The Coming of Nazism.
Hitler was one of many Germans who believed 1918 marked a betrayal of Germany by its leaders. Corrupt politicians, not army, were accountable for Germany’s sufferings. Hitler’s contempt for bureaucracy was expressed when he wrote; “Was this the meaning of the sacrifice which the German mother made to the fatherland when with sore heart she let her best-loved boys march off, never to see them again? Did all this happen only so that a gang of wretched criminals could lay hands on the fatherland? (Hitler 1925-1926) Hitler’s sense of betrayal was potent because of the aspirations of the German nation.
Germany became a unified sovereign state in 1871 after Otto Von Bismarck led, through clever manipulation and deceit, Prussia to victory over Denmark, Austria and France; these successes persuaded Germans to accept the King of Prussia as emperor of a United Germany; “From a pessimistic perspective, even the triumph of 1871, as time passed, seemed an incomplete victory and only a partial fulfilment of German ambitions in Europe.” (Cramer 2006). Germany came into being as a powerful military ‘Reich’ under Prussia. After 1870 the new German nation competed with other European countries for new territories including the scramble for Africa.
Imperial rivalry was not a creator of war but most certainly was a major influence upon it in the lead up to World War One. When war broke out in 1914 the Germans embraced the opportunity with intense commitment and they saw this as a golden opportunity to prove the greatness of their nation with a mighty victory which, in the fullness of time, never occurred. In fact, Germany had to engage in a bitter war of attrition with Russia on the east and France and Britain in the west. Drained and exhausted Germany were forced to agree to an armistice and the struggle into which the German people had entered with such enthusiasm and confidence had brought them not triumph but disaster.
Germany were punished by the victors of World War I, principally France, Great Britain, Italy and the USA under the terms of the Treaty Of Versailles of 1919. The main terms of this treaty included Germany having to give up parts of France, Germany to be demilitarized and placed under occupation, Germany to lose West Prussia, Posen to Poland which denied the Germans access to parts of the Rhineland through the Polish corridor. Furthermore, the treaty deprived Germany of 4 million citizens by declaring Danzig an international city. Germany also had to surrender all its overseas colonies, and was to be deprived of its warships and aircraft and to have its army limited to 100,000 members. On top of all this Germany also had to pay reparations eventually amounting to in excess of 6 million pounds. What the Germans resented most was the manner in which they were not allowed to negotiate any terms and were forced to accept all conditions under threat of further warfare. The Germans were also angered by the fact that they had to accept full responsibility for the war.
All of these humiliations became a source of strength to Hitler and turned him from a failed Bohemian to an aggressive military dictator. Hitler, an Austrian citizen in 1914, signed on as a member of the German army and won the Iron Cross for bravery later that year. He was very much disliked by his comrades who saw him as a weak coward showing little ability for leadership or oration.
The National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP or Nazi) came into being in 1919 and quickly attracted Hitler with his extreme nationalist ideas. The key demands of the Nazi party included the unification of Germany based on the right of self-determination, the revocation of the Versailles Treaty, land and territories to feed the German people and settle its surplus population, the recent tradition of state citizenship to those of German blood and Jews to be denied membership of the nation. Hitler joined the fledgling party and very quickly rose to a dominant position. He developed his skills for public oration and rabble rousing which perfectly suited the atmosphere of the beer halls where the party held its meetings. There was always an aggressive air around Hitler’s speeches and he could capitalize on this by whipping up he’s audiences into a frenzy of hatred and contempt for those who had betrayed the Fatherland in recent years. Violence was central to Nazism and Hitler portrayed the party as being at war against the nation’s enemies both internal and external. Under Hitler, National Socialism was essentially organized hatred and it drew its powers and inspiration from the desire to destroy. It would be a mistake to differentiate between Naziism and Communism in this era. Both parties were anti-each other and both equally as brutal and violent. However, in Germany, it was simply that the Nazis won anti-Communists lost. Nazis and Communists were so alike that day detested each other.
Hitler was more than impressed by Mussolini in 1922 when he heard about that “March on Rome” and its success as to dictator took over Italy. In November 1923 Hitler attempted to seize power in Munich, with Mussolini’s success in mind, he would then “march on Berlin”. However, Hitler had miscalculated as the Bavarian police stayed loyal to the government and fired on the Nazi marchers killing 16 of them. Hitler was arrested, brought to trial and sentenced to five years imprisonment for treason. Hitler was not unimpressed at the failure of the putsch and saw it as an excellent way to spread Nazi propaganda. Hitler only served less than a year in prison and this convinced him even more that not only was the putsch a success but his power and influence were on the rise.
During his time in Landsberg Castle prison Hitler wrote ‘Mein Kampf’, and mixture of autobiography and ideology in which he set out his main political ideas. The book would become a Bible for National Socialism; it elaborated, in extraordinary detail, on Germany’s destiny as a great Aryan nation, rejection of the Versailles Treaty and a profound hatred for Jews and Communists. The book was an emotional appeal to the German people to identify their enemies and follow the Nazis in destroying them.
In the early 1920s Germany was in the depths of a depression but as the decade progressed the depression receded as industrial production increased and unemployment fell. Germany was also enjoying better relations with its wartime enemies, which allowed it to come to more reasonable terms regarding reparations payments. In this prospering economic climate the Nazis made little headway. However, by 1930 Germany begin to feel the impact of the global recession that had started in the USA and all but destroyed the demand for manufactured goods. Despair was rampant throughout Germany and the Weimar government rapidly lost the confidence of the German people who were feeling angered and impoverished and demanded change.
The recession was the redemption of the Nazi party and they rose in popularity amongst the lower middle classes who felt most threatened by the economic collapse. Frustrated at the Weimar system, weak political parties and poor decision-making, the petite bourgeoisie elevated the Nazis to the status of the redeemers of the German economy. This class provided the backbone of Nazi support from this point until its demise at the end of World War II.