside the door — and by means of which Papen still hoped to bind him — but, outside, in the masses of the German people. Papen, deceived by Hitler’s tactics of legality, had never grasped that the revolutionary character of the Nazi movement would only be revealed after Hitler had come to power, and was now astonished and intimidated by the forces he had released.

For it is a mistake to suppose, as Papen did, that because Hitler came to power by the backstairs there was no genuine revolutionary force in the Nazi Party. The S.A. regarded Hitler’s Chancellorship and the election victory of 5 March as the signal for that settling of accounts which they had been promised for so long. In the circumstances of Germany between 1930 and 1933, with the long-drawn-out economic depression and the accompanying political uncertainty and bitterness, the revolutionary impulse of the S.A. was bound to strike echoes in a large section of the German people. This wave of revolutionary excitement which passed across Germany in 1933 took several forms.

Its first and most obvious expression was violence. Violence had been common enough in Germany for many months before 1933, but the violence of the period between the Reichstag Fire and the end of the year was on a different scale from anything that had happened before. The Government itself deliberately employed violence and intimidation as a method of governing, using such agencies as the Gestapo (the Prussian Secret State Police established by Goring), and the concentration camps opened at Oranienburg, Dachau, and other places. At the same time, the open contempt for justice and order shown by the State encouraged those impulses of cruelty, envy, and revenge which are normally suppressed or driven underground in society. Men were arrested, beaten, and murdered for no more substantial reason than to satisfy a private grudge, to secure a man’s job or his apartment, and to gratify a taste for. sadism. In Berlin and other big cities local S.A. gangs established ‘bunkers’ in disused warehouses or cellars, to which they carried off anyone to whom they took a dislike, either to maltreat them or hold them to ransom. The normal sanctions of the police and the courts were withdrawn, and common crime from robbery to murder brazenly disguised as ‘politics’. The only measure taken by the Government was to issue amnesties for ‘penal acts committed in the national revolution’.

This breakdown of law and order, of the ordinary security of everyday life, not from any weakness or collapse of authority, but with the connivance of the State, was a profound shock to the stability of a society already shaken by the years of depression and mass unemployment. Yet violence, if it repelled, also attracted many, especially among the younger generation. It was indeed a characteristic part of revolutionary idealism. For 1933, like other revolutionary years, produced great hopes, a sense of new possibilities, the end of frustration, the beginning of action, a feeling of exhilaration and anticipation after years of hopelessness. Hitler recognized this mood when he told the German people to hold up their heads and rediscover their old pride and self-confidence. Germany, united and strong, would end the crippling divisions which had held her back, and recover the place that was her due in the world. Many people believed this in 1933 and thought that a new era had begun. Hitler succeeded in releasing pent-up energies in the nation, and in re-creating a belief in the future of the German people. It is wrong to lay stress only on the element of coercion, and to ignore the degree to which Hitler commanded a genuine popular support in Germany — so much less, as Mill once remarked, do the majority of the people prefer liberty to power. The law introducing the plebiscite[324] is evidence of the confidence Hitler felt that he could carry a majority of the German people with him, once he had come to power and broken all organized resistance. To suppose that the huge votes which he secured in these plebiscites were solely, or even principally, due to the Gestapo and the concentration camps is to miss what Hitler knew so well, the immense attraction to the masses of force plus success.

Side by side with this — and yet another expression of the mood of 1933 in Germany — went the familiar and seamy accompaniment of all revolutionary upheavals, the rush to clamber on the band wagon and the scramble for jobs and advantages. The Germans invented a word, the Märzgefallene, for those opportunists who first joined the Party in March 1933 and were eager to secure the favour of the new bosses. The purge of the civil service, the closing of the professions to Jews,[325] the creation of new posts in government and local government service, in industry and business, whetted the appetites of the unsuccessful, the ambitious, and the envious. Most of the men who now held power in Germany, Hitler himself, Göring, Goebbels, and the thousands of Nazis who had become mayors of cities, Reichstag or Landtag deputies, government officials, heads of departments, chairmen of committees, and directors on company boards belonged to one or other of these classes. The Altkämpfer, the Old Fighters, and many who claimed without justification to be Party members of long standing, now crowded their antechambers, clamouring for jobs. Rauschning relates how one man, who asked him for a job in Danzig, shouted at him: T won’t get down again. Perhaps you can wait. You’re not sitting on a bed of glowing coals. No job, man, no job! I’ll stay on top no matter what it costs me. We can’t get on top twice running.’[326] The six million unemployed in Germany, who had not disappeared overnight when Hitler came to power, represented a revolutionary pressure that was not easily to be dammed.

It was by harnessing these forces of discontent and revolt that Hitler had created the Nazi movement, and as late as the middle of June 1933 he was still prepared to tell a gathering of Nazi leaders in Berlin: ‘ The law of the National Socialist Revolution has not yet run its course. Its dynamic force still dominates development in Germany today, a development which presses forward irresistibly to a complete remodelling of German life.’ A new political leadership had to be established; it was the job of the National Socialist movement to provide this new ruling class. ‘Just as a magnet draws from a composite mass only the steel chips, so should a movement directed exclusively towards political struggle draw to itself only those natures which are called to political leadership.... The German Revolution will not be complete until the whole German people has been fashioned anew, until it has been organized anew, and has been reconstructed.’[327]

Hitler used the same language to the S.A. At Kiel on 7 May he told them: ‘You have been till now the Guard of the National Revolution; you have carried this Revolution to victory; with your name it will be associated for all time. You must be the guarantors of the victorious completion of this Revolution, and it will be victoriously completed only if through your school a new German people is educated.’[328]

In the early summer of 1933 it seemed probable that this revolutionary wave, with its curious compound of genuine radicalism and job-seeking, would not exhaust itself until every single institution in Germany had been remodelled and brought under Nazi control.

But there was a point beyond which this process could not go without seriously endangering the efficiency of the State and of the German economy. This was a threat to which Hitler, who was now the head of the Government as well as the leader of a Party, could not remain indifferent. The two dangers to which he had to pay particular attention were the disruption of the economic organization of the country, and attempts to interfere with the inviolability of the Army.

Hitler’s arrival in power had been accompanied by a recrudescence of Nazi attacks upon the big capitalists. Otto Wagener, the head of the Party’s Economic Section in the Brown House, attempted to secure control of the employers’ associations which had combined to form the Reich Corporation (Reichstand) of German Industry. Dr Adrian von Rentein, the leader of the Combat League of Middle-Class Tradespeople, established himself as president of the German Industrial and Trade Committee (the union of German Chambers of Commerce), and declared that the Chambers of Commerce would be the cornerstone in the new Nazi edifice of Reich Corporations. The hostility of the small shopkeepers, whom Rentein represented, was especially directed against the department stores and cooperatives. Walther Darré, the new Minister of Agriculture, demanded a drastic cut in the capital value of agrarian debts and the reduction of the rate of interest to two per cent. Men like Gottfried Feder believed that the time had come to put into practice the economic clauses of the Party’s original programme, with its sweeping proposals for nationalization, profit-sharing, the abolition of unearned incomes and ‘the abolition of the thraldom of interest’. (Points 13,14, and IL)

Hitler had never been a Socialist; he was indifferent to economic questions. What he saw, however, was that radical economic experiments at such a time would throw the German economy into a state of confusion, and would prejudice, if not destroy, the chances of cooperation with industry and business to end the Depression and bring down the unemployment figures. Such an argument, an argument which directly touched his own power, took precedence over the economic panaceas peddled by Feder, or the importunate desires of those who believed, as Hitler told Rauschning, that Socialism meant their chance to share in the spoils. Hitler made his changed attitude perfectly clear in the course of July.

To the Reichsstatthalter, gathered in the Reich Chancellery on 6 July, Hitler now said bluntly:

The revolution is not a permanent state of affairs, and it must not be allowed to develop into such a state. The stream of revolution released must be guided into the safe channel of evolution.... We must therefore not dismiss a business man if he is a good business man, even if he is not yet a National Socialist; and especially not if the National Socialist who is to take his place knows nothing about business. In business, ability must be the only authoritative standard....

History will not judge us [Hitler continued] according to whether we have removed and imprisoned the largest number of economists, but according to whether we have succeeded in providing work.... The ideas of the programme do not oblige us to act like fools and upset everything, but to realize our trains of thought wisely and carefully. In the long run our political power will be all the more secure, the more we succeed in underpinning it economically. The Reichsstatthalter, must therefore see to it that no organizations or Party offices assume the functions of government, dismiss individuals and make appointments to offices, to do which the Reich Government alone — and in regard to business the Reich Minister of Economics — is competent.[329]

A week later Hitler summoned the Gauleiters to Berlin and made the same point to them: ‘Political power we had to conquer rapidly and with one blow; in the economic sphere other principles of development must determine our action. Here progress must be made step by step without any radical breaking up of existing conditions which would endanger the foundations of our own life... ,’[330]

At the end of June when Hitler replaced Hugenberg as Minister of Economy and Trade he chose as his successor Dr Schmitt, director-general of the largest insurance company in Germany, the Allianz. Schmitt, like Schacht at the Reichsbank, was wholly opposed to the plans of economic cranks like Feder, who was only made an Under-Secretary. Wagener was dismissed and his place taken by the ‘reliable’ Wilhelm Keppler, who now became the Fiihrer’s Deputy for Economic Questions. Krupp von Bohlen remained as president of the Reich Corporation of German Industry, and Thyssen became chairman of the two powerful Rhineland groups, the Langnamverein[331] and the North-western Employers’ Association. The Combat League of Middle-class Tradespeople was dissolved in August: on 7 July, Hess, the deputy leader of the Party, had issued a statement forbidding members of the Party to take any action against department stores and similar undertakings. Darré, it is true, remained as Minister of Agriculture, but no more was heard of his demand to reduce the rate of interest on rural debts to two per cent. Finally, Schmitt let it be known that there would be no further experiments in the corporate development of the national economy, and Hess banned such talk in the Party on pain of disciplinary measures.

July 1933 in fact marked a turning point in the development of the revolution. At the end of June, about the time that the crisis over economic policy came to a head, Hitler had been summoned to Neudeck to receive a remonstrance from the President on the turmoil caused by the Nazi ‘German Christians’ in the Protestant Churches. On his return to Berlin he knocked the Church leaders’ heads together and enforced a compromise for the sake of ecclesiastical peace. In a speech which he delivered a few days later at Leipzig he spoke of the ending of the second phase of the battle for Germany: ‘We could with a single revolutionary onrush frame our attack to win power in the State; now before us lies the next phase of our struggle.... The great fighting movement of the German people enters on a new stage.’[332] The task of this new phase Hitler described as ‘educating the millions who do not yet in their hearts belong to us’.

Hitler’s own wish to bring the revolution to an end, for the time being at least, and to consolidate its gains, is plain enough. To quote another sentence of his speech to the Reichsstatthälter on 6 July: ‘Many more revolutions have been successful at the outset than have, when once successful, been arrested and brought to a standstill at the right moment.’[333]

Hitler, however, was far from convincing all his followers of the necessity of his new policy. Once again opposition found its strongest expression in the S.A. Its leader was Ernst Röhm, the S.A. Chief of Staff, who spoke in the name of the hundreds of thousands of embittered Nazis who had been left out in the cold, and wanted no end to the revolution until they too had been provided for. At the beginning of August Goring, in line with the change of policy, announced the dismissal of the S.A. and S.S. auxiliary police; they were no longer needed. On 6 August, before a parade of eighty thousand S.A. men on the Tempelhof Field outside Berlin, Röhm gave his answer: ‘Anyone who thinks that the tasks of the S.A. have been accomplished will have to get used to the idea that we are here and intend to stay here, come what may.’[334]

From the summer of 1933 to the summer of 1934 this quarrel over the Second Revolution was to form the dominant issue in German politics.


Throughout the autumn of 1933 and the spring of 1934 for the next nine months demands to renew and extend the Revolution grew louder and more menacing. Röhm, Goebbels, and many of the S.A. leaders made open attacks on Reaktion, that comprehensive word which covered everyone the S.A. disliked, from capitalists and Junkers, Conservative politicians and stiff-necked generals, to the respectable bourgeois citizen with a job and the civil service bureaucrats. The S.A. looked back nostalgically to the spring of the previous year, when the gates to the Promised Land had been flung open, and Germany had appeared to be theirs to loot and lord it over as they pleased. Then an official job, a Mercedes, and an expenses account had appeared to be within the reach of every S.A. sub-leader. Now, they grumbled, the Nazis had gone respectable, and many who had secured a Party card only the day before were allowed to continue with their jobs, while deserving Alte Kämpfer were left out on the streets. In characteristically elegant language the S.A. began to talk of clearing out the pig-sty, and driving a few of the greedy swine away from the troughs.

While the S.A., which was a genuine mass movement with strong radical and anti-capitalist leanings, became restive, and attracted to it all those dissatisfied elements who sought to perpetuate the revolution, Röhm and the S.A. leadership became involved in a quarrel with the Army. It was the old issue which Röhm had fought over with Hitler in the 1920s. On this subject Hitler’s views had never wavered: he was as strongly opposed as ever to Rohm’s inveterate desire to turn the S.A. into soldiers and to remodel the Army.

There were particularly strong reasons why Hitler wished to avoid alienating the Army leaders at this time. The willingness of the Army to see Hitler become Chancellor, the benevolent neutrality of the Army during the months following 30 January, in which he successfully crushed all resistance and arrogated more and more power to himself — these were decisive factors in the establishment of the Nazi régime, just as the Army’s repudiation of Hitler in 1923 had been decisive for his failure. The key figure in guaranteeing the friendly attitude of the Army was General von Blomberg who took the office of Minister of Defence in Hitler’s cabinet. On 2 February, three days after he became Chancellor, Hitler visited the house of Hammerstein, the Army Commanderin-Chief, and spoke for two hours to the leading generals and admirals.[335] He laid stress on two points which made a powerful appeal to his audience. The first was his promise to restore German military strength by rearmament, the second his assurance that the Army would not be called upon to intervene in a civil war. As an earnest of his willingness to preserve the unique position of the German Army in the state, Hitler promulgated a new Army Law on 20 July which ended the jurisdiction of the civil courts over the military and abolished the republican practice of electing representatives of the rank and file.

The Army remained loyal to its bargain, and Hitler’s relations with Blomberg became closer as he began to take the first steps in rebuilding the military power of Germany. Hitler was dependent upon the generals for the technical skill necessary to plan and carry out German rearmament. Looking ahead to the time when the aged President must die, he recognized the importance of having the Army again on his side, if he was to secure the succession to Hindenburg for himself. For both reasons, Hitler was anxious that nothing should disturb the confidence of the Army leaders in the new régime.

Röhm took a different view. By the end of 1933 the S.A. numbered between two and three million men, and Röhm stood at the head of an army more than ten or twenty times the size of the regular Reichswehr. The S.A. leaders, ambitious and hungry for power, saw in their organization the revolutionary army which should provide the military power of the New Germany. Most of the S.A. leaders had come through the rough school of the Freikorps; they were contemptuous of the rigid military hierarchy of the professional Army, and resentful at the way they were treated by the Officer Corps. Like the gangsters they were, they were envious and avid for the prestige, the power and the pickings they would acquire by supplanting the generals. Their motives were as crude as their manners, but undeniably men like Röhm and Heines were tough, possessed ability, and commanded powerful forces. To Rauschning, Röhm grumbled: ‘The basis (of the new army) must be revolutionary. You can’t inflate it afterwards. You only get the opportunity once to make something big that’ll help us to lift the world off its hinges. But Hitler puts me off with fair words.... He wants to inherit an army all ready and complete. He’s going to let the “experts” file away at it. When I hear that word, I’m ready to explode. Afterwards he’ll make National Socialists of them, he says. But first he leaves them to the Prussian generals. I don’t know where he’s going to get his revolutionary spirit from. They’re the same old clods, and they’ll certainly lose the next war.’[336]

In the long run Hitler was to treat the German generals just as roughly as Röhm would have done, but in 1933–4 he needed their support, and was not prepared to let Röhm and the S.A. spoil his plans. On their side, the generals were adamant in their refusal to accept the S.A. on an equal footing with the Army, and determined to maintain the Army’s privileged position in the State. Here was one institution which they were resolved should not be Nazified, and Röhm’s pretensions were rejected with contempt.

In a number of speeches in the latter half of 1933, Hitler went out of his way to reassure the generals that he remained loyal to his compact with them. On 1 July, addressing his S.A. leaders at Bad Reichenhall, he declared: ‘This army of the political soldiers of the German Revolution has no wish to take the place of our Army or to enter into competition with it.’

On 19 August at Bad Godesberg he repeated: ‘The relation of the S.A. to the Army must be the same as that of the political leadership to the Army.’[337] On 23 September, after recognizing the debt the movement owed to the Army at the time he became Chancellor he added: ‘We can assure the Army that we shall never forget this, that we see in them the bearers of the tradition of our glorious old Army, and that with all our heart and all our powers we will support the spirit of this Army.’[338]

But the problem of the S.A. remained. If it was not to be incorporated into the Army, as Röhm wanted, what was to become of it? The S.A. was the embarrassing legacy of the years of struggle. In it were collected the ‘old fighters’ who had been useful enough for street brawling, but for whom the Party had no further use when it came to power and took over the State; the disillusioned radicals, resentful at Hitler’s compromise with existing institutions; the ambitious, who had failed to get the jobs they wanted, and the unsuccessful, who had no jobs at all. As the revolutionary impetus slackened and more normal conditions began to return, the S.A., conscious of the unpopularity which their excesses had won for them, began to feel themselves no longer wanted. In a speech to fifteen thousand S.A. officials in the Berlin Sportpalast in November 1933, Röhm gave expression to this mood of frustration in a violent attack on the ‘reactionaries’, the respectable civil servants, the business men and the army officers, on whom Hitler now relied for cooperation. ‘One often hears voices from the bourgeois camp to the effect that the S.A. have lost any reason for existence,’ he declared. But he would tell these gentlemen that the old bureaucratic spirit must still be changed ‘in a gentle, or if need be, in an ungentle manner’.[339] Röhm’s attack was greeted with loud applause.

Thus the particular issue of the relations between the S.A. and the Army became part of a much bigger problem. It became a test case involving the whole question of the so-called Second Revolution — the point at which the revolution was to be halted — and the classic problem of all revolutionary leaders once they have come to power, the liquidation of the Party’s disreputable past.

Hitler first attempted to solve this problem by conciliation and compromise, a policy to which he clung in the face of growing difficulties, up to June 1934. A Law to Secure the Unity of Party and State, promulgated on 1 December, made both Röhm as Chief of Staff of the S.A., and Hess, the deputy leader of the Party, members of the Reich Cabinet. So far as Röhm was concerned, this repaired an omission which had long been a grievance with the S.A.

At the beginning of the New Year Hitler addressed a letter to Röhm of unusual friendliness, employing throughout the intimate form of the second person singular:

My dear Chief of Staff,

The fight of the National Socialist movement and the National Socialist Revolution were rendered possible for me by the consistent suppression of the Red Terror by the S.A. If the Army has to guarantee the protection of the nation against the world beyond our frontiers, the task of the S.A. is to secure the victory of the National Socialist Revolution and the existence of the National Socialist State and the community of our people in the domestic sphere. When I summoned you to your present position, my dear Chief of Staff, the S.A. was passing through a serious crisis. It is primarily due to your services if after a few years this political instrument could develop that force which enabled me to face the final struggle for power and to succeed in laying low the Marxist opponent.

At the close of the year of the National Socialist Revolution, therefore, I feel compelled to thank you, my dear Ernst Röhm, for the imperishable services which you have rendered to the National Socialist movement and the German people, and to assure you how very grateful I am to Fate that I am able to call such men as you my friends and fellow combatants.

In true friendship and grateful regard,

Your Adolf Hitler[340]

With Röhm and Hess in the Cabinet more attention was now paid to the needs and grievances of the ‘old fighters’, and the end of the first year of Hitler’s Chancellorship was signalized by a law passed in February 1934, ‘Concerning Provision for the Fighters of the National Movement’. Members of the Party or S.A. who had suffered sickness or injury in the political struggle for the national movement were to receive pensions or payments from the State in the same way as those injured in the First World War.

Röhm, however, was not to be silenced by such sops. In February he proposed in the Cabinet that the S.A. should be used as the basis for the expansion of the Army, and that a single Minister should be appointed to take charge of the Armed Forces of the State, together with all para-military and veterans’ organizations. The obvious candidate for such a post was Röhm himself. This was to touch the Army on its most tender spot. Hindenburg had only agreed to Hitler’s Chancellorship on the express condition that he, and not Hitler, should appoint the Minister of Defence, and the Army would never agree to a Nazi, least of all to Röhm, in such a position. The Army High Command, presented a unanimous opposition to such a proposal and appealed to the President, as the guardian of the Army’s traditions, to put a stop to Röhm’s attempted interference.

Hitler declined to take Röhm’s side in the dispute, and the plan was allowed to drop for the moment. When Mr Eden, then Lord Privy Seal, visited Berlin on 21 February, Hitler was prepared privately to offer a reduction of the S.A. by two-thirds, and to permit a scheme of supervision to see that the remainder neither possessed arms nor were given military training. These proposals were renewed in April. Not only were they a clever piece of diplomatic bargaining on Hitler’s part, but they provide an illuminating sidelight on the direction in which he was moving. For, although temporarily checked, Rohm kept up his pressure on the Army, and relations between himself and General von Blomberg, the Minister of Defence, grew strained. Among the captured German documents is a letter of Blomberg’s dated 2 March 1934, in which he drew Hitler’s attention to the recruitment and arming of special S.A. Staff Guards. ‘This would amount to six to eight thousand S.A. men permanently armed with rifles and machine-guns in the area of the VI Military District H.Q. alone.’[341] It is evident that each side in the dispute was taking every opportunity to score off the other.

At the end of March, Hitler indignantly — almost too indignantly — repudiated the suggestion of an Associated Press Correspondent that there were divisions in the Party leadership. A few days later, however, the situation was transformed for Hitler when he and von Blomberg were secretly informed that President Hindenburg could not be expected to live very much longer. Within a matter of months, perhaps of weeks, the question of the succession would have to be settled.


It had long been the hope of conservative circles that Hindenburg’s death would be followed by a restoration of the monarchy, and this was the President’s own wish, expressed in the Political Testament which he signed secretly on 11 May 1934. Although he had at one time found it politic to talk in vague terms of an ultimate restoration, Hitler never seriously entertained the project, and in his Reichstag speech of 30 January 1934 he declared the times to be inopportune for such a proposal. He was equally opposed to a perpetuation of the existing situation. So long as the independent position of the President existed alongside his own, so long as the President was Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and so long as the oath of allegiance was taken to the President and not to himself, Hitler’s power was something less than absolute. While the old Field-Marshal remained alive Hitler had to accept this limitation, but he was determined that when Hindenburg died he and no one else should succeed to the President’s position. It was to Adolf Hitler, and not to a possible rival, that the Armed Forces should take the new oath of allegiance. The first and most important step was to make sure of the Army, whose leaders, in the tradition of General von Seeckt, claimed to represent the permanent interests of the nation independently of the rise and fall of governments and parties. This was a claim which it was virtually certain Hitler would sooner or later challenge; but he was content to bide his time and negotiate for the Army’s support on the generals’ own terms.

In the second week of April an opportunity presented itself. On 11 April Hitler left Kiel on the cruiser Deutschland to take part in naval manoeuvres. He was accompanied by General von Blomberg, the Minister of Defence; Colonel General Freiherr von Fritsch, the Commander-in-Chief of the German Army, and Admiral Raeder, the Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy. It is believed to have been during the course of this short voyage that Hitler came to terms with the generals: the succession for himself, in return for the suppression of Röhm’s plans and the continued inviolability of the Army’s position as the sole armed force in the State. On his return from East Prussia Hitler quietly renewed his offer to the British and French Governments to reduce the S.A. On the Army side, a conference of senior officers under Fritsch’s chairmanship which met at Bad Nauheim on 16 May, to discuss the question of the succession, endorsed Blomberg’s decision in favour of Hitler after — but only after — the terms of the Deutschland Pact had been communicated to them.

The news of Hitler’s offer to cut down the numbers of the S.A., which leaked out and was published in Prague, sharpened the conflict between Röhm and the Army. Röhm had powerful enemies inside the Party as well as in the Army. Göring, who had been made a general by Hindenburg to his great delight at the end of August 1933, once in power gravitated naturally towards the side of privilege and authority, and was on the worst of terms with the Chief of Staff of the S.A. He began to collect a powerful police force ‘for special service’, which he kept ready under his own hand at the Lichterfelde Cadet School near Berlin. On 1 April 1934, Himmler, already head of the Bavarian police and Reichsfuhrer of the black-shirted S.S., was unexpectedly appointed by Göring as head of the Prussian Gestapo. With the help of Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler was engaged in building up a police empire within the Nazi State, and it appears likely that Göring surrendered his authority over the Gestapo with an ill grace. But Göring found in Himmler an ally against a common enemy, for the first obstacle Himmler sought to remove from his path was Ernst Röhm. Himmler and his S.S. were still a part of the S.A. and subordinate to Röhm’s command, although the rivalry between the S.A. and S.S. was bitter, and Röhm’s relationship with Himmler could hardly have been less cordial. When the time came, the S.S. corps d’élite provided the firing-squads for the liquidation of the S.A. leaders, while Himmler — far more than the generals — was the ultimate beneficiary of the humbling of the rival S.A. Hess, Bormann, and Major Buch (the chairman of the Uschla) were meanwhile diligent in collecting complaints and scandals — and there were plenty — about Röhm and the other S.A. leaders.

Röhm’s only friends in the Party leadership were Goebbels and — paradoxically enough — the man who had him murdered, Hitler. Goebbels was by temperament a radical and more attracted by the talk of a Second Revolution than by the idea of any compromise with the Reaktion, which he continued to attack in his speeches and articles. It was Goebbels who still kept in touch with Röhm and maintained a link between the Chief of Staff and Hitler until the middle of June. Only at the last moment did the Minister of Propaganda come over to the other side and turn against Röhm, in the same way that he had betrayed Strasser in 1926. As for Hitler, whatever view is taken of the conflict which was going on in his mind it is clear that it was not until the latter part of June that he was persuaded to move against Röhm and the S.A., as Göring and Himmler had been urging him to do for some time past.

Röhm’s strength lay in the S.A. troops, and his closest associates were all prominent S.A. leaders. But Röhm himself and other S.A. leaders, like the brutal and corrupt Heines, had acquired a bad reputation for the disorder, luxury, and perversion of their way of living. Although it suited Hitler and Röhm’s enemies to play this up after his murder,[342] there is no doubt that it had seriously weakened Röhm’s position, even if there were few among the other Nazi leaders who were well placed to cast reproaches. By the middle of May, Röhm so far recognized that the S.A. were on the defensive as to send out an order dated 16 May, instructing his local leaders to keep a record of all complaints and attacks directed against the S.A.[343]

The history of the following weeks can only be reconstructed with difficulty. The outlines of the situation are clear enough, but the parts played by individuals, by Goebbels and by Strasser, for instance; the intentions of the two principal actors, Hitler and Röhm; whether there ever was a conspiracy, and if so who was involved in it — all these represent questions to which more than one answer can be given. The official accounts fail to cover all the known facts and involve obvious contradictions, while the accounts compiled from the evidence of men who survived and from hearsay necessarily contain much that is unverifiable, even where it rings true. Unfortunately, the documentary material captured in Germany at the end of the Second World War and so far published has yielded virtually nothing: perhaps this was one of the episodes in the history of the Third Reich of which no records were allowed to remain.

The situation with which Hitler had to deal was produced by the intersection of three problems, the problems of the Second Revolution, of the S.A. and the Army, and of the succession to President von Hindenburg. Neither the first nor the second of these was new, and Hitler’s instinct was to attempt to ride out the crisis and avoid making an outright decision in favour of either side. It was the third problem, that of the succession, which introduced a note of urgency by making Hitler’s own position vulnerable.

If Hitler was to secure their support for his succession to the Presidency, the Army and the conservative interests with which the Army leadership was identified were determined to exact in return the removal of the S.A. threat to take over the Army and renew the revolution. The only alternative to accepting their terms was that urged by Röhm — for Hitler himself to take the lead in renewing the revolution and, relying on the S.A., to destroy any opposition by force. But this was a course which would create more problems than it would remove. It would mean the risk of open conflict with the Army, avoidance of which had been a guiding principle with Hitler ever since the fiasco of 1923 ; it would divide and weaken the nation, wreck the chances of economic recovery and possibly produce international complications, even the threat of foreign intervention.

For weeks these were the considerations which Hitler weighed in his mind. Driven at last to decide, he chose to stand by his agreement with the Army and repudiate the Revolution, but for as long as possible he sought to avoid a decision. When he had made it, he disguised it as action forced on him not by pressure from the Right, but by disloyalty and conspiracy on the Left.

On 4 June Hitler sent for Röhm and had a conversation with him which lasted for five hours. According to Hitler’s later account of this talk, he warned Röhm against any attempt to start a Second Revolution — ‘I implored him for the last time to oppose this madness of his own accord, to use his authority to stop a development which in any event could only end in a catastrophe.’[344] At the same time as he assured Röhm that he had no intention of dissolving the S.A., Hitler reproached him with the scandal created by his own behaviour and that of his closest associates in the S.A. leadership. What else was said is not known, but it would be surprising if Hitler did not mention the succession to Hindenburg and the difficulties which Röhm was creating for him by antagonizing the Army. It would be equally surprising if Röhm did not attempt to win Hitler over to his view of the future of the S.A. as the core of a new army. Whatever was said between the two men, a day or two later Hitler ordered the S.A. to go on leave for the month of July, returning to duty on 1 August, while Röhm announced on 7 June that he himself was about to take a period of sick leave. During their leave the S.A. were forbidden to wear their uniforms or to take part in any demonstrations or exercises. This was evidently Hitler’s way of relieving the tension and freeing himself temporarily of the embarrassment of his more impetuous followers. Lest there should be any misunderstanding, however, Röhm issued his own communiqué to the S.A.

I expect, then, on 1 August that the S.A.,fully rested and strengthened, will stand ready to serve the honourable tasks which People and Fatherland may expect from them. If the foes of the S.A. are nursing the hope that the S.A. will not return from their leave, or that a part only will return, we are ready to let them enjoy this hope for a short time. At the hour and in the form which appears to be necessary they will receive the fitting answer. The S.A. is, and remains, Germany’s destiny.[345]

Röhm’s statement certainly suggests that Hitler had failed to persuade him to moderate his attitude, but Röhm left Berlin in the belief that no decision would be taken in the near future. Hitler indeed agreed to attend a conference of S.A. leaders to discuss the future of the movement at Wiessee, near Munich, on 30 June. It was a rendezvous which Hitler did not fail to keep.

What then happened between 8 June and 30 June?

Hitler gave his version in his speech of 13 July. According to this, Röhm through the agency of a certain Herr von A. (identified as Werner von Alvensleben) had renewed his old relations with General von Schleicher. The two men, according to Hitler, agreed on a concrete programme:

1. The present regime in Germany could not be supported.

2. Above all the Army and all national associations must be united in a single band.

3. The only man who could be considered for such a position was the Chief of Staff, Röhm.

4. Herr von Papen must be removed, and Schleicher himself would be ready to take the position of Vice-Chancellor, and in addition further important changes must be made in the Reich Cabinet.[346]

Since Röhm was not sure that Hitler would agree to such a programme — and it appears that it was still proposed to retain Hitler as Chancellor — he made preparations to carry out his plan by a coup, the main role in which was to be played by the S.A. Staff Guards, to which, as we have already seen, Blomberg had drawn Hitler’s attention. To complete the conspiracy, Hitler continued, Schleicher and General von Bredow got in touch with ‘a foreign Power’ (later identified as France). At the same time Gregor Strasser, who had retired into private life after Hitler’s Chancellorship, was brought into the plot.

After his talk with Hitler on 4 June, Röhm — still according to Hitler’s version — pressed on with plans to capture the Government quarter in Berlin and take Hitler captive, hoping to use his authority to call out the S.A. and paralyse the other forces in the State. The action taken at the end of June was directed, Hitler claimed, to forestalling Röhm’s putsch which was about to be staged in a matter of hours.

Part of this story can with some certainty be rejected as untrue from the beginning. If Röhm was preparing to make a putsch, his plans were certainly not ready to be put into operation at the end of June. All the evidence shows that the S.A. leaders were taken completely by surprise. On the very day he was supposed to be storming the Chancellery in Berlin, Röhm was seized in bed at the hotel in Wiessee where he was taking a cure and awaiting Hitler’s arrival for the conference they had arranged. Most of the other S.A. leaders were either on their way to Wiessee or had actually arrived. Karl Ernst, the S.A. leader in Berlin (whom Hitler represented as one of the most important figures in the plot), was taken prisoner at Bremen, where he was about to leave by boat for a honeymoon in Madeira. The whole story of an imminent coup d’état was a lie, either invented later by Hitler as a pretext for his own action, or possibly made use of at the time by Göring and Himmler to deceive Hitler and force him to move against Röhm. Frick, the Minister of the Interior, testified after the war that it was Himmler who convinced Hitler that Röhm meant to start a putsch.[347] Indeed, the view that Hitler genuinely, although mistakenly, believed that he had to deal with a conspiracy would fit very well with his own behaviour at the time. So great was Hitler’s capacity for self-dramatization and duplicity, however, and so convenient the pretext, that it would be wiser, on the evidence we have, to keep an open mind.

By the time he came to make his Reichstag speech even Hitler seems to have realized that there was precious little substance in his accusation of intrigues with a foreign Power.[348] Whatever contacts Schleicher or Röhm had with the French Ambassador, or any other foreign representative, appear to have been entirely casual, and the German Foreign Ministry later presented a note to the Quai d’Orsay in Paris officially stating that any suspicions directed against the French Ambassador in Berlin were wholly without foundation.[349]

Stripped of its mysterious foreign complications and its melodramatic denouement in an S.A. march on Berlin at the end of June, there remains the double charge that Röhm discussed with Schleicher — possibly also with Strasser — the programme outlined by Hitler, and that there was talk in the S.A. leadership of forcing Hitler to take the lead in a revolutionary settlement which would include the establishment of the S.A. as the nucleus of the new German Army. Neither charge is implausible. Röhm certainly had such ambitions for his S.A. and made no secret of them. He had been in close relations with Schleicher before 30 January 1933 — so had Gregor Strasser, who was to have been Schleicher’s Vice-Chancellor. Schleicher was an able, ambitious and unscrupulous intriguer. At one time he had thought of incorporating the S.A. as a reserve for the Army; and he had plenty of reason for seeking to revenge himself on Papen, as well as on Blomberg and the other generals who had accepted his dismissal in January 1933 without protest. But this remains speculation, and the one fact that is established, namely, that Schleicher and Strasser were both shot in the same purge as Röhm, is open to a very different interpretation. For, if there were two men in Germany who might well have felt insecure in the event of any purge, two men whom Hitler was certain to regard as dangerous, whatever they did, they were Gregor Strasser and Kurt von Schleicher. There were many old scores levelled on the week-end of 30 June 1934, and the murder of Schleicher and Strasser may well fall into this category.

As to the second charge, it is very likely that Röhm and those who shared his views discussed how to win Hitler over and force his hand, but there is no proof at all that such discussions had gone so far as to merit the name of a conspiracy. The conspirators of June 1934 were not Röhm and the S.A., but Göring and Himmler, the enemies of Röhm; the treachery and disloyalty were not on Röhm’s side, but on theirs and Hitler’s; and if ever men died convinced — not without reason — that they had been ‘framed’, it was the men who were shot on 30 June 1934.

Without being dogmatic, therefore, there is good reason to regard the account which Hitler gave of these events with suspicion, as the awkward apologia of a murderer seeking to justify his crime by defaming his victims.


Throughout June 1934 there was an ominous tension in Berlin, heightened by rumours and much speculation. At the end of May both Brüning and Schleicher were warned that, in the event of a purge, their lives were in danger. The possibility of such a purge was now widely canvassed, although there were the most divergent accounts of who was to make the purge and who was to be purged. Brüning took the advice seriously and left for Switzerland; Schleicher went no farther than the Starnbergersee, and returned in time to be shot.

On 14 June Hitler made his first foreign visit since becoming Chancellor, and flew to Venice for the first of many celebrated conversations with Mussolini. The first, as it happened, was among the least auspicious of all. Mussolini, at the height of his reputation and resplendent with uniform and dagger, patronized the worried Hitler, who appeared in a raincoat and a soft hat. Mussolini was not only pressing on the subject of Austria, where Nazi intrigues were to lead to trouble before the summer was out, but frank in his comments on the internal situation in Germany. He advised Hitler to put the Left wing of the Party under restraint, and Hitler returned from Venice depressed and irritable.

No part is more difficult to trace in this confused story than that played by Gregor Strasser — if indeed he played any part at all other than that of victim. Hitler had apparently renewed touch with Strasser earlier in the year, and, according to Gregor’s brother Otto, saw him the day before he left for Venice, in order to offer him the Ministry of National Economy. Strasser, always a poor politician, made the mistake of imposing too many conditions, demanding the dismissal of both Göring and Goebbels. This was more than Hitler could agree to, and he let Strasser go.

About the same time, again according to Otto Strasser, Goebbels had been seeing Röhm secretly in a back room of the Bratwurst-Glöckle tavern[350] in Munich. Immediately on Hitler’s return from Venice Goebbels reported to him on his conversations with the S.A. Chief of Staff.

These attempts to keep in touch with Strasser, the one-time leader of the Left wing of the Party, and with Röhm, the leader of the S.A., in which radicalism was endemic, were evidently related to a conflict still going on in Hitler’s mind. What were the terms of this conflict? Two explanations seem possible. The first is the explanation usually given, that Hitler was weighing the advantages of going with the radicals against the Reaktion, or with the Army and the Right against the radicals. On this view he kept in touch with Röhm and allowed Goebbels to go on with his talks, because he had still not made up his mind. The second explanation is that given by Hitler himself. In his speech of 13 July he said: ‘ I still cherished the secret hope that I might be able to spare the movement and my S.A. the shame of such a disagreement and that it might be possible to remove the mischief without severe conflicts.’[351]

On this view Hitler was preoccupied not with the choice between the radicals and the Reaktion, between the S.A. and the Army, but with the possibility of postponing such a choice and patching up a compromise, at least until the question of the succession had been decided. On a priori grounds this seems a more plausible explanation of Hitler’s hesitation than that of vacillation between the reactionary and the revolutionary course. For it is difficult to believe that Hitler ever contemplated the risk of an open clash with the Army, whereas it is very easy to believe that he was eager to avoid dealing a heavy blow to the Party, by delaying action in the hope that Hindenburg might die suddenly, or that in some other way the crisis could be solved without irrevocable decisions. At present there is not sufficient evidence to decide in favour of one view or the other.

At this stage Hitler was given a sharp reminder of the realities of the situation from an unexpected quarter. Papen had dropped into the background since the spring of 1933, but he remained Vice-Chancellor and still enjoyed the special confidence of the old President. The divisions within the Party offered him a chance of re-asserting his influence, and for the last time he made use of his credit with the President to stage a public protest against the recent course, and, even more, against the prospective course, of events in Germany. If Hitler refused to listen, or if his protest led to trouble, then Papen hoped and believed that he would have the support of Hindenburg, who was equally unhappy about the state of affairs in Germany. In case of need Papen counted on the President’s ordering the Army to intervene.

Papen’s protest was drafted for him by Edgar Jung, with the cooperation of a number of others who belonged to the Catholic Action group and hoped to use Papen as the mouthpiece of their ideas. Amongst them were Papen’s secretaries, von Bose and von Detten, and Erich Klausener, the leader of Catholic Action. The protest was made in the course of a speech at the University of Marburg on 17 June and crystallized the anxieties and uncertainties of the whole nation. It was studded with references to Catholic and Conservative principles, but its outstanding passages were those which dealt with the talk of a Second Revolution and the shortcomings of Nazi propaganda.

It goes without saying [Papen declared] that the supporters of the revolutionary principle will first of all occupy the positions of power. But when the revolution is completed, then the government can represent only the totality of the nation.... We cannot think of repeating the division of the people, on the ancient Greek model, into Spartans and Helots.... Selection indeed is necessary, but the principle of natural selection must not be replaced by the criterion of adherence to a special political doctrine.

The Vice-Chancellor then turned specifically to the talk of a Second Revolution.

Whoever toys irresponsibly with such ideas should not forget that a second wave of revolution might be followed by a third, and that he who threatens to employ the guillotine may be its first victim.

Nor is it clear where such a second wave is to lead. There is much talk of the coming socialization. Have we gone through the anti-Marxist revolution in order to carry out a Marxist programme? ... Would the German people be the better for it, except perhaps those who scent booty in such a pillaging raid ? ... No people can afford to indulge in a permanent revolt from below if it would endure in history. At some time the movement must come to a stop and a solid social structure arise.... Germany must not embark on an adventure without a known destination, nobody knowing where it will end. History has its own clock. It is not necessary continually to urge it on.

No less outspoken were the references to the mishandling of propaganda:

Great men [Papen remarked] are not created by propaganda, but grow until their deeds are acknowledged by history. Nor can Byzantinism cheat these laws of Nature. Whoever speaks of Prussians should first of all think of quiet, selfless service, and of reward and recognition only at the very last, or best, not at all.

In his concluding passage Papen returned to the place and purpose of propaganda:

If one desires close contact and unity with the people, one must not underestimate their understanding. One must return their confidence and not everlastingly keep them in leading strings.... No organization, no propaganda, however excellent, can alone maintain confidence in the long run. It is not by incitement, especially the incitement of youth, and not by threats against the helpless part of the nation, but only by talking things over with people that confidence and devotion can be maintained.... It is time to join together in fraternal friendship and respect for all our fellow countrymen, to avoid disturbing the labours of serious men and to silence fanatics.[352]

The same day that Papen made his speech at Marburg, Hitler spoke at Gera and was scathing in his references to ‘ the pygmy who imagines he can stop with a few phrases the gigantic renewal of a people’s life’.[353] But Papen’s protest was not so easily brushed aside. Goebbels took immediate steps to ban its publication, seizing a pamphlet version and the edition of the Frankfurter Zeitung in which the text had been printed, but copies were smuggled out of Germany and published abroad, creating a sensation which did not fail to penetrate to Germany. When Papen appeared in public at Hamburg on 24 June he was loudly cheered. It was evident that he had spoken for a great part of the nation.

On 20 June Papen went to see Hitler and demand the removal of the ban on publishing his speech. In a stormy interview Papen threatened his own and the resignation of the other conservative ministers in the Cabinet — von Neurath, the Foreign Minister, and Schwerin von Krosigk, the Minister of Finance. Goebbels continued to make speeches attacking the upper classes and the Reaktion as the enemies of National Socialism,[354] but Hitler saw quite clearly that he was face to face with a major crisis and that action could not be deferred much longer. If he had any doubts, they were removed by his reception when he flew to Neudeck on 21 June to see the ailing President. He was met by the Minister of Defence, General von Blomberg, with an uncompromising message : either the Government must bring about a relaxation of the state of tension or the President would declare martial law and hand over power to the Army. Hitler was allowed to see the President only for a few minutes, but the interview, brief though it was, sufficed to confirm von Blomberg’s message. The Army was claiming the fulfilment of its bargain, and by now Hitler must have realized that more was at stake than the succession to the Presidency : the future of the whole régime was involved.

It is impossible to penetrate Hitler’s state of mind in the last week of June. Obviously he must have been aware of the preparations which were now rapidly put in hand and have agreed to them at least tacitly, yet to the very last day he seems to have hesitated to take the final step. At this stage it was not Hitler but Göring and Himmler who gave the orders and prepared to eliminate their rivals in the Party leadership. In the background the Army made its own arrangements. On 25 June the Com- mander-in-Chief, General von Fritsch, placed the Army in a state of alert, ordering all leave to be cancelled and the troops to be confined to barracks. On 28 June the German Officers’ League expelled Röhm, and on 29 June the Völkischer Beobachter carried a signed article by General von Blomberg, the Minister of Defence, which was a plain statement of the Army’s position.

The Army’s role [Blomberg wrote] is clearly determined; it must serve the National Socialist State, which it affirms with the deepest conviction. Equally it must support those leaders who have given it back its noblest right to be not only the bearer of arms, but also the bearer, recognized by State and people, of their unlimited confidence.... In the closest harmony with the entire nation ... the Army stands, loyal and disciplined, behind the rulers of the State, behind the President, Field- Marshal von Hindenburg, its Supreme Commander, and behind the leader of the Reich, Adolf Hitler, who came from its ranks and remains one of ours.[355]

The Army leaders were quite content to leave it to Göring and Himmler to carry out the purge, but after Blomberg’s article there could be no doubt that whatever was done would be done with their blessing.

On Thursday, 28 June, Hitler, who had only just returned from Bavaria, left Berlin for Essen to attend the marriage of the local Gauleiter, Terboven. It is possible, as some accounts report, that he also went to see Krupp and Thyssen; even so, his absence from the capital at so critical a time is curious and suggests that he was either deliberately trying to lull the suspicions of the watchful, or else refusing to take part in preparations to which he was only half reconciled. While he was away, on the 28th, Göring and Himmler ordered their police commandos and S.S. to hold themselves in readiness.

Far away from the tension and rumours of Berlin, on the shores of the Tegernsee, Röhm continued to enjoy his sick leave with his usual circle of young men, and to prepare lazily for the S.A.

conference at the week-end, at which Hitler was expected. So little was he aware of what was being planned that he had left his Staff Guards in Munich. His carelessness and confidence are astonishing. Yet, even in Berlin, the local S.A. leader, Karl Ernst, who was uneasily aware of something in the wind and alerted the Berlin S.A. on the afternoon of 29 June, was so far misled as to believe the danger was a putsch by the Right directed against Hitler. Ernst never understood what had happened, even after his arrest, and died shouting: ‘‘Heil Hitler.’

On the 29th Hitler, still keeping away from Berlin, made a tour of labour camps in Westphalia, and in the afternoon stopped at Godesberg on the Rhine, where in 1938 he was to receive Neville Chamberlain. At Godesberg he brought himself to take the final decision. Goebbels, who in the past few days had hurriedly dropped his radical sympathies and his contacts with Röhm, brought the news that the Berlin S.A., although due to go on leave the next day, had been suddenly ordered to report to their posts. Other alarming news of S.A. restlessness is said to have come from Munich. Whether Hitler really believed that this was the prelude to an S.A. mutiny, as he later claimed, it is impossible to say. He may have been influenced by the news that Dr Sauerbruch, an eminent German specialist, had been suddenly summoned to the bedside of President Hindenburg. During the evening of the 29th, Viktor Lutze, one of the reliable S.A. leaders (he was later appointed to succeed Röhm as Chief of Staff), was brought hurriedly from Hanover to Godesberg to join Hitler, Goebbels, and Otto Dietrich. At two o’clock in the morning Hitler took off from the Hangelar airfield, near Bonn, to fly to Munich. Before leaving he had telegraphed to Röhm to expect him at Wiessee the next day. ‘It was at last clear to me that only one man could oppose and must oppose the Chief of Staff.’[356]

The purge had already begun in Munich when Hitler landed at the Oberwiesenfeld airfield at four o’clock on the Saturday morning. On the evening of the 29th Major Buch, the chairman of the Uschla, and the Bavarian Minister of the Interior, Adolf Wagner, formed a group of men including Christian Weber, Emil Maurice, and Joseph Berchthold, dim figures from Hitler’s old days in Munich, and arrested the local S.A. leaders on the pretext that they were about to carry out a coup d’etat. At the Ministry of the Interior, where the S.A. Obergruppenführer, Schneidhuber and his deputy were held under guard, a Hitler who had now worked himself up into a fury tore off their insignia with his own hand and cursed them for their treachery.

In the early morning of the 30th a fast-moving column of cars tore down the road from Munich to Wiessee where Röhm and Heines were still asleep in their beds at the Hanselbauer Hotel. The accounts of what happened at Wiessee are contradictory. Heines, the S.A. Obergruppenführer for Silesia, a convicted murderer who was found sleeping with one of Röhm’s young men, is said to have been dragged out and shot on the road. Other accounts say he was taken to Munich with Röhm and shot there.

Back in Munich, seven to eight hundred men of Sepp Dietrich’s S.S. Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler had been brought in from their barracks — the Army providing the transport — and ordered to provide a shooting squad at the Stadelheim Prison. It was there that Röhm had been imprisoned on 9 November 1923, after the unsuccessful Munich putsch; it was there that he was now shot by order of the man whom he had launched on his political career and who seven months before had written to thank him for his imperishable services. Hitler ordered a revolver to be left in his cell, but Röhm refused to use it: ‘If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself.’ According to an eyewitness at the 1957 Munich trial of those involved, he was shot by two S.S. officers who emptied their revolvers into him at point blank range. ‘ Röhm wanted to say something, but the S.S. officer told him to shut up. Then Röhm stood at attention — he was stripped to the waist — with his face full of contempt.’

In Berlin the executions, directed by Göring and Himmler, began on the night of 29–30 June and continued throughout the Saturday and Sunday. The chief place of execution was the Lichterfelde Cadet School, and once again the principal victims were the leaders of the S.A. But in Berlin the net was cast more widely. When the bell rang at General von Schleicher’s villa and the general went to the door, he was shot down where he stood and his wife with him. His friend, General von Bredow, was shot on his doorstep the same evening. Gregor Strasser, arrested at noon on the Saturday, was executed in the Prinz Albrechtstrasse Prison. Göring would certainly have removed Papen too, if he had not been Vice-Chancellor and under the special protection of the President. Despite this, Papen’s office was wrecked, he himself was kept under house arrest for four days, two of his advisers, Bose and Edgar Jung, were shot, and two others arrested.

Late on the Saturday, Hitler returned from Munich. Among those who waited at the Tempelhof was H. B. Gisevius, who has described the scene. Göring, Himmler, Frick, and a group of police officers stood watching for the plane. As it dived out of the sky and rolled across the field a guard of honour presented arms. The first to step out was Hitler. ‘A brown shirt, black bow-tie, dark-brown leather jacket, high black army boots. He wore no hat; his face was pale, unshaven, sleepless, at once gaunt and puffed. Under the forelock pasted against his forehead his eyes stared dully.’ Without saying a word, Hitler shook hands with the group on the airfield; the silence was broken only by the repeated click of heels. He walked slowly past the guard of honour, and not until he had started to walk towards his car did he begin to talk to Göring and Himmler. ‘From one of his pockets Himmler took a long, tattered list. Hitler read it through, while Göring and Himmler whispered incessantly into his ear. We could see Hitler’s finger moving slowly down the sheet of paper. Now and then it paused for a moment at one of the names. At such times the two conspirators whispered even more excitedly. Suddenly Hitler tossed his head. There was so much violent emotion, so much anger in the gesture, that everyone noticed it.... Undoubtedly, we thought, they were now informing him of Strasser’s “suicide”.... The bathos of the scene, the woebegone expressions, the combination of violent fantasy and grim reality, the gratuitously blood-red sky, like a scene out of Wagner — it was really too much for me.’[357]

The executions went on all day Sunday — while Hitler gave a tea-party in the Chancellery garden — and were not confined to Berlin. A considerable number of people, as many as fifty-four according to the White Book later published in Paris, were shot at Breslau, and another thirty-two in the whole of the rest of Silesia. Only on Monday morning did the shooting cease, when the German people, shaken and shocked, returned to work, and Hindenburg addressed his thanks to the Chancellor for his ‘determined action and gallant personal intervention, which have nipped treason in the bud’. On Tuesday General von Blomberg conveyed the congratulations of the Cabinet to the Chancellor. The General had already expressed the devotion and fidelity of the Army in an Order of the Day: ‘The Führer asks us to establish cordial relations with the new S.A. This we shall joyfully endeavour to do in the belief that we serve a common ideal.’[358] The Army was very well satisfied with the events of the week-end.


How many were killed has never been settled. According to Gisevius, Göring ordered all the documents relating to the purge to be burned. Little by little, a list of names was pieced together. Hitler in his speech to the Reichstag admitted fifty-eight executed and another nineteen who had lost their lives. In addition, he mentioned a number of acts of violence unconnected with the plot, which were to be brought before the ordinary courts. The White Book published in Paris gave a total of four hundred and one, and listed one hundred and sixteen of them by name.

The largest group of victims belonged to the S.A., and included, besides Röhm, three S.A. Obergruppenführer — Heines, von Krausser, and Schneidhuber; Hans Hayn and Peter von Hayde- breck, the Gruppenführer for Saxony and Pomerania, and Karl Ernst, the ex-hotel porter who was S.A. Gruppenführer for Berlin and who was stopped by S.S. gunmen on his honeymoon journey to Bremen, his wife and chauffeur wounded, and he himself brought back unconscious for execution in Berlin. Another group was formed by Schleicher and his wife; his former assistant in the Defence Ministry, General von Bredow; Gregor Strasser; and Papen’s two assistants, who served as substitutes for Papen himself, von Bose and Edgar Jung. Bose was talking to two industrialists from the Rhineland in the Vice-Chancellery when he was asked to step into the next room and see three S.S. men who had just arrived: shots rang out, and when the door was opened the S.S. men had gone and Bose was lying dead on the floor. A number of other Catholic leaders were shot, the most important being Erich Klausener, the German leader of Catholic Action.

Many of those murdered had little, if any, connexion with Röhm or the S.A., and fell victims to private quarrels. Kahr, who had played a big role in 1923, but had since retired — he was now seventy-three — was found in a swamp near Dachau; his body was hacked to pieces. Father Bernhard Stempfle, who had once revised the proofs of Mein Kampf, was discovered in the woods outside Munich; he had been shot ‘while trying to escape’. In Hirschberg, Silesia, a group of Jews was murdered, for no other apparent reason than to amuse the local S.S. In Munich, on the evening of 30 June, Dr Willi Schmidt, the music critic of the Münchener Neueste Nachrichten, was playing the cello in his flat while his wife made supper and their three children were playing. Suddenly the door bell rang and four armed S.S. men came to take him away without explanation. There never was any explanation, except that the S.S. men were looking for someone else with the same name and shot the wrong man. When Frau Schmidt got her husband’s body back, she was warned under no circumstances to open the coffin: the S.S. sent her a sum of money in recognition of her loss and their mistake. When she refused to accept it, Himmler rang up and told her to take the money and keep quiet. When she still refused, Hess called and eventually, through his help, Frau Schmidt secured a pension: she should think of her husband’s death, Hess told her, as the death of a martyr for a great cause.[359]

In an effort to prevent too much becoming known, Goebbels forbade German newspapers to carry obituary notices of those who had been executed or ‘had committed suicide’. The ban on any mention of what had happened only led to exaggerated rumours and to the intensification of the feeling of horror and fear. Not until 13 July did Hitler appear before the Reichstag and reveal a part of the story.

Hitler was very much on the defensive, at least until the end of his speech. He began with a lengthy recital of the achievements of National Socialism, in defence of his policy as Chancellor. When he came to describe the events leading up to 30 June he threw the whole blame on Röhm, who had forced him to act against his own wishes. Hitler gave great prominence to the charges of corruption, favouritism, and homosexuality against Röhm’s group, and went out of his way to represent them as betraying the ordinary, decent S.A. man who had been exploited by a depraved and unscrupulous leadership. Hitler did not attempt, however, to conceal the real charges against Röhm. He spoke of those who had become ‘uprooted and had thereby lost altogether any sympathy with any ordered human society. They became revolutionaries who favoured revolution for its own sake and desired to see revolution established as a permanent condition.’ But, Hitler replied, ‘for us the Revolution is no permanent condition. When some mortal check is imposed with violence upon the natural development of a people, then the artificially interrupted evolution can rightly by a deed of violence open up the way for itself in order to regain liberty to pursue its natural development. But there can be no such thing as a state of permanent revolution; neither can any bénéficient development be secured by means of periodically recurrent revolts.’

Hitler’s references to the quarrel between Röhm and the Army were still clearer. After outlining Rohm’s plan for a single organization to incorporate the Army and the S.A., with himself as Minister of Defence, Hitler spoke of his unalterable opposition to Rohm’s ideas. ‘For fourteen years I have stated consistently that the fighting organizations of the Party are political institutions and that they have nothing to do with the Army.’ He recalled his promise to Hindenburg that he would keep the Army out of politics, and spoke in glowing terms of his debt to General von Blomberg, the Minister of Defence, ‘who reconciled the Army with those who were once revolutionaries and has linked it up with their Government today’. Finally he repeated the promise, which to the Army leaders was the covenant in which they placed their faith: ‘In the State there is only one bearer of arms, and that is the Army; there is only one bearer of the political will, and that is the National Socialist Party.’

The Officer Corps, intent only on preserving the privileged position of the Army, and indifferent to what happened in Germany so long as Nazification stopped short of the military institutions of the country, could see no further than the ends of their own noses. The menace of the S.A. was broken for good on the week-end of 30 June. Under Viktor Lutze, its new Chief of Staff, it never again played an independent, or even a prominent, role in the Third Reich. But already a new and far more dangerous challenge to the autonomy of the Army was taking shape. As a reward for their service in the Röhm purge, Himmler’s S.S. were now given their independence of the S.A., and placed directly under Hitler’s orders with Himmler as Reichsfuhrer S.S. At last the long dispute between Hitler and Röhm was ended, and Hitler had got what he had always wanted, an absolutely dependable and unquestioning instrument of political action. When, in 1936, Himmler acquired control of all German police forces as well, the framework of Hitler’s police state was complete. What the Army leaders did not foresee was that, within less than ten years of Röhm’s murder, the S.S. would have succeeded, where the S.A. had failed, in establishing a Party army in open rivalry with the generals’ army, daily encroaching still further on their once proud but now sadly reduced position. No group of men was to suffer so sharp a reversal of their calculations as the Army officers, who, in the summer of 1934, ostentatiously held aloof from what happened in Germany and expressed an arrogant satisfaction at the Chancellor’s quickness in seeing where the real power in Germany lay.

For anyone less blind than the generals, the way in which Hitler dealt with the threat of a second revolution must have brought consternation rather than satisfaction. Never had Hitler made so patent his total indifference to any respect for law or humanity, and his determination to preserve his power at any cost. Never had he illustrated so clearly the revolutionary character of his régime as in disowning the Revolution. At the close of his Reichstag speech Hitler brushed aside the suggestion that the guilty men should have been tried before execution. ‘If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular courts of justice, then all I can say to him is this: in this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme Justiciar (oberster Gerichtsherr) of the German people.’ ... Lest there should be any doubt of the moral to be drawn, Hitler added: ‘And everyone must know for all future time that if he raises his hand to strike the State, then certain death is his lot.’[360]

If Hitler’s hesitations in the last ten days of June had led people to say that he had virtually abdicated, he triumphantly reasserted and increased his authority in the week-end that followed. Papen’s Marburg speech had its answer, but it was Hitler, not Papen and the Reaktion, the peddlers of Christian Conservatism, who emerged triumphant from the test of June 1934.

When Rauschning called on Hitler shortly after the purge, Hitler remarked : ‘ They underestimate me because I’ve risen from below; because I haven’t had an education, because I haven’t the manners that their sparrow brains think right.... But I have spoiled their plans. They thought I wouldn’t dare; they thought I was afraid. They saw me already wriggling in their net. They thought I was their tool, and behind my back they laughed at me and said I had no power now, that I had lost my Party. I saw through all that long ago. I’ve given them a cuff on the ear that they’ll long remember. What I have lost in the trial of the S.A., I shall regain by the verdict on these feudal gamblers and professional card-sharpers.... I stand here stronger than ever before. Forward, meine Herren Papen and Hugenberg! I am ready for the next round.’[361]

The easy assurances of Neurath, who had told Rauschning in the spring of 1934: ‘Let it run its course, in five years no one will remember it,’[362] were shown to be as worthless as Papen’s confident declarations of January 1933. Papen was glad enough to escape with his life and hurriedly accepted the offer to go to Vienna as Hitler’s special envoy. A little late in the day the ex-ViceChancellor was beginning to learn that he who sups with the Devil needs a very long spoon.

Now that Hitler had with one blow removed the pressure on him from both the Left and the Right, he could proceed to deal with the problem of the Succession at his leisure. Having honoured his own share of the pact with the Army, he could claim the fulfilment of the Army’s promise, and in General von Blomberg he had found a man he could rely on. When President von Hindenburg died on the morning of 2 August, all had been arranged. There was neither hitch nor delay. Within an hour came the announcement that the office of President would henceforward be merged with that of the Chancellor, and that Hitler would become the Head of the State — as well as Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Reich. Among the signatures at the foot of the law announcing these changes were those of von. Papen, von Neurath, Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, General von Blomberg, and Schacht: the representatives of Conservatism acquiesced in their own defeat.

The same day the officers and men of the German Army took the oath of allegiance to their new Commander-in-Chief. The form of the oath was significant. The Army was called on to swear allegiance not to the Constitution, or to the Fatherland, but to Hitler personally: ‘I swear by God this holy oath: I will render unconditional obedience to the Führer of the German Reich and People, Adolf Hitler, the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready, as a brave soldier, to stake my life at any time for this oath.’ On 6 August, when the Reichstag assembled in the Kroll Opera House to hear Hitler’s funeral oration, and on 7 August, when the old Field-Marshal was buried with the full honours of State in the monument of his victory at Tannenberg, Hitler renewed the symbolic gesture of Potsdam — but with a difference. Between March 1933 and August 1934 the balance of power in Germany had shifted decisively in Hitler’s favour. In that year and a half he had mastered the machine of State, suppressed the opposition, dispensed with his allies, asserted his authority over the Party and S.A., and secured for himself the prerogatives of the Head of the State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The Nazi revolution was complete: Hitler had become the dictator of Germany.

On 19 August the German people was invited to express by a plebiscite its approval of Hitler’s assumption of Hindenburg’s office as Führer and Reich Chancellor, the official title by which Hitler was now to be known. The Political Testament of President Hindenburg, much discussed but so far not discovered, was now conveniently produced. According to Papen, Hindenburg had decided to omit any reference to the restoration of the monarchy from his testament but to embody a strong recommendation of such a course in a separate letter to Hitler. Both documents were delivered to Hitler, but the letter was never seen again and no more was heard of a restoration. To remove any doubt, Colonel Oskar von Hindenburg was put up to broadcast on the eve of the plebiscite. ‘My father,’ he told the German people, ‘had himself seen in Adolf Hitler his own direct successor as Head of the German State, and I am acting according to my father’s intention when I call on all German men and women to vote for the handing over of my father’s office to the Führer and Reich Chancellor.’[363]

On the day of the plebiscite 95–7 per cent of the forty-five and a half million voters went to the polls, and more than thirty-eight million voted ‘Yes’, 89–93 per cent of the votes cast. Four and a quarter millions had the courage to vote ‘No’; another eight hundred and seventy thousand spoiled their papers.

It was an impressive majority, and when the Party Rally was held at Nuremberg in September Hitler was in benign mood. In his proclamation he spoke a good deal about the Nazi revolution which had now, he announced, achieved its object and come to an end. ‘Just as the world cannot live on wars, so peoples cannot live on revolutions.... Revolutions,’ he added, ‘have always been rare in Germany. The Age of Nerves of the nineteenth century has found its close with us. In the next thousand years there will be no other revolution in Germany.’[364]

It was an ambitious epitaph.



It does not lie within the scope of this study to present a picture of the totalitarian system in Germany, or of its manifold activities in economic and social policy, the elaboration of the police State, control of the courts, the regime’s attitude towards the Churches and the strait-jacketing of education.[365] Hitler bore the final responsibility for whatever was done by the régime, but he hated the routine work of government, and, once he had stabilized his power, he showed comparatively little interest in what was done by his departmental Ministers except to lay down general lines of policy. In the Third Reich each of the Party bosses, Göring, Goebbels, Himmler, and Ley, created a private empire for himself, while the Gauleiters on a lower level enjoyed the control of their own local pashaliks. Hitler deliberately allowed this to happen; the rivalries which resulted only increased his power as supreme arbiter. Nobody ever had any doubt where the final authority lay — the examples of Röhm and Gregor Strasser were there, if anyone needed reminding — and Hitler admitted no equals. But so long as his suspicions were not stirred, he left the business of running the country very much in the hands of his lieutenants. Not until his own position, or special interests, were affected did he rouse himself to intervene actively. An illustration of this is the case of Dr Schacht. ‘As long as I remained in office,’ Schacht wrote later, ‘whether at the Reichsbank or the Ministry of Economics, Hitler never interfered with my work. He never attempted to give me any instructions, but let me carry out my own ideas in my own way and without criticism.... However, when he realized that the moderation of my financial policy was a stumbling block to his reckless plans (in foreign policy), he began, with Göring’s connivance, to go behind my back and counter my arrangements.’[366]

Certain subjects, even in internal affairs, always interested Hitler — building plans, and anti-Semitic legislation, for instance — but he rapidly became absorbed in the two fields of foreign policy and preparation for war. At Nuremberg Goring told the Court: ‘Foreign policy above all was the Führer’s very own realm. By that I mean to say that foreign policy on the one hand, and the leadership of the Armed Forces on the other, enlisted the Führer’s greatest interest and were his main activity. He busied himself exceptionally with the details in both these spheres.’[367]

This was not accidental. Hitler was not interested in administration, or carrying out a programme of reform — he was interested in power. The Party had been the instrument by which he acquired power in Germany; the State was now to be the instrument by which he meant to acquire power in Europe. From his schooldays at Linz Hitler had been a violent German nationalist; he felt the defeat of Germany as a personal disaster, and from the beginning of his political career had identified his own ambition with the re-establishment and extension of German power. The reversal of the verdict of 1918, the overthrow of the Peace Settlement of 1919, and the realization of the Pan-German dream of a German-dominated Europe were the hard core of his political programme.

The aggressive — or, to use the favourite Nazi word, dynamic — foreign policy which Germany began to follow under Hitler’s leadership corresponded to the most powerful force in modern German history, German nationalism and the exaltation of the Machtstaat, the Power State. It gave expression to the long- smouldering rebellion of the German people against the defeat of 1918 and the humiliation of the Peace Settlement. Through the sense of national unity which it fostered, it served to strengthen the political foundations of the régime in popular support. Through the revived industrial activity which it stimulated by the rearmament programme, it helped to overcome the economic crisis in which the Republic had foundered. The recovery and reassertion of German power abroad were substitute satisfactions for the frustrated social revolution at home; the revolutionary impulse in Nazism was diverted into challenging the existing order outside Germany’s frontiers and the creation of a European New Order, in which the big jobs and the privileges would go to the Herrenvolk. Above all, such a foreign policy was the logical projection of that unappeased will to power, both in Hitler himself and in the Nazi Party, which, having conquered power in Germany, was now eager to extend its mastery further.

At the time of the French occupation of the Ruhr, in 1923, Hitler had insisted that the first task was to overthrow the Republic, rather than to waste German strength in a fight with the French which the Germans were bound to lose. It ought to have been recognized, he repeats in Mein Kampf,‘ that the strength of a nation lies, first of all, not in its arms, but in its will, and that before conquering the external enemy the enemy at home would have to be eliminated’.[368] Hitler never wavered in this view. At Düsseldorf in 1932 he argued that Germany’s misfortunes were due, not so much to the Treaty of Versailles, as to the internal weaknesses and divisions which allowed the Treaty to be imposed on her. ‘We are not the victims of the treaties, but the treaties are the consequences of our own mistakes; and if I wish in any way to better the situation, I must first change the value of the nation; I must above all recognize that it is not the primacy of foreign politics which can determine our action in the domestic sphere — rather, the character of our action in the domestic sphere is decisive for the character of the success of our foreign policy.’[369]

The first prerequisite of a foreign policy was, therefore, to replace the Republic by a strong, authoritarian government in Berlin. That had been done; by now the way was clear for the second stage, the removal of the limitations which had been placed on Germany’s freedom of action as the result of her defeat in 1918 and — as Hitler believed — as a consequence of the weakness of the Republican Governments and their betrayal of national interests.


In the 1920s Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. ‘What a use could be made of the Treaty of Versailles! ... How each one of the points of that Treaty could be branded in the minds and hearts of the German people until sixty million men and women find their souls aflame with a feeling of rage and shame; and a torrent of fire bursts forth as from a furnace, and a will of steel is forged from it, with the common cry: “Wir wollen wieder Waffen! - We will have arms again!”’[370]

If Hitler ever came to power there was little doubt that his first objective in foreign policy would be to annul the Treaty of Versailles, and in January 1941 he himself said, with considerable justification: ‘My programme was to abolish the Treaty of Versailles. It is nonsense for the rest of the world to pretend today that I did not reveal this programme until 1933, or 1935, or 1937. Instead of listening to the foolish chatter of émigrés, these gentlemen would have been wiser to read what I have written and rewritten thousands of times. No human being has declared or recorded what he wanted more often than I. Again and again I wrote these words — the Abolition of the Treaty of Versailles.’[371]

In practice, now that reparations had been ended, this could only mean Germany’s right to rearm on terms of full equality with other nations, and the recovery of at least part of the territories lost in 1918–19 : the Saar, Alsace-Lorraine, the German colonies, above all Danzig, and the lands incorporated in the new state of Poland.

But this was only a part of Hitler’s programme in foreign policy, as Hitler had said quite plainly in Mein Kampf. ‘To demand that the 1914 frontiers of Germany should be restored,’ he wrote, ‘is a political absurdity.... The confines of the Reich as they existed in 1914 were thoroughly illogical; because they were not really complete, in the sense of including all the members of the German nation.... They were temporary frontiers established in virtue of a political struggle that had not been brought to a finish.’[372]

It is not difficult to see what Hitler meant by this. His aim was to extend the frontiers of Germany to include those people of German race and speech who, even in 1914, had lived outside the Reich, the Germans of Austria, and the Sudeten Germans of Czechoslovakia, who, before 1914, had formed part, not of the German Empire, but of the Hapsburg Monarchy.

Hitler was an Austrian. This is a fact of the greatest importance in understanding his foreign policy. For, in the 1860s, when Bismarck carried out the unification of Germany and founded the German Empire, he deliberately excluded from it the Germans of the Hapsburg Monarchy. After the collapse of the Hapsburg Monarchy these Germans still remained outside the German Reich: they became citizens either of the Austrian Republic or, like the Germans of Bohemia and Moravia, of Czechoslovakia.

It was amongst these Germans of the old Hapsburg Monarchy that there had sprung up before the war an extreme Pan-German nationalism which sought to re-establish a union of all Germans in a single Greater Germany, and which was now violently opposed to the claims of the Czechs and the other former subject peoples of the Monarchy to nationhood and equality with the Germans. The one exception, already made in Mein Kampf, was the German population of the South Tyrol, which was to be sacrificed to the needs of the alliance with Fascist Italy.

Hitler was the heir to the ambitions and animosities of the PanGerman nationalists of the old Monarchy. He saw himself as the man destined to reverse the decision, not only of 1918, but of 1866. Born on the frontier between Germany and Austria, he felt — as he says on the opening page of Mein Kampf- called upon to reunite the two German states which had been left divided by Bismarck’s solution of the German problem.[373] This is the background to the annexation of Austria, and to the wresting of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. His hatred for the Czechs was the product of his early life in an empire where the Germans felt themselves on the defensive against the rising tide of Slav nationalism, most strongly represented in Hitler’s experience by the Czech working men whom he met in Vienna. Here, too, is to be found one of the roots of the distinction Hitler made between the Volk, all those of German race and speech, and the State, which need not be co-extensive with the first, or might — as in the case of the old Hapsburg Monarchy and Czechoslovakia — include peoples of different races.

Even this does not exhaust the meaning of Hitler’s remark about the inadequacy of Germany’s 1914 frontiers. For in the Nazi Party programme, adopted as early as 1920, after the first two points — the union of all Germans to form a Greater Germany, the abolition of the Peace Treaties of Versailles and St Germain — there appears a third: ‘We demand land and territory for the nourishment of our people and for settling our surplus population.’ The culmination of Hitler’s foreign policy is to be found in the demand for Lebensraum, living room for the future of the Volk, which formed the basis for his programme of expansion.

Ever since the great increase in Germany’s population and her rapid economic expansion in the second half of the nineteenth century this had been a familiar subject of discussion in Germany. Hitler’s criticism of the policy followed up to 1914 is interesting and acute. There are, he says in Mein Kampf, four possible answers to the problem of Germany’s need to expand. The first two he dismisses as defeatist: these are the limitation of population, and what he calls internal colonization, the intensified development of the territory she already possessed. To adopt either of these alternatives was to give up the struggle, and, since struggle is the law of life, a nation which ceases to struggle ceases to be great. A third answer was to be found in commercial expansion overseas on the model of England. This was the policy pursued by the Kaiser’s Germany, and led inevitably to a disastrous clash with England. It was not a policy suited to the genius or traditions of the German people. These could only find expression in the fourth policy, the one which Hitler advocated, a continental policy of territorial expansion eastwards, seeking Lebensraum for Germany in Eastern Europe, in the rich plains of Poland, the Ukraine, and Russia. Such a policy would mean the resumption of that ancient struggle against the Slavs which had founded Austria, the old Ostmark, and had carried the Order of the Teutonic Knights along the southern shores of the Baltic into East Prussia and beyond.

In all this, no doubt, one can discern the influence of Rosenberg, the Baltic German who had fled from Russia after the Revolution. But the belief in the civilizing mission of Germany in Eastern Europe based on her cultural superiority was an old German dream. General Ludendorff, for instance, the least imaginative of men, describes in his memoirs how he felt on taking up his quarters at Kovno:[374]

Kovno is a typical Russian town, with low, mean, wooden houses and wide streets. From the hills which closely encircle the town there is an interesting view of the town and the confluence of the Niemen and the Vilia. On the further bank of the Niemen there stands the tower of an old German castle of the Teutonic Knights, a symbol of German civilization in the East.... My mind was flooded with overwhelming historical memories: I determined to renew in the occupied territories that work of civilization at which the Germans had laboured in these lands for many centuries. The population, made up as it is of such a mixture of races, has never produced a culture of its own, and, left to itself, would succumb to Polish domination.[375]

In 1918, when he dictated the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which virtually dismembered European Russia, and when a German Army of Occupation proceeded to strip the Ukraine, Ludendorff must have felt well on the way to realizing his historical dreams. Just over twenty years later Hitler was to entertain even more grandiose schemes as a German Army again occupied the Ukraine and German guns shelled Leningrad. The continuity of Germany’s eastern policy is impressive.

The logical consequence of such a policy was, of course, war with Russia. Hitler faced and accepted this as early as the 1920s when he was writing Mein Kampf.

We put an end to the perpetual Germanic march towards the south and west of Europe [he wrote] and turn our eyes towards the lands of the east. We finally put a stop to the colonial and commercial policy of prewar times and pass over to the territorial policy of the future. But when we speak of new territory in Europe today, we must principally think of Russia and the border states subject to her. Destiny itself seems to wish to point out the way for us here.... This colossal empire in the east is ripe for dissolution.[376]

Bismarck had followed a different policy towards Russia, laying great stress on the need to preserve close relations between Berlin and St Petersburg. After 1918 this conception of foreign policy reappeared in the argument that Germany and Russia should make common cause as the two dissatisfied Powers with an interest in overthrowing the Peace Settlement of 1919. Such a view had advocates in the Army as well as the German Foreign Office, and found a temporary, but sensational, expression in the Treaty of Rapallo of 1922. Hitler was an out-and-out opponent of any such plan. Post-war Russia, he argued, was no longer the Russia with which Bismarck had dealt. Moscow had become the home not only of Bolshevism, but of the Jewish world-conspiracy, the two implacable enemies of Germany. This conflict over the policy to be pursued towards Russia has never been wholly absent from German foreign policy, and it was reflected inside the leadership of the Nazi Party.[377] The pro-Russian school seemed to come into its own at the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. But Hitler’s own views altered remarkably little. The Pact was a temporary expedient, no more; and when the German armies invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 it was in execution of a policy the outlines of which are already to be found in Mein Kampf.

It was to the conquest of Eastern Europe and Russia that Hitler looked for the opportunity to build his New Order, the empire of the Herrenvolk based upon the slave-labour of the inferior races. The year before he came to power, in the summer of 1932, Hitler told a gathering of the Party élite in the Brown House : ‘ Our great experimental field is in the East. There the new European social order will arise, and this is the great significance of our Eastern policy. Certainly we shall admit to our new ruling class members of other nations who have been worthy in our cause.... In fact, we shall very soon have overstepped the bounds of the narrow nationalism of today. World empires arise on a national basis, but very quickly they leave it far behind.’[378] Such plans involved the movement of populations, the deliberate depression of whole races to a lower standard of life and civilization, the denial of any chance of education or medical facilities, even, in the case of the Jews, their systematic extermination.

In these schemes for redrawing the map of the world and remodelling the distribution of power upon biological principles the authentic flavour of Nazi geopolitics is to be discovered. Hitler’s over-inflamed imagination set no bounds to the expansion of Nazi power. As Papen remarked after the war: ‘It was on the limitless character of Nazi aims that we ran aground.’[379] In the early 1930s these appeared no more than the fantasies with which Hitler beguiled the early morning hours round the fire in the Berghof; by the early 1940s, however, the fantastic was on the verge of being translated into reality.[380]


These ideas did not depend upon the triumphs of 1938–41 for their conception. They can be traced from the pages of Mein Kampf, through the conversations recorded by Rauschning in 1932–4, up to the talks in the Fiihrer’s H.Q. in 1941–2 and Himmler’s wartime addresses to the S.S. But in 1933–4, in the first year or two after Hitler had come to power, the prospects ol accomplishing even the annexation of Austria, still less of overrunning Russia, appeared remote. Germany was politically isolated. Economically, she was only beginning to recover from the worst slump in her history. Her army, limited to the hundred thousand men permitted by the Treaty, was easily outnumbered by that of France alone. A move in any direction — in the west, against Austria, Czechoslovakia, or Poland — appeared certain to run into the network of alliances with which France sought to strengthen her security. So impressed were the German diplomats and the German generals with the strength of the obstacles in Germany’s way that up to 1938, and indeed up to the Battle of France in 1940, their advice was always on the side of caution.

Hitler, on the other hand, became more and more sure of himself, more and more contemptuous of the professionals’ advice. He was convinced that he had a far keener appreciation of political — or military — factors than the High Command or the Foreign Office, and he dazzled them by the brilliant success of the bold tactics he adopted. Hitler took office as Chancellor without any previous experience of government. He had never even been a Reichstag deputy, leave alone a minister. He had no knowledge of any country outside Germany and Austria, and spoke no foreign language. His sole experience of politics had been as a Party leader and agitator. He knew nothing and cared less for official views and traditions; he was suspicious of anyone who might try to instruct him. In the short run, these were assets. He refused to be impressed by the strength of the opposition his schemes were likely to meet, or to be restricted to the conventional methods of diplomacy. He displayed a skill in propaganda and a mastery of deceit, a finesse in exploring the weaknesses of his opponents and a crudeness in exploiting the strength of his own position which he had learned in the struggle for power in Germany and which he now applied to international relations with even more remarkable results.

This is not to suggest that Hitler, any more than Bismarck in the 1860s, foresaw in 1933 exactly how events would develop in the course of the next decade. No man was more of an opportunist, as the Nazi-Soviet Pact shows. No man had more luck. But Hitler knew how to turn events to his advantage. He knew what he wanted and he held the initiative. His principal opponents, Great Britain and France, knew only what they did not want — war — and were always on the defensive. The fact that Hitler was ready to risk war, and started preparing for it from the day he came to power, gave him a still greater advantage. Disinclined to bestir themselves, the British and the French were eager to snatch at any hope of avoiding a conflict and only too ready to go on believing in Hitler’s pacific assurances.

The first and indispensable step was to rearm. Until he had the backing of military power for his diplomacy, Hitler’s foreign policy was bound to be restricted in its scope. This period during which the German Armed Forces were being expanded and reequipped, was one of considerable danger. Until rearmament reached a certain stage Germany was highly vulnerable to any preventive action which France or the other Powers might take, and the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles could be used to provide grounds for such intervention. The overriding objective of German foreign policy, therefore, for the first years of Hitler’s régime was to avoid such action, and thus to secure the time and the freedom to rebuild Germany’s military power.

Hitler’s speeches from this period are masterpieces of the art of propaganda. He chose his ground with care. Well aware of the fact that there were many abroad — especially in Great Britain — who had long felt uneasy about the shortcomings of the Peace Settlement, he hinged all arguments upon the unequal treatment of Germany after the war and the perpetuation of the distinction between victors and vanquished. This had three great advantages. It invoked sympathy for Germany, the defeated nation unfairly treated. It allowed Hitler to appear as the representative of reason and justice, protesting against the unreasonableness and injustice of Germany’s former opponents. It enabled him to turn round and use with great effect against the supporters of the League of Nations all the slogans of Wilsonian idealism, from self-determination to a peace founded upon justice.

Hitler struck this note in the famous Friedensrede, or Peace Speech, which he delivered before the Reichstag on 17 May 1933.[381] With an eye to the Disarmament Conference meeting in Geneva, he presented Germany as the one nation which had so far disarmed and now demanded the fulfilment of their promises by the other Powers. If they refused to carry out these promises and disarm themselves, he argued, it could only mean that they sought, under cover of the Peace Settlement and the League of Nations, to degrade the German people permanently to the status of a second-class nation unable to defend itself.

Hitler spoke with deep feeling of his dislike of war:

It is in the interests of all that present-day problems should be solved in a reasonable and peaceful manner.... The application of violence of any kind in Europe could have no favourable effect upon the political and economic position.... The outbreak of such unlimited madness would necessarily cause the collapse of the present social and political order....

On the other hand, the disqualification of a great people cannot be permanently maintained, but must at some time be brought to an end. How long is it thought that such an injustice can be imposed on a great nation ? ... Germany, in demanding equality of rights such as can only be achieved by the disarmament of other nations, has a moral right to do so, since she has herself carried out the provisions of the treaties.

Germany, Hitler continued, was perfectly ready to disband her entire military establishment, to renounce all offensive weapons, to agree to any solemn pact of non-aggression — on one condition only, that the other Powers did the same. She was the only nation which had any cause to fear invasion, yet she asked not for rearmament, but for the disarmament of the other states. ‘We have,’ he concluded, ‘no more earnest desire than to contribute to the final healing of the wounds caused by the war and the Treaty of Versailles.’

In October 1933, when it became clear that the French — uneasily conscious of the inferiority of their manpower and industrial resources to those of Germany — were not prepared to disarm, Hitler pushed his argument a stage further. On 14 October he announced that Germany was driven, by the denial of equal rights, to withdraw from the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations. Germany had tried to cooperate, but had suffered a bitter disillusionment and humiliation. In sorrow, rather than in anger, he had decided to take this step, which was demanded by the self-respect of the German people.

Former German Governments [he declared in a wireless address to the nation on that same day] entered the League of Nations in the hope and confidence that in the League they would find a forum for a just settlement of the interests of peoples, above all for a sincere reconciliation with their former foes. But this presupposes the recognition of the ultimate restoration of the German people to equality of rights.... To be written down as a member of such an institution possessing no such equality of rights is, for an honour-loving nation of sixty-five million folk and for a government which loves honour no less, an intolerable humiliation!...

No war can become humanity’s permanent state; no peace can be the perpetuation of war. One day Conquerors and Conquered must find their way back into the community of mutual understanding and confidence. For a decade and a half the German people has hoped and waited for the time when at last the end of the war should also become the end of hate and enmity. But the aim of the Treaty of Versailles seems not to be to give peace to humanity at last, but rather to keep humanity in a state of everlasting hatred.[382]

The withdrawal from the League was not without risks, in view of Germany’s military inferiority, and a secret directive to the Armed Forces, in case the League should apply sanctions, was issued by General von Blomberg.[383] It was the first of Hitler’s gambles in foreign policy — and it succeeded. Events wholly justified his diagnosis of the state of mind of his opponents — their embarrassment in face of a case which they felt was not without justice; the divided public opinion of Great Britain and France; the eagerness to be reassured and to patch up a compromise, all those elements on which Hitler was to play with such skill time and again. With this in mind he issued a proclamation in which he declared force to be useless in removing international differences, affirmed the German people’s hopes in disarmament and renewed his offer to conclude pacts of non-aggression at any time.

Four days later, in an interview with Ward Price, the Daily Mail Correspondent, Hitler was at his most convincing.

Nobody here [he told them] desires a repetition of war. Almost all the leaders of the National Socialist movement were actual combatants. I have yet to meet the combatant who desires a renewal of the horrors of those four and a half years.... Our youth constitutes our sole hope for the future. Do you imagine that we are bringing it up only to be shot down on the battlefield?

We are manly enough to recognize that when one has lost a war, whether one was responsible for it or not, one has to bear the consequences. We have borne them, but it is intolerable for us as a nation of sixty-five millions that we should repeatedly be dishonoured and humiliated. We will put up with no more of this persistent discrimination against Germany. So long as I live 1 will never put my signature as a statesman to any contract which 1 could not sign with self-respect in private life. I will maintain this resolution, even if it means my ruin! For I will sign no document with a mental reservation not to fulfil it. What I sign, I will stand by. What I cannot stand by, I will not sign.[384]

In another interview, published by the Paris paper, Le Matin, on 22 November, Hitler declared categorically that, once the question of the Saar had been settled, there were no further issues between Germany and France. He had renounced Alsace- Lorraine for good, and had told the German people so.

Hitler’s cleverest stroke was to announce, on the same day as the withdrawal from the League, that he would submit his decision at once to a plebiscite. This was to invoke the sanctions of democracy against the democratic nations. The day chosen was 12 November, the day after the anniversary of the Armistice of 1918. ‘See to it,’ he told a packed meeting at Breslau, ‘that this day shall later be recorded in the history of our people as a day of salvation — that the record shall run: on an eleventh of November, the German people formally lost its honour; fifteen years later came a twelfth of November and then the German people restored its honour to itself.’[385] All the long-pent-up resentment of the German people against the loss of the war and the Treaty of Versailles was expressed in the vote: ninety-six per cent of those entitled to vote went to the polls, and ninety-five per cent voted in approval of Hitler’s policy. On the same day, single-list elections for the Reichstag gave the Nazi Party a solid majority of ninety-two per cent.

To Rauschning, who had returned from Geneva just after Germany’s withdrawal from the League, Hitler remarked that, now he had left Geneva, he would more than ever speak the language of the League. ‘And my party comrades,’ he added, ‘ will not fail to understand me when they hear me speak of universal peace, disarmament, and mutual security pacts!’[386] These were the tactics of legality applied to international relations with even greater success than in the fight for power in Germany.

Hitler had now manoeuvred himself into the strongest possible position in which to begin German rearmament. When the other Great Powers sought to renew negotiations, Hitler replied that disarmament was clearly out of the question. All that could be hoped for was a convention for the limitation of armaments, and Germany’s terms for cooperation would be the recognition of her right to raise an army of three hundred thousand men, based on conscription and short-term enlistment. A prolonged exchange of notes throughout the winter and spring of 1933–4 failed to produce agreement, but Hitler was well content. Rearmament had already begun,[387] while Great Britain and France had placed themselves in the disadvantageous position, from which they were never to recover until the war, of asking the German dictator what concessions he would accept to reduce his price.

While these negotiations continued, and brought Mr Eden to Berlin, in April 1934, on the first of many fruitless journeys undertaken by British statesmen in these years, Hitler strengthened his hand in an unexpected direction. No feature of the Treaty of Versailles stirred more bitter feelings in Germany than the loss of territory to the new State of Poland. Relations between Poland and Germany continued to be strained throughout the history of the Weimar Republic, and Stresemann refused to supplement the Locarno Pact by an eastern Locarno, which would have meant Germany’s renunciation of her claims to the return of Danzig, Silesia, Posen, and the other surrendered lands. Nowhere was the rise to power of the Nazis viewed with more alarm than in Warsaw.

It caused a diplomatic sensation, therefore, when, on 26 January 1934, Hitler announced that the first country with which Nazi Germany had concluded a Non-Aggression Pact was Poland. The Pact was never popular in Germany, but it was an astute move for Hitler to make. Ultimately, there was no place for an independent Poland in Hitler’s Europe; the most she could hope for was the position of a vassal state. But Hitler could not move against Poland for years to come. Instead of accepting this situation with a bad grace, as the more sentimental nationalists would have done, he turned it to his advantage, and made an ostentatious parade of his enforced virtue.

Hitler was thus able to substantiate his claim to peaceful intentions by pointing to the fact that his first diplomatic action, after leaving the League, had been to initiate an entirely new course in one of the most dangerous and intractable problems of Europe, Polish-German relations. In the same common-sense language as before, he told the Reichstag: ‘Germans and Poles will have to learn to accept the fact of each other’s existence. Hence it is more sensible to regulate this state of affairs, which the last thousand years has not been able to remove, and the next thousand will not be able to remove either, in such a way that the highest possible profit will accrue from it for both nations.’[388] The Pact with Poland was constantly used in the ‘peace’ speeches which Hitler continued to make throughout 1934,1935, and 1936.

But the importance of the Pact was greater than its value as propaganda. Poland, which had been the ally of France since 1921, was one of the bastions of the French security system in Eastern Europe. It was no secret that the Poles were becoming restive at the casual way in which they felt they were treated by France. The Polish Government was beginning to turn away from the policy of collective security, supported by France, towards an independent neutrality, in which it was hoped that Poland would be able to balance between her two great neighbours, Germany and Russia. The Nazi offer of a Ten-Year Pact fitted admirably into this new policy, and Hitler was thereby able to weaken any possible united front against Germany. Here was the first breach in the French alliance system and the first display of those tactics of ‘one-by-one’ with which he was to achieve so much.

This was a good beginning, but there were reminders during 1934 of the dangers of the situation, notably in the case of Austria. Hitler’s electoral successes between 1930 and 1933, followed by the Nazis’ capture of power, had revived National Socialism in Austria. The Party was reorganized by Alfred Eduard Frauenfeld, a thirty-year-old clerk in the Vienna Bodenkreditanstalt, who lost his job when the bank failed and took up full-time Party work. In three years the Vienna Nazi Party’s membership grew from three hundred to forty thousand.

The incorporation of Austria into a Greater Germany occupied the first place both in the Party programme of 1920 and in the opening pages of Mein Kampf. The Austrian Nazis, who formed a part of the German Party under Hitler’s leadership, lived and worked for the day when the Anschluss should take place. With the help of Habicht, a member of the German Reichstag and the man Hitler had appointed as Inspector of the Austrian Party, Frauenfeld, Prokosch, and the other local leaders kept up a violent propaganda campaign, backed by intimidation and acts of terrorism. There was no doubt where the funds came from: anyone in Austria had only to tune in to the Munich radio station across the frontier to get confirmation of the support the Austrian Nazis were receiving from Germany. It appeared to be no more than a matter of months, possibly of weeks, before the local Nazis would try to capture power by a rising.

German relations with Austria, however, were not simply a family affair, as Hitler tried to insist. France, the ally of Czechoslovakia, and Italy, the patron of Dollfuss’s fascist régime in Austria and of Hungary, were bound to be disturbed by the prospect of an Anschluss and a consequent Nazi advance to the threshold of the Balkans. The increased Nazi agitation in Austria, the information the Dollfuss Government succeeded in collecting of Nazi plans for a putsch, and the unfriendly references Hitler made to Austria in his speech of 30 January 1934 combined to produce a sense of urgency. No doubt Hitler was sincere in disclaiming any intention of attacking Austria: if all went well there would be no need of overt German intervention. But at this stage the Powers, with Mussolini to prompt their sense of realism, were not so credulous as they later became. On 17 February the governments of France, Great Britain, and Italy published a joint declaration to the effect that they took ‘a common view of the necessity of maintaining Austria’s independence and integrity in accordance with the relevant treaties’. Exactly a month later Mussolini underlined Italy’s interest in Central Europe by signing the Rome Protocols with Austria and Hungary. Although primarily concerned with economic relations, the Protocols strengthened the ties of political dependence between Italy and her two client states on the Danube.

The Nazi agitation in Austria, however, continued, and Mussolini’s suspicions were not removed by Hitler’s assurances at their meeting at Venice in June. At last, on 25 July, while Madame Dollfuss and her family were actually staying with Mussolini, the Austrian Nazis made their attempt, breaking into the Vienna Chancellery and shooting Dollfuss, while others occupied the radio station and announced the appointment of Rintelen as Chancellor. Hitler was at Bayreuth when he received the news. As he sat in his box listening to Wagner’s Rheingold, his adjutants Schaub and Brückner kept coming in to whisper further news to him. ‘After the performance,’ Friedelind Wagner recalls, ‘the Führer was most excited.... It was terrible to witness. Although he could scarcely wipe the delight from his face, Hitler carefully ordered dinner in the restaurant as usual. “I must go across for an hour and show myself,” he said, “or people will think I had something to do with this.”[389]

This was precisely what people did think, for the German Legation in Vienna had been heavily implicated in the plot, and rumours of an attempt had been rife in Munich and Berlin twenty-four hours before the action began. It is unlikely, in fact, that Hitler knew what was planned. This was no time for foreign adventures, so soon after the events of 30 June and with the succession to Hindenburg still in the balance. Moreover — and this was decisive for Hitler — although Dollfuss died of his wounds, the putsch failed. The rebels in Vienna were quickly overpowered, and after some days’ fighting in Styria and Carinthia order was restored. The leaders, followed by several thousand Austrian Nazis, only escaped by getting across the German frontier. Even more important was the news that Mussolini, furious at what he regarded as Hitler’s bad faith, had ordered Italian divisions to the Austrian frontier and sent the Austrian Government an immediate telegram promising Italian support in the defence of their country’s independence.

The Nazis had over-reached themselves, and Hitler had promptly to repudiate all connexion with the conspiracy. The initial announcement of the official German News Agency, couched in enthusiastic terms, was hurriedly suppressed; the murderers of Dollfuss were surrendered to the Austrian Government; Habicht, the Party Inspector for Austria, was dismissed; the German Minister in Vienna was recalled in disgrace; and Hitler appointed Papen to go to Vienna as Minister-Extraordinary in order to repair the damage. The choice of Papen, a Catholic, a Conservative, and Vice-Chancellor in Hitler’s Cabinet, was intended to conciliate the Austrians; at the same time it was a convenient way of getting rid of the man who had made the Marburg speech and who had been lucky to escape with his life on the week-end of 30 June. These hasty measures tided over the crisis and preserved appearances. But it had been made plain enough to Hitler that he was not yet in a position where he could afford to use high-handed methods, and that the opposition to his schemes would have to be divided before it could be overcome.

For the rest of 1934 the unanimity of the other Powers in face of further German adventures was strengthened, rather than weakened. In the summer Louis Barthou, the French Foreign Minister, made a tour of eastern European capitals to put new life into the French alliances with Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Yugoslavia, and Poland. In May France sharply rejected Sir John Simon’s proposals to concede equality of armaments to Hitler, and Barthou became active in advocating an Eastern Locarno (which should include Russia as well as Germany), with the object of tying Hitler’s hands in Eastern Europe as well as in the west. The fact that the Soviet Union, hitherto one of the most outspoken critics of Geneva, was now willing to join the League of Nations, and was elected to a permanent seat on the Council in September, lent colour to the belief that the Great Powers were awake to the danger of a resurgent German nationalism.

Hitler could only continue to protest the innocence of his intentions. ‘If it rests with Germany,’ he told Ward Price in another interview in August, ‘war will not come again. This country has a more profound impression than any other of the evil that war causes.... In our belief Germany’s present-day problems cannot be settled by war.’[390] When M. Jean Goy, a deputy for the Seine, visited him in November, he made much of the experiences which the ex-servicemen of Germany and France had in common ; they had been through too much in the last war ever to allow war to break out again. ‘We know too well, you and I, the uselessness and horror of war.’ His one object was to build a new social order in Germany; he had no time or energy to spare for war, and in his social plans he was erecting a more enduring monument to fame than any great captain after the most glorious victories. The interview was duly published by Le Matin;[391] indeed, the word ‘peace’ was never out of Hitler’s mouth at this time.

So the year ended quietly, but not without some cause for congratulation on Hitler’s part. On 9 October Louis Barthou, the energetic French Foreign Minister, who stood for a policy of firmness in face of Nazi demands, was assassinated while welcoming King Alexander of Yugoslavia at Marseille. His successor at the Quai d’Orsay was Pierre Laval, as unscrupulous as he was clever, a master of combinazioni and shady political deals. Despite appearances, Hitler held to his belief that behind the façade of unity the Powers lacked the will to oppose him or to combine together for long. In 1927 Hitler said to Otto Strasser: ‘There is no solidarity in Europe; there is only submission.’[392] It was the essential premise on which all his plans depended ; the next year, 1935, was to show how just was his diagnosis.


From the summer of 1934 the principal object of the Western Powers’ diplomacy was to persuade Germany to sign a pact of mutual assistance covering Eastern Europe. Just as the Locarno Pact included France, Germany, Belgium, Great Britain, and Italy, each undertaking to come to the immediate aid of France and Belgium, or Germany, if either side were attacked by the other, so this Eastern Locarno would include Russia, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the other states of Eastern Europe and would involve the same obligation of automatic assistance in the case of an attack.

Hitler had no intention of entering into any such scheme: it was not aggression that he feared, but checks upon his freedom of action. His preference — for obvious reasons — was for bilateral agreements, and if he were to sign a multilateral pact of nonaggression it would only be one from which all provisions for mutual aid had been removed, a statement of good intentions unsupported by any guarantees to enforce them. German opposition, which had already been made clear in 1934, was powerfully assisted by that of Poland. Pilsudski was highly suspicious of Russia and anxious that Poland should not be pushed into the front line of an anti-German combination — which could only mean that Poland would be either the battleground of a new clash between her two neighbours or the victim of a deal concluded between them at her expense, as happened in 1939. Polish quarrels with Lithuania and dislike of Czechoslovakia added further reasons to his reluctance to enter any such all-embracing project. Pilsudski, and his successor Beck, saw the only way out of Poland’s difficulties as a policy of balancing between Moscow and Berlin, a policy which fatally overestimated Poland’s strength, and fatally underestimated the danger from Germany.

Hitler courted the Poles assiduously, constantly urging on them the common interest Poland and Germany had in opposing Russia. ‘Poland,’ he told the Polish Ambassador in November 1933, ‘is an outpost against Asia.... The other States should recognize this role of Poland’s.’[393]

Goring, who was used by Hitler in the role of a candid friend of the Poles, spoke even more plainly when he visited Warsaw at the end of January 1935. He began his conversations in the Polish Foreign Ministry by mentioning the possibility of a new partition of Poland by agreement between Germany and Russia. But he did this only to dismiss it as a practical impossibility: in fact, he continued, Hitler’s policy needed a strong Poland, to form a common barrier with Germany against the Soviet Union. In his talks with Polish generals and with Marshal Pilsudski, Göring ‘outlined far-reaching plans, almost suggesting an antiRussian alliance and a joint attack on Russia. He gave it to be understood that the Ukraine would become a Polish sphere of influence and North-western Russia would be Germany’s’.[394] The Poles were wary of such seductive propositions, but they were impressed by the friendliness of the German leaders, and in the course of 1935 relations between the two governments became steadily closer. Göring visited Cracow for Pilsudski’s funeral in May. The same month Hitler himself had a long conversation with the Ambassador, and after a visit of the Polish Foreign Minister, Colonel Beck, to Berlin in July the communique spoke of ‘a far-reaching agreement of views’. The attention Hitler paid to Polish-German relations was to repay him handsomely.

Meanwhile, the British and French Governments renewed their attempts to reach a settlement with Germany. The Saar plebiscite in January 1935 had produced a ninety per cent vote for the return of the territory to Germany. The result had scarcely been in doubt, although the Nazis cried it up inside Germany as a great victory and the destruction of the first of the Versailles fetters. The removal of this issue between France and Germany, which Hitler had constantly described as the one territorial issue dividing them, seemed to offer a better chance of finding the Führer in a more reasonable mood.

The proposals which the British and French Ambassadors presented to Hitler at the beginning of February 1935 sketched the outline of a general settlement which would cover the whole of Europe. The existing Locarno Pact of mutual assistance, which applied to Western Europe, was to be strengthened by the conclusion of an agreement to cover unprovoked aggression from the air. At the same time it was to be supplemented by two similar pacts of mutual assistance, one dealing with Eastern Europe, the other with Central Europe.

Hitler faced a difficult decision. German rearmament had reached a stage where further concealment would prove a hindrance. It seemed clear from their proposals that the Western Powers would be prepared to waive their objections to German rearmament in return for Germany’s accession to their proposals for strengthening and extending collective security. Against that Hitler had to set his anxiety to avoid tying his hands, and his need of some dramatic stroke of foreign policy to gratify the mood of nationalist expectation in Germany which had so far received little satisfaction. On both these grounds a bold unilateral repudiation of the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles would suit him very much better than negotiations with the Western Powers, in which he would be bound to make concessions in return for French and British agreement. Could he afford to take the risk?

Hitler’s first reply showed uncertainty. He welcomed the idea of extending the original Locarno Pact to include attack from the air, while remaining evasive on the question of the proposed Eastern and Danubian Pacts. The German Government invited the British to continue discussions, and a visit to Berlin by the British Foreign Minister, Sir John Simon, was arranged for 7 March. Before the visit could take place, however, on 4 March the British Government published its own plans for increased armaments, basing this on ‘the fact that Germany was ... rearming openly on a large scale, despite the provisions of Part V of the Treaty of Versailles’.[395] The British White Paper went on to remark ‘that not only the forces, but the spirit in which the population, and especially the youth of the country, are being organized, lend colour to, and substantiate, the general feeling of insecurity which has already been incontestably generated’. Great indignation was at once expressed in Germany, and Hitler contracted a ‘chill’ which made it necessary to postpone Sir John Simon’s visit. On the 9th the German Government officially notified foreign governments that a German Air Force was already in existence. This seems to have been a kite with which to test the Western Powers’ reaction. As Sir John Simon told the House of Commons that he and Mr Eden were still proposing to go to Berlin and nothing else happened, it appeared safe to risk a more sensational announcement the next week-end. On 16 March 1935, the German Government proclaimed its intention of re-introducing conscription and building up a peacetime army of thirty-six divisions, with a numerical strength of five hundred and fifty thousand men.[396]

Four days before, the French Government had doubled the period of service and reduced the age of enlistment in the French Army, in order to make good the fall in the number of conscripts due to the reduced birth-rate of the years 1914—18. This served Hitler as a pretext for his own action. He was able to represent Germany as driven reluctantly to take this step, purely in order to defend herself against the warlike threats of her neighbours. From the time when the German people, trusting in the assurances of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and believing they were rendering a great service to mankind, had laid down their arms, they had been deceived again and again in their hopes of justice and their faith in the good intentions of others. Germany, Hitler declared, was the one Power which had disarmed; now that the other Powers, far from disarming themselves, were actually beginning to increase their armaments, she had no option but to follow suit.[397]

The announcement was received with enthusiasm in Germany, and on 17 March, Heroes Memorial Day {Heldengedenktag), a brilliant military ceremony in the State Opera House celebrated the rebirth of the German Army. At Hitler’s side sat von Mackensen, the only surviving field-marshal of the old Army. Afterwards, amid cheering crowds, Hitler held a review of the new Army, including a detachment of the Air Force. So widespread was German feeling against the Treaty of Versailles, and so strong the pride in the German military tradition, that German satisfaction at the announcement could be taken for granted. Everything turned on the reaction abroad to this first open breach of the Treaty’s provisions. Hitler had anticipated protests, and was prepared to discount them; what mattered was the action with which the other signatories of the Treaty proposed to support their protests.

The result more than justified the risks he had taken. The British Government, after making a solemn protest, proceeded to ask whether the Führer was still ready to receive Sir John Simon. The French appealed to the League, and an extraordinary session of the Council was at once summoned, to be preceded by a conference between Great Britain, France, and Italy at Stresa. But the French Note, too, spoke of searching for means of conciliation and of the need to dispel the tension which had arisen. This was not the language of men who intended to enforce their protests. When Sir John Simon and Mr Eden at last visited Berlin at the end of March they found Hitler polite, even charming, but perfectly sure of himself and firm in his refusal to consider any pact of mutual assistance which included the Soviet Union. He made a good deal of the service Germany was performing in safeguarding Europe against Communism, and, when the discussion moved to German rearmament, asked: ‘Did Wellington, when Blücher came to his assistance at Waterloo, first ask the legal experts of the Foreign Office whether the strength of the Prussian forces exceeded the limits fixed by treaty?’[398] It was the Englishmen who had come to ask for cooperation and Hitler who was in the advantageous position of being able to say ‘no’, without having anything to ask in return. The very presence of the British representatives in Berlin, after the announcement of 16 March, was a triumph for his diplomacy.

In the weeks that followed, the Western Powers continued to make a display of European unity which, formally at least, was more impressive. At Stresa, on 11 April, the British, French, and Italian Governments condemned Germany’s action, reaffirmed their loyalty to the Locarno Treaty and repeated their declaration on Austrian independence. At Geneva the Council of the League duly censured Germany and appointed a committee to consider what steps should be taken the next time any ‘State endangered peace by repudiating its obligations. Finally, in May, the French Government, having failed to make headway with its plan for a general treaty of mutual assistance in Eastern Europe, signed a pact with the Soviet Union by which each party undertook to come to the aid of the other in case of an unprovoked attack. This treaty was flanked by a similar pact, concluded at the same time, between Russia and France’s most reliable ally, Czechoslovakia.

Yet, even if Hitler was taken aback by the strength of this belated reaction, and if the Franco-Russian and Czech-Russian treaties in particular faced him with awkward new possibilities, his confidence in his own tactics was never shaken. He proceeded to test the strength of this new-found unity; it did not take long to show its weaknesses.

On 21 May Hitler promulgated in secret the Reich Defence Law which placed Schacht in charge of economic preparations for war and reorganized the commands of the armed forces under himself as Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht. But this was not the face that Hitler showed in public. On the evening of the same day, he appeared before the Reichstag to deliver a long and carefully prepared speech on foreign policy. It is a speech worth studying, for in it are to be found most of the tricks with which Hitler lulled the suspicions and raised the hopes of the gullible. His answer to the censure of the Powers was not dedance, but redoubled assurances of peace, an appeal to reason, justice and conscience. The new Germany, he protested, was misunderstood, and his own attitude misrepresented.

No man ever spoke with greater feeling of the horror and stupidity of war than Adolf Hitler.

The blood shed on the European continent in the course of the last three hundred years bears no proportion to the national result of the events. Tn the end France has remained France, Germany Germany, Poland Poland and Italy Italy. What dynastic egoism, political passion and patriotic blindness have attained in the way of apparently far-reaching political changes by shedding rivers of blood has, as regards national feeling, done no more than touched the skin of the nations. It has not substantially altered their fundamental characters. If these States had applied merely a fraction of their sacrifices to wiser purposes the success would certainly have been greater and more permanent.... If the nations attach so much importance to an increase in the number of the inhabitants of a country they can achieve it without tears in a simpler and more natural way. A sound social policy, by increasing the readiness of a nation to have children, can give its own people more children in a few years than the number of aliens that could be conquered and made subject to that nation by war.[399]

Collective security, Hitler pointed out, was a Wilsonian idea, but Germany’s faith in Wilsonian ideas, at least as practised by the former Allies, had been destroyed by her treatment after the war. Germany had been denied equality, had been treated as a nation with second-class rights, and driven to rearm by the failure of the other Powers to carry out their obligation to disarm. Despite this experience, Germany was still prepared to cooperate in the search for security. But she had rooted objections to the proposal of multilateral pacts, for this was the way to spread, not to localize, war. Moreover, in the east of Europe, Hitler declared, there was a special case, the existence of a State, Bolshevik Russia, pledged to destroy the independence of Europe, a State with which a National Socialist Germany could never come to terms.

What Hitler offered in place of the ‘unrealistic’ proposal of multilateral treaties was the signature of non-aggression pacts with all Germany’s neighbours. The only exception he made was Lithuania, since Lithuania’s continued possession of the German Memelland was a wrong which the German people could never accept, and a plain denial of that right of self-determination proclaimed by Wilson. Germany’s improved relations with Poland, he did not fail to add, showed how great a contribution such pacts could make to the cause of peace: this was the practical way in which Germany set about removing international misunderstandings.

Hitler supported his offer with the most convincing display of goodwill. The fact that Germany had repudiated the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles did not mean that she had anything but the strictest regard for the Treaty’s other provisions — including the demilitarization of the Rhineland — or for her other obligations under the Locarno Treaty. She had no intention of annexing Austria and was perfectly ready to strengthen the Locarno Pact by an agreement on air attack, such as Great Britain and France had suggested. She was ready to agree to the abolition of heavy arms, such as the heaviest tanks and artillery; to limit the use of other weapons — such as the bomber and poison gas — by international convention; indeed, to accept an over-all limitation of armaments provided that it was to apply to all the Powers. Hitler laid particular stress on his willingness to limit German naval power to thirty-five per cent of the strength of the British Navy. He understood very well, he declared, the special needs of the British Empire, and had no intention of starting a new naval rivalry with Great Britain. He ended with a confession of his faith in peace. ‘Whoever lights the torch of war in Europe can wish for nothing but chaos. We, however, live in the firm conviction that in our time will be fulfilled, not the decline, but the renaissance of the West. That Germany may make an imperishable contribution to this great work is our proud hope and our unshakable belief.’

Hitler’s mastery of the language of Geneva was unequalled.

His grasp of the mood of public opinion in the Western democracies was startling, considering that he had never visited any of them and spoke no foreign language. He understood intuitively their longing for peace, the idealism of the pacifists, the uneasy conscience of the liberals, the reluctance of the great mass of their peoples to look beyond their own private affairs. At this stage in the game these were greater assets than the uncompleted panzer divisions and bomber fleets he was still building, and Hitler used them with the same skill he had shown in playing on German grievances and illusions.

In Mein Kampf Hitler had written: ‘For a long time to come there will be only two Powers in Europe with which it may be possible for Germany to conclude an alliance. These Powers are Great Britain and Italy.’[400] The greatest blunder of the Kaiser’s Government — prophetic words — had been to quarrel with Britain and Russia at the same time: Germany’s future lay in the east, a continental future, and her natural ally was Great Britain, whose power was colonial, commercial, and naval, with no territorial interests on the continent of Europe. ‘Only by alliance with England was it possible (before 1914) to safeguard the rear of the German crusade.... No sacrifice should have been considered too great, if it was a necessary means of gaining England’s friendship. Colonial and naval ambitions should have been abandoned.’[401]

Although Hitler’s attitude towards Britain was modified later by growing contempt for the weakness of her policy and the credulity of her governments, the idea of an alliance with her attracted him throughout his life. It was an alliance which could only, in Hitler’s view, be made on condition that Britain abandoned her old balance-of-power policy in Europe, accepted the prospect of a German hegemony on the Continent and left Germany a free hand in attaining it. Even during the war Hitler persisted in believing that an alliance with Germany on these terms was in Britain’s own interests, continually expressed his regret that the British had been so stupid as not to see this, and never quite gave up the hope that he would be able to overcome their obstinacy and persuade them to accept his view.[402] No British Government, even before the war, was prepared to go as far as an alliance on these terms, yet there was a section of British opinion which was sufficiently impressed by Hitler’s arguments to be attracted to the idea of a settlement which would have left him virtually a free hand in Central and Eastern Europe, and Hitler, if he never succeeded in his main objective, was remarkably successful for a time in weakening the opposition of Great Britain to the realization of his aims. The policy of appeasement is not to be understood unless it is realized that it represented the acceptance by the British Government, at least in part, of Hitler’s view of what British policy should be.

The speech of 21 May had been intended to influence opinion in Great Britain in Hitler’s favour. The quickness of the British reaction was surprising. During his visit to Berlin in March Sir John Simon had been sufficiently impressed by a hint thrown out by the Führer to suggest that German representatives should come to London to discuss the possibility of a naval agreement between the two countries. Hitler must have been delighted to see the speed with which the British Foreign Minister responded to his bait, and in his speech of 21 May he again underlined his willingness to arrive at such an understanding. Even Hitler, however, can scarcely have calculated that the British Government would be so maladroit as to say nothing of their intentions to the Powers with whom they had been so closely associated in censuring Germany’s repudiation of the Versailles disarmament clauses in the previous weeks.

Early in June Ribbentrop, whom Hitler now began to use for special missions, flew to London. Despite the brusque and tactless way in which he refused to permit discussion of the Führer’s offer, he returned with the British signature of a naval pact. This bound the Germans not to build beyond thirty-five per cent of Britain’s naval strength, but it tacitly recognized Germany’s right to begin naval rearmament and specifically agreed by an escapeclause that, in the construction of U-boats, Germany should have the right to build up to one hundred per cent of the submarine strength of the British Commonwealth. The affront to Britain’s partners, France and Italy, both of whom were also naval powers, but neither of whom had been consulted, was open and much resented. The solidarity of the Stresa Front, the unanimity of the Powers’ condemnation of German rearmament, was destroyed. The British Government, in its eagerness to secure a private advantage, had given a disastrous impression of bad faith. Like Poland, but without the excuse of Poland’s difficult position between Germany and Russia, Great Britain had accepted Hitler’s carefully calculated offer without a thought of its ultimate consequences.

In September the Fuhrer attended the Party’s rally at Nuremberg. For the first time detachments of the new German Army took part in the parade and Hitler glorified the German military tradition: ‘in war the nation’s great defiance, in peace the splendid school of our people. It is the Army which has made men of us all, and when we looked upon the Anny our faith in the future of our people was always reinforced. This old glorious Army is not dead; it only slept, and now it has arisen again in you.’[403]

Hitler’s speeches throughout the rally were marked by the confidence of a man sure of his hold over the people he led. The Reichstag was summoned to Nuremberg for a special session, and Hitler presented for its unanimous approval the Nuremberg Laws directed against the Jews, the first depriving Germans of Jewish blood of their citizenship, the second — the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour — forbidding marriages between Germans and Jews and the employment of German servants by Jews. These laws, Hitler declared, ‘repay the debt of gratitude to the movement under whose symbol [the swastika, now adopted as the national emblem] Germany has recovered her freedom’.[404]

The same month, while Hitler at Nuremberg was making use of the power he held in Germany to gratify his hatred of the Jews, a quarrel began at Geneva which was to provide him with the opportunity to extend his power outside the German frontiers of 1914.

The alliance with Mussolini’s Italy to which Hitler already looked at the time he wrote Mein Kampf had hitherto been prevented by Mussolini’s Danubian ambitions, and the Duce’s self-appointed role as the patron of Austrian independence. After the murder of Dollfuss, Mussolini had been outspoken in his dislike and contempt for the ‘barbarians’ north of the Alps, and he had cooperated with the other Powers in their condemnation of Germany’s unilateral decision to rearm. Mussolini, however, had long been contemplating a showy success for his régime in Abyssinia. It may be that he was prompted by uneasy fears that his chances of expansion in Europe would soon be reduced by the growth of German power; it may be that he was stimulated by a sense of rivalry with the German dictator; it is almost certain that he hoped to profit by French and British preoccupation with German rearmament to carry out his adventure on the cheap.

Abyssinia had appealed to the League under Article 15 of the Covenant in March. So far the dispute had been discreetly kept in the background, but in September the British Government, having just made a sensational gesture of appeasement to Germany by the Naval Treaty of June, astonished the world for the second time by taking the lead at Geneva in demanding the imposition of sanctions against Italy. She supported this by reinforcing the British Fleet in the Mediterranean. To the French, who judged that Germany, not Italy, was the greater danger to the security of Europe, the British appeared to be standing on their heads and looking at events upside down.

There was only one assumption on which British policy could be defended. If the British were prepared to support sanctions against Italy to the point of war, thereby giving to the authority of the League the backing of force which it had hitherto lacked, their action might so strengthen the machinery of collective security as to put a check to any aggression, whether by Italy or Germany. The outbreak of hostilities between Italy and Abyssinia in October soon put the British intentions to the test. The course pursued by the Baldwin Government made the worst of both worlds. By insisting on the imposition of sanctions Great Britain made an enemy of Mussolini and destroyed all hope of a united front against German aggression. By her refusal to drive home the policy of sanctions, in face of Mussolini’s bluster, she dealt the authority of the League as well as her own prestige a fatal blow, and destroyed any hope of finding in collective security an effective alternative to the united front of the Great Powers against German aggression.

If the British Government never meant to do more than make a show of imposing sanctions it would have done better to have followed the more cynical but more realistic policy of Laval and made a deal with Italy at the beginning. Even the Hoare-Laval Pact of December 1935 would have been a better alternative than allowing the farce of sanctions to drag on to its inconclusive and discreditable end. For the consequences of these blunders extended much farther than Abyssinia and the Mediterranean: their ultimate beneficiary was, not Mussolini, but Hitler.

Germany at first confined herself to a policy of strict neutrality in the Abyssinian affair, but the advantages to be derived from the quarrel between Italy and the Western Powers did not escape Hitler. If Italy lost the war, that would mean the weakening of the principal barrier to German ambitions in Central and Southeastern Europe. On the other hand, if Italy proved to be successful, the prospects for Hitler were still good. His one fear was that the quarrel might be patched up by some such compromise as the Hoare-Laval Pact, and when the Polish Ambassador in Berlin saw him two days after the announcement of the terms of the Hoare-Laval Agreement he found him highly excited and alarmed at this prospect.[405] The further development of the dispute, however, only gave him greater cause for satisfaction. Not only was the Stresa front ended and Italy driven into a position of isolation, in which Mussolini was bound to look more favourably on German offers of support, but the League of Nations suffered a fatal blow to its authority from which, after its previous failure to halt Japanese aggression, it never recovered. French confidence in England was further shaken, and the belief that Great Britain was a spent force in international politics received the most damning confirmation.

The events of 1935 thus provided an unexpected opportunity for Hitler to realize his Italian plans: as Mussolini later acknowledged, it was in the autumn of 1935 that the idea of the Rome- Berlin Axis was bom. No less important was the encouragement which the feebleness of the opposition to aggression gave Hitler to pursue his policy without regard to the risks. ‘There was now, as it turned out,’ writes Mr Churchill, ‘little hope of averting war or of postponing it by a trial of strength equivalent to war. Almost all that remained open to France and Britain was to await the moment of the challenge and do the best they could.’[406]


Throughout the autumn and winter of 1935–6 Elitler watched and waited. By March 1936 he judged the moment opportune for another coup in foreign policy. There had been ample warning of where his next move would be. In his speech of 21 May 1935 he had put forward the view that the alliance concluded between France and Russia ‘ brought an element of legal insecurity into the Locarno Pact’, with the obligations of which, he argued, it was incompatible. The German Foreign Office repeated this in a note to the French Government, and, although their view was rejected by both the French and the other signatories of the Locarno Pact, Hitler refused to give up his grievance. After an interview with Hitler on 21 November the French Ambassador, M. François-Poncet, reported to Paris that Hitler had made up his mind to use the pretext of the Franco-Soviet treaty to denounce Locarno and reoccupy the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. He was only waiting for an appropriate moment to act.

The treaty between France and Russia had still not been ratified. It had become a subject of bitter controversy in French politics, and ever sinc^ the beginning of July 1935 the French Right-wing Press and parties had been conducting a campaign against it. This had little to do with foreign affairs; it was an extension of the class and party conflicts inside France to her external policy. Hitler was thus deliberately choosing as his pretext an issue which divided France; nor was he ignorant of the fact that in London, too, there was no enthusiasm for France’s latest commitment.

On 11 February 1936, the Franco-Soviet treaty finally came before the French Chamber of Deputies, and on the 27th it was ratified by 353 votes to 164. The French Government seems to have been nervous about the reception of the news in Berlin. When, on the morning after the ratification, Paris-Midi published a delayed interview with Hitler, in which he spoke in friendly terms of his desire for an agreement with France, the French Ambassador was instructed to ask the Führer how he conceived this rapprochement could be achieved. But when François-Poncet saw Hitler on 2 March his reception was far from friendly. Hitler declared angrily that he had been made a fool of, that the interview with Paris-Midi had been given on 21 February and deliberately held up in Paris until after the ratification of the Treaty. He was, however, still willing to answer the French Government’s inquiry and he promised the Ambassador detailed proposals in the near future.

Hitler’s reply, as François-Poncet had foreseen, was to march German troops into the demilitarized Rhineland. Blomberg’s first directive to the unorganized armed forces in May 1935 had ordered the preparation of plans for such a step. None the less, it was a proposal which thoroughly alarmed Hitler’s generals. German rearmament was only beginning and the first conscripts had only been taken into the Anny a few months before. France, together with her Polish and Czech allies, could immediately mobilize ninety divisions, with a further hundred in reserve — and this took no account of Russian forces. If the French and their allies marched, the Germans would be heavily outnumbered, and it is to be remembered that the reoccupation of the Rhineland represented not only a breach of the Treaty of Versailles but a casus foederis under the Locarno Pact. Hitler did not dispute these facts; he based his decision on the belief that the French would not march — and he was right. According to General Jodi, the German occupation forces which moved into the Rhineland consisted of approximately one division,[407] and only three battalions moved across the Rhine, to Aachen, Trier, and Saarbrücken, The General Staff, worried by the first reports from Paris and London, wanted to move these three battalions back across the Rhine, and General Beck, the Chief of Staff, suggested that Germany should undertake not to build fortifications west of the Rhine.[408] Hitler turned down both proposals without a moment’s hesitation. The German generals could not believe that the French would not march this time, but Hitler remained confident in his diagnosis of the state of public opinion in France and Great Britain.

Years later, reminiscing over the dinner table, Hitler asked: ‘What would have happened if anybody other than myself had been at the head of the Reich! Anyone you care to mention would have lost his nerve. I was obliged to lie and what saved me was my unshakable obstinacy and my amazing aplomb. I threatened unless the situation eased to send six extra divisions into the Rhineland. The truth was, I only had four brigades. Next day, the English papers wrote that there had been an easing of the situation.’[409]

Blomberg’s directive for the operation was issued on 2 March, the day on which Hitler saw François-Poncet.[410] On the morning of 7 March, as the German soldiers were marching into the Rhineland, greeted with flowers flung by wildly enthusiastic crowds, Neurath, German Foreign Minister, summoned the British, French, and Italian Ambassadors to the Wilhelmstrasse and presented them with a document which contained, in addition to Germany’s grounds for denouncing the Locarno Pact (the incompatibility of its obligations with the Franco-Soviet treaty), new and far-reaching peace proposals. As M. François-Poncet, the French Ambassador, described it, ‘Hitler struck his adversary in the face, and as he did so declared: “I bring you proposals for peace!”’[411] In place of the discarded Locarno Treaty, Hitler offered a pact of non-aggression to France and Belgium, valid for twenty- five years and supplemented by the air pact to which Britain attached so much importance. The whole agreement was to be guaranteed by Great Britain and Italy, with Holland included if she so wished. A new demilitarized zone was to be drawn on both sides of the western frontier, treating France and Germany on terms of equality, while in the east Germany offered nonaggression pacts to her neighbours on the model of the agreement she had concluded with Poland. Finally, now that equality of rights had been restored, Germany was prepared to re-enter the League of Nations and to discuss the colonial problem and the reform of the League Covenant. %%%%%%%%%% At noon Hitler addressed the Reichstag. His speech was another masterpiece of reasonableness.

You know, fellow-members of the Reichstag, how hard was the road that I have had to travel since 30 January 1933 in order to free the German people from the dishonourable position in which it found itself and to secure equality of rights, without thereby alienating Germany from the political and economic commonwealth of European nations, and particularly without creating new ill-feeling from the aftermath of old enmities.... At no moment of my struggle on behalf of the German people have I ever forgotten the duty incumbent on me and on us all firmly to uphold European culture and European civilization....

Why should it not be possible to put an end to this useless strife (between France and Germany) which has lasted for centuries and which has never been and never will be finally decided by either of the two nations concerned ? Why not replace it by the rule of reason ? The German people have no interest in seeing the French people suffer. And what advantage can come to France when Germany is in misery? ... Why should it not be possible to lift the general problem of conflicting interests between the European states above the sphere of passion and unreason and consider it in the calm light of a higher vision?

It was France, Hitler declared, who had betrayed Europe by her alliance with the Asiatic power of Bolshevism, pledged to destroy all the values of European civilization — just as it was France who, by the same action, had invalidated the Locarno Pact. Once again, reluctantly but without flinching, he must bow to the inevitable and take the necessary steps to defend Germany’s national interests. He ended with the sacred vow to work now more than ever to further the cause of mutual understanding between the nations of Europe, but the roar of enthusiasm with which the packed Reichstag welcomed the announcement of the reoccupation of the Rhineland belied the words of peace.[412] As Hitler had told Rauschning: ‘My Party comrades will not fail to understand me when they hear me speak of universal peace, disarmament and mutual security pacts! ’[413] It was the assertion of German power, not the offer of peace, that brought the Reichstag to their feet, stamping and shouting in their delight.

Hitler later admitted: ‘The forty-eight hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs, for the military resources at our disposal would have been wholly inadequate for even a moderate resistance.’[414] Events, however, followed exactly the same pattern as the year before. There were anxious consultations between Paris and London; appeals for reason and calm — after all, people said, the Rhineland is part of Germany; much talk of the new opportunities for peace offered by Hitler’s proposals — ‘A Chance to Rebuild’ was the title of The Times leading article. The Locarno Powers conferred; the Council of the League conferred; the International Court at The Hague was ready to confer, if Hitler would agree to submit his argument that the Franco-Soviet Treaty and the Locarno Pact were incompatible. Germany’s action was again solemnly condemned and the censure again rejected, by Hitler. But no one marched — except the Germans; no one spoke openly of sanctions or of enforcing the Locarno Treaty. The Polish Government, believing that France could never tolerate the German action in the Rhineland, suddenly offered, on 9 March, to bring their military alliance with France into operation; when they found that France was not going to move, the Poles had some embarrassment in explaining away their gesture, which had become known in Berlin.

Meanwhile Hitler dissolved the Reichstag and invited the German people to pass judgement on his policy. He came before them as the Peacemaker. ‘All of us and all peoples,’ he said at Breslau, ‘have the feeling that we are at the turning-point of an age.... Not we alone, the conquered of yesterday, but also the victors have the inner conviction that something was not as it should be, that reason seemed to have deserted men.... Peoples must find a new relation to each other, some new form must be created.... But over this new order which must be set up stand the words: Reason and Logic, Understanding and Mutual Consideration. They make a mistake who think that over the entrance to this new order there can stand the word “Versailles”. That would be, not the foundation stone of the new order, but its gravestone.’[415]

When the election was held on 29 March the results were announced as:

Total of qualified voters 45,453,691

Total of votes cast 45,001,489 (99 per cent)

Votes cast against or invalid 540,211

Votes cast for the list 44,461,278 (98–8 per cent).

If the election figures showed a suspicious unanimity, there can be little doubt that a substantial majority of the German people approved Hitler’s action, or that it raised the Führer to a new peak of popularity in Germany.

No event marks a clearer stage in the success of Hitler’s diplomatic game than the reoccupation of the Rhineland. The demilitarized Rhineland was all that was left to France of the guarantees against a renewed German attack which she had sought to obtain after 1918. She had still a clear military superiority over the German Army; the terms of the Locarno Pact specifically recognized the German action as a casus foederis’, ample warning had been given by the French Ambassador in Berlin. The French could certainly expect little support from the Baldwin Government in London, but to allow Hitler’s action to pass unchallenged was tantamount to confessing that France was no longer prepared to defend the elaborate security system she had built up since 1918. This was a political fact which was bound to have major consequences in Central and Eastern Europe. While the Western Powers continued a futile exchange of notes with Berlin, the other European governments began to accommodate themselves to the new balance of power.


The first government to feel the effect of the change was the Austrian. The premise upon which Austrian independence was based, the unity of Italy, France, and Great Britain in face of Germany, and their superiority over Germany in power, was being destroyed. Sooner or later Mussolini would be bound to draw nearer to Germany; sooner or later the 1934 guarantee of Italian divisions on the Brenner frontier would be withdrawn.

In a letter to Hitler, dated 18 October 1935, Papen, now German Minister in Vienna, wrote: ‘We can confidently leave further developments to sort themselves out in the near future. I am convinced that the shifting of Powers on the European chessboard will permit us in the not too distant future to take up actively the question of influencing the south-eastern area.’[416] In 1936 Papen, whose aim was to undermine Austrian independence from within and to bring about the Anschluss peacefully, gained his first successes. On 13 May, Prince Starhemberg, the Austrian Vice-Chancellor and an outspoken opponent of the Austrian Nazis, was forced to resign. Starhemberg was a particular friend of Mussolini, but the Duce was content simply to intercede for his personal safety. According to one well-informed Austrian, Guido Zernatto, it was actually from Mussolini that Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor, received the hint to get rid of Starhemberg in order to placate Hitler.

Already in the spring of 1936, when he visited Rome, Starhemberg had found the Duce preoccupied with the threat of German power and with the way in which his own quarrel with Britain and France was working to Hitler’s advantage. When, three weeks after Starhemberg had gone, the Austrian Chancellor, Schuschnigg, informed Mussolini that the Austrian Government was about to sign an agreement with Germany, the Duce, though repeating his assurances of support for Austrian independence, gave his approval.

The Austro-German Agreement of 11 July 1936 was designed on the surface to ease and improve relations between the two countries. Although Hitler had given his approval in advance, he was angry with Papen when he learned that the agreement had been signed. ‘Instead of expressing his gratification, he broke into a flood of abuse. I had misled him into making exaggerated concessions. The whole thing was a trap.’[417] This was to prove far from the truth.

The three published clauses reaffirmed Hitler’s recognition of Austria’s full sovereignty; promised non-intervention in each other’s internal affairs; and agreed that, although Austria would ‘.maintain a foreign policy based always on the principle that Austria acknowledges herself to be a German State’, this should not affect her special relationship with Italy and Hungary established by the Rome Protocols of 1934. The secret clauses covered a relaxation of the Press war between the two countries, an amnesty for political prisoners in Austria, measures for dealing with the Austrian Nazi refugees in Germany, resumption of normal economic relations and German removal of the restrictions on tourist traffic between the two States. Most important of all, the Austrian Government agreed to give representatives of the so-called National Opposition in Austria, ‘respectable’ cryptoNazis like Glaise-Horstenau and later Seyss-Inquart, a share in political responsibility.[418]

Ostensibly, Austro-German relations were now placed on a level satisfactory to both sides. But, in fact, for the next eighteen months the Germans used the Agreement as a lever with which to exert increasing pressure on the Austrian Government and to extort further concessions, a process of whittling down Austrian independence which culminated in the famous interview between Hitler and Schuschnigg in February 1938. The Agreement, as it was exploited by the Germans, thus marked a big step forward in that policy of capturing Austria by peaceful methods to which Hitler resorted after the failure of the putsch in July 1934.

The importance of the Agreement was not limited to the relations between Austria and Germany. Its signature materially improved Hitler’s prospects of a rapprochement with Italy. Here again he had extraordinary luck. On 4 July 1936, the League Powers tacitly admitted defeat and withdrew the sanctions they had tried to impose on Italy. Less than a fortnight later, on 17 July, civil war broke out in Spain and created a situation from which Hitler was able to draw no fewer advantages than from Mussolini’s Abyssinian adventure.

There is no evidence that Hitler had any hand in the events leading up to the civil war. He was at Bayreuth on 22 July when a German business man from Morocco and the local Nazi leader there arrived with a personal letter from General Franco. After Hitler’s return from the theatre he sent for Göring and his War Minister, Blomberg. That night he decided to give active help to Franco. In the course of the next three years Germany sent men and military supplies, including experts and technicians of all kinds and the famous Condor Air Legion. German aid to Franco was never on a major scale, never sufficient to win the war for him or even to equal the forces sent by Mussolini, which in March 1937 reached the figure of sixty to seventy thousand men.[419] Hitler’s policy, unlike Mussolini’s, was not to secure Franco’s victory, but to prolong the war. In April 1939, an official of the German Economic Policy Department, trying to reckon what Germany had spent on help to Franco up to that date, gave a round figure of five hundred million Reichsmarks,[420] not a large sum by comparison with the amounts spent on rearmament. But the advantages Germany secured in return were disproportionate — economic advantages (valuable sources of raw materials in Spanish mines); useful experience in training her airmen and testing equipment such as tanks in battle conditions ; above all, strategic and political advantages.

It only needed a glance at the map to show how seriously France’s position was affected by events across the Pyrenees. A victory for Franco would mean a third Fascist State on her frontiers, three instead of two frontiers to be guarded in the event of war. France, for geographical reasons alone, was more deeply interested in what happened in Spain than any other of the Great Powers, yet the ideological character of the Spanish Civil War divided, instead of uniting, French opinion. The French elections shortly before the outbreak of the troubles in Spain had produced the Left-wing Popular Front Government of Léon Blum. So bitter had class and political conflicts grown in France that — as in the case of the Franco-Soviet Treaty — foreign affairs were again subordinated to internal faction, and many Frenchmen were prepared to support Franco as a way of hitting at their own Government. The Spanish Civil War exacerbated all those factors of disunity in France upon which Hitler had always hoped to play, and so long as the Civil War lasted French foreign policy was bound to be weakened.

From the first Mussolini intervened openly in Spain, giving all the aid he could spare to bring about a victory for Franco. Thus at the very moment when the withdrawal of sanctions might have made it possible for the Western Powers to establish better relations with Italy, the Spanish War and the continual clash between Italian intervention and British and French attempts to enforce non-intervention kept the quarrel between them alive. As von Hassell, the German Ambassador in Rome, pointed out: ‘The role played by the Spanish conflict as regards Italy’s relations with France and England could be similar to that of the Abyssinian conflict, bringing out clearly the opposing interests of the Powers and thus preventing Italy from being drawn into the net of the Western Powers. The struggle for dominant

political influence in Spain lays bare the natural opposition between Italy and France; at the same time the position of Italy as a power in the Western Mediterranean comes into competition with that of Britain.’[421]

As the published diplomatic documents now make clear, the quarrel over Spain, added to the legacy of suspicion from the episode of sanctions, wrecked all the efforts of London and Paris to draw Mussolini closer to their side in the years between 1936 and 1939. Indeed, the common policy of Italy and Germany towards Spain created one of the main foundations on which the Rome-Berlin Axis was built, and the Spanish Civil War provided much greater scope for such cooperation than the Abyssinian War from which Germany had held aloof.

In September 1936, Hitler judged circumstances favourable for creating a closer relationship between Germany and Italy in order to exploit a situation in which the two countries had begun to follow parallel courses. In the year that had passed since the outbreak of the Abyssinian War events had produced great changes in the relations of the Great Powers. Hitherto Hitler had been content to watch; now the time had come to make use of the advantages these changes offered him. The July Agreement between Germany and Austria removed the biggest obstacle to an understanding between Rome and Berlin, and on 29 June the German Ambassador conveyed to Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister, an offer from Hitler to consider the recognition of the new Italian Empire — a point on which the Duce was notoriously touchy — whenever Mussolini wished. In September Hitler sent Hans Frank, his Minister of Justice, who happened to speak Italian fluently, on an exploratory mission to Rome.

Frank saw Mussolini in the Palazzo Venezia on 23 September. He brought a cordial invitation from the Führer for both Mussolini and Ciano to visit Germany. In Spain, he said, Germany was assisting the Nationalists from motives of ideological solidarity, but she had neither interests nor aims of her own in the Mediterranean. ‘The Führer is anxious,’ Ciano noted, ‘that we should know that he regards the Mediterranean as a purely Italian sea. Italy has a right to positions of privilege and control in the Mediterranean. The interests of the Germans are turned towards the Baltic, which is their Mediterranean.’ In Germany, Frank declared, the Austrian question was now considered to have been settled, and after suggesting a common policy in presenting their colonial demands, and renewing the offer to recognize the Italian Empire, Frank concluded by expressing Hitler’s belief in the need for increasingly close collaboration between Germany and Italy.[422] Throughout the interview Mussolini was careful not to be too forthcoming and affected a certain disinterestedness, but a month later Ciano set out for Germany.

After a talk with the German Foreign Minister, Neurath, in Berlin on 21 October, Ciano visited Hitler himself at Berchtesgaden on the 24th. Hitler laid himself out to be charming and was greatly touched by the cordial greetings from ‘the leading statesman in the world, to whom none may even remotely compare himself’. Twice he telephoned to Munich to make sure of the details of Ciano’s reception, and although he monopolized the conversation he was obviously at pains to impress Ciano with his friendliness.

The gist of Hitler’s remarks was the need for Italy and Germany to create a common front against Bolshevism and against the Western Powers. The possibilities of Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Japan were passed in rapid review. Towards England Hitler still showed uncertainty. If England faced the formation of a strong German-Italian bloc, she might well seek to come to terms with it. If she still continued to work against them, then Germany and Italy would have the power to defeat her.

German and Italian rearmament [Hitler declared] is proceeding much more rapidly than rearmament can in Great Britain, where it is not only a case of producing ships, guns, and aeroplanes, but also of undertaking psychological rearmament, which is much longer and more difficult. In three years Germany will be ready, in four years more than ready ; if five years are given, better still.... According to the English there are two countries in the world today which are led by adventurers : Germany and Italy. But England too, was led by adventurers when she built her Empire. Today she is governed merely by incompetents.[423]

A protocol had been prepared by the Italian and German Foreign Offices before Ciano’s visit, and was signed by the two Foreign Ministers in Berlin. It covered in some detail German- Italian cooperation on a number of issues — the proposals for a new Locarno Pact; policy towards the League; Spain; Austria; the Danubian States (the Germans were eager to bring Yugoslavia and Italy closer together) ; Abyssinia, and the recognition of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. Nothing was said of this document (known as the October Protocols) in the communiqué issued at the end of Ciano’s visit, but when Mussolini went to Milan on 1 November 1936 he spoke of an agreement between the two countries and for the first time used the famous simile of an axis, ‘round which all those European states which are animated by a desire for collaboration and peace may work together.’


By the end of 1936 Hitler had succeeded in establishing one of the two conditions, an alliance with Italy, on which he had counted in Mein Kampf. For the initiative in forging the Axis unquestionably came from Hitler, who exploited with great skill the situation in which Mussolini was placed. But the second condition, an understanding with Britain, still eluded him.

In August, Hitler had determined on a new approach to London and appointed Ribbentrop as the German Ambassador to the Court of St James. Ribbentrop was four years younger than the Führer whom he slavishly admired and copied, had served in the First World War and had later become a business man dealing in wines. In 1920 he married Anna Henkel, the daughter of a big champagne dealer, and after, as before, the war spent a good deal of time travelling abroad. He joined the Party in the early 1930s, when Hitler had already become prominent as a political leader, and it was at his villa in Dahlem that the decisive conversation leading to the formation of the coalition government took place on 22 January 1933. An ambitious man, Ribbentrop succeeded in persuading the new Chancellor that he could provide him with more reliable information about what was happening abroad than reached him through the official channels of the Foreign Office. With Party funds he set up a Ribbentrop Bureau on the Wilhelmstrasse, facing the Foreign Office; it was staffed by journalists, business men out of a job, and by those members of the Party who were eager for a diplomatic career. After serving as Special Commissioner for Disarmament in 1934, Ribbentrop’s big chance came in 1935, when he succeeded in negotiating the Anglo-German Naval Treaty behind the back of the German Foreign Office, and made his reputation.

Arrogant, vain, humourless, and spiteful, Ribbentrop was one of the worst choices Hitler ever made for high office. But he shared many of Hitler’s own social resentments (especially against the regular Foreign Service), he was prepared to prostrate himself before the Fuhrer’s genius, and his appointment enabled Hitler to take the conduct of relations with Great Britain much more closely into his own hands. Ribbentrop’s ambition was to replace Neurath as Foreign Minister, and he accepted the London post with a bad grace, believing with some justification that Neurath was trying to get him out of the way. None the less, further success along the lines of the Anglo-German Naval Treaty would be a big feather in his cap, and both Ribbentrop and Hitler had considerable hopes of the new appointment.

What puzzled Hitler and Ribbentrop was the fact that although the British were disinclined to take any forceful action on the Continent and only too prepared to put off awkward decisions, they found them wary of committing themselves to cooperate with Germany. At the time of Ciano’s visit Hitler was still in two minds about the British: he was reluctant to take open action which would alienate them, in the hope that he might still win them over, yet he was tempted at times to regard Britain as ‘finished’ and her value either as an ally or an opponent as negligible. This alternation of moods persisted in varying degree until the war, and never wholly disappeared from Hitler’s ambivalent attitude towards Britain.

Hitler’s best argument with the Conservative Government in Britain, an argument which commanded attention not only in London, but in many other capitals, was one which he used more frequently after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War: the common interest of the European States in face of Communism. Hitler had been talking of Germany as a ‘bulwark against Bolshevism’ since 1919. But the Spanish Civil War sharpened the sense of ideological conflict in Western Europe. This was the era of Popular Fronts, attempts to unite all ‘progressive’ parties and organizations in common opposition to Fascism; it was also the period in which the extremists of the French Right coined the slogan, ‘Better Hitler than Blum’. Many people in England as well as in France, who would have looked askance at a blatant German nationalism, were impressed by Hitler’s anti-Communism; it served the same purpose as Russia’s own peace campaign and similar moves after the Second World War. Again and again Hitler used the example of Spain as a land ravaged by Bolshevism, and pointed to the Popular Front Government in France as the equivalent of the Girondins who were replaced by the more extreme Jacobins, or of Kerensky’s Provisional Government in Russia swept away by the Bolsheviks in the second October Revolution of 1917. ‘Perhaps the time is coming more quickly than we think,’ he declared in November 1936, ‘when the rest of Europe will see in our Germany the strongest safeguard of a truly European, a truly human, culture and civilization. Perhaps the time is coming more quickly than we think when the rest of Europe will no longer regard with resentment the founding of a National Socialist German Reich, but will rejoice that this dam was raised against the Bolshevik flood....’[424]

Anti-Communism could also be used to provide the basis for the power-bloc of which Hitler had spoken to Ciano. For months Ribbentrop had been working — quite independently of the German Foreign Office — to reach agreement with Japan. In November he succeeded, and flew to Berlin from London for the signature of the Anti-Comintern Pact. The ideological objectives of the pact — the defeat of the Communist ‘world-conspiracy’ — gave it a universal character which a straightforward agreement aimed against Russia could not have had. It was expressly designed to secure the adherence of other States, and it was not Jong before Hitler began to collect new signatories. The public provisions of the pact dealt with no more than the exchange of information on Comintern activity, cooperation in preventive measures, and severity in dealing with Comintern agents. There was also a secret Protocol which dealt specifically with Russia and bound both parties to sign no political treaties with the U.S.S.R. In the event of an unprovoked attack or threat of attack by Russia on either Power, the Protocol added, each agreed to ‘take no measures which would tend to ease the situation of the U.S.S.R’.[425] This was still vague, but the statement made by Ribbentrop on the day the treaty was signed left little doubt that Germany hoped to make more of this new political grouping. ‘Japan,’ Ribbentrop declared, ‘will never permit any dissemination of Bolshevism in the Far East. Germany is creating a bulwark against this pestilence in Central Europe. Finally, Italy, as the Duce informs the world, will hoist the anti-Bolshevist banner in the south.’[426] In Hitler’s eyes the October Protocols signed with Italy, and the Anti-Comintern Pact concluded with Japan, were to become the foundations of a new military alliance.

From every point of view, therefore, Hitler could feel satisfaction with his fourth year of power. The remilitarization of the Rhineland, German rearmament, and the contrast between his own self-confident leadership and the weakness of the Western Powers had greatly increased his prestige both abroad and at home. Distinguished visitors were eager to meet him — among them Lloyd George, who left the unfortunate impression of confirming Hitler in his belief that if Germany had only held out in 1918 she would have won the war. Most of those who went to stare returned half-convinced by the claims of Europe’s new Man of Destiny, and swept away by their impressions of the dynamic new Germany he had called into being. When the Olympic Games were held in Berlin in August 1936, thousands of foreigners crowded the capital, and the opportunity was used with great skill to put the Third Reich on show. Germany’s new masters entertained with a splendour that rivalled the displays of le Roi Soleil and the Tsars of Russia. At Nuremberg, in September, the Party Rally, which lasted a week, was on a scale which even Nazi pageantry had never before equalled.

Hitler rounded off his first four years of office by a long speech to the Reichstag on 30 January 1937, in which he formally withdrew Germany’s signature from those clauses of the Treaty of Versailles which had denied her equality of rights and laid on her the responsibility for the war. ‘Today,’ Hitler added, ‘I must humbly thank Providence, whose grace has enabled me, once an unknown soldier in the war, to bring to a successful issue the struggle for our honour and rights as a nation.’[427]

It was an impressive record to which Hitler was able to point, not only in the raising of German prestige abroad, but in economic improvement and the recovery of national confidence at home. It is pointless to deny that Hitler succeeded in releasing in the German people a great store of energy and faith in themselves, which had been frustrated during the years of the Depression. The Germans responded to the lead of an authoritarian government which was not afraid to take both risks and responsibility. Thus, to quote only one instance, between January 1933 and December 1934 the number of registered unemployed fell from six millions to two million six hundred thousand, while the number of insured workers employed rose from eleven and a half to fourteen and a half millions.[428] Granted that some measure of economic recovery was general at this time, none the less in Germany it was more rapid and went further than elsewhere, largely as a result of heavy Government expenditure on improving the resources of the country and on public works.

It is natural, therefore, to ask, as many Germans still ask, whether there was not some point up to which the Nazi movement was a force for good, but after which its original idealism became corrupted. Whatever truth there may be in this, so far as it is a question of the rank and file of the movement, so far as Hitler and the Nazi leadership are concerned, this is a view contradicted by the evidence. For all the evidence points to the opposite view, namely, that from the first Hitler and the other Nazi leaders thought in terms solely of power, their own power, and the power of the nation over which they ruled.

In a secret memorandum of 3 May 1935, Dr Schacht, the man who had the greatest responsibility for Germany’s economic recovery, wrote: ‘The accomplishment of the armament programme with speed and in quantity is the problem of German politics, and everything else should be subordinated to this purpose, as long as the main purpose is not imperilled by neglecting all other questions.’[429] This view is repeated again and again through all the discussions on economic policy in these years. The basis of Schacht’s later opposition to Hitler’s policy, which came to a head in 1937 and led to his resignation, was Hitler’s persistent refusal to take into account any other economic or social objective besides the overriding need to provide him with the most efficient military machine possible in the shortest possible time.

The driving force behind German rearmament was Hitler. Looking back on earlier days during the Russian campaign he told Jodi:

As for the Navy they never once made any demands on their own behalf; it was always 1 who had to do it for them and then, if you please, the Navy would whittle down the programme I proposed for them ! The army were no better; here again it was I who had to urge the adoption of a programme of real expansion, and it was the Army which countered with hesitancy and evasions. 1 was so frustrated that in the end I was compelled to withdraw their prerogatives from the Army and assume them myself.[430]

In August 1936, the period of conscription was extended to two years, while at Nuremberg, in September, impatient with the difficulties raised by the economic experts, Hitler proclaimed a Four-Year Plan and put Goring in charge fully armed with the powers to secure results whatever the cost. German economy was henceforward subordinated to one purpose, preparation for war. It is this fact that explains why, although Germany made so remarkable an economic recovery, and by the end of this period was one of the best-equipped industrial nations in the world, this was reflected, not in the standard of living of her people, but in her growing military strength.

Moreover, it is necessary to add to this, that the biggest single factor in the recovery of confidence and faith in Germany was the sense of this power, a renewed confidence and faith in ‘the German mission’, expressed in an increasingly aggressive nationalism which had little use for the rights of other, less powerful nations. The psychology of Nazism, no less than Nazi economics, was one of preparation for war. Both depended for their continued success upon the maintenance of a national spirit and a national effort which in the end must find expression in aggressive action. War, the belief in violence and the right of the stronger, were not corruptions of Nazism, they were its essence. Anyone who visited Germany in 1936–7 needed to be singularly blind not to see the ends to which all this vast activity was directed. Recognition of the benefits which Hitler’s rule brought to Germany in the first four years of his régime needs to be tempered therefore by the realization that for the Führer — and for a considerable section of the German people — these were the by-products of his true purpose, the creation of an instrument of power with which to realize a policy of expansion that in the end was to admit no limits.


Throughout 1937 Hitler pursued the lines of policy he had established in the previous year. It was a year of preparation — and of growing confidence in German strength. For, although Hitler was still at pains to protest his love of peace, there was a new note of impatience in his voice. In his speech of 30 January he dealt at some length with Germany’s demand for the return of the colonies taken from her at the end of the war. In the same speech he spoke of ‘the justified feeling of national honour existing among those nationalities who are forced to live as a minority within other nations.’[431] The demand for colonies was raised with increasing frequency in 1937, and at the end of the year, speaking in Augsburg, Hitler declared: ‘What the world shuts its ears to today it will not be able to ignore in a year’s time. What it will not listen to now it will have to think about in three years’ time, and in five or six it will have to take into practical consideration. We shall voice our demand for living-room in colonies more and more loudly till the world cannot but recognize our claim.’[432]

There were two particular grounds for Hitler’s confidence: the progress of German rearmament, and the consolidation of the Axis. Göring, now the economic dictator of Germany, had as little respect for economics as Hitler. His methods were crude, but not ineffective.

In December 1936, Göring told a meeting of industrialists that it was no longer a question of producing economically, but simply of producing. So far as securing foreign exchange was concerned it was quite immaterial whether the provisions of the law were complied with or not, provided only that foreign exchange was brought in somehow. ‘ No limit on rearmament can be visualized. The only alternatives are victory or destruction.... We live in a time when the battle is in sight. We are already on the threshold of mobilization and we are already at war. All that is lacking is the actual shooting.’[433]

Hitler’s and Göring’s programme of autarky and the search for ersatz raw materials were criticized by Dr Schacht at the time, but his economic arguments fell on deaf ears. They were men in a hurry, indifferent to the cost or to the long-term economic consequences, provided they got the arms they wanted quickly. When Schacht persisted in his protests his resignation was accepted,[434] and Göring continued to ride rough-shod over economic theories and economic facts alike. By the spring of 1939 Hitler had carried out an expansion of German military power unequalled in German history.

The consolidation of the Rome-Berlin Axis was marked by increased consultation between the two parties and frequent exchanges of visits culminating in Mussolini’s State reception in Germany in September, and Italy’s signature of the AntiComintern Pact in November. Among those whom Hitler sent to Rome were Göring (January); Neurath, the Foreign Minister (May); Blomberg, the War Minister (June); and Ribbentrop (October). The initiative still came from Berlin, and — as the captured diplomatic documents show — Hitler watched with some anxiety the attempts of the British and French to renew friendly relations with the Duce.

On 2 January 1937, Ciano signed a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with England in which each country recognized the other’s vital interests in the freedom of the Mediterranean, and agreed that there should be no alteration in the status quo in that region. (The British were particularly anxious about the possibility of Italy’s acquiring the Balearic Islands, off Spain.) Shortly afterwards Hitler sent Göring to Rome on an exploratory mission. Göring had two talks with Mussolini, on 15 January and 23 January, in which he clumsily tried to sound out the Duce’s opinions on a number of issues. It is evident from the record of the two conversations that each side regarded with some suspicion the other’s attempts to reach an understanding with England. Above all, Austria was still a danger-point in German-Italian relations, and Mussolini did not relish Göring’s obvious assumption of the inevitability of the Anschluss. Paul Schmidt, who was present as the interpreter, says that Mussolini shook his head vehemently, and Hassell, the German Ambassador, reported to Berlin: ‘I got the impression that General Göring’s statement regarding Austria had met with a cool reception, and that he himself, realizing this fact, had by no means said all that he had planned to say.’[435]

At his second conversation with the Duce a week later (23 January), Göring was more circumspect. He confined himself to urging Mussolini to bring pressure to bear on the Austrian Government to observe the terms of the Austro-German Agreement, and although he made plain Germany’s dislike of the Schuschnigg Government, and her refusal to tolerate a Hapsburg restoration in Austria, he added the assurance that for Hitler’s part there would be no surprises as far as Austria was concerned.[436] According to Hassell, who subsequently had a conversation with Ciano, Goring’s more tactful behaviour on the second occasion reassured the Italians. ‘Of special importance,’ Hassell wrote to Göring, ‘was the fact that you clearly stated that, within the framework of German-Italian friendship, any German action on the Austrian question aiming at a change in the present situation would take place only in consultation with Rome. I added that we, for our part, assumed we were safe from a repetition of Italy’s previous partnership with other Powers (“The Watch on the Brenner”). Ciano agreed to that as a matter of course.’[437]

These suspicions and difficulties were not easily removed. The Italians quickly took offence at any slighting reference, such as the Germans were only too prone to make, to their martial qualities. General von Blomberg’s visit to Italy in June was far from being an unqualified success, and Ciano’s suspicions in turn were roused by the news that the German Foreign Minister, Neurath, was preparing to visit London. Göring’s talks with Mussolini showed that, over Austria, Hitler still needed to proceed with care, and when Neurath saw the Duce in May he assured him ‘that the Führer intends to keep as the basis of his policy towards Austria the Pact of 11 July. Although the question is the subject of lively interest, it is not considered by the Germans to be acute.’[438] The only exception would be in the event of a Hapsburg restoration.

None the less, the pull of events was too strong for Mussolini. His Mediterranean ambitions, his intervention in Spain, his anxiety to be on the winning side and to share in the plucking of the decadent democracies, not least his resentment over British and French policy in the past, were added to the vanity of a dictator with a bad inferiority complex in international relations, and pointed to the advantages of the partnership which Hitler persistently pressed on him. On 4 September it was announced that the two leaders would meet in Germany, and on the 23rd the Duce set out for Germany in a new uniform specially designed for the occasion. It was a fatal step for Mussolini ; the beginning of that surrender of independence which led his régime to disaster and himself to the gibbet in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan.

Hitler received the Duce at Munich, where the Nazi Party put on a superbly organized show, including a ceremonial parade of S.S. troops. Mussolini had hardly recovered his breath when he was whisked away to a display of Germany’s military power at the Army manoeuvres in Mecklenburg, and of her industrial resources in the Krupp factories at Essen. The visit reached its climax in Berlin, where the capital was put en fête to receive the impressionable Duce, and the two dictators stood side by side to address a crowd of eight hundred thousand on the Maifeld. Before the speeches were over, a terrific thunderstorm scattered the audience in pandemonium, and in the confusion Mussolini was left to find his way back to Berlin alone, soaked to the skin and in a state of collapse. But even this unfortunate contretemps could not destroy the spell which his visit cast over him. He returned from Germany bewitched by the display of power which had been carefully staged for him. There had been no time for diplomatic conversations between the two Heads of State, but Hitler had achieved something more valuable than a dozen protocols : he had stamped on Mussolini’s mind an indelible impression of German might from which the Duce was never able to set himself free.

Hitler laid himself out to charm as well as to impress, and publicly acclaimed the Duce as ‘ one of those lonely men of the ages on whom history is not tested, but who themselves are the makers of history’.[439] Hitler’s admiration for Mussolini was unfeigned. Mussolini, like himself — and like Stalin, whom Hitler also admired — was a man of the people; Hitler felt at ease with him as he never felt when with members of the traditional ruling classes, and, despite his later disillusionment with the Italian performance in the war, he never betrayed or discarded him. All trace of the unhappy meeting at Venice in 1934 was wiped out by the German visit and Hitler presented the Axis to the world as a solid bloc of a hundred and fifteen million people.

‘ From the consciousness of that which the Fascist and National Socialist relations have in common,’ Hitler proclaimed, ‘ there has today arisen not merely a community of views, but also a community of action.

‘Fascist Italy through the creative activity of a man of constructive power has become a new Imperium. And you, Benito Mussolini, in these days will have been assured with your own eyes of one fact concerning the National Socialist State — that Germany, too, in her political attitude and her military strength is once more a World Power.

‘The forces of these two empires form today the strongest guarantee for the preservation of a Europe which still possesses a perception of its cultural mission and is not willing through the action of destructive elements to fall into disintegration.’[440]

Three weeks later Ribbentrop appeared in Rome to urge the Duce to put Italy’s signature to the year-old Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan. Ribbentrop was disarmingly frank. He had failed in his mission to London, he told Mussolini, and had to recognize that the interests of Germany and Great Britain were irreconcilable. This was excellent hearing for the Duce, and he made little difficulty about signing the Pact. After the ceremony, which took place on 6 November, Mussolini declared that this represented ‘ the first gesture which will lead to a much closer understanding of a political and military nature between the three Powers’. Ribbentrop, still smarting from his failure in London, added with some satisfaction that the British reaction would be lively ‘since the Pact will be interpreted as the alliance of the aggressive nations against the satisfied countries’.[441]

Ribbentrop’s report on Mussolini’s discussion of Austria can only have delighted Hitler. During the State visit he paid to Venice in April 1937, Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor, had already sensed a change in the Italian attitude. Although Mussolini still assured him of his loyalty to Austrian independence, he laid stress on the need for Austria to meet Germany’s demands under the July Agreement, and spoke of maintaining Austria’s integrity, within the framework of the Rome-Berlin Axis.[442] Now, in his November conversation, Mussolini told Ribbentrop that he was tired of mounting guard over Austrian independence, especially if the Austrians no longer wanted their independence.

Austria is German State No. 2. It will never be able to do anything without Germany, far less against Germany. Italian interest today is no longer as lively as it was some years ago, for one thing because of Italy’s imperialist development, which was now concentrating her interest on the Mediterranean and the Colonies.... The best method is to let events take their natural course. One must not aggravate the situation, so as to avoid crises of an international nature. On the other hand, France knows that if a crisis should arise in Austria, Italy would do nothing. This was said to Schuschnigg, too, on the occasion of the Venice conversation. We cannot impose independence on Austria.... It is necessary, therefore, to abide by the formula: nothing will be done without previous exchange of information.[443]

Mussolini’s embarrassment is obvious in every line of Ciano’s minute, and was certainly not lost on Hitler. His exploitation of the quarrel between Italy and the Western Powers was beginning to yield dividends; in his cultivation of Mussolini’s friendship Hitler had found the key to unlock the gate to Central Europe. Four months later the gate was swung back without effort, and German troops stood on the old Austro-Italian frontier of the Brenner Pass.

Hitler’s interest in Italy did not lead him to neglect Poland. In 1936 the Poles, worried by the growth of Nazi influence in Danzig and still distrustful of Germany’s fair words, tried to strengthen their ties with France. Friendship with France as well as with Germany would help to reinforce that independent position which was the object of Colonel Beck’s policy. The reoccupation of the Rhineland gave a jolt to Beck’s complacency, and under the immediate shock the Poles renewed their offer to the French to march if France decided to make an issue of it.

Well aware of the stiffening in the Polish attitude, Hitler and Ribbentrop gave the most convincing assurances to Count Szembek, the Polish Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, when they received him in Berlin during August 1936. In Danzig, Hitler declared, Germany would act entirely by way of an understanding with Poland, and with respect for all her rights. Ribbentrop, dismissing Danzig as a question of secondary importance, laid heavy emphasis on the common interests of Poland and Germany in face of the menace of Bolshevism.

In his speech of 30 January 1937, Hitler now coupled Poland with Germany and Italy. ‘ True statesmanship must face realities and not shirk them. The Italian nation and the new Italian State are realities. The German nation and the German State are likewise realities. And for my own fellow citizens I should like to state that the Polish nation and the Polish State have also become realities.’[444] Shortly after Goring’s return from Rome at the end of January Hitler sent him to Warsaw, where he used that bluff hypocrisy which was his diplomatic stock-in-trade, to disarm Polish suspicions.

‘Germany (Goring told Marshal Smigly-Rydz) was completely reconciled to her present territorial status. Germany would not attack Poland and had no intention of seizing the Polish Corridor. “We do not want the Corridor. I say that sincerely and categorically; we do not need the Corridor.” He could not give proof of this; it was a question of whether his word was believed or not.’[445]

Indeed, Goring excelled himself on this occasion. He told the Poles in confidence that there had been many advocates of a rapprochement with Russia and of the Rapallo policy in the old Germany Army, but Hitler had changed that. Germany needed a strong Poland; a weak Poland would be a standing invitation to Russian aggression, and for that reason Germany had no quarrel with the Franco-Polish alliance.

Hitler followed these reassurances by offering to negotiate a minorities treaty with Poland, which was signed in Berlin on 5 November — the date, as we shall see, is worth noting. When Hitler received the Polish Ambassador, Lipski, he not only expressed his satisfaction at settling the minorities question, but added, with great precision, that there would be no change in the position of Danzig, and that Poland’s rights in the Free State would be fully respected. Twice he repeated to Lipski: ‘Danzig ist mit Polen verbunden - Danzig is bound up with Poland.’[446]

Further visits of Colonel Beck to Berlin (January 1938) and of Goring to Warsaw (in February) only served to re-emphasize Hitler’s friendly intentions. The Polish neutrality, which Hitler thereby ensured throughout his operations in 1938, was of the greatest value to him. So long as Poland stood out, and refused to cooperate against Germany, it was impossible to build up effective resistance to Hitler’s eastern ambitions. If Italy’s friendship was the key to Austria, Poland’s was one of the keys to Czechoslovakia.

Meanwhile, the Western Powers continued to be preoccupied with Spain. Their efforts to enforce non-intervention with the cooperation of the blatantly interventionist Italian and German Governments, though well-intentioned, only lowered their prestige. The world, however shocked, was a good deal more impressed by the German bombardment of the port of Almeria as reprisal for a bombing attack on the cruiser Deutschland. Hitler was much less interested in Franco’s victory than in prolonging the war. Thereby he kept open the breach between Italy and the Western Powers, made Britain and France look foolish by pursuing obstructionist tactics on the Non-Intervention Committee, and provided himself with an unequalled text for preaching his crusade against Bolshevism. His closing speech to the Nuremberg Rally in September 1937 was notable for the violence of his attack on Communism, in the course of which he compared the clash between the rival Weltanschauungen of National Socialism and Bolshevism to that between Christianity and Mohammedanism. He produced the identification of Communism with the Jewish world conspiracy directed from Moscow as ‘ a fact proved by irrefutable evidence’. The Jews had established a brutal dictatorship over the Russian people, and now sought to extend it to the rest of Europe and the rest of the world. This, he declared in a frenzied peroration, was the struggle being fought out on Spanish soil, this was the historical issue to which the dilettante statesmen of London and Paris were blind.[447]


The German denunciation of the Locarno Pact had been followed by the reversion of Belgium to a professed policy of neutrality, a policy, in King Leopold’s words, which ‘should aim resolutely at placing us outside any dispute of our neighbours’.[448] The withdrawal of Belgium, accepted by France and Britain in April 1937, was a further stage in the disintegration of the European Security system which had been created after Germany’s defeat in 1918. Yet London and Paris still did not give up their attempts to reach some form of general agreement with Hitler, and a desultory exchange of notes, inquiries and diplomatic approaches continued.

A new impetus was given to these dragging negotiations with the replacement of Mr Baldwin by Mr Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister at the end of May 1937. Baldwin has been characterized by Mr Churchill as possessing a genius for waiting upon events, knowing little of Europe, and disliking what he knew. ‘Neville Chamberlain, on the other hand, was alert, business-like, opinionated and self-confident in a very high degree. Unlike Baldwin, he conceived himself able to comprehend the whole field of Europe and indeed the world.... His all-pervading hope was to go down in history as the great Peacemaker; and for this he was prepared to strive continually in the teeth of facts, and face great risks for himself and his country.’[449] Above all, Chamberlain was determined to make a new attempt to arrive at a comprehensive settlement with the two dictators.

The first fruits of Chamberlain’s policy were the visit of Lord Halifax, then Lord President of the Council, to Germany in November 1937. The ostensible pretext was an invitation from Goring to visit a Hunting Exhibition in Berlin, but Lord Halifax was authorized by the British Prime Minister to see Hitler as well, and to discover what was in the Fuhrer’s mind.

Hitler declined to come to Berlin but was willing to receive Lord Halifax at Berchtesgaden. When Halifax arrived, Hitler showed himself both wilful and evasive. It was impossible, he declared, to make agreements with countries where political decisions were dictated by party considerations and were at the mercy of the Press. The British could not get used to the fact that Germany was no longer weak and divided; any proposal he made was automatically suspected, and so on. He brought up the question of colonies — ‘the sole remaining issue between Germany and England’ — only to declare that the British were not prepared to discuss it reasonably; at the same time, he was careful to avoid defining Germany’s colonial claims.

The German account of the interview gives the impression that Hitler deliberately exaggerated the difficulties in the way of negotiations. He threw doubt on the value of attempting to reach a comprehensive settlement, insisting that discussions would need the most careful preparation, that it was better not to be in a hurry, and that diplomatic exchanges would be preferable to the direct negotiations proposed by the British.[450] Whether these were deliberate tactics or an expression of temperament it is impossible to say.

Later, after Halifax had reported, Chamberlain wrote in his private journal: ‘The German visit was from my point of view a great success because it achieved its object, that of creating an atmosphere in which it is possible to discuss with Germany the practical questions involved in a European settlement.’[451] Halifax had already indicated these to Hitler. Speaking of questions which ‘fell into the category of possible alterations in the European order which might be destined to come about with the passage of time’, Halifax mentioned specifically Danzig, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. It was not, he told Hitler, the English attitude that the status quo must be maintained under all circumstances. ‘It was recognized that one might have to contemplate an adjustment to new conditions.’ The one point on which Halifax insisted was that these ‘ adjustments ’ should be carried out peacefully.[452]

However sincere Chamberlain’s desire to reach a settlement with Germany, in practice it amounted to an invitation to diplomatic blackmail which Hitler was not slow to exploit.

Exactly a fortnight before he listened to Mr Chamberlain’s well-meant messages, on 5 November, Hitler disclosed something of his own thoughts to a small group of men in a secret meeting at the Reich Chancellery. Only five others were present besides himself and Colonel Hossbach, the adjutant whose minutes are the source of our information.[453] They were Field-Marshal von Blomberg, the German War Minister; Colonel-General von Fritsch, Commander-in-Chief of the Army; Admiral Raeder, Com- mander-in-Chief of the Navy; Goring, Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, and Neurath, the German Foreign Minister.

Hitler began by explaining that what he had to say was the fruit of his deliberation and experiences during the past four and a half years. Then he put the problem in the simplest terms: ‘The aim of German policy was to make secure and to preserve the racial community and to enlarge it. It was therefore a question of space.’ Two possible solutions were mentioned only to be dismissed: autarky, and an increased participation in world economy. Germany could never be more than partially self-sufficient in raw materials; she could never supply her growing population with sufficient food from her own resources. Yet to look to increased trade offered no alternative; there Germany had to face limitations, in the form of competition, which it was not in her power to remove.

Germany’s future, Hitler declared, could only be safeguarded by acquiring additional Lebensraum. Such living space was to be sought, not overseas, but in Europe, and it could be found only at the risk of conflict. ‘The history of all ages had proved that expansion could only be carried out by breaking down resistance and taking risks; set backs were inevitable. There had never been spaces without a master, and there were none today: the attacker always comes up against a possessor. The question for Germany ran: where could she achieve the greatest gain at the lowest cost.’

Germany had to reckon with two ‘hate-inspired antagonists ’ — not Russia despite all Hitler’s talk of the Bolshevik menace, but Britain and France. Neither country was so strong as appeared. There were signs of disintegration in the British Empire — Ireland, India, the threat of Japanese power in the Far East and of Italian in the Mediterranean. In the long run, the Empire could not maintain its position. France’s situation was more favourable than that of Britain, but she was confronted with internal political difficulties. None the less, Britain, France, Russia, and their satellites must be included as factors of power in Germany’s political calculations.

‘Germany’s problem,’ Hitler therefore concluded, ‘could only be solved by means of force, and this was never without attendant risk.’ Granted the resort to force, there remained to be answered the questions ‘ when ? ’ and ‘ how ? ’ In considering these questions, Hitler distinguished three cases.

First, the peak of German power would be reached by 1943–5. After that, equipment would become obsolete, and the rearmament of the other Powers would reduce the German lead.

‘It was while the rest of the world was preparing its defences that we were obliged to take the offensive.... One thing only was certain, that we could not wait longer. If he was still living,, it was his unalterable resolve to solve Germany’s problem of space at the latest by 1943–5.’

In the second and third cases, the necessity for action would arise before that date. The second case was one in which internal strife in France might reach such a pitch as to disable the French Army. This must be used at once for a blow against the Czechs, whenever it occurred. The third case would arise if France became involved in war with another state and so could not take action against Germany. ‘The Führer saw case 3 coming definitely nearer; it might emerge from the present tensions in the Mediterranean, and he was resolved to take advantage of it, whatever happened, even as early as 1938.’ It was in Germany’s interest to prolong the war in Spain. Possibly a casus belli might arise out of the Italian occupation of the Balearic Islands. In such a war, the crucial point would be North Africa. Should such a conflict develop, Germany must take advantage of French and British preoccupation to attack the Czechs.

In all three cases, the first objective must be to overrun Czechoslovakia and Austria and so secure Germany’s eastern and southern flanks. Hitler went on to discuss the probable attitude of the other Powers to such action. ‘Actually, the Führer believed that almost certainly Britain, and probably France as well, had already tacitly written off the Czechs and were reconciled to the fact that this question would be cleared up in due course by Germany.’ In any case, France would be very unlikely to make an attack without British support, and the most that would be necessary would be to hold the western defences in strength. Once Austria and Czechoslovakia had been overrun, this would greatly increase Germany’s economic resources and add twelve divisions to her army. Italy’s neutrality would depend upon Mussolini; that of Poland and Russia, upon the swiftness of the military decision.

The significance of this meeting in November 1937 has been a subject of considerable controversy. It is surely wrong to suggest that this was the occasion when ‘the die was cast. Hitler had communicated his irrevocable decision to go to war.’[454] Hitler was far too skilful a politician to make an irrevocable decision on a series of hypothetical assumptions. Far from working to a time-table, he was an opportunist, prepared to profit by whatever turned up, to wait for the mistakes made by others. For the best part of two years after November 1937, Hitler used all his skill to draw the maximum advantage from diplomacy backed by the threat of force without actual resort to the means of war.

It is far more probable, therefore, that the reason for the meeting which Hossbach recorded was to override the doubts about the pace of rearmament expressed by General Fritsch, and earlier by Schacht, than to announce some newly conceived decision to commit Germany to a course deliberately aimed at war.

But to look for such a decision is to misunderstand the character of Hitler’s foreign policy and his responsibility for the war which followed. For while Hitler’s tactics were always those of an opportunist, the aim of his foreign policy never changed from its first definition in Mein Kampf in the 1920s to the attack on Russia in 1941: German expansion towards the East. Such a policy, as Hitler explicitly recognized in Mein Kampf, involved the use of force and the risk of war. He repeated this in November 1937: ‘Germany’s problem could only be solved by force and this was never without attendant risk.’ What changed was not the objective or the means, but Hitler’s judgement of the risks he could afford to run.

In his first four years of power, Hitler was cautious. He relied upon his skill as a politician to exploit the divisions, feebleness of purpose and bad conscience of the other Powers to win a series of diplomatic successes without even the display of force. In 1938–9, with German rearmament under way and his confidence fortified by success, he was prepared to take bigger risks and to invoke the threat of force if his claims were refused. By September 1939 he was ready actually to use force against Poland, and run the risk of a general European war; by 1940 to start such a general European conflict himself by his attack in the West and by 1941 to go to the limit and extend it to a world war by his invasion of the Soviet Union and his declaration of war on the United States. To repeat: what changed was not the objective or the means, but Hitler’s judgement of the risks he could afford to run.

It is in this context that the meeting of November 1937 is to be seen. The harangue which Hitler delivered reflects the change of mood at the end of the first period and the opening of the second, a new phase in which Hitler was ready to increase the pressure and enlarge the risks of his foreign policy.

The picture he had formed of the immediate future was inaccurate. Events did not follow the course he predicted; war came at a date and as a result of a situation he had not foreseen. But the inaccuracy of the details matters little, for Hitler was an opportunist ready to take advantage of any situation that emerged. The importance of the occasion lies in the changed tone in which Hitler spoke, in his readiness to run the risk of war and to annex Czechoslovakia and Austria whenever circumstances offered a favourable opportunity, ‘even as early as 1938’. His remarks that autumn evening in the Chancellery summed up, as he himself said, the experience of four and a half years and opened the window on what was to follow. At Augsburg on 21 November Hitler told the Nazi Old Guard: ‘I am convinced that the most difficult part of the preparatory work has already been achieved.... Today we are faced with new tasks, for the Lebensraum of our people is too narrow’.[455]

The years of preparation and concealment were at an end: the Man of Peace was to give way to the Man of Destiny, a new role in which, by March 1939, Hitler was to achieve both the objectives of November 1937, the annexation of Austria and the conquest of Czechoslovakia.



In the spring of 1938, on the eve of his greatest triumphs, Adolf Hitler entered his fiftieth year. His physical appearance was unimpressive, his bearing still awkward. The falling lock of hair and the smudge of his moustache added nothing to a coarse and curiously undistinguished face, in which the eyes alone attracted attention. In appearance at least Hitler could claim to be a man of the people, a plebeian through and through, with none of the physical characteristics of the racial superiority he was always invoking. The quality which his face possessed was that of mobility, an ability to express the most rapidly changing moods, at one moment smiling and charming, at another cold and imperious, cynical and sarcastic, or swollen and livid with rage.

Speech was the essential medium of his power, not only over his audiences but over his own temperament. Hitler talked incessantly, often using words less to communicate his thoughts than to release the hidden spring of his own and others’ emotions, whipping himself and his audience into anger or exaltation by the sound of his voice. Talk had another function, too. ‘Words,’ he once said, ‘build bridges into unexplored regions.’[456] As he talked, conviction would grow until certainty came and the problem was solved.

Hitler always showed a distrust of argument and criticism. Unable to argue coolly himself, since his early days in Vienna his one resort had been to shout his opponent down. The questioning of his assumptions or of his facts rattled him and threw him out of his stride, less because of any intellectual inferiority than because words, and even facts, were to him not a means of rational communication and logical analysis, but devices for manipulating emotion. The introduction of intellectual processes of criticism and analysis marked the intrusion of hostile elements which disturbed the exercise of this power. Hence Hitler’s hatred of the intellectual: in the masses ‘instinct is supreme and from instinct comes faith.... While the healthy common folk instinctively close their ranks to form a community of the people, the intellectuals run this way and that, like hens in a poultry-yard. With them it is impossible to make history; they cannot be used as elements supporting a community.’[457]

For the same reason Hitler rated the spoken above the written word: ‘False ideas and ignorance may be set aside by means of instruction, but emotional resistance never can. Nothing but an appeal to hidden forces will be effective here. And that appeal can scarcely be made by any writer. Only the orator can hope to make it.’[458]

As an orator Hitler had obvious faults. The timbre of his voice was harsh, very different from the beautiful quality of Goebbels’s. He spoke at too great length; was often repetitive and verbose; lacked lucidity and frequently lost himself in cloudy phrases. These shortcomings, however, mattered little beside the extraordinary impression of force, the immediacy of passion, the intensity of hatred, fury, and menace conveyed by the sound of the voice alone without regard to what he said.

One of the secrets of his mastery over a great audience was his instinctive sensitivity to the mood of a crowd, a flair for divining the hidden passions, resentments and longings in their minds. In Mein Kampfhe says of the orator: ‘He will always follow the lead of the great mass in such a way that from the living emotion of his hearers the apt word which he needs will be suggested to him and in its turn this will go straight to the hearts of his hearers.’[459]

One of his.most bitter critics, Otto Strasser, wrote:

Hitler responds to the vibration of the human heart with the delicacy of a seismograph, or perhaps of a wireless receiving set, 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 admissible instincts, the sufferings, and personal revolts of a whole nation.... I have been asked many times what is the secret of Hitler’s extraordinary power as a speaker. I can only attribute it to his uncanny intuition, which infallibly diagnoses the ills from which his audience is suffering. If he tries to bolster up his argument with theories or quotations from books he has only imperfectly understood, he scarcely rises above a very poor mediocrity. But let him throw away his crutches and step out boldly, speaking as the spirit moves him, and he is promptly transformed into one of the greatest speakers of the century.... Adolf Hitler enters a hall. He sniffs the air. For a minute he gropes, feels his way, senses the atmosphere. Suddenly he bursts forth. His words go like an arrow to their target, he touches each private wound on the raw, liberating the mass unconscious, expressing its innermost aspirations, telling it what it most wants to hear.[460]

Hitler’s power to bewitch an audience has been likened to the occult arts of the African medicine-man or the Asiatic Shaman; others have compared it to the sensitivity of a medium, and the magnetism of a hypnotist.

The conversations recorded by Hermann Rauschning for the period 1932–4, and by the table talk at the Führer’s H.Q. for the period 1941–2,[461] reveal Hitler in another favourite role, that of visionary and prophet. This was the mood in which Hitler indulged, talking far into the night, in his house on the Obersalz- berg, surrounded by the remote peaks and silent forests of the Bavarian Alps; or in the Eyrie he had built six thousand feet up on the Kehlstein, above the Berghof, approached only by a mountain road blasted through the rock and a lift guarded by doors of bronze.[462] There he would elaborate his fabulous schemes for a vast empire embracing the Eurasian Heartland of the geopoliticians; his plans for breeding a new élite biologically preselected; his design for reducing whole nations to slavery in the foundation of his new empire. Such dreams had fascinated Hitler since he wrote Mein Kampf. It was easy in the late 1920s and early 1930s to dismiss them as the product of a disordered and overheated imagination soaked in the political romanticism of Wagner and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. But these were still the themes of Hitler’s table talk in 1941–2 and by then, master of the greater part of Europe and on the eve (as he believed) of conquering Russia and the Ukraine, Hitler had shown that he was capable of translating his fantasies into a terrible reality. The invasion of Russia, the S.S. extermination squads, the planned elimination of the Jewish race; the treatment of the Poles and Russians, the Slav Untermenschen — these, too, were the fruits of Hitler’s imagination.

All this combines to create a picture of which the best description is Hitler’s own famous sentence: ‘I go the way that Providence dictates with the assurance of a sleepwalker.’[463] The former French Ambassador speaks of him as ‘a man possessed’; Hermann Rauschning writes: ‘Dostoevsky might well have invented him, with the morbid derangement and the pseudo-creativeness of his hysteria’;[464] one of the Defence Counsel at the Nuremberg Trials, Dr Dix, quoted a passage from Goethe’s Dichtung und Wahrheit describing the Demoniac and applied this very aptly to Hitler.[465] With Hitler, indeed, one is uncomfortably aware of never being far from the realm of the irrational.

But this is only half the truth about Hitler, for the baffling problem about this strange figure is to determine the degree to which he was swept along by a genuine belief in his own inspiration and the degree to which he deliberately exploited the irrational side of human nature, both in himself and others, with a shrewd calculation. For it is salutary to recall, before accepting the Hitler Myth at anything like its face value, that it was Hitler who invented the myth, assiduously cultivating and manipulating it for his own ends. So long as he did this he was brilliantly successful; it was when he began to believe in his own magic, and accept the myth of himself as true, that his flair faltered.

So much has been made of the charismatic[466] nature of Hitler’s leadership that it is easy to forget the astute and cynical politician in him. It is this mixture of calculation and fanaticism, with the difficulty of telling where one ends and the other begins, which is the peculiar characteristic of Hitler’s personality: to ignore or underestimate either element is to present a distorted picture.


The link between the different sides of Hitler’s character was his extraordinary capacity for self-dramatization. ‘This so-called Wahnsystem, or capacity for self-delusion,’ Sir Nevile Henderson, the British Ambassador, wrote, ‘was a regular part of his technique. It helped him both to work up his own passions and to make his people believe anything that he might think good for them.’[467] Again and again one is struck by the way in which, having once decided rationally on a course of action, Hitler would whip himself into a passion which enabled him to bear down all opposition, and provided him with the motive power to enforce his will on others. An obvious instance of this is the synthetic fury, which he could assume or discard at will, over the treatment of German minorities abroad. When it was a question of refusing to listen to the bitter complaints of the Germans in the South Tyrol, or of uprooting the German inhabitants of the Baltic States, he sacrificed them to the needs of his Italian and Russian alliances with indifference. So long as good relations with Poland were necessary to his foreign policy he showed little interest in Poland’s German minority. But when it suited his purpose to make the ‘intolerable wrongs’ of the Austrian Nazis, or the Germans in Czechoslovakia and Poland, a ground for action against these states, he worked himself into a frenzy of indignation, with the immediate — and calculated — result that London and Paris, in their anxiety for peace, exerted increased pressure on Prague or Warsaw to show restraint and make further concessions to the German demands.

One of Hitler’s most habitual devices was to place himself on the defensive, to accuse those who opposed or obstructed him of aggression and malice, and to pass rapidly from a tone of outraged innocence to the full thunders of moral indignation. It was always the other side who were to blame, and in turn he denounced the Communists, the Jews, the Republican Government, or the Czechs, the Poles, and the Bolsheviks for their ‘ intolerable’ behaviour which forced him to take drastic action in selfdefence.

Hitler in a rage appeared to lose all control of himself. His face became mottled and swollen with fury, he screamed at the top of his voice, spitting out a stream of abuse, waving his arms wildly and drumming on the table or the wall with his fists. As suddenly as he had begun he would stop, smooth down his hair, straighten his collar and resume a more normal voice.

This skilful and deliberate exploitation of his own temperament extended to other moods than anger. When he wanted to persuade or win someone over he could display great charm. Until the last days of his life he retained an uncanny gift of personal magnetism which defies analysis, but which many who met him have described. This was connected with the curious power of his eyes, which are persistently said to have had some sort of hypnotic quality. Similarly, when he wanted to frighten or shock, he showed himself a master of brutal and threatening language, as in the celebrated interviews with Schuschnigg and President Hacha.[468]

Yet another variation in his roles was the impression of concentrated will-power and intelligence, the leader in complete command of the situation and with a knowledge of the facts which dazzled the generals or ministers summoned to receive his orders. To sustain this part he drew on his remarkable memory, which enabled him to reel off complicated orders of battle, technical specifications and long lists of names and dates without a moment’s hesitation. Hitler cultivated this gift of memory assiduously. The fact that subsequently the details and figures which he cited were often found to contain inaccuracies did not matter: it was the immediate effect at which he aimed. The swiftness of the transition from one mood to another was startling: one moment his eyes would be filled with tears and pleading, the next blazing with fury, or glazed with the faraway look of the visionary.

Hitler, in fact, was a consummate actor, with the actor’s and orator’s facility for absorbing himself in a role and convincing himself of the truth of what he was saying at the time he said it. In his early years he was often awkward and unconvincing, but with practice the part became second nature to him, and with the immense prestige of success behind him, and the resources of a powerful state at his command, there were few who could resist the impression of the piercing eyes, the Napoleonic pose, and the ‘historic’ personality.

Hitler had the gift of all great politicians for grasping the possibilities of a situation more swiftly than his opponents. He saw, as no other politician did, how to play on the grievances and resentments of the German people, as later he was to play on French and British fear of war and fear of Communism. His insistence upon preserving the forms of legality in the struggle for power showed a brilliant understanding of the way to disarm opposition, just as the way in which he undermined the independence of the German Army showed his grasp of the weaknesses of the German Officer Corps.

A German word, Fingerspitzengefühl — ‘finger-tip feeling’ — which was often applied to Hitler, well describes his sense of opportunity and timing.

No matter what you attempt [Hitler told Rauschning on one occasion], if an idea is not yet mature you will not be able to realize it. Then there is only one thing to do: have patience, wait, try again, wait again. In the subconscious, the work goes on. It matures, sometimes it dies. Unless I have the inner, incorruptible conviction: this is the solution, I do nothing. Not even if the whole Party tries to drive me into action.[469]

Hitler knew how to wait in 1932, when his insistence on holding out until he could secure the Chancellorship appeared to court disaster. Foreign policy provides another instance. In 1939 he showed great patience while waiting for the situation to develop after direct negotiations with Poland had broken down and while the Western Powers were seeking to reach a settlement with Soviet Russia. Clear enough about his objectives, he contrived to keep his plans flexible. In the case of the annexation of Austria and of the occupation of Prague, he made the final decision on the spur of the moment.

Until he was convinced that the right moment had come Hitler would find a hundred excuses for procrastination. His hesitation in such cases was notorious: his refusal to make up his mind to stand as a Presidential candidate in 1932, and his attempt to defer taking action against Rohm and the S.A. in 1934, are two obvious examples. Once he had made up his mind to move, however, he would act boldly, taking considerable risks, as in the reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936, or the invasion of Norway and Denmark just before the major campaign in the west.

Surprise was a favourite gambit of Hitler’s, in politics, diplomacy, and war: he gauged the psychological effect of sudden, unexpected hammer-blows in paralysing opposition. An illustration of his appreciation of the value of surprise and quick decision, even when on the defensive, is the second presidential campaign of 1932. It had taken Goebbels weeks to persuade Hitler to stand for the Presidency at all. The defeat in the first ballot brought Goebbels to despair; but Hitler, now that he had committed himself, with great presence of mind dictated the announcement that he would stand a second time and got it on to the streets almost before the country had learned of his defeat. In war the psychological effect of the Blitzkrieg was just as important in Hitler’s eyes as the strategic: it gave the impression that the German military machine was more than life-size, that it possessed some virtue of invincibility against which ordinary men could not defend themselves.

No régime in history has ever paid such careful attention to psychological factors in politics. Hitler was a master of mass emotion. To attend one of his big meetings was to go through an emotional experience, not to listen to an argument or a programme. Yet nothing was left to chance on these occasions. Every device for heightening the emotional intensity, every trick of the theatre was used. The Nuremberg rallies held every year in September were masterpieces of theatrical art, with the most carefully devised effects. ‘I had spent six years in St Petersburg before the war in the best days of the old Russian ballet,’ wrote Sir Nevile Henderson, ‘ but for grandiose beauty I have never seen a ballet to compare with it.’[470] To see the films of the Nuremberg rallies even today is to be recaptured by the hypnotic effect of thousands of men marching in perfect order, the music of the massed bands, the forest of standards and flags, the vast perspectives of the stadium, the smoking torches, the dome of searchlights. The sense of power, of force and unity was irresistible, and all converged with a mounting crescendo of excitement on the supreme moment when the Führer himself made his entry. Paradoxically, the man who was most affected by such spectacles was their originator, Hitler himself, and, as Rosenberg remarks in his memoirs, they played an indispensable part in the process of self-intoxication.

Hitler had grasped as no one before him what could be done with a combination of propaganda and terrorism. For the complement to the attractive power of the great spectacles was the compulsive power of the Gestapo, the S.S., and the concentration camp, heightened once again by skilful propaganda. Hitler was helped in this not only by his own perception of the sources of power in a modern urbanized mass-society, but also by possession of the technical means to manipulate them. This was a point well made by Albert Speer, Hitler’s highly intelligent Minister for Armaments and War Production, in the final speech he made at his trial after the war.

Hitler’s dictatorship [Speer told the court] differed in one fundamental point from all its predecessors in history. His was the first dictatorship in the present period of modem technical development, a dictatorship which made complete use of all technical means for the domination of its own country.

Through technical devices like the radio and the loud-speaker, eighty million people were deprived of independent thought. It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one man....

Earlier dictators needed highly qualified assistants, even at the lowest level, men who could think and act independently. The totalitarian system in the period of modem technical development can dispense with them; the means of communication alone make it possible to mechanize the lower leadership. As a result of this there arises the new type of the uncritical recipient of orders.... Another result was the far-reaching supervision of the citizens of the State and the maintenance of a high degree of secrecy for criminal acts.

The nightmare of many a man that one day nations could be dominated by technical means was all but realized in Hitler’s totalitarian system.[471]

In making use of the formidable power which was thus placed in his hands Hitler had one supreme, and fortunately rare, advantage: he had neither scruples nor inhibitions. He was a man without roots, with neither home nor family; a man who admitted no loyalties, was bound by no traditions, and felt respect neither for God nor man. Throughout his career Hitler showed himself prepared to seize any advantage that was to be gained by lying, cunning, treachery, and unscrupulousness. He demanded the sacrifice of millions of German lives for the sacred cause of Germany, but in the last year of the war was ready to destroy Germany rather than surrender his power or admit defeat.

Wary and secretive, he entertained a universal distrust. He admitted no one to his counsels. He never let down his guard, or gave himself away. ‘He never’, Schacht wrote, ‘let slip an unconsidered word. He never said what he did not intend to say and he never blurted out a secret. Everything was the result of cold calculation.’[472]

While he was in Landsberg gaol, as long ago as 1924, Hitler had preserved his position in the Party by allowing rivalries to develop among the other leaders, and he continued to apply the same principle of ‘divide and rule’ after he became Chancellor. There was always more than one office operating in any field. A dozen different agencies quarrelled over the direction of propaganda, of economic policy, and the intelligence services. Before 1938 Hitler continually went behind the back of the Foreign Office to make use of Ribbentrop’s special bureau or to get information through Party channels. The dualism of Party and State organizations, each with one or more divisions for the same function, was deliberate. In the end this reduced efficiency, but it strengthened Hitler’s position by allowing him to play off one department against another. For the same reason Hitler put an end to regular cabinet meetings and insisted on dealing with ministers singly, so that they could not combine against him. ‘I have an old principle,’ he told Ludecke: ‘ only to say what must be said to him who must know it, and only when he must know it.’ Only the Fuhrer kept all the threads in his hand and saw the whole design. If ever a man exercised absolute power it was Adolf Hitler.

He had a particular and inveterate distrust of experts. He refused to be impressed by the complexity of problems, insisting until it became monotonous that if only the will was there any problem could be solved. Schacht, to whose advice he refused to listen and whose admiration was reluctant, says of him: ‘Hitler often did find astonishingly simple solutions for problems which had seemed to others insoluble. He had a genius for invention.... His solutions were often brutal, but almost always effective.’[473] In an interview with a French correspondent early in 1936 Hitler himself claimed this power of simplification as his greatest gift:

It has been said that I owe my success to the fact that I have created a mystique ... or more simply that I have been lucky. Well, I will tell you what has carried me to the position I have reached. Our political problems appeared complicated. The German people could make nothing of them. In these circumstances they preferred to leave it to the professional politicians to get them out of this confused mess. I, on the other hand, simplified the problems and reduced them to the simplest terms. The masses realized this and followed me.[474]

The crudest of Hitler’s simplifications was the most effective: in almost any situation, he believed, force or the threat of force would settle matters — and in an astonishingly large number of cases he proved right.


In his Munich days Hitler always carried a heavy riding-whip, made of hippopotamus hide. The impression he wanted to convey — and every phrase and gesture in his speeches reflected the same purpose — was one of force, decision, will. Yet Hitler had nothing of the easy, assured toughness of a condottiere like Göring. His strength of personality, far from being natural to him, was the product of an exertion of will: from this sprang a harsh, jerky and over-emphatic manner which was very noticeable in his early days as a politician. No word was more frequently on Hitler’s lips than ‘will’, and his whole career from 1919 to 1945 is a remarkable achievement of will-power.

To say that Hitler was ambitious scarcely describes the intensity of the lust for power and the craving to dominate which consumed him. It was the will to power in its crudest and purest form, not identifying itself with the triumph of a principle as with Lenin or Robespierre — for the only principle of Nazism was power and domination for its own sake — nor finding satisfaction in the fruits of power, for, by comparison with other Nazi leaders like Göring, Hitler lived an ascetic life. For a long time Hitler succeeded in identifying his own power with the recovery of Germany’s old position in the world, and there were many in the 1930s who spoke of him as a fanatical patriot. But as soon as the interests of Germany began to diverge from his own, from the beginning of 1943 onwards, his patriotism was seen at its true value — Germany, like everything else in the world, was only a means, a vehicle for his own power, which he would sacrifice with the same indifference as the lives of those he sent to the Eastern Front. By its nature this was an insatiable appetite, securing only a temporary gratification by the exercise of power, then restlessly demanding an ever further extension of it.

Although, looking backwards, it is possible to detect anticipations of this monstrous will to power in Hitler’s early years, it remained latent until the end of the First World War and only began to appear noticeably when he reached his thirties. From the account in Mein Kampf it appears that the shock of defeat and the Revolution of November 1918 produced a crisis in which hitherto dormant faculties were awakened and directed towards the goal of becoming a politician and founding a new movement. Resentment is so marked in Hitler’s attitude as to suggest that it was from the earlier experiences of his Vienna and Munich days, before the war, that there sprang a compelling urge to revenge himself upon a world which had slighted and ignored him. Hatred, touchiness, vanity are characteristics upon which those who spent any time in his company constantly remark. Hatred intoxicated Hitler. Many of his speeches are long diatribes of hate — against the Jews, against the Marxists, against the Czechs, the Poles, and the French. He had a particularly venomous contempt for the intellectuals and the educated middle-classes, ‘ the gentlemen with diplomas’, who belonged to that comfortable bourgeois world which had once rejected him and which he was determined to shake out of its complacency and destroy in revenge.

No less striking was his constant need of praise. His vanity was inappeasable, and the most fulsome flattery was received as no more than his due. The atmosphere of adulation in which he lived seems to have deadened the critical faculties of all who came into it. The most banal platitudes and the most grotesque errors of taste and judgement, if uttered by the Führer, were accepted as the words of inspired genius. It is to the credit of Röhm and Gregor Strasser, who had known Hitler for a long time, that they were irritated and totally unimpressed by this Byzantine attitude towards the Führer, to which even the normally cynical Goebbels capitulated: no doubt, this was among the reasons why they were murdered.

A hundred years before Hitler became Chancellor, Hegel, in a famous course of lectures at the University of Berlin, had pointed to the role of ‘World-historical individuals’ as the agents by which ‘ the Will of the World Spirit’, the plan of Providence, is carried out.

They may all be called Heroes, in as much as they have derived their purposes and their vocation, not from the calm regular course of things, sanctioned by the existing order; but from a concealed fount, from that inner Spirit, still hidden beneath the surface, which impinges on the outer world as on a shell and bursts it into pieces. (Such were Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon.) They were practical, political men. But at the same time they were thinking men, who had an insight into the requirements of the time — what was ripe for development. This was the very Truth for their age, for their world.... It was theirs to know this nascent principle, the necessary, directly sequent step in progress, which their world was to take; to make this their aim, and to expend their energy in promoting it. World-historical men — the Heroes of an epoch — must therefore be recognized as its clear-sighted ones: their deeds, their words are the best of their time.[475]

To the objection that the activity of such individuals frequently flies in the face of morality, and involves great sufferings for others, Hegel replied:

World History occupies a higher ground than that on which morality has properly its position, which is personal character and the conscience of individuals.... Moral claims which are irrelevant must not be brought into collision with world-historical deeds and their accomplishment. The litany of private virtues — modesty, humility, philanthropy, and forbearance — must not be raised against them.[476] So mighty a form [he adds elsewhere] must trample down many an innocent flower — crush to pieces many an object in its path.[477]

Whether Hitler ever read Hegel or not, like so many other passages in nineteenth-century German literature — in Nietzsche, in Schopenhauer, in Wagner — it finds an echo in Hitler’s belief about himself. Cynical though he was, Hitler’s cynicism stopped short of his own person: he came to believe that he was a man with a mission, marked out by Providence, and therefore exempt from the ordinary canons of human conduct.

Hitler probably held some such belief about himself from an early period. It was clear enough in the speech he made at his trial in 1924,[478] and after he came out of prison those near him noticed that he began to hold aloof, to set a barrier between himself and his followers. After he came to power it became more noticeable. It was in March 1936, that he made the famous assertion already quoted: ‘I go the way that Providence dictates with the assurance of a sleep-walker.’[479] In 1937 he told an audience at Wurzburg:

However weak the individual may be when compared with the omnipotence and will of Providence, yet at the moment when he acts as Providence would have him act he becomes immeasurably strong. Then there streams down upon him that force which has marked all greatness in the world’s history. And when I look back only on the five years which lie behind us, then I feel that I am justified in saying: That has not been the work of man alone.[480]

Image Gallery Begins

Taken in 1923, shows Hitler at the age of thirty-four.

Hitler is seen speaking, at an open-air meeting in the snow, in Munich during the early 1920s.

Hitler is being saluted by members of the Party as he leaves a meeting in the early years of his struggle

The Fuehrer at a Party Rally in Weimar in July, 1926.

HITLER and HINDENBURG. The Chancellor is seen receiving the President at an official ceremony in Berlin in 1934. Immediately behind Hitler are Goering and Admiral Raeder.

The scene in the Potsdam Garrison Church on 21 March, 1933. Hitler is shown reading his address before the President and members of the Reichstag.

Hitler addressing a meeting in the Sportpalast.

Hitler at the Nuremberg Parteitag in September, 1934, after the Roehm purge.

The Berghof, Hitler’s house on the Obersalzberg in Bavaria, is seen above

The Fuehrer’s study at the Berghof.

A snapshot, from an album, of Eva Braun.

Hitler and Eva Braun are seen with Hitler’s dog outside the Berghof.

Hitler is seen at a conference with the Slovak Prime Minister, Mgr Tiso, in the Reich Chancellery, Berlin, in 1939

Hitler with Franco in the Fuehrer’s private train at Hendaye, on the Franco-Spanish frontier, 23 October, 1940.

Hitler and his generals in 1941 (above); those round the table are, from left to right, Keitel, Brauchitsch, Hitler and Halder.

Hitler, showing signs of strain, is seen at the bedside of one of the men injured in the attempt on his life on 20 July, 1944.

Image Gallery Ends

Just before the occupation of Austria, in February 1938, he declared in the Reichstag:

Above all, a man who feels it his duty at such an hour to assume the leadership of his people is not responsible to the laws of parliamentary usage or to a particular democratic conception, but solely to the mission placed upon him. And anyone who interferes with this mission is an enemy of the people.[481]

It was in this sense of mission that Hitler, a man who believed neither in God nor in conscience (‘a Jewish invention, a blemish like circumcision’), found both justification and absolution. He was the Siegfried come to reawaken Germany to greatness, for whom morality, suffering and ‘the litany of private virtues’ were irrelevant. It was by such dreams that he sustained the ruthlessness and determination of his will. So long as this sense of mission was balanced by the cynical calculations of the politician, it represented a source of strength, but success was fatal. When half Europe lay at his feet and all need of restraint was removed, Hitler abandoned himself entirely to megalomania. He became convinced of his own infallibility. But when he began to look to the image he had created to work miracles of its own accord — instead of exploiting it — his gifts deteriorated and his intuition deluded him. Ironically, failure sprang from the same capacity which brought him success, his power of self-dramatization, his ability to convince himself. His belief in his power to work miracles kept him going when the more sceptical Mussolini faltered. Hitler played out his ‘ world-historical ’ role to the bitter end. But it was this same belief which curtained him in illusion and blinded him to what was actually happening, leading him into that arrogant overestimate of his own genius which brought him to defeat. The sin which Hitler committed was that which the ancient Greeks called hybris, the sin of overweening pride, of believing himself to be more than a man. No man was ever more surely destroyed by the image he had created than Adolf Hitler.


After he became Chancellor Hitler had to submit to a certain degree of routine. This was against his natural inclination. He hated systematic work, hated to submit to any discipline, even self-imposed. Administration bored him and he habitually left as much as he could to others, an important fact in explaining the power of men like Hess and Martin Bormann, who relieved him of much of his paper-work.

When he had a big speech to prepare he would put off beginning work on it until the last moment. Once he could bring himself to begin dictating he worked himself into a passion, rehearsing the whole performance and shouting so loudly that his voice echoed through the neighbouring rooms. The speech composed, he was a man with a load off his mind. He would invite his secretaries to lunch, praising and flattering them, and often using his gifts as a mimic to amuse them. He fussed about corrections, however, especially about his ability to read them when delivering his speech, for Hitler wore spectacles in his office, but refused to be seen wearing them in public. To overcome this difficulty his speeches were typed on a special machine with characters twelve millimetres high. Although his secretaries, like his personal servants, tended to stay with him, he was not an easy man to work for, incalculable in his moods and exacting in his demands.

Most North Germans regarded such Schlamperei, slovenliness, and lack of discipline as a typical Austrian trait. In Hitler’s eyes it was part of his artist nature: he should have been a great painter or architect, he complained, and not a statesman at all. On art he held the most opinionated views and would tolerate no dissent. He passionately hated all forms of modern art, a term in which he included most painting since the Impressionists. When the House of German Art was to be opened in 1937, Hitler dismissed the pictures chosen by the jury and threatened to cancel the exhibition, finally agreeing to let Hoffmann, his photographer, make a fresh choice subject to his own final approval. Hoffmann filled one room with more modem paintings, in the hope of winning Hitler over, only to see the lot swept away with an angry gesture. Hitler’s taste was for the Classical models of Greece and Rome, and for the Romantic: Gothic and Renaissance art were too Christian for his liking. He had a particular fondness for nineteenth-century painting of the more sentimental type, which he collected for a great museum to be built in Linz, the town he regarded as his home. He admired painstaking craftsmanship, and habitually kept a pile of paper on his desk for sketching in idle moments.

Architecture appealed strongly to him — especially Baroque — and he had grandiose plans for the rebuilding of Berlin, Munich, and Nuremberg and the other big German cities. The qualities which attracted him were the monumental and the massive as in the new Reich Chancellery: the architecture of the Third Reich, like the Pyramids, was to reflect the power of its rulers. In Munich Hitler spent many hours in the studio of Professor Troost, his favourite architect. After Troost’s death Albert Speer succeeded to his position. To the last days of his life Hitler never tired of playing with architectural models and drawings of the great cities that would one day rise from the bombed shells of the old, especially Linz.

Hitler looked upon himself not only as a connoisseur of painting and an authority on architecture, but as highly musical. In fact, his liking for music did not extend very much further than Wagner, some of Beethoven, and Bruckner, light opera like Die Fledermaus and such operettas as Lehar’s The Merry Widow and La Fille du Régiment. Hitler never missed a Wagner festival at Bayreuth and he claimed to have seen such operas as Die Meistersinger and Götterdämmerung more than a hundred times. He was equally fond of the cinema, and at the height of the political struggle in 1932 he and Goebbels would slip into a picture-house to see Mädchen in Uniform, or Greta Garbo. When the Chancellery was rebuilt he had projectors and a screen installed on which he frequently watched films in the evening, including many of the foreign films he had forbidden in Germany.

Hitler rebuilt both the Chancellery and his house on the Ober- salzberg after he came to power, the original Haus Wachenfeld becoming the famous Berghof. He had a passion for big rooms, thick carpets, and tapestries. A sense of space pleased him, and at the Berghof the Great Hall and the Loggia had magnificent views over the mountains. Apart from this delight in building and interior decoration, Hitler’s tastes were simple and altered little after he came to power. Rauschning, who was frequently in Hitler’s company in 1933, speaks of ‘the familiar blend of petit bourgeois pleasures and revolutionary talk’. He liked to be driven fast in a powerful car; he liked cream cakes and sweets (specially supplied by a Berlin firm) ; he liked flowers in his rooms, and dogs ; he liked the company of pretty — but not clever — women; he liked to be at home up in the Bavarian mountains.

It was in the evenings that Hitler’s vitality rose. He hated to go to bed — for he found it hard to sleep — and after dinner he would gather his guests and his household, including the secretaries, round the big fireplace in the Great Hall at the Berghof, or in the drawing-room of the Chancellery. There he sat and talked about every subject under the sun until two or three o’clock in the morning, often later. For long periods the conversation would lapse into a monologue, but to yawn or whisper was to incur immediate disfavour. Next morning Hitler would not rise until eleven.

There was little ceremony about life at the Berghof. Hitler had no fondness for formality or for big social occasions, where he rarely felt at ease and which he avoided as far as possible. Although he lived in considerable luxury, he had few needs. He was indifferent to the clothes he wore, ate very little, never touched meat, and neither smoked nor drank. Hitler not only kept a special vegetarian cook to prepare his meals for him, but held strongly that eating meat or any cooked food was a pernicious habit which had led to the decay of past civilizations. ‘There’s one thing I can predict to eaters of meat, that the world of the future will be vegetarian.’[482]

The chief reason for Hitler’s abstinence seems to have been anxiety about his health. He lived an unhealthy life, with little exercise or fresh air; he took part in no sport, never rode or swam, and he suffered a good deal from stomach disorders as well as from insomnia. With this went a horror of catching a cold or any form of infection. He was depressed at the thought of dying early, before he had had time to complete his schemes, and he hoped to add years to his life by careful dieting and avoiding alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco. In the late-night sessions round the fireplace Hitler never touched stimulants, not even real tea. Instead he sipped peppermint-tea or some other herbal drink. He became a crank as well as a hypochondriac, and preached the virtues of vegetarianism to his guests at table with the same insistence as he showed in talking politics.

Hitler had been brought up as a Catholic and was impressed by the organization and power of the Church. Its hierarchical structure, its skill in dealing with human nature and the unalterable character of its Creed, were all features from which he claimed to have learned. For the Protestant clergy he felt only contempt: ‘They are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them.

They have neither a religion they can take seriously nor a great position to defend like Rome.’[483] It was ‘the great position’ of the Church that he respected, the fact that it had lasted for so many centuries; towards its teaching he showed the sharpest hostility. In Hitler’s eyes Christianity was a religion fit only for slaves; he detested its ethics in particular. Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest. ‘Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.’[484] From political considerations he restrained his anti-clericalism, seeing clearly the dangers of strengthening the Church by persecution. For this reason he was more circumspect than some of his followers, like Rosenberg and Bormann, in attacking the Church publicly. But, once the war was over, he promised himself, he would root out and destroy the influence of the Christian Churches. ‘The evil that is gnawing our vitals,’ he remarked in February 1942, ‘is our priests, of both creeds. I can’t at present give them the answer they’ve been asking for but ... it’s all written down in my big book. The time will come when I’ll settle my account with them.... They’ll hear from me all right. I shan’t let myself be hampered with judicial samples.’[485]

Earnest efforts to establish self-conscious pagan rites roused Hitler’s scorn: ‘Nothing would be more foolish’, he declared, ‘than to re-establish the worship of Wotan. Our old mythology had ceased to be viable when Christianity implanted itself.... I especially wouldn’t want our movement to acquire a religious character and institute a form of worship. It would be appalling for me, if I were to end up in the skin of a Buddha.’[486]

Nor is there any evidence to substantiate the once popular belief that he resorted to astrology. His secretary says categorically that he had nothing but contempt for such practices, although faith in the stars was certainly common among some of his followers like Himmler.

The truth is that, in matters of religion at least, Hitler was a rationalist and a materialist. ‘The dogma of Christianity,’ he declared in one of his wartime conversations,

gets worn away before the advances of science.... Gradually the myths crumble. All that is left is to prove that in nature there is no frontier between the organic and the inorganic. When understanding of the universe has become widespread, when the majority of men know that the stars are not sources of light, but worlds, perhaps inhabited worlds like ours, then the Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity.... The man who lives in communion with nature necessarily finds himself in opposition to the Churches, and that’s why they’re heading for ruin — for science is bound to win.[487]

It was in keeping with this nineteenth-century faith in science replacing the superstitions of religion that Hitler’s plans for the rebuilding of Linz included a great observatory and planetarium as its centrepiece.

Thousands of excursionists will make a pilgrimage there every Sunday. They’ll have access to the greatness of our universe. The pediment will bear this motto: ‘The heavens proclaim the glory of the everlasting.’ It will be our way of giving men a religious spirit, of teaching them humility — but without the priests. For Ptolemy the earth was the centre of the world. That changed with Copernicus. Today we know that our solar system is merely a solar system amongst many others. What could we do better than allow the greatest possible number of people like us to become aware of these marvels ?... Put a small telescope in a village and you destroy a world of superstitions.[488]

Hitler’s belief in his own destiny held him back from a thorough-going atheism. ‘The Russians,’ he remarked on one occasion, ‘were entitled to attack their priests, but they had no right to assail the idea of a supreme force. It’s a fact that we’re feeble creatures and that a creative force exists.’[489] On another occasion he answered his own question:

By what would you have me replace the Christians’ picture of the Beyond ? What comes naturally to mankind is the sense of eternity and that sense is at the bottom of every man. The soul and the mind migrate, just as the body returns to nature. Thus life is eternally reborn from life. As for the ‘why’ of all that, I feel no need to rack my brains on the subject. The soul is unplumbable.[490]

What interested Hitler was power, and his belief in Providence or Destiny was only a projection of his own sense of power. He had no feeling or understanding for either the spiritual side of human life or its emotional, affective side. Emotion to him was the raw material of power. The pursuit of power cast its harsh shadow like a blight over the whole of his life. Everything was sacrificed to the ‘world historical’ image; hence the poverty of his private life and of his human relationships.

After his early days in Munich, Hitler made few, if any, friends. In a nostalgic mood he would talk regretfully of the Kampfzeit, the Years of the Struggle, and of the comradeship he had shared with the Alte Kämpfer, the Old Fighters. With almost no exceptions, Hitler’s familiars belonged to the Nazi Old Guard: Goebbels, Ley, Hess, Martin Bormann; his two adjutants, Julius Schaub and Wilhelm Bruckner; his chauffeur, Julius Schreck; Max Amann, the Party publisher; Franz Xavier Schwarz, the Party treasurer; Hoffmann, the court photographer. It was in this intimate circle, talking over the old days, in the Berghof or in his fiat in Munich, that Hitler was most at his ease. Even towards those like Julius Streicher or Christian Weber, who were too disreputable to be promoted to high office, Hitler showed considerable loyalty; when Streicher’s notorious behaviour finally led to his removal from the position of Gauleiter of Franconia, he was still protected by Hitler and allowed to live in peace on his farm.

Apart from a handful of men like Ribbentrop and Speer, Hitler never lost his distrust of those who came from the bourgeois world. It was on the Old Guard alone that he believed he could rely, for they were dependent on him. More than that, he found such company, however rough, more congenial than that of the Schachts and Neuraths, the bankers and generals, high officials and diplomats, who were eager to serve the new régime once it had come to power. Their stiff manners and ‘educated’ talk roused all his old class resentment and the suspicion that they sneered at him behind his back — as they did. Dictatorship knows no equals, and with the Old Guard Hitler was sure of his ascendancy. Even Göring and Goebbels, who stood on more equal terms with Hitler than any other of the Nazi leaders, knew very well that there were limits beyond which they dared not go. ‘ When a decision has to be taken,’ Göring once told Sir Nevile Henderson, ‘none of us count more than the stones on which we are standing. It is the Führer alone who decides.’[491]

Hitler enjoyed and was at home in the company of women. At the beginning of his political career he owed much to the encouragement of women like Frau Hélène Bechstein, Frau Carola Hoffmann, and Frau Winnifried Wagner. Many women were fascinated by his hypnotic powers; there are well-attested accounts of the hysteria which affected women at his big meetings, and Hitler himself attached much importance to the women’s vote. If ladies were present at table he knew how to be attentive and charming, as long as they had no intellectual pretensions and did not try to argue with him. Gossip connected his name with that of a number of women in whose company he had been frequently seen, and speculated eagerly on his relations with them, from Henny Hoffmann, the daughter of his photographer, and Leni Riefenstahl, the director of the films of the Nuremberg Rallies, to Unity Mitford, the sister-in-law of Sir Oswald Mosley, who attempted to commit suicide at Munich.

Much has been written, on the flimsiest evidence, about Hitler’s sex life. Amongst the mass of conjecture, two hypotheses , are worth serious consideration. The first is that Hitler was affected by syphilis.

There are several passages in Mein Kampf[492] in which Hitler speaks with surprising emphasis of ‘the scourge of venereal disease’ and its effects. ‘The problem of fighting venereal disease’, he declared, ‘should be placed before the public — not as a task for the nation but as the main task.’ According to reports which Hanfstangl, for example, repeats, Hitler contracted syphilis while he was a young man in Vienna. This may well be malicious gossip but it is worth adding that more than one medical specialist has suggested that Hitler’s later symptoms — psychological as well as physical — could be those of a man suffering from the tertiary stage of syphilis. Unless, however, a medical report on Hitler should some day come to light this must remain an open question.

A second hypothesis, which is not of course inconsistent with the first, is that Hitler was incapable of normal sexual intercourse. Putzi Hanfstangl, who knew Hitler well in his Bavarian days and later, says plainly that he was impotent. He adds:

The abounding nervous energy which found no normal release sought compensation first in the subjection of his entourage, then of his country, then of Europe.... In the sexual no man’s land in which he lived, he only once nearly found the woman, and never even the man, who might have brought him relief.[493]

The gallantry, the hand-kissing and flowers, were an expression of admiration but led to nothing more. ‘We used to think that Jenny Haugg, his driver’s sister, was his girl-friend.... Jenny would often be sitting in the back-seat waiting for him. They would drive off together, but I knew he was only going to a café to stay up talking half the night. A bit of petting may have gone on, but that, it became clear to me, was all that Hitler was capable of. My wife summed him up very quickly: “Putzi,” she said, “I tell you he is a neuter.”’[494]

This too must remain a hypothesis, but Hanfstangl’s belief (which others shared) is not inconsistent with what is known of Hitler’s relations with the only two women in whom he showed more than a passing interest — his niece, Geli Raubal, and the woman he married on the day before he took his life, Eva Braun.

Geli and Friedl Raubal, the daughters of Hitler’s widowed halfsister, Angela Raubal, accompanied their mother when she came to keep house for Hitler on the Obersalzberg in 1925. Geli was then seventeen, simple and attractive, with a pleasant voice which she wanted to have trained for singing. During the next six years she became Hitler’s constant companion, and when her uncle acquired his flat on the Prinz-Regentenstrasse she spent much time with him in Munich as well as up at the Obersalzberg. This period in Munich Hitler later described as the happiest in his life; he idolized this girl, who was twenty years younger than himself, took her with him whenever he could — in short, he fell in love with her. Whether Geli was ever in love with him is uncertain. She was flattered and impressed by her now famous uncle, she enjoyed going about with him, but she suffered from his hypersensitive jealousy. Hitler refused to let her have any life of her own; he refused to let her go to Vienna to have her voice trained; he was beside himself with fury when he discovered that she had allowed Emil Maurice, his chauffeur, to make love to her, and forbade her to have anything to do with any’other man. Geli resented and was made unhappy by Hitler’s possessiveness and domestic tyranny.

On the morning of 17 September 1931, Hitler left Munich with Hoffmann, his photographer and friend, after saying good-bye to Geli. He was bound for Hamburg, but had only got beyond Nuremberg when he was called to the telephone by Hess and told that Geli was dead. She had shot herself in his flat shortly after his departure. Why?

Hoffmann, who knew both Hitler and the girl well, believed that she was in love with someone else and committed suicide because she could not endure her uncle’s despotic treatment of her. Frau Winter, the housekeeper, believed that she was in love with Hitler, and that her suicide followed from disappointment or frustration.[495]

Whatever the reason, Geli’s death dealt Hitler a greater blow than any other event in his life. For days he was inconsolable and his friends feared that he would take his own life. According to some accounts, his refusal to touch meat dates from the crisis through which he passed at this time. For the rest of his life he never spoke of Geli without tears coming into his eyes; according to his own statement to a number of witnesses, she was the only woman he ever loved, and there is no reason to doubt this statement. Whether he would ever have married her is another matter. Her room at the Berghof was kept exactly as she had left it, and remained untouched when the original Haus Wachenfeld was rebuilt. Her photograph hung in his room in Munich and Berlin, and flowers were always placed before it on the anniversary of her birth and death. There are mysteries in everyone’s personality, not least in that strange, contradictory, and distorted character which was Adolf Hitler, and it is best to leave it as a mystery.

Hitler’s relations with Eva Braun were on a different level. As Speer later remarked, ‘For all writers of history, Eva Braun is going to be a disappointment.’

Eva was the middle of the three daughters of Fritz Braun, a master craftsman from Simbach on the Inn. She was a pretty, empty-headed blonde, with a round face and blue eyes, who worked as a shop girl in Hoffmann’s photographer’s shop. Hitler met her there, paid her a few casual compliments, gave her flowers, and occasionally invited her to be one of his party on an outing. The initiative was all on Eva’s side: she told her friends that Hitler was in love with her and that she would make him marry her.

In the summer of 1932 (less than a year after Geli’s death) Eva Braun, then twenty-one, attempted to commit suicide. Hitler was understandably sensitive to such a threat at a time when he was anxious to avoid any scandal and, according to Hoffmann, ‘it was in this manner that Eva Braun got her way and became Hitler’s chère amie’.

Hoffmann’s further comment is worth quoting in full:

At that time there was established no liaison between them in the accepted sense of the word. Eva moved into his house, became the constant companion of his leisure hours and, to the best of my knowledge, that was all there was to it. Indeed, I can think of no more apt simile than once more to liken Hitler to some ardent collector, who preferred to gloat over his latest treasure in the privacy of his own collection....

That Eva became his mistress some time or other before the end is certain, but when — neither I nor anyone else can say. Not at any time was there any perceptible change in his attitude towards her which might have pointed to the assumption of more intimate relations between them; and the secrecy which surrounded the whole affair is emphasized by the profound astonishment of all of us in his most intimate circle when, at the bitter end, the marriage was announced.[496]

Eva was kept very much in the background. She stayed at Hitler’s Munich flat, where Hitler saw her as occasion offered, or went to the Berghof when he was in residence there. This led to strained relations with Hitler’s half-sister, Frau Raubal, who still kept house at the Berghof after Geli’s death and hated the upstart Eva. After a series of rows, Frau Raubal left for good in 1936, and thereafter Eva took her place as Hausfrau and sat on Hitler’s left hand when he presided at lunch.

Hitler rarely allowed Eva Braun to come to Berlin or appear in public with him. When big receptions or dinners were given she had to stay upstairs in her room. Only after her sister, Gretl, married Fegelein, Himmler’s personal representative with the Führer, during the war, was she allowed to appear more freely in public. She could then be introduced as Frau Fegelein’s sister and the Fuhrer’s reputation preserved untarnished.

Eva made no pretensions to intellectual gifts or to any understanding of politics. Her interests in life were sport — she was an excellent skier and swimmer — animals, the cinema, sex, and clothes. Such ideas as she had were drawn from cheap novelettes and trashy films, the sole subject of which was ‘love’. In return for her privileged position she had to submit to the same petty tyranny that Hitler had attempted to establish over Geli. She only dared to dance or smoke in secret, because the Führer disapproved of both; she lived in constant terror lest a chance photograph or remark should rouse Hitler’s anger at her being in the company of other men, yet herself suffered agonies of jealousy at Hitler’s interest in the women he met. Sometimes he did not come to see her for weeks at a time, and fear that he would leave her for someone else made her life a misery. Dissatisfied with her ambiguous status, she longed for the respectability of marriage.

After the beginning of the war Eva’s position became more secure. Hitler cut himself off from all social life and was wholly absorbed in the war. She had no more rivals to fear, and the liaison had now lasted so long that Hitler accepted her as a matter of course. On the other hand, she saw much less of him. In the latter part of the war Hitler paid few visits to the Berghof and she was not allowed to move to the Fuhrer’s headquarters. At no time was she in a position to influence even the most trivial discussions.

None the less, in time, Hitler became genuinely fond of Eva. Her empty-headedness did not disturb him; on the contrary, he detested women with views of their own. It was her loyalty which won his affection and it was as a reward for her loyalty that, after more than twelve years of a relationship which was more domestic than erotic in character, Hitler finally gave way and on the last day of his life married her. Before that he had always refused to discuss marriage on the grounds that it would be a hindrance to his career. Explaining his action in his will, he spoke of ‘many years of true friendship’, and there is little reason to doubt that he was sincere in saying this. In Eva’s company he was at ease and could cease to play a part. The nearest he came to being either human or happy in normal terms was during the hours he spent sprawling back in his chair beside her at tea-time, walking with her on the terrace at the Berghof, or going for a picnic with a few friends.

Egotism is a malignant as well as an ugly vice, and it may well be doubted whether Hitler, absorbed in the dream of his own greatness, ever had the capacity to love anyone deeply. At the best of times he was never an easy man to live with: his moods were too incalculable, his distrust too easily aroused. He was quick to imagine and slow to forget a slight; there was a strong strain of vindictiveness in him which often found expression in a mean and petty spite. Generosity was a virtue he did not recognize: he pursued his enmities unremittingly.

There is no doubt that Hitler, if he was in the right mood, could be an attractive, indeed a fascinating companion. On the outings in which he delighted he not only showed great capacity for enjoyment himself, but put others at their ease. He could talk well and he had the actor’s gift of mimicry to amuse his companions. On the other hand, his sense of humour was strongly tinged with Schadenfreude, a malicious pleasure in other people’s misfortunes or stupidities. The treatment of the Jews only roused his amusement, and he would laugh delightedly at the description by Goebbels of the indignities the Jews had suffered at the hands of the Berlin S.A. Indifferent towards the sufferings of others, he lacked any feeling of sympathy, was intolerant and callous, and filled with contempt for the common run of humanity. Pity and mercy he regarded as humanitarian clap-trap and signs of weakness. The only virtue was to be hard, and ruthlessness was the distinctive mark of superiority. The more absorbed he became by the arrogant belief in his mission and infallibility the more complete became his loneliness, until in the last years of his life he was cut off from all human contact and lost in a world of inhuman fantasy where the only thing that was real or mattered was his own will.


‘A man who has no sense of history,’ Hitler declared, ‘ is like a man who has no ears or eyes.’ He himself claimed to have had a passionate interest in history since his schooldays and he displayed considerable familiarity with the course of European history. His conversation was studded with historical references and historical parallels. More than that : Hitler’s whole cast of thought was historical, and his sense of mission derived from his sense of history.

Like his contemporary Spengler, Hitler was fascinated by the rise and fall of civilizations. ‘I often wonder,’ he remarks in his table talk, ‘why the Ancient World collapsed.’ Nor was this idle speculation. He saw himself born at a similar critical moment in European history when the liberal bourgeois world of the nineteenth century was disintegrating. What would take its place? The future lay with the ‘ Jewish-Bolshevik’ ideology of the masses unless Europe could be saved by the Nazi racist ideology of the élite. This was his mission and he drew upon history to fortify him in it. Hence his interest in the Roman Empire in which Christianity — the invention of the Jew, Saul of Tarsus — had played the same disintegrative role as Bolshevism — the invention of the Jew, Marx — in the Europe of his own time.

To this view of history, this Weltanschauung, however repellent, Hitler remained remarkably consistent. Once formed, it was rigid and inflexible. Hitler’s was a closed mind, violently rejecting any alternative view, refusing to criticize or allow others to criticize his assumptions. He read and listened, not to learn, but to acquire information and find additional support for prejudices and opinions already fixed in his mind. Of historical study as a critical discipline, or of the rich fields of human history beside the quest for power, war, and the construction of empires, he was invincibly ignorant.

The hostility Hitler showed towards freedom of thought or discussion represented a personal dislike quite as much as a political expedient. On occasion he could be a good listener but he was intolerant of disagreement or even interruption once he had begun to speak himself. The habits of despotism extended from political to personal life, and he became accustomed to have his opinions on any subject accepted as the ex cathedra pronouncements of an oracle, no matter how ignorant and ill-founded they might be.

In fact, Hitler’s views on every other topic besides politics were as dogmatic and intolerant — with this difference that in this case they were banal, narrow-minded, and totally unoriginal as well as harsh and brutal. What he had to say about marriage, women, education, religion, bore the indelible stamp of an innate vulgarity and coarseness of spirit. He was not only cut off from the richest experiences of ordinary human life — love, marriage, family, human sympathy, friendship — but the whole imaginative and speculative world of European literature was closed to him. His secretary recalls that his library contained not a single classic of literature, not a single book reflecting humane tastes. Everything that spoke of the human spirit and of the thousand forms in which it has flowered, from mysticism to science, was alien to him.

The basis of Hitler’s political beliefs was a crude Darwinism. ‘Man has become great through struggle.... Whatever goal man has reached is due to his originality plus his brutality.... All life is bound up in three theses: Struggle is the father of all things, virtue lies in blood, leadership is primary and decisive.’[497] On another occasion he declared: ‘The whole work of Nature is a mighty struggle between strength and weakness — an eternal victory of the strong over the weak. There would be nothing but decay in the whole of Nature if this were not so. States which offend against this elementary law fall into decay.’[498] It followed from this that ‘through all the centuries force and power are the determining factors.... Only force rules. Force is the first law.’[499] Force was more than the decisive factor in any situation; it was force which alone created right. ‘Always before God and the world, the stronger has the right to carry through what he wills. History proves: He who has not the strength — him the “right in itself” profits not a whit.’[500]

The ability to seize and hold a decisive superiority in the struggle for existence Hitler expressed in the idea of race, the role of which is as central in Nazi mythology as that of class in Marxist. All that mankind has achieved, Hitler declared in Mein Kampf, has been the work of the Aryan race: ‘It was the Aryan who laid the groundwork and erected the walls of every great structure in human culture.’[501] But who were the Aryans ?

Although Hitler frequently talked as if he regarded the whole German nation as of pure Aryan stock (whatever that may mean) his real view was rather different. It was only a part of any nation (even of the German nation) which could be regarded as Aryan. These constituted an élite within the nation (represented by the Nazi Party and especially by the S.S.) which stamped its ideas upon the development of the whole people, and by its leadership gave this racial agglomeration an Aryan character which in origin belonged only to a section.[502] Thus Hitler’s belief in race could be used to justify both the right of the German people to ride roughshod over such inferior peoples as the uncouth Slavs and the degenerate French, and the right of the Nazis, representing an élite, sifted and tested by the struggle for power, to rule over the German people. This explains why Hitler often referred to the Nazi capture of power in Germany as a racial revolution, since it represented the replacement of one ruling caste by another. As Hitler told Otto Strasser in May 1930: ‘We want to make a selection from the new dominating caste which is not moved, as you are, by any ethic of pity, but is quite clear in its own mind that it has the right to dominate others because it represents a better race.’[503]

In Hitler’s and Himmler’s plans for the S.S. — a racial élite selected with the most careful eye to Nazi eugenics — recruitment was to be open not only to Germans, but to Aryans of other nations as well.

The conception of the nation [Rauschning records Hitler saying] has become meaningless. We have to get rid of this false conception and set in its place the conception of race. The New Order cannot be conceived in terms of the national boundaries of the peoples with an historic past, but in terms of race that transcend these boundaries.... I know perfectly well that in the scientific sense there is no such thing as race. But you, as a farmer, cannot get your breeding right without the conception of race. And I, as a politician, need a conception which enables the order that has hitherto existed on an historic basis to be abolished, and an entirely new and anti-historic order enforced and given an intellectual basis.... And for this purpose the conception of race serves me well.... France carried her great Revolution beyond her borders with the conception of the nation. With the conception of race, National Socialism will carry its revolution abroad and recast the world.

I shall bring into operation throughout all Europe and the whole world this process of selection which we have carried out through National Socialism in Germany.... The active sections in nations, the militant, Nordic section, will rise again and become the ruling element over these shopkeepers and pacifists, these puritans and speculators and busybodies.... There will not be much left then of the clichés of nationalism, and precious little among us Germans. Instead there will be an understanding between the various language elements of the one good ruling race.[504]

This is Hitler at his most flamboyant, and it is not to be taken too literally. Hitler was a master of nationalist appeal, and old- fashioned nationalism was very far from being played out in Europe. Hitler’s foreign policy was nationalist in character, and nationalism, both that of the Occupied Countries and that of the Germans, cut across and wrecked the attempt to turn the Quislings and the S.S. into an international Nazi élite, just as it proved too strong for the Jacobins outside France in the 1790s. But it is also a passage characteristic of Hitler’s way of talking: a straightforward claim to unlimited power was dressed up in the myth of a ‘pure’ race, just as on other occasions Hitler gave it a Wag-nerian colouring and talked of founding a new Order of Knights.

What Hitler was seeking to express in his use of the word ‘race’ was his belief in inequality — both between peoples and individuals — as another of the iron laws of Nature. He had a passionate dislike of the egalitarian doctrines of democracy in every field, economic, political and international.

There are [he said in this speech to the Düsseldorf Industry Club] two closely related factors which we can time and time again trace in periods of national decline: one is that for the conception of the value of personality there is substituted a levelling idea of the supremacy of mere numbers — democracy — and the other is the negation of the value of a people, the denial of any difference in the inborn capacity, the achievement of individual peoples.________ Internationalism and democracy are

inseparable conceptions.[505]

Hitler rejected both in favour of the superior rights of the Herrenvolk in international affairs and of the Nazi élite in the government of the state.

Just as he opposed the concept of ‘race’ to the democratic belief in equality, so to the idea of personal liberty Hitler opposed the superior claims of the Volk.[506]

National Socialism [Hitler declared] takes as the starting point of its views and its decisions neither the individual nor humanity. It puts consciously into the central point of its whole thinking the Volk. This Volk is for it a blood-conditioned entity in which it sees the God-willed building-stone of human society. The individual is transitory, the Volk is permanent. If the Liberal Weltanschauung in its deification of the single individual must lead to the destruction of the Volk, National Socialism, on the other hand, desires to safeguard the Volk, if necessary even at the expense of the individual. It is essential that the individual should slowly come to realize that his own ego is unimportant when compared with the existence of the whole people ... above all he must realize that the freedom of the mind and will of a nation are to be valued more highly than the individual’s freedom of mind and will.[507]

In an interview with the New York Times Hitler summed up his view in the sentence: ‘The underlying idea is to do away with egoism and to lead people into the sacred collective egoism which is the nation.’[508]

The Volk not only gave meaning and purpose to the individual’s life, it provided the standard by which all other institutions and claims were to be judged.

Party, State, Army, the economic structure, the administration of justice are of secondary importance, they are but a means to the preservation of the Volk. In so far as they fulfil this task, they are right and useful. When they prove unequal to this task they are harmful and must either be reformed or set aside or replaced by better means.[509]

Here was the justification for the campaign of the Nazis and other Völkisch groups against the Weimar Republic: their loyalty had been, not to the Republican State, but to the Volk, for betraying the interests of which men like Rathenau and Erzberger had been assassinated. Justice, truth and the freedom to criticize must all be subordinated to the overriding claims of the Volk and its preservation.

The Strassers and the radical wing of the Party argued that if the same criterion were applied to the economic system it meant the socialist organization of the national economy in the interests of the Volk. Hitler’s views about economics, however, were entirely opportunist. The truth is that he was not at all interested in economics. He preached the true doctrine of the totalitarian State — which the rulers of Soviet Russia also practised, but found it embarrassing to admit — the supremacy of politics over economics. It is not economics but power that is decisive. As early as 1923, at the time of the occupation of the Ruhr and the post-war inflation, Hitler kept on saying that Germany would not solve her problems ‘ until the German people understands that one can conduct politics only when one has the support of power — and again power. Only so is reconstruction possible.... It is not an economic question which now faces the German people, it is a political question — how shall the nation’s determination be recovered?’[510] During the Inflation and the Depression this was clever propaganda. He was able to cut through the technicalities of the economists, declaring that all that was needed was the united will of the German people to end their troubles — given that, the rest would follow. It also corresponded to Hitler’s own practice when he came to power: faced with economic problems, you gave orders that they were to be solved; if the orders were not carried out, you shot people. It was on this basis that Hitler and Göring conducted the economic policy of the Third Reich, and left it to Dr Schacht and his successors to find the answers.


As soon as Hitler began to think and talk about the organization of the State it is clear that the metaphor which dominated his mind was that of an army. He saw the State as an instrument of power in which the qualities to be valued were discipline, unity and sacrifice. It was from the Army that he took the Führerprinzip, the leadership principle, upon which first the Nazi Party, and later the National Socialist State, were built.

In Hitler’s eyes the weakness of democracy was that it bred irresponsibility by leaving decisions always to anonymous majorities, and so putting a premium on the avoidance of difficult and impopular decisions. At the same time, the Party system, freedom of discussion and freedom of the Press sapped the unity of the nation — he habitually described discussion as ‘corrosive’. From this, he told the Hitler Youth, ‘we have to learn our lesson: one will must dominate us, we must form a single unity; one discipline must weld us together; one obedience, one subordination must fill us all, for above us stands the nation.’[511]

‘Our Constitution,’ wrote Nazi Germany’s leading lawyer, Dr Hans Frank, ‘is the will of the Führer.’[512] This was in fact literally true. The Weimar Constitution was never replaced, it was simply suspended by the Enabling Law, which was renewed periodically and placed all power in Hitler’s hands. Hitler thus enjoyed a more complete measure of power than Napoleon or Stalin or Mussolini, since he had been careful not to allow the growth of any institution which might in an emergency be used as a check on him.

Yet Hitler was equally careful to insist that his power was rooted in the people; his was a plebiscitary and popular dictatorship, a democratic Caesarism. This distinguished the Third Reich from Imperial Germany: ‘Then the leaders had no roots in the people: it was a class state.’[513] After each of his early coups in foreign policy Hitler duly submitted his action to the people for confirmation in a plebiscite. In the election campaign which followed the denunciation of the Locarno Pact and the reoccupation of the Rhineland, Hitler publicly declared:

Tn Germany bayonets do not terrorize a people. Here a government is supported by the confidence of the entire people. I care for the people. In fifteen years I have slowly worked my way up together with this movement. I have not been imposed by anyone upon this people. From the people I have grown up, in the people I have remained, to the people I return. My pride is that I know no statesman in the world who with greater right than I can say that he is the representative of his people.[514]

Such statements may be taken for what they are worth, yet it is obvious that Hitler felt — and not without justification — that his power, despite the Gestapo and the concentration camps, was founded on popular support to a degree which few people cared, or still care, to admit.

If the Fiihrerprinzip corresponded to Hitler’s belief in the role played in history by personality, the Nazi Party and particularly the S.S. exemplified the aristocratic principle, the role played by élites. The first function of the Party was to recruit such an élite and from it to provide the leadership of the State. ‘With the German Army as its model, the Party must see as its task the collection and advancement in its organization of those elements in the nation which are most capable of political leadership.’[515]

Like all revolutionary movements, Nazism drew much of its strength from a new carrière ouverte aux talents, the formation of a new leadership drawn from other than the traditional classes.

The fundamental conception of this work [Hitler told the Party Rally in 1937] was to break with all traditional privileges, and in all spheres of life, especially in the political sphere, to place the leadership of the nation in the hands of hand-picked men, who should be sought and found without regard to descent, to birth, or to social and religious association — men chosen solely on the basis of their personal gifts and of their character.[516]

The Party’s fourteen years of struggle served as a process of natural selection — ‘just as the magnet draws to itself the steel splinters, so did our movement gather together from all classes and callings and walks of life the forces in the German people which can form and also maintain states.’[517] In this way, even before coming to power, the Party created the cadres of leadership to take over the State. The difference between promise and practice will appear in the subsequent course of this history.

Once in power the Party remained the guarantor of the National Socialist character of the State. ‘ Our Government is supported by two organizations: politically by the community of the Volk organized in the National Socialist movement, and in the military sphere by the Army.’[518] These, to use another phrase of Hitler’s, were the two pillars of the State. The Party was a power held in reserve to act, if the State should fail to safeguard the interests of the Volk-, it was the link between the Führer and his Volk-, finally it was the agent for the education of the people in the Nazi Weltanschauung. Education is an ambiguous word in this context; on another occasion Hitler spoke of ‘stamping the Nazi Weltanschauung on the German people’.[519] For its highest duty was intolerance: ‘it is only the harshest principles and an iron resolution which can unite the nation into a single body capable of resistance — and thereby able to be led successfully in politics.’[520] ‘The main plank in the Nationalist Socialist programme,’ Hitler declared in 1937, ‘is to abolish the liberalistic concept of the individual and the Marxist concept of humanity and to substitute for them the Volk community, rooted in the soil and bound together by the bond of its common blood.’[521]

While Hitler’s attitude towards liberalism was one of contempt, towards Marxism he showed an implacable hostility. The difference is significant. Liberalism he no longer regarded as a serious threat; its values had lost their attraction in the age of masspolitics, especially in Germany, where liberalism had never had deep roots. Marxism, however, whether represented by revisionist Social Democracy or revolutionary Communism, was a rival Weltanschauung able to exert a powerful attractive force over the masses comparable with that of Nazism. Ignoring the profound differences between Communism and Social Democracy in practice and the bitter hostility between the rival working-class parties, he saw in their common ideology the embodiment of all that he detested — mass democracy and a levelling egalitarianism as opposed to the authoritarian state and the rule of an élite; equality and friendship among peoples as opposed to racial inequality and the domination of the strong; class solidarity versus national unity; internationalism versus nationalism.

With Marxism there could be no compromise. ‘When people cast in our teeth our intolerance we proudly acknowledge it — yes, we have formed the inexorable decision to destroy Marxism in Germany down to its very last root.’[522] This was said in 1932, at a time when Hitler saw in the unbroken organization of the Social Democratic Party and the trade unions the most solid obstacle to his ambitions, and in the rival extremists of the German Communist Party, the only other German party whose votes mounted with his own.

Hitler regarded the Marxist conception of class war and of class solidarity cutting across frontiers as a particular threat to his own exaltation of national unity founded on the community of the Volk. The object of National Socialist policy was to create a truly classless society. ‘The slogan, “The dictatorship of the bourgeoisiemustmake way for the dictatorship of the proletariat”, is simply a question of a change from the dictatorship of one class to that of another, while we wish for the dictatorship of the nation, that is, the dictatorship of the whole community. Only then shall we be able to restore to the millions of our people the conviction that the State does not represent the interests of a single group or class, and that the Government is there to manage the concerns of the entire community.’[523] This single-minded concept of the national interest was to be embodied in, and guaranteed by, the absolutism of the State, as it had been in the time of Frederick the Great and in the Prussian tradition of the State glorified by Hegel.

Just as Hitler ascribed to the ‘Aryan’ all the qualities and achievements which he admired, so all that he hated is embodied in another mythological figure, that of the Jew. There can be little doubt that Hitler believed what he said about the Jews; from first to last his anti-Semitism is one of the most consistent themes in his career, the master idea which embraces the whole span of his thought. In whatever direction one follows Hitler’s train of thought, sooner or later one encounters the satanic figure of the Jew. The Jew is made the universal scapegoat. Democracy is Jewish — the secret domination of the Jew. Bolshevism and Social Democracy; capitalism and the ‘interest-slavery’ of the moneylender; parliamentarianism and the freedom of the Press; liberalism and internationalism; anti-militarism and the class war; Christianity; modernism in art (Kultur-Bolschewismus), prostitution and miscegenation — all are instruments devised by the Jew to subdue the Aryan peoples to his rule. One of Hitler’s favourite phrases, which he claimed — very unfairly — to have taken from Mommsen, was: ‘The Jew is the ferment of decomposition in peoples.’ This points to the fundamental fact about the Jew in Hitler’s eyes; unlike the Aryan, the Jew is incapable of founding a State and so incapable of anything creative. He can only imitate and steal — or destroy in the spirit of envy.

The Jew has never founded any civilization, though he has destroyed hundreds. He possesses nothing of his own creation to which he can point. Everything he has is stolen. Foreign peoples, foreign workmen build him his temples; it is foreigners who create and work for him; it is foreigners who shed their blood for him. He has no art of his own; bit by bit he has stolen it all from other peoples. He does not even know how to preserve the precious things others have created.... In the last resort it is the Aryan alone who can form States and set them on their path to future greatness. All this the Jew cannot do. And because he cannot do it, therefore all his revolutions must be international. They must spread as a pestilence spreads. Already he has destroyed Russia; now it is the turn of Germany, and with his envious instinct for destruction he seeks to disintegrate the national spirit of the Germans and to pollute their blood.[524]

From this early speech of 1922, through the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and the pogrom of November 1938 to the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the death camps of Mauthausen and Auschwitz, Hitler’s purpose was plain and unwavering. He meant to carry out the extermination of the Jewish race in Europe, using the word ‘extermination’ not in a metaphorical but in a precise and literal sense as the deliberate policy of the German State — and he very largely succeeded. On a conservative estimate,[525] between four and four and a half million Jews perished in Europe under Hitler’s rule — apart from the number driven from then- homes who succeeded in finding refuge abroad. History records few, if any, crimes of such magnitude and of so cold-blooded a purpose.


Stripped of their romantic trimmings, all Hitler’s ideas can be reduced to a simple claim for power which recognizes only one relationship, that of domination, and only one argument, that of force. ‘Civilization,’ the Spanish philosopher, Ortega y Gasset, once wrote, ‘consists in the attempt to reduce violence to the ultima ratio, the final argument. This is now becoming all too clear to us, for direct action reverses the order and proclaims violence as the prima ratio, or rather the unica ratio, the sole argument. It is die standard that dispenses with all others.’

Hitler was not original in this view. Every single one of his ideas — from the exaltation of the heroic leader, the racial myth, antiSemitism, the community of the Volk, and the attack on the intellect, to the idea of a ruling élite, the subordination of the individual and the doctrine that might is right — is to be found in anti-rational and racist writers (not only in Germany but also in France and other European countries) during the hundred years which separate the Romantic movement from the foundation of the Third Reich. By 1914 they had become the commonplaces of radical, anti-Semitic and pan-German journalism in every city in Central Europe, including Vienna and Munich, where Hitler picked them up.

Hitler’s originality lay not in his ideas, but in the terrifying literal way in which he set to work to translate these ideas into reality, and his unequalled grasp of the means by which to do this. To read Hitler’s speeches and table talk is to be struck again and again by the lack of magnanimity or of any trace of moral greatness. His comments on everything except politics display a cocksure ignorance and an ineradicable vulgarity. Yet this vulgarity of mind, like the insignificance of his appearance, the badly fitting raincoat and the lock of hair plastered over his forehead of the early Hitler, was perfectly compatible with brilliant political gifts. Accustomed to associate such gifts with the qualities of intellect which Napoleon possessed, or with the strength of character of a Cromwell or a Lincoln, we are astonished and offended by this combination. Yet to underestimate Hitler as a politician, to dismiss him as an ignorant demagogue, is to make precisely the mistake that so many Germans made in the early 1930s.

It was not a mistake which those who worked closely with him made. Whatever they felt about the man, however much they disagreed with the rightness of this or that decision, they never underrated the ascendancy which he was able to establish over all who came into frequent contact with him. At Nuremberg, Admiral Dönitz, the Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, admitted:

I purposely went very seldom to his headquarters, for I had the feeling that I would thus best preserve my power of initiative, and also because, after several days at headquarters, I always had the feeling that I had to disengage myself from his power of suggestion. 1 am telling you this because in this connexion I was doubtless more fortunate than his Staff, who were constantly exposed to his power and his personality.[526]

Dönitz’s experience can be matched a hundred times over. Generals who arrived at his headquarters determined to insist on the hopelessness of the situation not only failed to make any protest when they stood face to face with the Führer, but returned shaken in their judgement and half convinced that he was right after all.

On one occasion [Schacht records] I managed to persuade Göring to exercise his influence on Hitler to put on the brake in some economic matter or other only to learn afterwards that he had not dared raise the question after all. When I reproached him he replied: ‘I often make up my mind to say something to him, but then when I come face to face with him my heart sinks into my boots.[527]

On another occasion when Schacht had demonstrated to the Minister of Defence, General von Blomberg, the hopelessness of finding any solution to a certain problem, Blomberg answered: ‘I know you are right, but I have confidence in Hitler. He will be able to find some solution.’[528]

The final test of this ascendancy belongs to the later stages of this history when, with the prestige of success destroyed, the German cities reduced to ruins, and the greater part of the country occupied, this figure, whom his people no longer saw or heard, was still able to prolong the war long past the stage of hopelessness until the enemy was in the streets of Berlin and he himself decided to break the spell. But the events of these earlier years cannot be understood unless it is recognized that, however much in retrospect Hitler may seem to fall short of the stature of greatness, in the years 1938 to 1941, at the height of his success, he had succeeded in persuading a great part of the German nation that in him they had found a ruler of more than human qualities, a man of genius raised up by Providence to lead them into the Promised Land.



The winter of 1937–8 marks the turning-point in Hitler’s policy from the restricted purpose of removing the limitations imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles to the bolder course which brought the spectacular triumphs of the years 1938–41. It was not so much a change in the direction or character of his foreign policy — .which altered little from the time he wrote Mein Kampf — as the opening of a new phase in its development. The time was ripe, he judged, for the realization of aims he had long nurtured.

Hitler had no cut-and-dried views about how he was to proceed, but, as Hossbach’s minutes of the meeting of 5 November 1937 show, he was revolving certain possibilities in his mind and, granted favourable circumstances, he was prepared to move against Austria and Czechoslovakia as early as the new year, 1938.

The prospects Hitler had unfolded at that meeting, however, alarmed at least some of those who were present. The brief report of the discussion which followed Hitler’s exposition shows clearly enough the doubts of the Army’s leaders, Blomberg and Fritsch, about the risk of war with Great Britain and France, and their anxiety about such material points as the incomplete state of Germany’s western fortifications, France’s military power and the strength of the Czech defences. Neurath, the Foreign Minister, supported them so far as to remind Hitler that a conflict between Great Britain, France, and Italy was neither so close nor so certain as he appeared to assume.

These doubts were not removed by Hitler’s irritable assurances that he was convinced Britain would never fight and that he did not believe France would go to war on her own. On 9 November, Fritsch requested a further interview with Hitler and renewed his objections: Germany, he argued, was not in a position to court the danger of war. Neurath, too, attempted to see Hitler and dissuade him from the course he proposed to follow. By this time, however, Hitler was so irritated that he left Berlin abruptly for Berchtesgaden and refused to receive the Foreign Minister until his return in the middle of January.

Reasoned criticism of any kind always roused Hitler’s anger: he hated to have his intuition subjected to analysis. It is possible that he had already made up his mind to get rid of the last of those in positions of authority who were not National Socialists and might have doubts about forcing the pace in foreign policy. At any rate, within less than three months of the meeting of 5 November, three of the men who had listened to him — Blomberg, Fritsch, and Neurath — were removed from office, while those who remained were the two who had silenced whatever doubts they felt — Göring and Raeder.

Schacht had already gone at the end of 1937. He did not oppose German rearmament: on the contrary, as the Army journal Militär-Wochenblatt said on his sixtieth birthday, Schacht was ‘the man who made the reconstruction of the Wehrmacht possible’, and he had carried out his work as Plenipotentiary for War Economy as well as Minister of Economics with enthusiasm. It was Schacht who, by his device of the Mefo-bills, enabled Hitler to finance his big programme of rearmament and public works without an excessive inflation. It was Schacht again who set up the elaborate network of control over German imports, exports, and foreign exchange transactions, and who provided a new basis for Germany’s foreign trade by his barter trading, blocked-mark accounts, and clearing agreements, manipulating these with such skill as to secure great advantages for Germany in trade negotiations.

There were limits, however, beyond which Schacht as an economist felt it dangerous to make increasing demands on the economy for rearmament, and in 1935–6 he several times warned Hitler that these limits were being approached. Hitler was irritated. He did not think in economic terms at all. In the long run, if he got the arms, he believed that he would be able to solve Germany’s economic problems by other than economic means. On the other hand, he needed Schacht, with his unrivalled grasp of finance and foreign trade to steer Germany through the first difficult years until she was strong enough to take what she wanted.

The situation was complicated by Goring’s invasion of the economic field. Ironically, it was Schacht who persuaded Hitler, in April 1936, to appoint Göring as Commissioner for Raw Materials and Foreign Exchange, in the hope that this would put a stop to the extravagant waste of Germany’s foreign exchange assets and her limited supplies of raw materials by Party agencies, such as the Ministry of Propaganda. Göring, having once entered the field of economic policy, began to take an interest in what was going on and to amass power. In September 1936 Hitler named him Plenipotentiary for the Four-Year Plan, a scheme to make Germany self-sufficient which Schacht regarded as impossible. To Schacht’s contempt for Göring’s ignorance of economics was added the pique of a vain and ambitious man at the rise of a rival power. After months of quarrelling in which he attacked Goring’s policies as economically unsound, Schacht travelled to the Obersalzberg in August 1937 and insisted on resigning.

Hitler was extremely reluctant to let Schacht go. A stormy meeting at the Berghof in August, in which Hitler did everything he could to persuade him to stay, led to no conclusion, although Hitler came out on to the terrace afterwards and excitedly declared that he could not go on working with him any longer. On 5 September Schacht went on leave of absence from the Ministry of Economics, and after further protests his resignation was accepted on 8 December 1937. In order to preserve appearances he remained Minister without Portfolio, and for the time being President of the Reichsbank as well, but from now on Göring was able to carry out Hitler’s economic plans in preparation for war without hindrance.

Schacht’s successor as Minister of Economics was Walther Funk, once one of Hitler’s ‘contact men’ with business and industrial circles. But the post was shorn of the greater part of its powers, being wholly subordinated to Göring as Plenipotentiary for the Four-Year Plan. The casual way in which Funk’s appointment was made shows clearly enough how slight was the authority the new Minister could expect to enjoy. Meeting Funk one night at the Opera, Hitler took him aside during the interval, told him he was to succeed Schacht and sent him to Göring for instructions. It was only after Göring had carried out a thorough reorganization of the Ministry that it was finally transferred to Funk in February 1938.

After replacing Schacht by Göring, Hitler turned to the two principal institutions of the State which had so far escaped the process of Gleichschaltung — the Foreign Service and the Army. Both were strongholds of that upper-class conservatism which roused all Hitler’s suspicion and dislike. Elitler had at first accepted the view that the cooperation of the professional diplomats and the generals was indispensable to him, but he rapidly came to feel contempt for the advice he received from the Foreign Office, whose political as well as social traditions he regarded as too respectable and too limited for the novel, half-revolutionary, half-gangster tactics with which he meant to conduct his foreign policy. It was not so much the moral scruples of the Wilhelm- strasse — these, he had little doubt, could be overcome — as the social pretensions, squeamishness and lack of imagination which irritated him. They still thought in terms of the old diplomacy, not of the revolutionary propaganda fifth-column technique, corruption, and incitement with which he proposed to conquer opposition. Neurath, the Foreign Minister, was one of President Hindenburg’s appointments, and still retained some independence of position. Now in the subservient Ribbentrop Hitler had found the man he wanted to replace him, and by the beginning of 1938 he judged that this situation too was ripe for settlement.

But the critical relationship was that with the Army. So far the bargain of 1934 had worked well, but not without signs of trouble, which were ominous for the future. The generals, although delighted with the rearmament of Germany, were critical of the speed with which it had been rushed through. The flood of conscripts which began to pour into the depots was more than the four thousand officers of the small Regular Army could train satisfactorily. The figure of thirty-six divisions for the peacetime force which Hitler announced in 1935 had been arbitrarily fixed without the agreement of the General Staff, who would have preferred a figure of twenty-one divisions. They regarded twenty- four divisions, which represented a treb