“Is it not from the hand of God that good and troubles both emanate?” Just as Hashem’s blessings arise from His Divine supervision, so His punishments and tribulations are fine-tuned according to His vast, eternal plan. As the past article intimated, an example of this was when Germany failed to win World War I, yet lost it in a way that left opportunity for rabid nationalists to claim she had only been “stabbed in the back” and must be raised back to her former glory. This sort of thinking was a major factor in Hitler’s decision to “go into politics” in order to avenge the terrible injustice inflicted on Germany by “liars, fools, and criminals.”
Yet as rabid as he was about his cause, even Hitler realized that his chances of success were minimal. How could a friendless, penniless person with no profession or job become leader of a mighty nation?
“For days I wondered what could be done,” he records in the story of his struggle. “But at the end of every meditation was the sober realization that I, nameless as I was, did not possess the least basis for any useful action.” Then, by “chance,” came his first opportunity. At the time, he had a job with the conservative German army as a bildungsoffi zier, an educational officer; his job was to lecture soldiers of the evils of democracy, socialism, and pacifism. One day, the army sent him to investigate one of the dozens of small political parties that were springing up in Germany like mushrooms in those days. During the sleepy meeting in Munich’s murky Sternckerbrau beer cellar, someone proposed that Bavaria split off from Germany and join Austria, which induced Hitler, an ardent believer in a greater Germany including Austria as well, to leap to his feet and subject the twenty-five strong audience to a stinging harangue. This impressed the head and founder of this tiny “German Workers Party,” an uneducated locksmith who went by the moniker of Anton Drexler; as Hitler was leaving the meeting, Drexler pushed a small booklet titled, “My Political Awakening,” into his hands.
Back in his barracks, Hitler perused the pamphlet and discovered that it fully accorded with his own ideas. To clinch the matter, a postcard arrived later that day, apprising him that he had been appointed a member of the party and was invited to its next committee meeting. Hitler made his way to the ratty Alter Rosenbad Tavern where the meeting was to take place, and saw, “in the dim light of a grimy gas lamp, four young people sit at a table, among them the author of the pamphlet, who at once greeted me joyfully and bade me welcome as a new member of the German Worker’s Party.” Tiny as the organization was, he realized that for an unknown like himself it might be advantageous to join this pathetic group even though its treasury could only boast the royal total of seven marks and fifty pfennigs.
“After two days of agonized pondering and reflection,” he records, “I finally came to the conviction that I had to take this step. It was the most decisive resolve of my life. From here there was and could be no turning back.”
At first, the idea was a flop. After helping the group laboriously type eighty invitations by hand and deliver them to likely addressees, he writes that “we sat waiting for the masses who were expected to appear. An hour late, the ‘chairman’ had to ‘open’ the meeting. We were again seven, the old seven.” However, by increasing the invitations through mimeographing and inserting an invitation in the local press, Hitler had a hundred and eleven people to harangue by his next meeting, and not long after that, attendance of their meetings was reaching the thousands.
BEER HALL REVOLT
To attract the heart of the masses to his aggressive ideas and aims, Hitler needed misery and poverty, which were graciously supplied by the Allies’ draconian demands on post-war Germany, including, for a start, five billion gold marks that had to be paid by 5681/1921. This and other factors gave rise to a raging inflation that pushed the mark down to trillions of marks per dollar by 5683/1923. By the middle of that year, workmen were being paid three times a day, and their wives would meet them and rush to stores to change the cash for goods before it was worthless. Banknotes became so worthless they were used for wallpaper, toy money, and kindling.
This was what Hitler was waiting for — an excuse to condemn democracy and demand a dictator to put Germany’s house in order. “The government calmly goes on printing these scraps of paper because if it stopped, that would be the end of the government,” he roared.”…If the horrified people notice that they can starve on billions, they must arrive at this conclusion: We will no longer submit to a state which is built on the swindling idea of the majority. We want a dictatorship.”
Hundreds of thousands heeded his call and by 5683/1923, he felt the time was ripe to seize power in his home state of Bavaria in what history mockingly remembers as the Beer Hall Putsch (Revolt).
“The door behind us which we had come through fl ew open and in burst Goering with about twenty-fi ve brownshirts with pistols and machineguns,” one Nazi participant recorded.
“Hitler began to plow his way towards the platform and the rest of us surged forward behind him. Tables overturned with their jugs of beer. On the way we passed a major named Mucksel, one of the heads of the intelligence section at Army headquarters, who started to draw his pistol as soon as he saw Hitler approach, but the bodyguard had covered him with theirs and there was no shooting.”
Clambering onto a chair and fi ring a shot at the ceiling, Hitler barked an impromptu proclamation: “The national revolution has broken out! The hall is filled with six hundred men. Nobody is allowed to leave. The Bavarian government and the government at Berlin are deposed. A new government will be formed at once. The barracks of the Reichswehr and those of the police are occupied. Both have rallied to the swastika.”
Although most of this statement was a rank lie, through a combination of coercion and the aid of Hitler’s ally, famous WWI leader, General Erich Ludendorff, the three heads of Bavaria handed the reins of leadership to Hitler, only to renege on their agreement the moment they escaped. Hitler was back to square one. At this stage, Ludendorff came up with a ridiculous scheme that almost destroyed the Nazis’ career for good. Heading a column of about three thousand storm troopers, Hitler, Ludendorff, and a dozen other Nazi leaders and officials marched towards the center of Munich, hoping the police and army would submit to Ludendorff’s prestige and enable them to take over the city center. But passing through a narrow street they saw about a hundred armed policemen barring their way ahead.
Someone fired a shot and a hail of bullets flew among the marchers, killing sixteen of them. Hitler missed death by a whisker when the man he was marching with collapsed, dislocating Hitler’s arm as he fell. The Nazi rabble fled for their lives, except for Ludendorff who calmly marched through the police line absolutely alone. The conspirators were tried for treason, which could have brought the death penalty. However, due to the court’s sympathy for Hitler’s cause, which included a rabid anti-Communist agenda, he was sentenced to five years in the Landsdorf Fortress prison.
The Nazi Party was outlawed and at this stage, the career of the man with a funny moustache seemed to have reached its end. However, after his release after a little less than nine months, Hitler received permission to reopen his party and got back to work. Not all that successfully, however, since the main requirement for his success was national failure, and between 5685/1925 and 5689/1929 Germany was booming, thanks to billions of dollars of US loans. In the Reichstag elections of 5688/1928, his party gleaned only 810,000 of 31 million votes.
WALL STREET CRASH
Then things turned around. In September 5689/1929, Wall Street crashed, drying up the fl ow of foreign loans. People scrambled to get their German loans repaid and world trade dropped like a stone, killing the German economy. For Hitler, this was just what the doctor ordered; the people needed a scapegoat and he was ready to give it to them. “Never in my life, have I been so well disposed and inwardly contented as in these days,” he wrote in the Nazi press. “For hard reality has opened the eyes of millions of Germans to the unprecedented swindles, lies, and betrayals of the Marxist deceivers of the people.”
Instead of being disgusted at his hypocrisy, people were wooed to his way of thinking. In the elections of September 5690/1930, even he was surprised at the results when 6,409,000 votes propelled his party to becoming the second largest of the Reichstag.
Two years later, the Nazi party reached its high water mark with 37% of the national vote. Although this was far short of being the democratically voted leader of Germany, it enabled Hitler to wriggle into becoming chancellor of Germany. But how did he become dictator?
On the 27th of February, 5693/1933, the Reichstag (parliament house) was set on fire by a Communist, but probably at Nazi instigation, and the Prussian police announced that documents had been found indicating that the burning of the Reichstag was to be a signal for insurrection and civil war. The Nazis used this as a pretext to ask the Reichstag to vote for emergency “Enabling Powers” that would enable Hitler’s cabinet to rule the country without interference of the government, and the Reichstag complied, 441 members voting for and 81 against. This provided Hitler with his dictatorial powers, which lasted until the end of World War II.
Later, on July 14 a new law was promulgated: “The National Socialist German Workers’ Party constitutes the only political party in Germany. 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, etc.” After a string of “chance” events and extraordinary “luck,” an unknown tramp had successfully utilized the democratic process to destroy democracy.
(Main source: Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1962. Many thanks to Yated reader Stanley Hartstein who contributed key ideas towards this and the last two articles.)